Latest WikiLeaks release has few surprises regarding U.S.-Latvia relations

The latest release of diplomatic documents by the controversial WikiLeaks media organization contains few if any surprises about U.S. foreign policy regarding Latvia during the Cold War, but does rekindle some interesting stories.

WikiLeaks on Feb. 8 unveiled its Public Library of US Diplomacy (Plus-D), beginning with the release of more than 1.7 million documents created from 1973-1976 when Henry Kissinger was the U.S. secretary of state under President Richard M. Nixon.

Several hundred of the documents relate to Latvia, with many focusing on individual pleas for visas to the United States. A total of 182 documents are tagged “Latvia,” 103 are tagged “Latvian,” and 264 are tagged “Riga,” although a number of documents carry more than one of the labels.

Among the more interesting documents are cables related to the case of Arnolds Ozoliņš Sr., a naturalized U.S. citizen who had returned to Latvia in 1962 to visit his mother. When he tried to leave Soviet-controlled Latvia, he was denied permission. In October 1973, according to one cable, Ozoliņš visited the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to discuss his 10-year struggle to gain Soviet permission to leave the country. American diplomats, according to the cables, declined to become officially involved in the Ozoliņš case, although they did on occasion remind Soviet officials about the situation.

Perhaps the best known name to appear in the documents is that of popular Latvian composer Imants Kalniņš, whose efforts to reunite with his American lover were the subject of two cables. Kalniņš had met the poet and novelist Kelly Cherry in 1965 in Moscow and the two fell in love, according to Cherry’s 1991 book, Exiled Heart: A Meditative Autobiography. According to a pair of cables from the U.S. embassies in London and Moscow in late 1973, American officials relayed messages between the two. In one, Kalniņš is reported to have said he would move from Cēsis to Rīga so that he could be in a place where foreigners were allowed to travel. Then Sen. Walter Mondale, a Democrat from Minnesota, and the late Rep. Millicent Fenwick, a Republican from New Jersey, were reported to be interested in the Cherry-Kalniņš case.

Several documents touch on U.S. broadcasts to Latvia over Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America (VOA). One particular cable from November 1976 noted the “severe criticism” an American consular officer received from Pēteris Jērāns, vice chairman of the Latvian SSR Radio-TV Committee (LPSR Valsts TV un radioraidījumu komiteja), regarding the VOA Latvian Service. In a nearly three-hour “debate,” Jerāns took to task the Americans for failing to reciprocate by broadcasting content from the Soviet Union over U.S. airwaves. “Warming up to the offensive,” the cable reads, “Jērāns then launched into a stinging attack on VOA Latvian Service. He at first asserted that many of the service’s broadcasters themselves had hands quote dripping with blood unquote, referring to alleged murderous activities in collaboration with Nazi occupying forces during World War II. Later he waffled a bit, implying that perhaps it was not so much VOA employees themselves, as émigré Latvians chosen by the VOA to be interviewed. But he never fully backed off his charge.” At one point in the debate, the American diplomat asked Jērāns about heavy Soviet border fortifications and restrictions on travel. The fortifications, Jērāns “asserted with a straight face, were to keep out hordes of émigré conspirators (and) saboteurs,” according to the cable.

Other documents examine topics such as suspected Nazi war criminals; the cost and quality of food in open-air markets in Rīga and Ventspils; and the 1974 censure by the Australian Senate of Don Willesee, the country’s foreign affairs minister, for comments he made regarding recognizing the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic states.

The searchable database of Kissinger-era diplomatic cables is available at

New York Times article

A June 1974 article in The New York Times raised questions about Soviet treatment of people seeking access to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, including naturalized U.S. citizen Arnolds Ozoliņš Sr., who had returned to Latvia to visit his mother. (Graphic by Latvians Online)

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American novelist Kelly Cherry told the story of her love affair with Latvian composer Imants Kalniņš in her 1991 book, Exiled Heart: A Meditative Autobiography.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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