Latvia. Latvia during the first half of the year was the
country of the presidency of the EU. The Latvian government
sought to focus on the EU's Eastern Partnership, that is,
strengthening ties with countries east of the Baltic States,
including Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia.
COUNTRYAAH, that work was made more difficult by the tense
relationship with Moscow following the Russian occupation of
Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine. Latvia felt
threatened when the Russian Federation launched military
exercises in February with thousands of soldiers near the
Baltic border. Latvia also suffered hacker attacks,
including against the Ministry of Defense, which is
suspected to come from the Russian Federation.
In March, NATO responded by launching three months of
drills in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, involving thousands
of NATO soldiers. About 750 tanks, helicopters and other
heavy military equipment were shipped to Latvia, and
according to NATO it would be left there.
During the exercises, two Russian citizens in June
entered a military base outside Riga where they were
arrested. The Organization The Second Russia then explained
that Russian citizens perceive NATO's increased military
presence near the Russian border as a threat to the Russian
Federation. The action was described as a peaceful warning,
while at the same time it was said that Russian citizens
will not tolerate military extortion and threats. Another
organization, the Union of Citizens and Non-Citizens, wrote
a letter to the NATO commander asking whether NATO troops
were in Latvia to protect the life, property and rights of
the Russian-speaking population or to counteract threats
deemed to come from it.
Following pressure from the Baltics, the United States
promised in June that tanks, artillery and other military
equipment would be permanently stationed in the Baltic.
Previously, there were 150 rotating NATO soldiers stationed
in Latvia and other Baltic countries. During the year, the
United States also sent two unmanned surveillance aircraft,
so-called drones, to Latvia for military exercises,
accompanied by some 70 men from the United States Air Force.
In June, the Russian Federation halted imports of canned
fish from Latvia, formally due to toxic substances, but
Latvia saw the decision as political. About half of the fish
catch in Latvia is normally exported to the Russian
The coalition government with Unity, the League of the
Greens and Peasants and the National Alliance cracked down
on the joints. The disagreement became clear when the
parliament elected a new president in June. The parties
could not agree on a joint candidate, and Prime Minister
Laimdota Straujuma's party Unit was also split internally.
Only in the fifth vote was the necessary majority reached
when the candidate of the Greens, Defense Minister Raimonds
Vējonis, won the National Alliance candidate Egils Levits by
55 votes to 42.
Latvia reacted angrily when the Prosecutor General of
Moscow in July announced an investigation into whether the
Baltic countries' independence from the Soviet Union in 1991
is legal. Two members of the Russian parliament had
requested the investigation, but according to the
Prosecutor's Office, it was a formality with no prospect of
success. The Kremlin distanced itself from the initiative.
There was a fierce debate in Latvia about EU refugee
reception quotas. Resistance to refugees was strong, despite
the fact that Latvia is in dire need of increased population
after losing close to 700,000 residents in a quarter of a
century. By New Year, Latvia had only 1.9 million residents.
The government rejected the EU's request for 737
refugees. The only political party that advocated for the
reception was the Russian-dominated Harmonic Center, which
felt that Latvia should take responsibility for the
consequences of its support for NATO and US military
operations in the Middle East.
The refugee issue was about to crack the coalition when
the Prime Minister's Party wanted to receive 250 refugees,
but the National Alliance said no. According to the party,
Latvia had sufficient problems with the integration of
Russian-speaking residents. Hundreds of Latvians
demonstrated in August in Riga against refugee reception,
and a survey showed that two-thirds said no to refugees from
North Africa and the Middle East.
The Foreign Ministry warned of lost support from the EU
and NATO - such as patrolling the airspace at the Russian
border - if Latvia said no. Under pressure from outside, the
government finally agreed to accept 776 refugees, but the
National Alliance pushed through that refugee reception in
the future should be decided in Parliament and not in
government. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in
November, the party demanded that Latvia's refugee reception
After internal strife in her own party Unity, Prime
Minister Laimdota Straujuma resigned in December. The
coalition parties had a hard time agreeing on a successor.