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Latvia 2016: The Gathering Storm

2016 is heading for closure and it’s time to set the record what happened this year and what to expect of next 12 months. Many has called 2016 as one of the worst years in the decades. It was time of rather unexpected events, sad events and tragic events. While Latvia overall had mostly peaceful year it all can change basing on all the events that happened abroad. The country is planning to spend 60 million euros on 100th anniversary on independence on 2018. Two years are still in wait for that. But, these two years are could be the most crucial for our country and might as well determine will Latvia be able to mark its 100 years of independence at all. For there is a danger that in 2-3 years Latvia might lose its independence and sovereignty. In this review it will be explained why this can happen and what could we do to prevent it.

 

The weakening of the West and its impact on Latvia

 

Two most crucial events that will go down in history of 2016 will be the Brexit and US Presidential election. Both events weakened UK, EU and US on political and economic scale. It revealed a wide fraction of society in US and EU that is not satisfied with politics of the liberal and leftist elites that had ruled for last 20 years and has given their votes for populism, far right clinging politics and authoritarian style of politics. Their dissatisfaction with current so called establishment is both rational and irrational and is based on their personal experiences and misfortunes. Despite the obvious Russian meddling and support for these movements it’s clear that they have strong support base and these movements have managed to strike on both of UK and US and that is bad news for our country. Firstly as UK has yet to make the crucial step to leave EU there is plenty of speculation of how it will affect the thousands of Latvian guest workers in UK, how it will affect the EU market and what impact it will leave on our economy. So far UK has kept its solid position in NATO, the new foreign minister Boris Johnson is widely critical on Russian criminal foreign policy (regarding his past warm connections with Russia), but we will see how this will change after new elections 2020 that is however a long wait from now. In US the situation has become unpredictable every day. The country has been affected by Russian secret service orchestrated hacking that helped Donald J. Trump to win, who has high expectations of friendship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and who has shown disregard to NATO and the defense of Europe. Donald Trump runs his politics as reality show, every day feeding twitter with his outlandish tweets and load announcements and claims. He has made US unpredictable just as Russia has been for years. From words to actions he has appointed an oil cooperation CEO Rex Tillerson as State Secretary who of no doubt is in unfavor of  Russian containment policy that means sanctions against his business partners and low oil prices. Judging by the logic of business not politics his and Trumps decision in 2017 would be full or partial   removal of sanctions against Russia.

For Latvia this means a dangerous return to diplomatic situation of 1938-1940. Back then Latvia had no real allies. UK and France was distant and skeptical about their support for Baltic States against Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. In the end the fate of Latvia was determined by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, both of whom Latvia had signed non-aggression pacts. Left without support from outside it was forced to choose between bloody war of survival or shameful silent submission. It choose the second option and we still bear the bitter fruits of that. Russia is aiming to repeat this once again. We really cannot predict Trump’s politics – will he remove sanctions, minimize US involvement in NATO and drop pledge to defend every each of them? Or the Trumps expectations of Putin and Putin of Trump would end in mutual disappointment and confrontation would again increase? Then there is more hardly calculable factors in Europe that threaten to create this situation – first its elections in France that would bring right-wing leader Marine le Pen or François Fillon to power. Both has shown their open sympathy to Russia and suggesting the ease of relations on expense of Ukraine and Baltic States. Then there is Germany – Angela Merkel has been in power for 11 years and her leadership is fading in light of integration failure, refugee failure and recent terrorist act. In 2017 she faces Federal Elections. Again her competitors is making criticism on relations with Russia. If both of these countries drop the Russian containment policy the diplomatic and security position of Latvia would severely weaken.

Let’s be clear however, while Germany and France can be still called reliable allies for the Baltic States they are certainly no friends for Ukraine. The so-called Minsk ceasefire that has not been in effect since its implementation, brokered both by Holland and Merkel has made Eastern Ukraine into active frozen conflict where lives are lost almost daily on both sides without much achievements or changes. “No change on the Eastern Ukrainian Front” one would say. The constant bleed out of Ukraine only serves the Russia. US and EU is giving Ukraine both carrot and stick. A carrot of some humanitarian or non-lethal military support on basis of not breaking ceasefire and stick of continuing criticism and pushover for lack of reforms in the country that is not entirely unjustified. But such situation cannot last forever, Ukraine has to strike back and regain villages and cities used as bases for constant attacks on Ukrainian positions. And who to judge Ukraine for doing so – it’s their land, that has been captured by foreign country disguised as separatists. The ones who will judge will be wealthy European countries who does not have an open border with Russia – yet.

So both for Ukraine and the Baltic States a situation can be possible in next two years when they have no allies. One ally could still be Poland. While it’s rigged with inner political struggle between nationalistic government and liberal opposition, its shows a stiff opposition to Russia and calls for militarization and tough response. If Finland or Sweden would join the NATO, with their proximity to Russia they may show reliance to Baltic States. But, if UK, Germany and France would drop out of collective security policy and most important the US than Latvia as well as Poland is in danger. The very aim of Russia is to defeat the NATO adversary without a fight. A direct conflict could end in bitter destructive defeat. So the proper aim for Russia is the break up the collective security, contribute to the election of Russia friendly candidates that may allow another Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. A pact that would give Russia a free hand on Ukraine and Baltic States. Our political and military leaders have vowed to not repeat the mistake of 1939-1940 and resist, but will this wove would be kept knowing of low or confused support from other countries. In the end Europe again could divert to situation of 5th-19th century when it was a collection of warring rivaling countries and brief alliances. In such situation for a country with less than 1 million people and weak economy and army has no place for existence. Latvia can only exist with strong united friendly Europe and strong supportive US. And weak Russia. It’s doubtful Russia and Latvia would ever achieve mutual friendship. So if Latvia cannot attain a concrete support from its western partners it’s doomed to lose at least its sovereignty to Russia.  This will be the challenge for this country for next two years.

Latvian inner political and economic weakening

 

Last year when talking about year 2015 I predicted the rise of nationalistic-isolationist populist government forming in Latvia itself. In result a government lead by Māris Kučinskis from Green Party and Latvian Farmers Party alliance was formed in early 2016. Māris Kučinskis with his lack of English skills keeps low profile in foreign gatherings, but his profile as Prime Minister is also very low profile. While he can be praised for being calm of steel nerves he also quite lethargic and has lead his government into flow of scandals and mishaps without affecting much of himself. The main points of conflicts in Latvian interior policy was grand issues with State Revenue Service and raise of taxes for small enterprises. In the spotlight of this is Daina Reizniece-Ozola a Finance minister a chess champion and a flashy talker. All year we saw her battling the corruption in State Revenue Service and taking sharp criticism for poorly managed raise for taxing the small enterprises. The latter issue brought to a bitter conflict with coalition partner liberal Unity (Vienotība) and even brought to a danger of collapse of government. So far the danger was averted and how long this inept government continues to exist remains to be seen.

On political ratings scale (as much of these ratings reflects the real political opinion is always a question) it has been successful for pro-Kremlin Harmony party (Saskaņa) Green Farmers and National Alliance and misfortune for liberal Unity. Unity lost its leading position gained since 2008, after poorly managed inner party coup that lead to collapse of Laimdota Straujuma government. Unity ratings went downhill and its long standing leader Solvita Āboltiņa had to resign from party leadership. Ex EU commissar Andris Piebalgs the new party leader tries to restore the parties fading image and power. Right now Unity’s poll rating is above 5% that would make a miserable fraction in newly elected parliament. Harmony party rating is 17%, Green Party about the same and National Alliance 7%. Plus the eccentric MP’s Artuss Kaimiņš party KPV and two elected small parties Latvian Regional Alliance and To Latvia from Heart is lagging behind 5% looking to take Unities votes.

If this continues there is a great chance of future Latvian government without a liberal party. Either its share of power would be minimal or it won’t be represented at all. There is a small chance that another liberal party called “For Prosperity of Latvia” (Latvijas Attīstībai) might take Unities place but that depends how its leader Juris Pūce would fair in Riga municipal election against incumbent Harmony party mayor Nils Ušakovs. Ušakovs who leads the capital city with scandals, failed street restoration projects and future projects facing major protests, who still has large support base mainly from Russian speakers, however his image is tainted by his offensive remarks towards Latvians and open support for Kremlin policy. But, knowing the population base in Riga he still has high chance to get clear third term as mayor of Riga.  Harmony party meanwhile in parliament functions as opposition party and supports the coalition when it’s bargained. Green Farmers and National Alliance as for now would not consider them in government at least for now.

In security policy Latvia seems to be doing well. The President Raimonds Vējonis an ex-minister of Defense is good negotiator with NATO so as the current Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis. An important step this year was the NATO’s decision to store permanent NATO’s international battalion in Baltic States and Poland. Lucky for Latvia the head of forces stored in Latvia will be Canada that has always been loyal to the principles of NATO and has taken part in many operations across the world. Of course the governments and policies can always change. Some people may say that these merely thousand troops would provoke and threaten Russia. First of all Russia has some 30 thousand troops stored in Kaliningrad region alone and these forces will be combined into 30th army next year. Russia has stored nuclear capable missiles in this region, plus the Russian forces who are constantly drilled for attack situations in Pskov and Leningrad region are in thousands. While this international battalion and all three Latvian armies would create a great losses for Russians in case of invasion in the Baltic Sates; they are useless for attacking Russia, so who these forces actually provoke Russia is what people saying these things cannot provide no explanation. While this small NATO force is no match for greater Russian armies, it serves as buffer; should one of its soldiers die from Russian hands it would provoke a conflict. However, every soldier and general serves the politician – as we talked here before – its Russian goal to defeat the West on political level before defeating it on military level. Weak politicians mean weak military in the Western world. So this rather small NATO force in Latvia by its means serves as no guarantee to our security and independence.

Latvian economy has been stagnating for last few years. While Latvia did made a tremendous recovery from 2008-2009 crisis by painful austerity policies, the continuation of these policies are rather stagnating economy that might start to enter decay next year. The overall economic and political climate is passively negative and opens door for populist political manipulations. For this reason a future without liberal party is possible. Latvia could be either ruled by alliance of populist right-wing conservatives and nationalists or it can be ruled by pro-kremlin forces. The next year’s municipal elections will show how strong are ruling parties and how strong is pro-Kremlin Harmony. Harmony could take over more cities in Eastern Latvia and the second biggest city Daugavpils that despite its Russian speaking minority has never had a Harmony mayor. For fading liberal Unity the only chance is to use the weaknesses of their conservative foes in the government and act as inner opposition that is doing now slightly successfully and try to achieve great results in Riga and other cities. Rather dangerous move is to bring down the government that again could lead to unforeseen consequences.

