Latvia expels Russian diplomat

An unnamed diplomat in the Russian embassy in Rīga has been asked to leave Latvia because of suspicions that he has been “engaged in activities incompatible with his diplomatic status,” the Latvian Foreign Ministry has announced. The move comes amid increasing diplomatic skirmishes between the neighboring countries.

Russian Ambassador Igor Stoudennikov was called to the foreign ministry on April 23 and given a note demanding that the diplomat leave Latvia within 72 hours.

While specific details are not known, the news agency LETA reported that the diplomat is suspected of spying and attempting to gain information about the NATO defense alliance’s work in Latvia. The foreign ministry said the expulsion demand “was based on information provided by Latvia’s national security services.”

Latvia formally joined the NATO defense alliance on March 29.

It’s apparently the first time since Latvia regained independence that a diplomat has been asked to leave the country, LETA reported. Estonia and Lithuania both have expelled Russian diplomats this year.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has not commented on the expulsion.

The expulsion comes amidst an increasing battle of words between Latvia and Russia.

Russian officials have continued to criticize Latvia’s relations with its Russian-speaking minority, especially since controversial reforms in the country’s education system were approved that will require the majority of school subjects to be taught in Latvian beginning this September.

Russia also successfully lobbied for a resolution adopted April 16 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that in part condemns glorification of Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS forces.

News reports have noted that while the resolution did not specify any one country, it was generally accepted that it was aimed at Latvia. The resolution, according to a commission press release, “expressed deep concern over the glorification of former members of the Waffen SS organization, in particular, erecting monuments and memorials to the SS men and holding public demonstrations of former SS members.” The references are to such activities as erection in September 2003 of a memorial to World War II veterans in Lestene, Latvia.

The resolution was adoped in a 36-13 vote, with four abstentions, and generally split according to political geography. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Australia were among the nations voting against the resolution, while voting for it were Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and commission members from Africa, Asia and South America.

Meanwhile, Latvia has hit back at Russia. The foreign ministry on April 22 issued a statement of concern about what it called increasing evidence of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia.

Reacting to an April 20 protest by “Neo-Nazi toughs” outside Latvia’s consulate in Pskov, Russia, the foreign ministry pointed to “a growth of radical ideas and intolerance and their consolidation in Russia’s society.” Latvia is concered by activities of the Freedom Party, described by the foreign ministry as a “Russian nationalist skinhead movement.”

The Russian government, the foreign ministry noted, also has not commented on recent statements by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, vice-speaker of Russian Federation State Duma.

Commenting March 24 on Latvia’s impending NATO membership and the controversial education reform, Zhirinovsky threatened the nation.

“Latvia will be destroyed. Empty space will be there,” he said, according to the Web site “Absolutely nothing will remain from Latvia. Everybody will forget the words ‘Latvia’ and ‘the Latvian language.’ There will be nothing in Latvia, forever. We will destroy everything. If you touch Russians and Russian schools, I assure you, nothing will remain.”

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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