[lg policy] Baltic States: Latvia warns Greece against Russian tilt amid increased military activity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Apr 23 16:15:14 UTC 2015

Baltic States: Latvia warns Greece against Russian tilt amid increased
military activity

    Umberto Bacchi
    By Umberto Bacchi
    April 22, 2015
    52 16

Latvia urged Greece to stick to its European allies as Athens continued to
signal it could tilt towards Russia instead, amid tense negotiations with
the EU and IMF over a bailout package.

Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs told IBTimes UK he hoped the
recently elected leftist Greek government led by Alexis Tsipras would
continue putting Europe's common security and peace first, not vetoing the
rollover of EU sanctions against the Kremlin.

"I'd like to believe that I'm not mistaken in my feeling that the Greek
government is quite aware that the EU ability to maintain its unity and
resolution is a key prerequisite to counter Russia's threats to the
European security and peace," he said. "And apparently there is certain
price, which all of us have unfortunately to pay for that."

Last month, the EU agreed to delay to June a vote on the prolongation of
sanctions imposed against Russia's meddling in Ukraine, raising fears the
Kremlin was being successful in sowing division among the 27 member states.

Among those opposing the new round of measures that need the unanimous
consent of EU leaders to be put in place was Athens, which is on the verge
of running out of money as loan talks with its Eurozone partners to prevent
Greek bankruptcy remain deadlocked.

Tsipras met Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow, where the two leaders spoke
about enhancing economic ties, with the Russian President saying his
government could look at ways to extend loans to Greece, through joint
investment projects.

In what seemed a follow up meeting, this week Greek officials met Russia's
natural gas giant Gazprom's chairman Alexei Miller, fuelling speculation
that a possible multibillion pipeline deal was being negotiated.

At the same time EU antitrust regulators were moving to charge Gazprom with
abusing its dominant position in Eastern Europe.

"The EU and NATO should remain united in their response to Russia's
aggressive behaviour," Rinkēvičs warned.

Military activity

In a wide-ranging interview the minister told IBTimes UK Latvia was
experiencing first-hand Kremlin's attempts to destabilise the Baltic states
after Ukraine.

"We have observed considerably increased Russian military activity along
our borders. Russian planes and military ships are approaching our
territory more often than before," he said, adding that also the tones of
Russia's rhetoric against Latvia had grown shrill. "There have been several
media reports on 'Latvian spies' caught in Russia."

Rinkēvičs, who recently angered the Kremlin comparing Putin's Russia to
Nazi Germany on Twitter, defended Latvia's record on integration of
Russians living there.

The country of two million people is home to several hundred thousand
ethnic Russian who are known as non-citizens because they have not
undertaken or passed a citizenship exam requiring knowledge of Latvian and
thus do not have voting rights.

"Due to a successful integration policy the number of non-citizens has
dropped to 262,622 (12%) in January 2015 compared to approximately 730,000
(29%) in 1995, when the naturalization process began," Rinkēvičs stressed.

Their peculiar situation is nevertheless a hotbed for potential troubles at
a time when Moscow is attempting to ramp up ethnic tensions, engaging the
Baltic states in an information war for the loyalty of their Russian

The Kremlin claims it is its moral duty to protect Russian ethics that are
discriminated against in other countries, a rhetoric that has been used to
justify the annexation of Crimea and backing of pro-Russian separatists in
eastern Ukraine.

Russian media was swift in seizing a recommendation by Riga's language
regulator that Latvian should be used in work communications as evidence of
such ongoing discrimination.

Rinkēvičs said the appeal had a mere recommendatory nature, although he
maintained that a language policy was necessary in the country to prevent
Latvian from disappearing.

"It would not be correct to divide our society in two language groups.
Again, this is how the Kremlin's propaganda is trying to picture it," the
minister said. "Latvia's society is and has always been multicultural –
people from more than 150 ethnic groups live here together in harmony."


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