The challenge of 2017-2018

 

Some say history goes in circles and one wave replaces another. A wave of liberalism, multiculturalism in Europe and US seems to have dwindled and new wave of nationalism, isolationism and populism has taken its strength. To those who support this wave following lines are not of concern and they can stop reading this article. For those who fear this wave hear the following words. Stand your ground to this wave and don’t let it bring you down. Question, protest and resist policies made against collective security and seeking common ground with Russia. To seek a common ground with Russia as it has emerged today would be same as making common ground with Nazi Germany. It will be another Munich agreement in far worse consequences. Convince people to go to elections. Many of the populist voters are hard to convince as they vote by their emotions rather than reason. As more people avoid elections the higher chance for populists to gain upper hand. The US elections showed how crucial was the number of absent voters. Also support your army every way possible. When surrounded by militant forces calls for pacifism and unreasonable criticism of the home military brings no fruits. There are no civilians in the war for these forces. Question everything that comes from Russian or pro-Russian news outlets, as deception that turns into truth is their main instrument. Question everything that is in the social nets and even from your trustful state TV or relatives or friends. The amount of propaganda and disinformation these days would make Dr. Goebbels role in his grave. Do not give in to threats by terrorists and enemy armies by submitting to their demands or just give empty #standwithyou styled condolences. The time for that has passed. Empty words and hashtags have no power. Resilience and relentless to all the threats and dangers are the one that enemy fears off. Weakness it what it seeks and we cannot give him that weakness.

 The future for Latvia and neighboring countries has become more unclear and shady more than ever. Either Latvia would continue as independent prosperous country that gives others a reason to respect it and stand for it or it will become a pariah state that would be seen as expendable to other countries in the world. The war is what we fear the most. Riga could also turn into Aleppo if enabled so. In the end the war would determine if this nation has deserved and secured its position as independent country or it will go down in the annals of history as another lost kingdom succumbed by outside forces. If we will reach November 18 2018 with this warning as not fulfilled then the words said in this in this article would had reached their purpose.

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US Presidential Elections: Importance for Latvia and Eastern Europe

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Just one week left before the most important political event in United States of America and arguably the rest of the world. An average American voter may think it only matters their own country and interior policy, but US still has responsibility towards many parts of the world especially Baltic States and rest of Eastern Europe. That is why this statement will be more about the election outcome influence on foreign policy and our security. The interior policy and economic issues in these elections is something more important to US citizens themselves then your foreign policy to us which importance inside US is often neglected.

During Cold War years when US policy was always to assure that it will never recognize Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and support anti-soviet resistance; the US presidential candidates often met with Baltic exiles. They also tried to apply to exiles of the Eastern Block and captive nations of the Soviet Union like Ukrainians. Now 25 years after the “end” of Cold War such meetings and reach outs never happen. During presidential debates the question of Ukrainian conflict was never raised and only the question of US support for NATO was mentioned briefly. The current adversary for Baltic States – Russia was only mentioned as in form of Syria and DNC email hacks. Now why Russia is keyword in these elections?

Back in past both US ruling parties have made their ups and downs with Russia/Soviet Union. Franklin Delano Roosevelt conceded Baltic States to Soviet Union, while his successor Harry Truman ignited confrontation to deter further soviet expansion. Republican Dwight Eisenhower warned of the rise of the military industrial complex in result of arms race. Democrat John F. Kennedy did his best to neutralize the Soviet missile threat in Cuba and reached upper hand in arms race. Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Jimmy Carter attempted to create a détente with Soviet Union which only lead to breakdown after Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush used Soviet weakness to win the first Cold War and witnessed the fall of the Soviet Block.

Since then the following US presidential candidates have failed to understand the Soviet successor state – Russian Federation. Bill Clinton hoped for democratic change in Russia and even hoped for partnership. What western powers failed to understand that despite the communist removal from power, the soviet ruling elite or nomenklatura remained in power, but most importantly the Praetorian guard of the Soviet Union – the KGB and Army elite kept their position. They were determined prevent desovietization, prevent the transition to liberal democracy and revenge on US for the breakdown of the Soviet Union. In the end they succeeded to install their member Vladimir Putin an ex KGB Lieutenant colonel, who in his 17 years of rule have returned the so-called “siloviki” to their past prominence. Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is based on deception, forgery, sabotage and use of outright force when it’s needed.

 Republican George W Bush at first as many did not decode Putin and his government, but later started more assertive approach. During Bush administration despite Russian resistance whole Eastern Europe and Baltic States was admitted to NATO, however Bush did not rush to create constant NATO military presence in the Baltic States. A major Bush and other NATO leaders mistake was not to reach common ground on admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Germany and France resisted to assign a road map for these countries while Putin openly threatened that Ukraine will only enter NATO without its Eastern and Southern part. To prevent Georgia from joining NATO and EU Russia invaded Georgia, and witnessed impotence from US and EU countries who could not defend Georgia. Some say that US fleet presence in Black Sea was the factor to stop full occupation of Georgia, while other say that French president Nicola Sarkozy managed to make a deal on dividing Georgia and leave Russian occupied territories as unrecognized republics to Russians for the common good. Russian leadership understood that it can be done again in future. As Russia provoked Georgia into attacking first, Georgia was scapegoated and no western sanctions followed. Russia did it first strike, but that was not a wakeup call.

Democrat Barack Obama first 4 years were catastrophic in relations with Russia. At first Obama failed to understand that de iure president Dmitri Medvedev was not de facto and any direct talks with him excluding then Prime Minister Putin would result in nothing. But, the greatest blunder was the so-called “reset” button that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought to Moscow. In attempt to normalize relations since Georgian war Clinton gifted the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavror a with a red button with the English word “reset” and the Roman alphabet transliteration of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet word “peregruzka”. Only the word “peregruzka” in Russian means overload. And that is what this attempt of new détente lead to. Obama administration abandoned important plans for rocket defense bases in Poland, Baltic States and Eastern Europe was placed on second plan while Obama sought unrealistic goals for nuclear disarming a thing Russia could not possibly agree. When US and NATO countries entered the civil war in Libya, then prime minister Putin witnessed Gaddafi’s horrible death as direct threat to him and ignited his will to return to Presidential post. As from 2012 scared by unexpected opposition towards his third presidency Putin started a consolidation of power and confrontation with the west, who he blamed for trying to topple his regime and his puppet regimes in Belarus, Ukraine and Central Asia.

 Obama one last mistake towards Russia was the “red line in the sand” – failed promise to make military action against Syrian regime in case of use of chemical weapons. Obama who made this promise unwillingly for himself instead fell for Putin’s intimidation and agreed for deal with Russia and Assad that kept him in power. By doing so he aided popularity for so-called Islamic State (Daesh) radicals and created environment where Russia can directly intervene in Syrian war. Thus Putin no longer recognized Obama as competitive rival. What happened in 2014 in Ukraine we all know. Obama seemingly have learned for their past mistakes. Sanctions are in place and finally what had to be done many years before – a constant NATO military presence is being enforced in Baltic States. In last few months the relations between US and Russia has deteriorated so much that Russia is openly preparing for possible nuclear war and has moved nuclear capable rockets to Baltic region. And that is where the US elections comes in.

Republican party has been taken over by arrogant millionaire who believes he can become a president without any political experience and who leads a fight against so-called establishment. Donald Trump is alarming for Baltic States and Eastern Europe for dozens of things. He suggests that he may only help those countries that pays them enough, practically its gang ransom diplomacy and is against the principles of NATO. Baltic States desperately are trying to balance their national budgets to increase spending for defense, but its obvious that they can’t do it alone. Latvia right now has created a good defense assurance relations with Canada, but if US drops its leading position in NATO it’s a signal towards Russia that it could possibly avoid major war if it decides to tamper with Baltic States. Trump has many times stated sympathies for Putin and his regime and using Russian propaganda slogans in his campaign. He even uses conspiracy theories that first appears in sites like Russia Today and to add he is even endorsed by pro-Russian conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He has stated that Crimea is “Europes problem” and is better off with Russia, he has removed past Republican promise to send weapons for Ukraine. He states that Russia only fights Daesh and has no problem it with massacring the people in Aleppo with their bombings. Most importantly he pretends that he is not sure if Russia is behind DNC email hack and Russian connection to Wikileaks. He says that CIA and FBI can’t be trusted, however he praises FBI for his new probe into Hillary Clintons emails. Trump himself might not be Russian agent, but his many campaign aids and supporters are and Russia is directly interested in person who may disrupt things on global scale. Russian strategy of divide and conquer is to use western democracy to install Russia friendly regimes in Europe. They have succeeded in Hungary, partly in Slovakia and Greece. Russia supported Brexit in UK and supports right-wing and leftist radicals in Germany, Italy and France. Now Trump is Putin’s greatest gamble that might turn things into his favor. Trump is most unpredictable and dangerous candidate since Barry Goldwater.

Now Hillary Clinton is full of uncertainties too. It’s beyond prediction how her email saga will end, it could end with acquittal or it could end with impeachment. Clinton who pushed the ‘overload’ button now feels the bitter taste of fruits of her failed foreign policy. Russian secret service tries to undermine her election campaign, her intentions of imposing no fly zone in Syria is met with threats of world war. Clinton uses strong words calling Putin the adversary, accusing of Trump of being his puppet and warns of Putin’s intention. We can only hope that if she is elected she will keep up to this and not forgive Russian attack on her campaign. Last thing we need is another “reset” button. But for this reason Clinton cannot be fully trusted.

No matter who will be elected, both of them and all US citizens will have to stand ready for even greater trouble from Russia. First Russia has already ramped up its military presence in Kaliningrad and around Baltic eastern borders. One day it will break up the ceasefire in Ukraine completely when it feels the conditions are perfect for that. Russia is increasing its presence in Syria and provoking NATO into confrontation. If Russia sees that Baltic States are not defended well enough and US lacks leadership to help them it may mount an invasion here.

If Donald Trump will be elected he must certainly feel some gratitude for Putin for contributing for his campaign. Trump will probably again try to make a new détente with Russia, giving her free hand in Syria and limit US presence in Eastern Europe and Baltic States. History teaches that every deal with Russia is not the worth the paper it’s written. Once Trump will witness that Russia endangers his own country a new confrontation will begin. Question – will it not be too late for Baltic States?

If Hillary Clinton is elected and that’s what Russia fears from, the confrontation will continue. If Clinton stays committed to be prime time member of NATO and support Baltic States with military presence it will result in even higher Russian military increase to intimidate her. Question how long Russian economy can hold such arms race­­ – that was one of the reasons why Nazi Germany moved to war in 1939. If Clinton will impose no fly zone in Syria and indict Russia with war crimes then Russia might instigate a crisis situation even involving US casualties. Nerves of steel will be needed to avoid a direct confrontation. Clinton following Obama’s footsteps probably will not arm Ukraine, but keep sanctions. That will not make Ukrainian situation any easier. Lastly Baltic States if ever gets victims of war – then it could happen as consequence of US – Russian conflict in Syria or a last final gamble for Putin’s regime to keep its power prestige and save economy by “short victorious war”.

