Latvia, Relations with

   Latvia was incorporated into the Russian empire during the 18th century and later became one of the most developed areas within the empire. During the Russian Civil War, Latvia secured Russian and international recognition of its independence; however, like the two other Baltic States, it was invaded and annexed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) during World War II. The United States, Great Britain, and other Western countries did not recognize Latvia’s incorporation into the USSR.
   During the Soviet era, the republic suffered from the deportation of a significant portion of its intelligentsia and political elites. Latvia experienced significant Russian immigration during the next several decades, alongside unpopular Russification efforts conducted by Moscow. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, a number of nationalist organizations flowered. From 1989 to 1991, Latvia inched toward restoring its independence, which was obtained on 6 September 1991. Alongside Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia set itself on a course for admission to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); both accessions occurred in 2004. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Russia employed a number of mechanisms—including the delay of the withdrawal of Russian forces until 1994—to prevent the country’s efforts to join the organizations, but to no avail.
   The republic’s desire to enter the U.S.-dominated Atlantic alliance, in particular, created problems with Moscow. However, the most contentious issue between the two states remains Riga’s treatment of its sizable ethnic Russian minority. Fearful that Russians and other non-Latvian immigrants (and descendents of immigrants) would function as a fifth column for the Russian Federation and/or prevent the country from revitalizing its language and culture in the postSoviet era, Latvia did not automatically grant citizenship to residents whose ancestors were not citizens prior to 17 June 1940 (the date of the Soviet invasion). Those persons rendered noncitizens by the law were ultimately declared legal residents and eligible to apply for Latvian citizenship, which required knowledge of the Latvian language and an oath of loyalty to the state.
   Official limitations on the use of the Russian language in public life also followed. As more than a third of the population was ethnic Russian or non-Latvian Russophone, this policy created controversy within the country, as well as strident condemnation from politicians in Russia, particularly among the ultranationalists and Communists. Protection of “compatriots” in Latvia, seen as part of the near abroad and thus within Moscow’s sphere of influence, became an important tool for foreign policy elites from the mid-1990s onward. During the Putin administration, Russo-Latvian relations worsened. Recognizing the inevitability of NATO membership, Moscow sought to isolate Latvia through its energy policy. In 2003, Transneft stopped delivering oil to the Latvian port of Ventspils in favor of a more northerly (and Russian-controlled) route to the Gulf of Finland. The cessation of transshipment revenues was a major blow to Latvia since, during the 1990s, Ventspils was the second-largest export port for foreign-bound Russian crude, accounting for more than $150 million per year in revenue. Latvia—in conjunction with Poland and its Baltic neighbors—has strongly criticized Russian plans to develop an undersea natural gas pipeline from Vyborg to Germany as an attempt to weaken its voice within a united Europe; in theory, bypassing these states will allow the Kremlin to exert influence over them via energy control without interrupting flows to Western Europe. On the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, a war of words erupted between Putin and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga over the Soviet Union’s role in “liberating” the Baltics from German occupation, further souring relations. Russia continues to accuse Latvia of rehabilitating fascists and of Russophobic historical revisionism. Also that year, a poll taken in Russia found that Latvia ranked as the country’s greatest enemy, with half the respondents affirming such a position. George W. Bush’s strong support of Latvian democracy, particularly in the wake of the color revolutions, also put a strain on the country’s bilateral relations with Russia. Tensions began to ease in 2007 when Latvia abandoned its lingering border dispute with Russia over the Abrene District, a decision that was officially commended by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
   At $2 billion per year, Latvian-Russian foreign trade is brisk, particularly in the raw materials sector. However, unlike other postSoviet republics, Latvia is not economically dependent on Russia; the European Union collectively accounts for three-fourths of Latvia’s exports and imports.
   See also Leningrad Oblast; Ukraine.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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