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.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Riga is the capital of Latvia which is located in Northern Europe. 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.
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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 Federation.
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 be canceled.
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.