In both ways the world can expect many dangers after November 8. A dangers that may even went to nuclear war. Russian leadership has nothing to lose. If the regime falls they will lose all their looted millions, mansions and even their lives. They would rather end their existence in war that future Russian generations will blame on foreign powers rather their own leaders and themselves. Russian openly shows its people and the world that is ready even for nuclear war. US and Europe should also tell its citizens its ready for a war with Russia or China if such occurs. We cannot pretend that such threat does not involves us and this 70 year-long peace that was only possible thanks to strong acts of deterrence. In last 25 years the deterrence was naively removed and has caused a greatest global security threat since 1961.

It’s up to US voters to determine the fate of their nation and many other nations. And remember in democratic countries the elections are determined by those who did not vote. …Or Russian hackers. For all US citizens, friends of Latvia, people who study Baltic affairs let this be a warning to make your decision with full responsibility as you will be making history and future for all of us.

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Latvia 2015 A Year of Fright

Another year is brought to conclusion and new year will be born. Time again to sum up the main events that took place in Latvia during 2015. Last year 2014 I called the “Year of peril”. It was the peril of war coming from our eastern neighbor. That peril remained for rest of the 2015. However, a new trend showed up in Latvian public discourse. It was fear from terrorism, refugees and homosexuals that was stirred up by populist nationalist forces and forces with close ties to Kremlin. The last two months brought a another political crisis that is currently developing and it may have highly undesirable outcome. That’s why 2015 was the year of fright. In this post the main themes selected by me will be discussed in detail. This analysis entitles my personal opinion.

Major Malfunction in the Latvian Politics

The origins of this major malfunction can be traced in November 2013. After the tragic Maxima supermarket roof collapse that took away lives of 54 people the government of Valdis Dombrovskis resigned. Valdis Dombr0vskis from Vienotība (Unity) party had been Prime Minister of four governments since 2009. He resigned to take the “political responsibility” for Zolitūde disaster. Immediately, after his resignation a discussions begun of new PM from Vienotība who would replace him.   Solvita Āboltiņa a parliamentary speaker  and leader of the ruling party refused to take the PM seat. Vienotība placed bets on Artis Pabriks then a Minister of Defense to become a PM. However, president Andris Bērziņš  refused to appoint him for some personal dislikes. So as its happens in Latvian politics when top political players refuse to take a front position a person from the back door is placed forward. Laimdota Straujuma for many years served as secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and as non party member was issued for Minister of Agriculture by Vienotība. She was not a public person and had less attention from the media. Now from January 22 2014 she suddenly became the first woman in Latvian history to lead the government. It was a result of a long practice of salon politics in Latvia.

Laimdota Straujuma first said that she intends to lead the government until 2014 elections. When election campaign came she was placed forward as PM candidate to lead the government for next four years. A brave words since never in Latvian history there was a government that lasted full parliamentary therm. Likewise when she formed the government with three parties – Vienotība, Green Farmers Union and National Alliance (NA) many predicted that her government will not last long. However, there was a reason her government was politically stable during first half of 2015 – from January to June Latvia was a presiding state over the  Council of the European Union. It was first time Latvia had such an important task in EU and it was done without much problems and without major strides. Thankfully, for Straujuma the conflict in Ukraine had gone to stalemate and  there was not much of pressure from Russia as some expected.

The troubles for Straujuma started after the end of EU presidency. First major issue for Latvian government was the refugee crisis. The war in Middle East and North Africa had caused a sharp influx of refugees coming to EU countries. Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Italy could no longer sustain hundreds of thousands refugees who are stranded in refugee camps akin to to go more wealthier Germany, France of Sweden that would offer work, living place in education. To maintain this ongoing crisis the EU leadership made plan that all EU countries must settle a number of refugees. Latvia as many other Eastern European nations resisted assigning quotas, but agreed to host a fixed number of people. At first the number was 250 people, few months later the number rose to 534 people. The coalition party National Alliance begun stiff opposition and objected to hosting any refugees at all. A large anti-refugee protest supported by the NA was hosted near the governmental building, causing tensions among the government. At one moment the Green Farmers also started to object the government decision and   insisted on parliamentary vote. Then the President Raimonds Vējonis came forward with ultimatum to government to stop quarreling and make a joint decision. In the end despite NA continued protests Latvia will have to host above 500 refugees from Middle East and North Africa next year. With them Latvia already has its own problem of illegal immigrants coming from Russian and Belarusian border. The Vietnamese, Afghans and others. The challenge of the future government is how to properly host and integrate these newcomers strangers to our country.

Straujuma also managed to sell the Citadele bank to Ripplewood foreign investors despite controversy, scandals caused by eccentric Minister of Healthcare GuntisBelēvičs with his reform plans and problems with law and teacher strike caused my mismanagement by Minister of Education MārīteSeile.

The event that triggered her demise was emerging scandal over Latvian national airline Air Baltic. Air Baltic survived the economic crisis and still stands as the biggest airline in the Baltic States. However, it needed an investor and investment advisory company Prudentia recommended a  German businessman  Ralph Dieter Montag-Girmes who promised to invest 52 million Euros with government adding further 80 million. The investor has connections with Russian Aviation industry and the deal could involve the purchase of Sukhoi Superjet planes for Air Baltic fleet. At first the Minister of Transportation Anrijs Matīss denounced this proposal and broke agreement with Prudentia. Then at the last hours before governmental meeting over Air Baltic funding he placed forward this proposal ” as the best of the worst decisions”. In midnight November 4 government approved this decision.

Then in the morning Laimdota Straujuma fired Matīss “for failing to inform the government about the Air Baltic funding deal”. The deal was approved not just by Matīss but by whole Laimdota Straujuma government – in that moment she missed her rightful moment of admitting a mutual mistake and resign. However, the show started and lasted till December 7. Straujuma was defiant and supported by president, however criticized by Solvita Āboltiņa and some other members of Vienotība. On December 6 Vienotība held congress that some hoped would bring change to decaying party popularity and some statement would be issued over Straujuma governments future. No such thing happened and the congress turned out to be parody of boredom. Nothing was changed, no new statements. Straujuma was still defiant. Monday came and on 11:00 Laimdota Straujuma visited president Vējonis and announced of her resignation. A salon politics had again made their score.

What happened afterwards is turning in to major political malfunction. Solvita Āboltiņa who possibly played leading role in this coup is the best of the worst candidates for Prime Minister. She was not elected in last parliamentary elections and only entered parliament when his party member Jānis Junkurs who came above her in voting results immediately resigned from MP seat in favor of Āboltiņa. Āboltiņa disgraced herself when she walked past protesting pensioners and booed them. All the apologizes could not save her fading grace and despite that all she was placed forward as the Vienotība top PM. But, NA took a strict stance that they will not enter government formed by Āboltiņa. A small group of Vienotība members in parliament the so-called “liberal group” also stood against Āboltiņa. So if Āboltiņa does not came up with some clever combinations to force her opponents to accept her she will be unable to form a long-lasting government without NA and facing a possible party split up. Vienotība has been framed by Dzintars Zaķis election fraud scandal, had suffered from misdeeds of Āboltiņa and lost its many stronger members. Valdis Dombrovskis now works in EU government,   Artis Pabriks is in EU parliament. Veiko Spolītis a popular leading anti-Kremlin policy advocate was fired from the party for drunk driving incident. Vienotība ratings has come to rock bottom to 5%.

So that may lead to government lead by two more popular former coalition parties. Green Farmers and NA. While their party leaders refuse to stand up to PM candidacy they have their own candidates from the salon. Green Farmers may propose Māris Kučinskis a political veteran who was top leader of now defunct Peoples Party.  NA may came up with Roberts Zīle – another veteran from the nationalist right specter who now serves as MP in EU parliament. The chances of Green Party lead government would mean a rising prominence of mayor of Ventspils city Aivars Lembergs – a leader of the Green Farmers who is also accused  of state forgery and corruption on the highest levels. Its also means a greater influence of Latvia nationalist conservative right who has become ill famous for its purity laws, anti-refugee policy and corruption on justice sector. Aivars Lembergs has been known as the opponent of NATO and sympathizer of Vladimir Putin. NA while being anti-Kremlin on paper is known for sympathizing Kremlin conservative policies and being outright EU skeptic. A new populist anti EU government like one in Poland and Hungary is on the rise and its also up to our new president Raimonds Vējonis to choose if he wants such government. He was also member of the Green Farmers Alliance.

“Ok, I must take a drink first!” 

Those were the first words of newly elected president Raimonds Vējonis when he came to speak after being elected as the President of Latvia. These words were probably spoken in emotional reaction to his election after four exhausting voting runs by the parliament. Surely a leader of the Green Party would like a refreshing still water. But, such slack attitude became signature of the new president. He took part in Latvian version of “Saturday Night Live” where he drove a bobsleigh, he took part in basketball game and many other public activities. His predecessor Andris Bērziņš who became 70 years old last year in these therms was a sharp contrast. Andris Bērziņš who had become annoyance of his mindlessness,  lack of fast decision-making and bad English skills was forced to abstain from placing his candidacy for second therm. Raimonds Vējonis was a long running Minister of Environment and then unexpectedly became Minister of Defense. When war in Ukraine started he took a tough stance  on Russia, called the events in Ukraine as the “Russian aggression”, laid out the plans for increasing militarization and helped to increase the NATO presence in Latvia. He condemned Aivars Lembergs outlandish criticism of NATO presence in Latvia and as president still takes a tough stance in defense issues. Will Raimonds Vējonis will  be responsible enough to avoid a Russia leaning EU skeptic government to came to power next year? That will be first major responsibility of the new president.

Latvia – one of the most pro-Kremlin member of NATO and EU?

The above statement may sound provocative. Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic all have state leaders who had leaned towards Kremlin or praised the Putin’s policy. Latvian leaders always have spoken out their support towards NATO and EU and called for support for Ukraine and Georgia. But, if we move from words to actions we may see a surprising scene-  Latvian politics in many ways are very pro-Kremlin. And that posses a danger to our state and society. Lets see what are the main points of Latvian pro-Kremlin policy.

One of the leading themes of Kremlin anti-western propaganda is that western liberal democracies have corroded the family values, has institutionalized perversion and that has led to complete degradation of the European civilization. And there are supporters of this thesis among members of the Latvian government. This year Latvia held annual Europride that was met with rapid homophobia within Latvian social nets, but did not lead to any violent protests as in Ukraine at the same time. However, the conservative “family support groups” gained support of the pro-Kremlin party Harmony who made proposal for “purity teaching” in the Latvian schools. The proposal aimed for censorship of learning content to limit mentioning things like homosexuality, transsexualism, and instead pushed on promoting on heterosexual relationships as only preferred choice of life. Harmony the opposition party gained support from NA who also thinks that liberals in Europe and especially in Scandinavia are degrading family values. In Estonia a gay unions are allowed while Latvian constitution only defines marriage between man and woman. After a load discussions between “purity law” supporters and opponents the amendments that opened doors for censorship in education  and beyond. Latvian politics had fallen prey for Russian anti-western propaganda and it was supported by most Russophobic party. Currently there are many active organizations in the country that are promoting Kremlin family values that will seek to affect the state laws even more next year.

