Saturday, July 20, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Can Bring to Power a Pro-Moscow Regime in Latvia, Report Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – Fresh from their recent victories at the municipal level, pro-Moscow political parties in Latvia can be in a position to win parliamentary elections next year and form a pro-Moscow Latvian government if they receive sufficient help from Moscow as well as from Russian business interests in that Baltic republic.

            In that event, a new study published by the Novy Region 2 news agency says, Russia will secure its geo-economic and geo-political interests in the Baltic, have a secure beachhead within the European Union, and be in a position to use Latvia as a replacemement for Cyprus as an offshore facility (

            Both because the specific authorship of this report is unclear—the news agency says only that it was prepared by “one of the political centers close to the Kremlin – and because its language suggests that it is an argument about what Moscow can and should do rather than a program that has already been agreed to, this report must be treated with care.

            One cannot exclude that this is a provocation. But the report’s plausibility suggests it must not be dismissed out of hand as that alone.  That is because it highights something many in Latvia and the West are inclined to ignore: for Moscow, Latvia’s membership in the EU and NATO is not the end of history but rather a set of new conditions the Russian government is prepared to adapt to or even exploit to promote its own interests.

            In presenting the report for the Russian news agency, Ekaterina Popova says that “despite the fact that by inertia, neighboring Latvia continues its economic drift toward the European Union … political processes which are taking place among are neighbors provide the basis for a future political turnabout.”

            Among those are the victories in recent municipal elections  of pro-Russian parties that brought to power the “’Russian mayor’” of Riga, Nil Ushakov, and allowed his Center of Accord colleagues to win39 of the 60 seats in the Riga city council, as well as the victory of pro-Russian politicians in other local elections.

            These results, she says, “improve the prospects for the formation of a pro-Russian ruling coalition” in the national government after the 2014 parliamentary elections, especially since the Center of Accord party already “controls 31 percent” of the seats there and can expect to gain by appealing to the large portion of the Latvian electorate that is Russian or Russian-speaking..

            To achieve that “strategic task,” Popova says, will require the identification of “a compromise figure who will work for the rapprochement of the positions of the two countries. And she adds that such a figure seems to be available in Dmitry Mazepin, the head of the UralKhim Company.

            The New Region 2 journalist then presents what she says is the full text of a 2700-word report by an unnamed group of Kremlin advisors entitled “On the Results of the Municipal Elections in the Latvian Republic and the Prospects of the Formtion of a Pro-Russian Ruling Coalition in That Country.”

            Latvia, the report begins, is attracting”heightened attention fromabroad circle of representatives of the economic and political elite of the Russian Federation” because of the sie of Russian investment there, Russian ownership of Latvian property, its strategic location, Russian deposits in Latvian banks, and its membership in the EU and plans to enter the euro zone which will make it an even more attractive and secure place for Russian investment.

            Moreover, the report continues, given the financial crisis in Cyprus and the threat that poses to Russian deposits there, Latvia “is becoming an ever more attractive alternative as a place for Russian depositors.” These are likely to grow as are direct Russian investments when Latvia adopts the euro next year.

            That further integration of Latvia into “the supra-national organs of the European Union” will grow, and consequently, the possibilities of the country’s financial authorities to manipulate the situation will decrease, adding to Latvia’s attractiveness as an investment site for Russians and Russian companies.

            But in this situation, “Russian depositors and investors will not be able to feel themselves secure and confidently increase their presence in the economy of the country until they are convinced that there is a government in the Latvian Republic which is capable of recognizing and defending (at least behind the scenes) the vitally important interests of such depositors and investors.”

            “The strategic interests of Russia, of Russian capital in the Latvian Republic and also of the Latvian Republic itself” because of the role of Russian money in stabilizing the Latvian economy and avoiding the worst aspects of the recent financial crisis thus call for “the formation after the 2014 elections of a coalition government led by the Center of Accord and N. Ushakov as prime minister.” Such a government could include representatives of the Reform Party and the Union of Greens and Peasants.

            Such “a political task” is “completely realizable,” the report continues, but it won’t happen without a concerted effort by Moscow, on the one hand, and pro-Russian political and especially economic forces in Latvia itself, all the more so because since 2000, the idea of Russian participation in Latvia’s political process has “in part been discredited.”

            A major reason for this, the report says, is that Moscow political consultants have given the pro-Russian parties of Latvia bad advice, including urging them to press immediately for Russian to be given the status of a state language. The efforts of the parties to do just that quickly alienated their potential allies.

             To succeed, the report argues, this effort must overcome “a definite skepticism and disappointments of various Russian possibilities among the pro-Russian political and business circles of the Latvian Republic” by forming “an informal staff” with offices in both Riga and Moscow to coordinate and to select as its leader someone with Russian citizenship – “a guarantee of loyalty” – long experience in Latvia, someone like Dmitry Mazepin.

            Moreover, the report says, this effort must secure financing from Russian business interests in Latvia and a commitment from the Kremlin that it “will not disavow [the effort] in the course of its being realized” in the pursuit of other goals.  And it calls for the program to begin “no later than September 1, 2013.”

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