Staunton, June 9 – No group of ethnic Russians abroad complains more often about mistreatment by the host government than do the longtime ethnic Russian residents of Latvia. But a new wave of ethnic Russians coming to Latvia is not only loyal to the regime but appalled by the pro-Moscow sentiments of that group.
In a comment for Russia’s Lenta news agency, Vladimir Veretnikov says that the “old” Russian minority in Latvia has been a constant headache for Riga; but now Latvia has found an ingenious way of countering the complaints of the ethnic Russians to European institutions -- allowing in an entirely new group of Russians (m.lenta.ru/articles/2018/06/07/evrorusskiy/).
As a result, he says, “a community of Russian-speaking residents of Latvia has appeared which shares European values, is loyal to the authorities and publicly support policies. Moreover, the new Latvian Russians also promise to cooperate with the special services and help political emigres who have been forced to flee Russia to save themselves from repression.”
These new Russian arrivals have formed an Association for the Development of Russian Civil Society and the Support of Russian Emigres. They are it “are loyal to their mother-in-law motherland, support the course of its leadership and are critical about the foreign policy of Russia.”
The man behind this group is publicist Dimitry Savvin, a resident of St. Petersburg until 2015 where he took part in demonstrations and was a member of the unregistered New Force party. But after the authorities began to repress him, he moved to Latvia, with whose Occupation Museum he had been cooperating since 2012.
In 2016, he received the status of a political refugee; but as was the case when he was still in Russia, Savvin continues to be politically active and regularly declares to Latvian journalists and others that “there is no discrimination [against Russians] in Latvia.” Those who say otherwise are “shamelessly lying.”
He points out that some indigenous Russian speakers in Latvia agree with him and have joined his initiative group. Their common goal is “not only to unite Russians who are loyal to Latvia but also to support civil society in Russia,” by depriving Moscow loyalists of the ability to claim they speak for all Russians in Latvia.
“Soviet, Kremlinite, and Russian are completely different terms, although many conflate them,” Savvin said recently. “We intend to fight this and to unite people who are loyal to Latvia and speak in their name” (mixnews.lv/ru/exclusive/news/236437_politi4eskij-bezhenec-kremlevskij-sovetskij-i-russkij-4elovek-eto-raznye-ves4i/).
Savvin’s effort is not the first such attempt to form a group like this in Latvia, Veretnikov says. In 2014, Igor Vatolin announced the formation of a Movement of European Russians to denounce Moscow’s policies in Ukraine and to stress the Europeanness of Russians. He notes that most such Russians in Latvia are trilingual, speaking Russian, Latvian and English.
There was also a movement for New Latvians begun in 2010 to assist Russians applying for residence permits, given that as a result of the economic crisis in Russia, such people were arriving from their original homeland in large numbers – some 12,400 were registered between 2010 and 2014 (newsbalt.ru/analytics/2014/10/milliard-evro-ot-vysokoobrazovannykh/).
The new arrivals “do not conceal their happiness about being in real Europe and often talk in hostile terms about ‘the old Russians’ as [survivals of the Soviet past] and ‘Putinoids.’” The latter respond by denouncing the new Russians in Latvia as renegades and traitors, Veretnikov says.
There are two categories of new Russians, the Lenta journalist says, those who are businessmen and who are seeking protection against the Russian tax services, and those who are “’young emigres,’ ideological and at times radical supporters of a European course” who view everything Russian as bad and everything opposed to it as good.
Many ethnic Latvians are skeptical about the motives of these new Russian Latvians but even they acknowledge that they are loyal and delighted to be in a European state where the law is supreme. But Latvians are concerned that these new arrivals do not show much interest in learning the national language because they can get along without it easily.
The new wave of Russians in Latvia very much wants to win the support of the Latvian people and the Latvian authorities. Savvin’s group is now discussing how to help the Latvian special services identify among the influx of ethnic Russians from Russia those who are real refugees and those who are something else (mixnews.lv/ru/exclusive/news/237205_organizaciya-loyalnyx-russkix-my-ne-volontery-policii-bezopasnosti/).