Latvian resistance to Russian propaganda was also weakened by the Latvian coalition parties. The legislators made amendments to  radio broadcasting laws that insisted that radio stations that has 50% of its content in Latvian must broadcast fully in the state language. There are many Russian language radio stations in Latvia, some of them like “Russia Hit Radio” that has frequency in Latvia and its tied to Kremlin propaganda was the target for this law. Radio station “Russia Hit Radio” owner Uģis Polis started to protest and gained support from Green Farmers MP Armands Krauze who introduced now amendment that raised the Latvian language cap to 51%, meaning Uģis Polis station would avoid the full move to Latvian language. Such changes only would prevent Russian radio stations from broadcasting in Latvian and continue to relay Kremlin propaganda. And again this was supported by leading NA politicians. President Vējonis turned down the changes and sent back for review, however after “minor” corrections the amendment was voted in again. And that came after many speeches promising to limit Kremlin propaganda. Not only that also the NA and other party members managed to fire the chairman of National Electronic Media Council Ainārs Dimants who was considered in informal conversations as too liberal and allowing “homosexual propaganda” in the state media.

Latvian politicians also like to speak of increasing the security and gain energy source independence from Russia. Lithuania in therms of energy independence has taken a huge steps. Lithuania and Estonia have vastly boosted their defense and security over the years. Latvia has only begun boosting the long neglected defense budget after March 2014. Latvian Armed forces have bought first armed vehicles in 25 years which were used before by British army. Latvia has managed to rebuild its only military airfield in Lielvārde so US jets may land there.  Latvian Interior Affairs Ministry has issued plans for fence among the completely unprotected Russian border. With 100 meter gap in every 1000 meters to sustain “animal migration”. Bears, wolves, illegal immigrants and Green men rejoice! Luckily after journalists discovered this the idea of animal migration holes were dropped. But, that just shows how shortsighted is the Latvian defense planing.

In terms of energy independence the Russian Gazprom again gained victory in Latvia. Despite EU directive to cancel gas monopoly in Latvia that belongs to Latvijas Gāze company, half of its stocks belonging to Russia Gazprom and importing the gas only from Russia still kept its sole position. Formerly Economics sector was led by Vienotība who delayed the liberalization of the gas market. When the Ministry of Economics were taken over by Daiga Reizniece- Ozola from the Green Party she finally begun steps to remove Latvijas Gāze monopoly. And the former chess champion met stiff resistance from Latvijas Gāze leadership and was outplayed. Latvijas Gāze new president was former Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis. His right hand woman was former chief of state chancellery Elita Dreimane who before was leading documentation against the Latvijas Gāze now went renegade and used all her knowledge against the state. Latvijas Gāze recruited many other former politicians and former state employees. So the liberalization failed and Latvia will be still solely dependent on the Russian gas supplies.

  Lastly its the growing notion of anti-EU sentiment boosted by refugee phobia. The refugee issue caused a outburst of racism in Latvian society. Racism, homophobia and antisemitism has always been present in the society but this time it was boosted by Latvian politicians. The anti-refugee protests and marches supported by NA were dominated by openly racist slogans. While pro-refugee activists raised arguments that Latvians were once a refugees after Word War II and were granted refuge in Europe and America, their received response that since Latvia refugees where white that does not count as an argument. Refugee phobiac’s blamed EU for forcing Latvia to accept “blacks” while forgetting that Latvia is committed to EU not just EU to Latvia.  Echos of Kremlin propaganda was clearly visible as protesters blamed Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs open homosexuality for such pro-refugee policy. When Latvian public choose young Latvian singer Aminata for Eurovision song contest many complained that a black singer was sent to represent Latvia. After she gained highest results in five years there was disappointment that Latvia has no white singer to gain such results. Racism and homophobia was not created by Kremlin. Yet Putin’s Russia openly promotes racism and homophobia and its good it has not begun openly promoting antisemitism. If Latvian politics and society are choosing to support Kremlin values there is no need to relay on support on defense from Kremlin tanks. Its our own choice if we want to create insecurity or security for us and our children.

Challenges for 2016

The main challenge of 2016 is withstood ever-growing Kremlin influence. Eiroskeptick government influenced by oligarch accused of criminal charges is a danger to our country. Our inability and unwillingness to host and integrate a small number of refugees is also an obstacle to our security. The dangers from two terrorist supporting forces the Islamic State and Russia’s Kremlin will grew stronger in 2016. There is possibility that after cease of the Mensk (Minsk) agreements the war may again erupt in Ukraine. While Russia is bombing Syria, lets not forget Russia is merely testing its weapons and gadgets for conflict in Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. The falling oil prices and rapid decline of the Russian economy may increase the possibility of Russian involvement in more military conflicts. As war is one of the ways to avoid domestic failure. Latvia must sustain itself in the face of this threats. Have truly liberal pro-EU and pro-NATO government. We must resist the rogue influence and strengthen our security. This is our responsibility to generations ahead. Will we celebrate 100 years of Latvia and will we celebrate 200 years that is decided by our actions right here and now.

In the end of this long post that I hope the readers have taken note of many of the issues and warnings written here, I wish everyone a happy and safe 2016. 2016 is the year of the Monkey. Smart and versatile creature, also very cunning and manipulative and we are heard of the monkey with grenade in his hand. Lets be smart and versatile and  cunning to defeat our foes. To talk with you again in 2016!

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Latvia 2014 The Year or Peril

Another year is heading for an end. The last post of this year will be review of events that took place in Latvia during 2014.  In past I called the 2011 as the year or troubles, the 2012 the year of quarrels, the 2013 the year of struggles. What I choose for this year will be the Year of Peril. It was the peril of the aggression coming from our eastern borders, it was the peril of the new economic backslide and peril of perpetual troubles and struggles that started on 2009. Yet to start reviewing this year we must go back to November 21 2013. First it was the start of the protests in Kyiv, Ukraine that later affected our country and the Maxima supermarket roof collapse that took away 54 people’s lives  and lead to the collapse of the long-standing Valdis Dombrovskis government. Both these events that took place on the same time affected the Latvian inter and foreign policy. Around these two events the story of the perilous 2014 year will  be told.

Latvia and the Ukrainian Conflict

Last September I had chance to listen to the famous journalist and author Anne Apelbaum. The author of Gulag A History  and The Iron Curtain was no rushing to finish the book about the Golodomor the Great Ukrainian famine on 1932-1933. The book was delayed for many years because the publisher considered Ukraine as unimportant topic as nothing ever happens there that would boost the sales. So it seems that suddenly 2014 became actually the year of Ukraine. But, what started in Ukraine was no coincidence nor it was unexpected. The signs of brewing revolution and conflict were visible on summer 2013 when nation was discussing the coming EU Association agreement that the pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych had promised to sign. At same time some publications were suggesting of possible conflict between Russia and Ukraine in case of moving towards west. One publication was called “Russia could blow up the situation in Crimea”.

The initial protests in Ukraine echoed in Latvian media and social circles. First support actions took place on December near the Ukrainian embassy. They were attended by 20-30 people, mostly the members of the Latvian Ukrainian Congress and the members of the National Alliance that expressed the support to the Ukrainian revolution. Yet the National Alliance  is pro-EU only for geopolitical reasons and their members like to play hockey with the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Yet, every further Ukrainian support action gathered more people from all kinds of political parties and social circles. For the starting slogans of the Euromaidan were for joining EU, saying no to corruption and adapting the western values of democracy were appealing to Latvia. We had our barricades on 1991 were we stood against communism and destroyed the communist symbols. While Kyiv was celebrating the demolition of the Lenin monument in Kyiv we are wondering what happened to most Lenin monuments that were taken down on 1991. Yet it was not just about monuments and agreement signing it was a fight for independence and sovereignty. What the 2004 Orange revolution failed to achieve the Euromaidan struggled with blood – full freedom from the yoke of Moscow. Something that every Russian neighbor strives for and for Ukrainians it is matter of historical honor the original Kievan Rus against the Grand Duchy of Moscow – the remnant of the Golden Horde.

The Latvian official policy towards the Ukrainian revolution was supportive and it welcomed the new government that formed in the outcome of February 24 events. Yet what followed next – the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and further invasion in Eastern Ukraine started the year of Peril. Many call this ongoing situation as the “New Cold War”, originally this therm was coined by British journalist Edward Lucas on 2008. When Russia provoked Georgia in to war and occupied two of its regions. Later both Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev   later admitted that they planned this war to prevent Georgia from joining EU and NATO. Yet back then the Western leaders swallowed this event with shame. Soon the worldwide economic crisis shadowed the events that took place during summer. Yet the warning was given but not heard – Russia is always in for confrontation towards west no matter the costs. For the Cold War thinking was never given up for the Kremlin rulers.

To explain why Russia in confronting the west right now and has did for last 20 years is to tell the metaphor or the bear and octopus.  Russia likes to portray herself as angry bear. Yet, the bear mostly sticks to own territory and himself. He only goes outside his territory when  he runs out of food. Otherwise he is mostly peaceful if not attacked or disturbed. That is not Russia. Russia is an octopus. Its head and main body is within Moscow but its testicles stretches all around the Eastern Europe and Asia. It tries to hold all its neighboring countries within its grasp. Any attempt of trying to break free is met with hostility and anger. The octopus is also afraid of others trying to cut of his testicles and reach for its head. Without all of its captured assets the Moscow would be powerless and left to decay. And that’s why Russian propaganda is  telling tales of encircled fortress, the hunted bear and struggle to prevent aggression. But, from the history we know that all foreign invasions in Russia from the western side started as response to Russian aggressive policy towards the west. Since the octopus is trying to hold all whats around him this the reason why Russia did not respect the sovereign independent policy of Georgia and Ukraine, while open intervention in neighboring country is “brotherly help”, the involvement of the western countries in the Russia’s neighbors is viewed as aggression against Russia itself.   Therefore Russia views all its border states as their sphere of interest that no other country can mingle. And it’s not like EU and NATO really wants the Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia for their sphere of interest. Ukraine needs west more than west needs Ukraine. And the reason is the claws coming from Moscow.

