Russian lobby in national parliament, forced by Riga city mayor, can hardly succeed - experts
NATO strives to strengthen its eastern flank in view of escalating Russian aggression. Poland in turn is preparing to the upcoming summit of the Alliance - the latter is supposed to announce deploying four additional battalions in the Baltic region and Poland. Russia promises in respond to send more "Iskanders" - mobile short-range ballistic missiles - to the frontier Kaliningrad region.
This is Latgale, one of the Latvian regions, famous for its lakes, pottery, and weaving production. Just thirty kilometres from here Russia has set its paratroopers' division in the region of Pskov. Once a part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Republic now Latgale is said to become a separatist unit in Latvia turning into Latgale People's Republic.
Some of the locals say a couple of former school hooligans went to Ukraine aiming to defend the Russians from the so called Ukrainian fascists. The others surprisingly claim to worry for Ukraine and criticize Kremlin's aggression.
While the average population speculates on who is in benefit of supporting the war in Ukraine, this man speaks seriously of potential Russian scenario unfolding in Latvia. Volodymyr Lindeman once initiated the referendum on recognizing Russian language as a second official along with Latvian.
Volodymyr Lindeman, opposition's activist: "I do not think anything will start here. To make a revolution in Latvia, one has to start from Riga. Educated Russians live mostly there, not in provincial Latgale."
According to official statistics, Russian speakers constitute nearly a quarter of Latvia's population. The majority of them do not have Latvian citizenship, though having a strong lobby in the parliament, headed by Riga mayor Nil Ushakov.
Inga Springe, journalist in Re:Baltica: "Ushakov reminds a totalitarian dictator, similar to what we observe in Belarus. He controls all Russian-speaking media in Latvia. A couple of years ago his e-mail was hacked, and the police got to know he had been cooperating with Russian embassy."
Currently Latvia is trying to struggle with Russian propaganda. Yanis Sartis used to work for Latvia's Defence Ministry, now he is the head of NATO research centre thoroughly studying the means and methods of Kremlin trolls.
Read also Kremlin's infowar in the Baltics
In order to avoid hybrid war Latvian secret service elaborated a law restricting espionage. According to the newly adopted document, those spying for a foreign country may be sentenced to 20 years behind bars, those calling for revolt and government overthrow, are set to spend 15 years in prison.
A group of Latvian journalists headed by Inga Springe revised nearly 300 contracts on selling and buying the real estate in the cities of Riga and Yurmala. The largest sums were paid by Russian oligarchs, among them Gazprom top-managers and the deputies of pro-presidential party "Yedinaya Rossiya" [United Russia]. All of them participated in the program of Latvian government that is getting a stay permit in Latvia after buying real estate.
Despite the mass demand, Latvian authorities strictly follow those willing to be a European citizen. Each person aiming to prolong a Latvian visa has to annually pay 5,000 euros to the Latvian budget.