News / Europe

Latvia Wary of Russian Moves

FILE - A Latvian soldier is seen holding a national flag as he waits to greet US soldiers arriving for exercises, at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.
FILE - A Latvian soldier is seen holding a national flag as he waits to greet US soldiers arriving for exercises, at the airport in Riga April 24, 2014.
James Brooke

Latvia is 1,000 kilometers north of the separatist war in southern Ukraine.  But what Latvia and Ukraine shares is a neighbor - Russia. And that neighbor has been cause for worries in the Baltic nation.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics says his government is concerned about Russia’s military rearmament around the Baltics.

Russia has rebuilt is its navy in its Baltic outpost in Kaliningrad, Russian warplanes constantly test NATO airspace over the three Baltic nations, and in the past 18 months Russia’s army rebuilt an old base.

“[The] helicopter base [is] very close to [the] Latvian border and during the Ukrainian crisis, the number of helicopters, attack helicopters, stationed in that base has tripled,” says Rinkevics.

FILE - Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars RinkevicsFILE - Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics
FILE - Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics
FILE - Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics

NATO says the Russian base has 100 combat helicopters, including Mi-28N Night Hunters and Ka-52 Alligators. Code-named Ostrov, the base is 32 kilometers east of Latvia’s border.

Rinkevics, who served 12 years with Latvia’s Ministry of Defense, said NATO has to counter Russia’s increased military might. He wants more NATO troops rotating through the Baltics for training and exercises.

The only NATO soldiers to visit have been American, but the Latvian expects several European countries will shortly send troops.

Next January, Latvia is to succeed Italy in assuming the presidency of the 28-member European Union.  One third of Latvians speak Russian, and Latvia is expected to push Russia issues inside the EU.

The propaganda challenge

The foreign minister said he supports an EU-US initiative to create a Russian-language television channel with accurate and balanced news. He says in recent months, Latvians have been shocked by what they see on Russian state television.

“The amount of propaganda, and sometimes open lies, I think they are really unprecedented.  I think they are already surpassing even what you could see back in the 1970s and 1980s, as far as what I could remember from my own childhood about ‘bad America,’ and capitalists and imperialists and so on,” says Rinkevics.

The minister says that Latvia’s Russian speakers remain loyal to the Latvian state.

But he says the TV impact is different in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking area.  To create peace in Ukraine, he says the Kremlin has to change Russian state television reporting.

“Let us consider this massive propaganda coming out of Moscow, encouraging, actually what you see on Russian TV [is] news that is actually open and direct encouragement to separatists to continue [destabilizing Ukraine].”

Need for political solution

To end the fighting in Ukraine, he says, it is essential that Russia close its border with Ukraine and throw all its weight behind peace talks.

“Really, the first key, and the main key for a solution, would be if the Russian Federation really sits at the table, really makes some certain steps to discourage separatists, to encourage them to sit and talk and find a political solution,” says Rinkevics.

The Latvian foreign minister says geography dictates the small Baltic states are fated to deal with their massive eastern neighbor.  At age 40, this Latvian politician realizes it could be a lifetime challenge.

“Let us not fool ourselves: Russia is not going to change for a long time.  But we cannot allow them to change us,” says Rinkevics.

For now, the Baltic nations hope NATO deterrence will be enough to keep the Russian bear at bay.

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Comment Sorting
by: Verners Reichmanis from: Lima, Ohio Usa
July 05, 2014 4:01 PM
Those who believe that the "Bear" can be trusted are fools.. They came into Latvia promising many things... but left when the German's came trying to take many of our patriots with them .. to eliminate them.. Then came the Nazi's... then again came the Communists... My family was blessed to have escaped... .. but, my father believed the Bear that if he returned home all would be forgiven... My mother received many letters telling us just how wonderful life was under Communist control... then... a few years later.. those who believed in the promises ended up in a gulag .. Now the Russian remnant have the audacity to complain about being oppressed by the Latvian majority.. .. what can I say... in my my modest and most likely incorrect spelling Dievs svieti Latviu.. I am proud to be a Latvian.. ... .

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 04, 2014 8:21 AM
Yeah, but that's like mentioning yorkshire terriers attending Pitbull Fighting Training camp! You know I'm just ripping, love Canada, so rip back. If you can find a band better than Rush, good luck with that! Latvia should be worried as all nations that have the agreement made by Russia to have independence and it's own national sovereignty without Russian interference. But with the way the former Soviet KGB Putin has been giving rebels RUSSIAN weapons to KILL UKRAINIANS in UKRAINE, I think he has made it perfectly clear that he can give a rats azzzz!

Putin already took Crimea from Ukraine. He will succeed in taking the eastern side of Ukraine with all the talking and threats from EU and US. The fact that he is steamrolling forward shows just how much EU and the US has affected Putin's decision. Putin can't slam enough vodka to stop his boisterous laughter at the EU and US threats of sanctions. He is not in the least worried about a cold war environment, after all if he was worried, he wouldn't have been giving rebels RUSSIAN weapons to KILL UKRAINIANS in UKRAINE!!!! Watch out Poland, he has a serious beef with you guys in paraticular!

by: Bill
July 03, 2014 4:31 PM
You mentioned that only US troops have visited Latvia and that's just not true - Canadians and others were also a part of recent training exercises.

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