Vladimir Putin may have prevented Georgia from fully joining NATO and made the same harder for Ukraine. However, his most crucial failure was to prevent the Baltic States from joining the Western block. The Baltic States joined NATO and EU on 2004 leaving Russia frustrated and trying to bring their claws back ever since. The Russian aggression in Ukraine suddenly raised the question of the Latvian security. The Latvian political games had managed to remove the influential minister of defense Artis Pabriks from the main political scene. The often hawkish politician for years called for boosting up the neglected Latvian defense budget. It never reached the NATO 2% of the state budget standard.  After collapse of the Valdis Dombrovskis Pabriks was called as one of the potential candidates for the Prime Minister. However, the President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš rejected him. Later he was elected as member of EU parliament.  The current minister of defense Raimonds Vējonis is a leader of the Green Party. A seemingly unusual choice for such post yet nothing is its seems in the Latvian politics. Vējonis has taken his job seriously and taken steps to boost our military budget. He has brought more NATO troops in Latvia, even tanks from US. However, the army itself needs capable army. The lack of armed vehicles is compensated by buying used ones from UK. The army needs new anti air radars to intercept low flying Russian KA-50 attack helicopters that were stationed near the Latvian borders. Even more crucial is the training of the new servicemen, the support for the National Guard and so on. As Latvia just cannot relay on Estonia that has barely reached 2% defense budget requirement and  slightly more equipped Lithuanian army. Furthest neighbor Poland is boosting up military while Sweden is just waking from confusion of the Russian submarine within its waters. Russia is constantly testing the Baltic security by doing almost daily air force flights near the Latvian air space. With their transponders off they force the NATO Baltic patrol planes to take off to intercept them. Recently even the old but majestic TU-95 strategic bombers took flights within the Baltic Sea. Recently Russia has brought Iskander missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave for “drills”. All this has made opposite effect – NATO is bringing even more resources to ensure the Baltic security.

The Latvian inner security is also under question. The underfunded police force and seemingly slow and invisible special services raised doubts. The Security Police had change in leadership – the ongoing general Jānis Reiniks was replaced by Normunds Mežveits. Trough out the year there were various attempts by locals to support terrorists in Eastern Ukraine.  From raising donations to sending actual recruits. While Estonian security service had exposed many Russian agents, the Security Service and Constitutional Defense Bureau had found none. The other important question was the Residence Permits in exchange for real state property program for Russian citizens. By buying real estate in Latvia the Russian, Chinese or other non-EU citizen could gain residence permit within EU countries. The National Alliance had campaigned to close it down for years, sparking concerns of danger to the state security. The defenders of this policy says its helps the crisis hurt real estate to survive and that some of the residents from Russia are opponents of the Putin’s policy. True that small portion of Russian dissidents has left Russia for Latvia, for it’s a country with high use of Russian language and that the former Lenta.ru banned by Putin is now working in Riga as Meduza.ru. But its only a small number. One part of the Russian investors only buy the real estate but is not living there, renting or selling to others and giving no other investments to Latvian economy. Russia a country with official anti-western policy but with tons of investments and property within EU and US is a danger to Latvian economic and inner security. So far this residence permit security has not fully abolished.

Latvia joined the EU and US joint sanctions against Russia. The Russian response – to ban the import of EU food products, meat, fish and dairy products affected some of the Latvian companies. Not only that the Lithuanian and Polish apple importers were forced to send their production to Latvia alarming the local apple sellers. But, the local apple harvest was poor this year anyway.  While most Latvian traders accepted this and tried to compensate the losses others openly protested therefore boosting the Russian propaganda. One of the most prominent complainers was Major of Riga Nils Ušakovs. Leader of the mainly Russian speaking voters party left unreasonable rants about the sanctions in twitter and said that he is going to Moscow to “beg” to allow at least some of the Latvian products. His main concern was his special Rishij Dvorik Latvian food stand that grew empty after sanctions. Despite his visit to Moscow were he met Dmitri Medvedev and Grand Patriarch of the Moscow Orthodox Church   Kirill his Rizhkij Dvorik remained empty and went to rock bottom after Russian currency crisis.

Ušakovs also sent apologies to the blacklisted Russian singers and actors who expressed support for the Russian aggression. Among them Josif Kobzon, Valeria and others. In the end International Music festival “New Wave” hosted by the Russian television decided to leave Jurmala resort and move somewhere else presumably Crimea. The Ušakovs rants about sanctions and blacklists raised another issue- the issue of the pro-Moscow parties within Latvia. The Harmony Center now known simply as socialdemocratic party “Harmony” found itself unconformable with the Ukrainian issue. While confirming they support the Ukrainian territorial integrity, they were reluctant to denounce the Russian invasion and broke the association agreement with the United Russia party – the leading party in Russia. While Harmony balanced as usual the other one the Latvian Russian Union openly supported the Crimean annexation. Their leader Tatjana Ždanoka – the communist orthodox from the 1989-1991 came to Crimean “referendum” as EU observer. Despite the condemnations Ždanoka was re-elected as member of EU parliament openly pushing the Kremlin interests within Brussels. Her party however failed to reach any success in the parliament elections. The other more radical forces the movement “Zarya” (The Awakening) run by far right Ilarions Girss and Jevgēņijs Osipovs were preaching that Latvia should become another Donbass. Throughout the year   various Russian ideologues entered Latvia as part of the organization Media club “A-3” and expressed the ideas of Russian world and Euroasian state. Also the newly elected member of the parliament Ingūna Sudraba raised doubts about her connections with the Russian secret service and Kremlin elite. More bizarre was here connections with bogus religious group “Urantia” that believes in reptilian conspiracy against Russia and Putin as the holy savior. The invisible yet so visible reach of the Moscow octopus takes many passages to be described but this is a short glimpse.

The Collapsed Roof of the Latvian politics

The Maxima disaster left great shock to the Latvian society. The radicals wanted heads to roll immediately. However, the Latvian old saying of responsibility – Everyone is responsible, therefore no one is responsible again worked. The president Andris Bērziņš who called disaster as major mass murder had to approve his rhetoric.  After harsh talk with prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the latter resigned. Dombrovskis who had been Prime minister of several governments since 2008, lead the country trough the crisis and pawed Latvia to Eurozone had to resign ending an era. A question yet remains who stands behind his resignation that seemed unintended, – the president, parliamentary speaker Solvita Āboltiņa or the oligarch Aivars Lenmbergs   or all of them together will not be answered now. It will take time to answer what happened on late  November 2013. Right now Dombrovskis serves as European Commissioner for the Euro and Social Dialogue.

What was left after  Dombrovskis was political vacuum before 2014 October general election. As mentioned Artis Pabriks was turned down by the president or he was let down by his own party. The leader of the Unity party Solvita Aboltiņa refused to take PM office. The grey cardinal was growing unpopular within the voters so placed forward a compromise figure – the non party minister of Agriculture Laimdota Straujuma. A discrete careful woman the Straujuma became the first female PM in Latvia.  As the anti-lemberg Reform Party went into decay, the Lembergs lead Green Party Union returned to coalition and took over many important sectors such as Defense. Straujuma firstly considered herself only as temporarily Prime Minister until elections in October.

However, the power gap in Unity party was clearly visible. Two most prominent leaders Dombrovskis and Pabriks were elected to Brussels. The other members were not strong and influential to lead the country. So Straujuma remained as PM candidate for the elections and now serves her second therm.  The elections became nightmare for the party leadership. The party chairman also the chairman of the parliament (Saeima) Solvita Āboltiņa was not elected. The ongoing red-haired speaker has grown infamous for here arrogance and schemes. However, let’s be honest – the Latvian society dislikes strong powerful woman in office. But, Āboltiņa did not surrender. Jānis Junkurs the member of the Reform Party separatists, rather quiet and mysterious young man, now turned to Unity to run in elections. With his self funded election campaign he gained more points than the Grey Cardinal with Red hair and made in to parliament above here. But he was absent from the public scene after the election. Then on the day when the  new parliament was called he announced his resignation from the parliament. In such matter according to election laws the Solvita Āboltiņa replaced him. Leaving no comment the Junkurs left the scene and founded new company in Hong Kong.   Many obviously pointed that he was forced to give his seat to Āboltiņa. She soon took the seat of the National Security Parliamentary Commission showing that foxes never give up.

The National Alliance gained extra seats in the elections. Known as champions in conservative ideology they were known as champions in justice corruption. Of course nothing is proven. Only that both of their ministers for Justice and Regional Affairs were rejected to receive state secrets. So were taken out of game. Still Nationals secured the control over justice after the elections, and also gained the most valuable parliamentary speaker  seat that was taken by Ināra Mūrniece.

The Green Farmers – alliance between Latvian Farmers Union and the Green Party and the Ventspils city party of Aivars Lembergs benefited the most from the Dombrovskis downfall. Their main opponents the Reform Party had went into collapse. The Green Farmers returned to coalition and secured their old sectors – agriculture and welfare and also conquered the strategically vital ministry of defense and ministry of economy. The later was taken by chess champion Daiga Reiznience-Ozola.

The Harmony party failed this year. Despite winning the election by percent, they did not gain enough seats to form coalition. Nor they were asked to because of the  Ukrainian conflict. Their potential allies – For Latvia With Heart only gained 7 seats. More interesting was the new Regional Party elected member Artuss Kaimiņš. Outspoken, aggressive, often rude actor, he owned videoblog that was aired on radio for some time, where he interviewed his guest in the most bombastic way now entered politics. His main flagship was the Maxima disaster investigation on parliamentary level  and exposure of the corruption and injustice. After few months he was denounced for his drunk fight in rock cafe.  Its remains to be seen if he will evolve into Latvian Alexander Zhirinovsky.

Latvia so far rather successfully survived the national currency Lats transition to Euro. The patriotic nostalgia of the old beutiful currency soon was washed away by the war in Ukraine, as it was more important to be part of the strong global currency. The Russian propaganda tales  of the Eurozone collapse now is dwindled away by the real collapse of the Russian ruble. Now our neighbor Lithuania will enter Eurozone on 2015 making Baltic states under single currency.

Latvia – challenges for the 2015

Latvia will become the presiding nation of the EU. The EU presidency during these turbulent times will be crucial. In both of state security and international prestige. Russia openly harassed Lithuania during its presidency this year. Informational war and military threats are potential danger. Latvia has been exposed to the Russian propaganda for years and it will grow even more. Great concern is if Russia is planning more than informational warfare but a hybrid warfare using gaps in our security. Such actions can be dangerous for both Russia and Latvia as we are the NATO member. Another danger is looming in our neighboring country Belarus. For 20 years this country has been ruled by authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko whose semi-socialist economy is depended on Russia. As the ruble in Russia went into decay the over inflated Belarusian ruble took a hit. Lukashenko is looking to avoid maidan in Belarus, by balancing between    Moscow and Europe and his people. Same as Yanukovych the Lukashenko maneuvers will end at one point leaving country in danger of either revolution or the Russian incursion. Since Belarus is our neighboring country that also should be considered as the fourth Baltic State, any major disturbance especially if its involves EU and Russia will be the prime interest for Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Certainly the Belarus could be potential hotspot and game changer on 2015.

  The economical development is at constant caution. Latvia seemingly recovered from the economic crisis on the end 2013. We entered Euro, the remnant of the 2013 crisis the Citadele bank – the former Parex Bank that state had to nationalize was sold to foreign investors this November. The economical and energy dependence on hostile Russia must be limit if not cut all together. Russian economy is collapsing because of the western sanctions and the falling oil prices. Greater economical ties and cooperation must be established with Ukraine and Belarus. Russian economic sanctions are likely to increase on Latvia during 2015. On 2015 Latvia will be on the front of the international rivalry between the West and the Moscow octopus. The 2015 will be the year of the Goat. Goat is symbol of smartness, independence and wealth. Yet Goat is also the symbol of the Devils face. The Goat year previously was 1919 and 1991 the two very crucial years for Latvia. Lets be smart and independent and also courageous on year 2015 and reach new milestone and achievements.

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Nazi Germany and the Putin’s Russia: The Grand Parallel

“But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On November 11 1918 the German Empire witnessing economic problems and facing revolution was forced to sign armistice. The German armies were still within the frontiers in France and Russia. Not a single enemy soldier had occupied any quarter of the German lands. Germany was unable to win the World War I, but was only partially defeated. There was no major fighting in the German land except the early battles on 1914 in East Prussia. German army was still intact, the political system witnessed major shift from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, but most imperial elite were not persecuted and still played major role. All the radical communist uprisings were stopped at early start. However, Germany lost many territories were ethnic Germans lived many new countries formed with large German population including Latvia. The severe reparations imposed by the Allied states at the Treaty of Versailles and inter political rivalry made Germany suffer from heavy inflation and unemployment. And with this from a early start a group of people – past imperial elite, war veterans and nationalists who believed that Germany was not defeated, but betrayed by inner rouge forces. And their goal was to avenge the humiliation of  November 11 1918 and restore the former German Empire which collapse was a catastrophe of their lifetime. Also most Germans did not felt any guilt for its part in WWI. The goal of the historians was to prove that Germany was not responsible for causing WWI.

73 years later the Soviet Union could not gain the upper hand in the Cold War, plagued by economic problems and revolutionary changes the major superpower collapsed. Soviet Union was defeated in long exhaustive war that was fought mostly by proxy in the Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and elsewhere with the Western block. In result the Soviet Union broke in to various new countries with large Russian population. The painful economic reforms lead to severe economic breakdown and poverty. Single party state was replaced with unstable multi-party rule. Separatist movements showed up within Russia. Communist uprising on 1993 was defeated with tanks. However, the past soviet elite, the KGB forces and army still intact kept its position and were convinced that Soviet Union was betrayed by the traitors sponsored by foreign enemy. And so they joined ranks to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union and revenge on those who by their minds made the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of their lifetime. And the Russian people still saw the Soviet past as glorious and did not see any wrongs in the Soviet actions in the past.   Despite some attempts to revise the soviet past the mainstream Russian historiography has been based on old Soviet ideological guidelines.

The German economic situation was critical trough out the early twenties. Hyperinflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment made the German people look for radical solutions. There were strong communist movement in Germany and various radical nationalist movements. A great rise of esoteric movements who integrated old pagan beliefs into new racist Aryan doctrines. Generally on second half of the twenties the economy stabilized until 1929 the start of the Great Depression the situation went into downwards spiral again. And all this was accompanied by the rise of antisemitism  and conservative radicalism when regarding art and sexual matters.

Russian Federation suffered a state default in 1998, chaos in economy at the edge of banditry. Russian politics were filled with old time communists, ultra nationalists,various radical religious movements. Old Slavophile theories of Slavic unity and Russian racial superiority were brought back to life. National hate towards Jews, Caucasians and Central Asians raised up to new level. After 2001, following the general economic growth and the rise of oil prices made Russia recover and reach new heights until 2008 the start of the economic crisis.

The German politics even before Hitler, were based on the revision of the Versailles treaty. The treaty of Rapallo on 1922, the diplomatic pressure on Poland and the Baltic States were dictated by the will of restoring the power over the German speaking Easter Europe.  Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was not far from Hitler in his revisionist policies only in less radical anti-democratic manner.

Russian foreign experts already on 1992  devised a Russian foreign conception based on defending the rights of the Russian speakers in the former soviet republics. The main tactics was the use of international treaties, human right charters and support for Russian organizations outside the Russian Federation. Diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Baltic States begun already before Putin. Boris Yeltsin despite less radical than Putin was pursuing the same revisionist policies.

After failed coup attempt and short imprisonment the decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler managed to gather the radical nationalist forces and win elections on 1933. However, his rise of power was not dictated just by the common will of the people, but the inner intrigues and the weakness of the German leadership who allowed Hitler to take power. After the president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg lost his bets on two rivaling politicians Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleiher, he was forced to choose Hitler as chancellor hopping that his power will be limited. But, Hitler managed to use the burning of the Reichstag as excuse for complete takeover of the power. Shortly after that old and sick Hindenburg died unable to change anything.

Just as Hitler was disappointed to see German Empire to collapse, the KGB agent Vladimir Putin who on that time served in Eastern Germany was clearly traumatized by collapse of the Soviet Union. As there was no lustration of the former party and the intelligence elite, the man slowly but pragmatically climbed up the top of the political elite. The sick and tired Boris Yeltsin was forced to accept him as his replacement as Putin was supported by various Kremlin power circles. Same as the German conservatives thought of Hitler, they also thought that Putin will be limited in his powers and support their interests. However, while still as acting president Putin was gifted with terrorist acts in Moscow and the new conflict in Chechnya. In the same matter as Hitler gain upper hand by placing on the communist threat, Putin used the terrorist threat to win elections and gather his power. Boris Yeltsin was retired and unable to change anything.

Despite Hitlers long propagandized radical intentions, most countries in Europe met him with enthusiasm.  In contrary to sick old Hindenburg and his unstable governments, Hitler seemed a promising figure who will lead Germany into peace and prosperity. And Hitler at his first years of rule implemented his radical aggressive policies at small pace. Leaving good impression on British and American leaders, astonishing everyone with the economical success of Germany, Hitler meanwhile made complete single party leadership, made repressions against the political opposition and started to head against the German Jews. Hitler staged a grand Olympic games on 1936 and on the same year sent his forces to Rhine de-militarized zone and from that moment started to rebuilding his army. UK and France trying to preserve peace accepted the anschluss of Austria. And then Suddentenland of Czechoslovakia and then whole Czechoslovakia itself was added to Germany by the Allied support. A common excuse then not to react – its too far away and there is Germans anyway both in Austria and   Czechoslovakia. And then Hitler believing that allies will play the same passivity on Poland started his path to WW2.

Putin was welcomed by many across the world, despite his KGB past. US president George Bush Jr. was convinced at start that Putin has a soul  of a man of who he can trust. Putin was slow in early politics, however economic growth made him to start suppress his political opponents and restrict freedom of speech. In contrary to Hitler, Putin until this time managed to make a pseudo democracy, even formally making his accomplice Dmitri Medvedev  as president for 4 years. Many tried not to notice what was happening in Russsia, the business and investments played the upper hand.

Putins foreign policy of supporting the Russian speakers in former Soviet Union became more aggressive, just  as Hitlers policy on the volksdeutche in Eastern Europe. The Latvian Secret service from 1933 to 1939 constantly fought against the legal and illegal pro-nazi organizations. Now the present day Latvia is constantly fed up with the pro kremlin organizations operating in Latvia. Putin’s foreign policy was soft based until it opened fire on 2008. The Western reaction was rather self pathetic as they recognized that Georgia opened the fire first (although they were provoked to attack first) and accepted the de facto annexation of  Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Putin invaded and annexed Crimea many western media especially CNN  made flawed arguments that Crimea is Russian anyway, while ignoring long Crimean non-Russian history and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 1944. Still US and EU are slow to increase sanctions and political pressure on Russia. The reasons for this are understandable, however if we follow this grand parallel then Putin might move further in Ukraine and only will be stopped when he attacks the country that has some real guarantees like  Baltic States and Poland.

And this where the Grand Parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia ends. The very point of this parallel is will for revenge and revisionism. A will that lead the Germany into full collapse and destruction. It took many years for Germans to understand the consequences of irrational revenge based policies which made Germany gradually a better place. The Russian nation needs to learn this also to became a better place. Will this lesson be so bloody and destructive as for Germany, its only up to Russian leadership and its people.

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Latvia and the New Cold War

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

On 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev started his perestroika policy few could imagine that after few years we will live again in independent state of Latvia. And after some 20 years again few could imagine that we are heading towards new kind of Soviet Union. The president of Russia has fully exposed his covertly long run anti-western agenda by annexing Crimea and unleashing a rhetoric of confrontation. We are entering an era of instability and security chaos possibly resulting in war. To answer who is to blame for this? We all by our own.

When Soviet Union collapsed on 1991 the new government by Boris Yeltsin was unable or unwilling to make cardinal revolutionary changes not just in Russian economy, but within every aspect of Russian society. The old soviet elite kept their position the so-called nomenklatura adapted to  new “wild capitalism” environment. In result an oligarchy controlling Kremlin politics  appeared that made the things the old soviet ways and were above anyone else. Truly a shock reform policy was needed to switch to free market economy, but in society with less experience of free market policy the reforms served only small part of the society. A shock reforms were needed in Russian political ranks- complete de-sovietization – where all forms of communist parties are forbidden, the communist rule is condemned and unmasked at full-scale. Instead for many the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster not a beginning of the liberation for the Russian people.

An important thing that was not achieved was the shake up or even liquidation of the KGB – the Soviet Secret Service. Also old soviet army leaders kept its positions. The KGB a guardian of the Soviet power did everything to save USSR from collapse even 1991 August coup. After it was shamefully divided as Federal Security Service (FSB) and the External Intelligence Service (SVR) its employees were scared of being persecuted or fired. But Boris Yeltsin administration did nothing – on 1993 Yeltsin brutally crushed his political opponents with tanks and year later started war in Chechnya against  national separatists. True the 1993 White House defenders waved Red Banners and Chechnya separatists used terrorist tactics, but this again made the Russian security services on the top. Yeltsin was dependent on so-called siloviks – the security elite and the oligarhs and to gain his reelection a lot of he had to sacrifice. On 2000 to keep his family safe from corruption charges he had to succumb to security elite and choose Vladimir Putin a ex KGB agent his new successor.

We may say that Putin has no personality and he seemed plain and shallow. So they spoke the same about Stalin and Hitler. What he and his close KGB veterans wanted is to regain the lost legacy of the KGB and the Soviet army. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet union was a result of the peoples will for freedom and democracy – no it was done by the western secret agencies and shallowly forces of the western capital elite. Putin on 1996 in TV interview had warned about the dangers of over powered security apparatus as a threat to civil liberties. Now he was working to prove this.

Meanwhile the Western world looked at Russia with either amusement or positive interest. Some political annalists like Francis Fukuyama rote major books about the end of the history, where the whole world will turn to liberal democracies and reach greatest progress. The US president George Bush issued a time of the New World Order where US will take the leading part. Instead the 1990ies were marked strong US will for isolationism. US Democrat President Bill Clinton wanted to avoid the direct force of the US military. In result the failed military actions  in Somalia and Afghanistan showed the Islamic radicals that US is vulnerable to  attack. US still had abnormal fears about Russia, based on the lack of insight and understanding. Both US and EU wanted from the former soviet countries to do things they were unable off. The point made by Samuel Huntington that eastern countries can successfully modernize, but not necessarily westernize became the ultimate reality. Macdonalds in Moscow, Russians riding German BMW’s and using Microsoft Windows did not change the fact that Russian politics are still ruled by ex-soviet elite. Who also modernized – mansions in UK and Italy, children in western schools, but the same old anti-western view.

When on 2000 Putin came to power his hands were still too short on establishing a dictatorship. Russia still had economic problems from the economic default. But, after 2001 9/11 the oil and gas price started to rise up. When the Republican administration in contrast to light democrats unleashed two full-scale wars in Middle East the oil prices skyrocketed. An invasion in Iraq proved to be unnecessary and poorly planned in the spirit of the Neo-Conservative Tom Clancy novel thinking where US forces easily crushes the enemy and makes democracy failed. But, it was a gift to crisis driven Russia, dependent on  oil and gas exports. It worked for Leonid Brezhnev once and it worked for Putin also- oil price boosted economic growth gained within Russian people. Also the restarted war with Chechnya allowed the FSB to start attacking free press and civil liberties. In the same manner as Stalin purged the members of the Leningrad elite and replaced them with his friends from Tsaritsina front, the Putin purged the Yeltsin supported oligarchs like Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.   Using the legal nihilism – the abuse of laws, Kremlin elite took over nearly all TV, Printed press and radio. However, the old soviet elite underestimated the power of the Russian internet. By capitalizing on oil and gas companies the Putin regime made an authoritarian regime with formal elections and opposition.

At first such situation was ideal for restoration of the Soviet Union. However, Russia was unable to prevent NATO military intervention former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia, Kirghistan and Ukraine.  We can speculate that the western countries did funded the opposition and made foreign funded NGO’s. But, when Russia indiscreetly funds pro-Kremlin movements in post soviet countries and install many pro-Russia NGO’s its described as “brotherly support”. On 1920-1939 the Communist Internationale  made a network of communist parties and legal cover movements within Europe and US looking to overthrow the capitalist governments. And after 1991 the same was done in the name of the Russian speakers outside Russia. This scheme worked in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus. But, it failed in Ukraine on 2004 where large part of people with education and modern outlook managed to prevent ex gangster from Donetsk Viktor Yanukovych to take power. But, according to Kremlin it was not the general will of the people it was the US dollars that caused this. According to soviet leader the people are not supposed to stand against the ruler and are to week to decide themselves.  But, such thinking is generally wrong. If the large numbers of people are ready to stand against tyranny and injustice, support from abroad only boost their will. But, the will to fight against injustice is made by the one who creates injustice.

On 2008 Putin and Medvedev devised a plan to punish Georgia for wanting to join EU and NATO. By making provocations Georgia was pushed into war and lost large part of their territories. But, the goal to cause the downfall of the Georgian government failed. And even the new Georgian leadership has not changed its goal to join EU one bit.

2008 war should had opened the western eyes. Instead last year president of US George Bush who knew the Putin’ s soul only managed to stop Russians from advancing Tbilisi by sending US fleet and the French president Nicola Sarkozy sacrificed Abhazia and South Ossetia to Putin.  The new democrat US president Barack Obama who again tried to make a soft appeasing effort only showed to Russia his weakness and ignorance. First by failing to understand that Medvedev is only de facto ruler of Russia and avoiding Putin, then issuing a “reset” policy. Barack Obama policy was more inclined towards Middle East and the Arab Spring failing to understand the heavy Russian involvement there. Russia was interested in both keeping the Arab dictators and both in disorder as it continually boosted the oil prices. The extensive support for Iran and Syria is needed to keep US in the Middle East as long as possible and have a free hand on the Eastern Europe.

And now we came to Latvia. What Latvian elite and society has done to understand the Kremlin threat. As a country with largest Russian speaker population and Soviet armed forces until 1994, Latvia juggled between harsh nationalistic policies and liberal multiculturalism. In such way the great divide was done within Latvians and Russian speakers and within Latvians themselves who were divided in national conservatives and liberals. Such political divide has kept until this day. While Latvian political elite has successfully managed to prevent from pro-Kremlin forces to take power, the inner struggle has weakened the Latvian political elite. In result a constantly unstable right-wing coalition in contrast to unified pro-Kremlin opposition. Many Latvian parties no longer serve their names they hold. Reform party made no real reforms, Unity failed to unify Latvian politics and the National Alliance serves against the national interests. Green Farmers serves the interests of oligarchs and various radical sectarian movements on both sides only adds to struggle. Latvia is a “small Ukraine” with divided society, corrupt ineffective administrative bureaucratic apparatus  and weakened army.

 In such situation when Kremlin uses force against its neighbors what will happen to Latvia? It’s a rather interesting that despite such divide we have managed to avoid violent outbursts like in 2006 Estonia. But, then again Estonia is a step forward in national policy than Latvia. Latvian army devoid of basic APC’s, airfield still in construction and most of the focus on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan can protect its own citizens. It  always strikes me when on national parade Latvian infantry marches on desert camouflage uniforms – if according to some officials Latvian Army only is needed for missions in the Middle East and Africa then they are at least incompetent. In case of invasion can we only relay on Estonia, Lithuania and Poland and far away NATO forces? But, can our neighbors relay on us? And can our soldiers and people relay on politicians some of them who have very doubtful political views that will make appropriate decisions in case of emergency? These questions are very serious.

US, EU and Latvia must place end to wishful thinking  and deception. Russian investments have overfilled the capital of the UK Londongrad (London) and reached the Westminster palace. Brussels and Strasbourg is full of Russian agents. The sacrifices must be made to prevent further KGB regime advance to Western Europe. Today it is Russian bribes in Paris, tomorrow it will be tanks marching trough the Arc of Triumphe.  The Crimea, Kharkiv and Riga are not that far. A mobilization of society like in Cold War against the common threat against the western values are vital to our survival.

Now about the “common Russian threat”. No the whole Russian nation are not our enemies. Large masses marched in Moscow to protest against the invasion in Crimea. Russia has growing large educated society who wants to enjoy the same way of life as in EU and the US. No doubt that even without the EU and US sanctions Russia will face great economic difficulties. And these people will not want to give away their personal freedoms and money to regime willing to reset to Cold War. The civil resistance against the shallow and old-fashioned neo soviet regime is needed to be supported by Latvia, US and EU. And countries like Ukraine and Belarus that are on the frontline of the new iron curtain requires or support to gain freedom from pro-Kremlin thug regimes. The Putin’s policy of mixing Third Rome idea with Soviet imperialism leads Russia and its neighbors in to collapse. So for next years to come Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states should and will became the field of struggle between new forces of democracy and personal choice and old forces of totalitarian regimes and collectivism.

We are living in times of great changes. It is our personal responsibility in  every way big or small to take part in these changes, and work for the benefit of the free world. The first Cold War was a fundamental fight between two political systems. This New Cold War is a fundamental fight  to defend what had conquered many years ago and prevent from the return from the empire of evil.

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Napoleonic wars in Latvia 1812

Alexander triumphal arch

Alexander triumphal arch dedicated to the victory over the French in 1812

 

While the French “Grande Armee” led by Napoleon I itself headed on route to Moscow in 1812 to meet its ultimate defeat and destruction, other French and allied Prussian armies entered the territory of Latvia. The Napoleonic warfare in Latvia has been poorly researched and mostly forgotten. However, there are many interesting and tragic events like the burn down of the Riga suburbs and many battles that took part on the frontlines. Therefore the story of Napoleonic wars in Latvia is worthily to be told.

The French Revolution (1789-1794) and the rise of the Corsican officer Napoleon set the whole Europe on fire. There were few countries that Napoleon had not yet invaded; even Egypt was on his hit list. Those few countries that enjoyed relative peace and freedom from France were Russia, Great Britain and Sweden. Russia started to prepare for war with France already in 1797 when by Czar Paul I ordered to get conscripts in the Baltic provinces. The period of duty in Russian army was for 25 years and many tried to escape it by deserting or bribing. Only nobles, clergyman, scholars and landowners were free from the draft. When in 1805 Russia joined the war against France the size of the drafted man increased. The territory of Latvia was entered by French secret agents who tried to make Latvian peasants to start uprisings. Most notable French inspired uprising took place in Kauguri on 1802 where only guns and cannons could stop the peasants. On 1806 at many places in Courland revolts erupted because of the close presence of French troops. Napoleon had captured Warsaw and many waited for a liberator to set them free from hated German landlords and Russians.

However, in 1807 Napoleon and Czar Alexander I signed a peace treaty that made both allies. Russia joined the French imposed naval blockade of Great Britain and got free hand on Finland and Balkans. We can compare the Tilsit peace treaty with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In both cases, Russia guaranteed its counterpart relative security and assistance and also gained free hand to annex nearby countries. And in both cases Russia was unwilling to fulfill its obligations and provoked its ally to attack her. Russians arrested British ships and confiscated their products. In return British sent naval expeditions near the Russian coastline. Russians made their own patrol ships accompanied by Cossack patrols on beaches. The main naval defense base was the fortress of Daugavgrīva at the mouth of Daugava near Riga. On 1808 Russia started war against Sweden. Now for the first time the coast of Courland was used by Russian border guards.  There were small skirmishes with the British fleet. After the defeat of Sweden and annexation of Finland the border guard of Courland was disbanded.

The Russian-French relations worsened. Russia was unwilling to fulfill the blockade of the Great Britain that hurt the Russian economy. Also Napoleon and Alexander I had disagreements over Constantinople, Poland and Scandinavia. The last straw for Napoleon was the new customs tariffs that broke the treaty of Tilsit. Napoleon realized that war is inevitable and started to prepare for attack against Russia, before it attacks on him.

Russia was aware of the danger. The Russian War minister Barclay de Tolly convinced the Czar to prepare for war. Army was reorganized; the size of the field army was increased. Russians relayed on the fortresses of Riga, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Kaunas. Riga still had stone walls, while much of 31 000 population lived outside them. That sparked danger and descent of the Baltic Germans Barclay de Tolly in 1811 visited Riga and ordered to improve the fortifications. Many new military objects were built. On May 1812 the new commander of the Baltic provinces was Magnuss Juhan Gustav von Esen a Baltic German from Estonia. He was also the General Governor of Riga. Russian forces were small: 30 infantry battalions, 4 cavalry squads, 7 artillery batteries and some Cossack units. About 12-13 thousand poorly trained men. Riga was also guarded by the fortress of Daugavgrīva with some 3000 soldiers, 40-50 ships and 2-8 cannons and 50-70 sailors on each ship. The fortress of Daugavpils was defended by 3300 men by the command of the general Hamen. In June rumors spread about the arrival of Napoleon in Konigsberg. Many landlords from Courland fled fearing the peasant revolt. From 21 to 24 June all stock of crops from country was moved to Riga. The church of St. Peter and Dome Cathedral was turned into barn. The streets were covered with straws to prevent the explosions of the French cannon balls. Even cattle and horses were ordered to be sent to Riga, but that order was not fulfilled.

On the night of June 24 without the declaration of the war Napoleon’s army invaded Russia. At the first day the fortress of Kauna was taken. The Grand Army consisted 650 000 men, 182 000 horses and 1100 cannons. Only 350 000 of the whole army were French about 20 nations were forced to take part. After four days Vilnius was taken and the interim government of Lithuania was established. After that French head to Vitebsk. Napoleon’s original intention was to meet and defeat the Russian army in open battle near the border. After that he would dictate the peace terms.  However, the Russian army retreated inland and as more Napoleon pursued them the more his army went further away from the French supply points. That was the Russian trap.

To assist the main invading force, the allied Prussian army had to secure the Napoleon’s army background. The commander in charge was Alexander Macdonald with his 10th corpus (302 00 men). Prussians entered Courland with 20 infantry battalions, 24 squadrons, 3 horseman and infantry batteries with 8 cannons in each, 3 field engineers, 5 artillery and 2 pontoon units. Together – 22 officers and 17 180 soldiers. Prussia was promised that in case of victory it would gain the Baltic provinces. The main Prussian tasks was to defend the Neuma river and the main supply line, restrict the Riga garrison from offensive actions, be ready to cross river Daugava to endanger the Russian right flank, capture Daugavpils, siege and capture Riga and take over Courland to gain the resources.

On 26 June drunk Russian cavalry officer Apushkin warned the general governor of Courland Fridrich von Ziver that he had spotted fast approaching enemy along the road to Dobele heading for Jelgava. Ziver reported this to Riga sparking great panic. In the end it turned out that Apushkin had mistook the dust clouds made by cattle herd that was lead by Russians themselves, for enemy army. Apushkin was arrested and demoted to the simple soldier.

On 16 July the corpus split near the city of Panavezys. The army divided in three wings one heading to Jelgava (Mittau), other to Jaunjelgava (Friedrichstadt) and Jēkabpils (Jacobstadt), other went to Leipāja (Libau) and Ventspils (Windau) to take over the ports.  The Russian 1st Army led by Barclay de Tolli crossed river Daugava and retreated to town of Drisa and later to Smolensk. Only Russian forces remaining were the 1 Corpus lead by Peter Ludvig Adolf Vitgenstein.

Liepaja was taken without a fight in 19 July and Prussians moved further into Courland. On 18 July Prussians captured the town of Bauska and Skaistkalne. Russians organized a counter attack to recapture Bauska. Russians moved forward with 8 infantry battalions, 4 cavalry squadrons and 2 batteries. Near Bauska at Kārļa Muiža Prussians met Cossacks and pushed them back only to be ambushed by more hiding Cossacks. Exited Cossacks started to chase and became attacked by two Prussian dragoon squads.  Cossacks were forced to draw back. Prussians learned from captured Cossacks, that Russians had established near Iecava and decided to wait for the arrival of the main troops. At midday Prussians head towards Iecava. Prussians defeated the Russian majority and Russians retreated to Riga. On 20 July Russians evacuated Jelgava. Latvian peasants were hoping that they will receive the same rights as the peasants in France. However, the Prussian administration issued a statement that serfdom will not be abolished for now. Instead more taxes were collected to support the invading army.

After Jelgava was taken next target was Riga. The worrying part for Russian administration was the vast suburbs of Riga outside the walls of Riga. Since the living space within thr walls was too small, people built houses outside them. But, that lead to their destruction incase of war. From 1559 to 1812 these suburbs were burned down for seven times. On 29 June the state of siege was declared in Riga. Craftsmen were forbidden to leave. All explosive and flammable mixtures were taken away. A food reserves for four months were placed even in churches. The House of Blackheads was turned into war hospital but the Great Guild into war supply storage. British gunboat squadron entered river Daugava. After the battle near Iecava on 19 July, general Essen ordered to burn down the Jelgava suburb of Riga- today’s district of Torņkalns and Āgenskalns. After the capture of Jelgava on 21 July more suburbs named after Moscow and Petersburg were ordered to be burned down. However, the protests by the civilians made Esen halt his intentions. But, soon he learned about the coming of the Prussian troops and in 23 to 24 July ordered to burn down remaining suburbs. Prussians approached Ķengarags and Katlakalns. Hesen was worried about Prussians being so close and ordered to burn down everything outside the walls. Russians wanted a free field for fire. In result 5 churches, 702 living houses, 35 state estates and 36 storages perished. According to data gathered in 1813 the damage done to civilians was 16 821 rubles. 6882 people were left homeless. In following years Russian royal family made donations and Alexander I gave credits to Riga to cover the losses.

The burning of the Riga suburbs 1812

The burning of the Riga suburbs 1812

Many thought that Esen made a hasty decision by burning down the suburbs and in the result he was fired. He was replaced by Italian marquise Paulucci. A year after he went to rehab at Baldone and ended his life in suicide.  Prussian forces actually did not want to attack Riga at that moment.

From 24 to 29 July a frontline was established from Sloka to Daugavpils that without serious changes held intact until 20 December when Prussians abandoned Courland. Prussian staff was located at Olaine and Pētermuiža. Fortifications were made to prevent Russian counter attacks.

However, few battles took place. At 4 August Russians made attack on Sloka. Together with gun boats and artillery fire they hoped to seize the Prussian forts. On 7 August it was achieved, however small firefights took place around Sloka until October. On 22 August Russians attacked the Prussian controlled town of Ķekava. The Prussians were taken by the surprise and town was captured. Later at 24 August Prussians managed to gain back many lost positions.

In September Prussians were planning to start attack on Riga. However, Napoleon halted this. After the battle at Borodino he wanted to propose peace negotiations. Also in August Russians made a daring raid on Danzig (Gdansk) forcing French to move forces to that location. That made the Prussian attack force much weaker. On 22 September new commander in chief Fabian Gothard Schteinheil with his 25 000 soldiers entered Riga. He led a successful campaign against Sweden and conquered Finland. On 26 August Russians advanced to Rundāle and Jelgava. At Rundāle where past dukes of Courland had built a magnificent baroque castle Prussians had placed large cannons for desired siege of Riga. Russians wanted to capture them. After many days of fighting slowed down by autumn rain, Russians retreated on 30 September. The attack was a failure and both commanding officers Hesen and Schteinheil were fired.

On Latvian eastern region Selonia also small battles were fought. Jēkabpils the main center in the region was taken without any resistance on 22 July. The main commander Macdonald was leading the capture and stayed there until 13 August. Russians indented to recapture the city. Jēkabpils is located on the shores of river Daugava and on the other side the town called Krustpils (Kreuzburg) was located. Prussians built a bridge connecting both cities, but after close up of the Russian forces the bridge was removed. Krustpils had large Medieval fortress that became the main point of action. It was captured by Russians at night of 12 -13 November. Also the Jaunjelgava was more important strong point. The fights for this town were so harsh that it was retaken by both sides many times. Only on November it was finally taken by Russians.   On 15 November Russians crossed the ice and captured Jēkabpils.

Bitter battle was fought for the fortress of Daugavpils on 13-16 July. The fortress was important defense position on route to Petersburg. Commanded by Peter Vitgenstein the fortress was meant to be taken by the Italian duke Nikola Charles Udino. In daring raids across the river Daugava, French failed to capture the fortress. Some Portuguese soldiers also took part in this battle. At 16 July Udino was ordered to move to Orsha to join the main force. Russians learned about this and surprised the French near the village of Ezerosi. Russians gained victory inflicting heavy causalities on French. After the victory over Napoleon, Russian military took great attention on rebuilding and upgrading the Daugavpils fortress.

Despite the numerous requests by Napoleon for Macdonald to cross the river Daugava, he never did that. With his force he could do that and join other French armies. Riga and Daugavpils would be left behind enemy lines. On 11 December Macdonald received sad news about Napoleon retreating from Moscow. The full evacuation of Courland begun. About 30% of the corpus force was lost since June. The remaining men were ill and hungry. Polish and Bavarian soldiers were atrocious and burned and looted many homes. On 18 December the retreat begun. On 21 December Jelgava was taken by Russian troops. At 27 December Russians took Klaipeda (Memel). At the night of 30-31 December Prussian general York signed a capitulation to Russia.

Despite the initial orders not to destroy Courland, at the end it was ravaged by the invaders. Places were Prussians established their bases were damaged, like the Rundāle palace that was turn into war hospital. Many churches were damaged and looted.

In the end Russian army marched all the way to Paris. Stalin was always envious on Alexander I because Stalin’s army “only” reached Berlin. Many monuments commemorating the victory of 1812 were built-in Riga. On 15 September 1817 a Victory Column was built at the Riga Castle square. 7,15 meter tall column with the sculpture of the goddess of Victory Nike stood for many years until First World war when it was evacuated. However the barge carrying the sculpture capsized and it was lost forever. The column stood until 1938, when it was removed by Kārlis Ulmanis government. On 1987 it was indented to restore the monument and place at Jēkabs square. But, the protests from society halted this. Now the parts of the monument lay at Riga city depot at Varoņu Street 3.

Another monument was the Alexander Triumphal Arch built-in 1817 at the end of the Alexander Street (now Brīvības Street). On 28 August 1818 Alexander I himself came trough the arch on his way from Paris.  On 1904 the Arch was moved to Šmerlis because it stood in the way of the first Riga viaduct. On 1936 the arch was moved to Viesturdārzs park where it now serves as an entrance.

Last monument dedicated to war of 1812 was monument to Barclay de Tolly since he originally came from Riga. The monument was placed on 1913 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the war. On 1915 it was evacuated and was lost. During the Stalin’s rule, the site of the monument was actually indented for the Stalin statue. However, his death prevented this. On 2002 businessman Evgeny Gromberg managed to restore the monument on its old pedestal.

Such was the Napoleonic invasion in the territory of Latvia at 1812. The greatest battles were not fought here, however they played important role in Latvian history. The wave of French liberal reforms eventually came to Russia and forced to abolish the serfdom. The leadership of Riga learned from the mistakes of the 1812 and demolished all the stone walls. Riga became modernized city with industrial capabilities and grew larger. The Russian victory in 1812 made Russia closer to the Western world. The modernization that begun after the defeat of Napoleon benefited the whole Europe.

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The Victory Column of 1812

 

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