RIGA (Reuters) - Latvia’s president, parliamentary speaker and prime minister issued a joint statement on Wednesday condemning any political activities aimed at fomenting tensions among different parts of Latvian society.
Russian speakers make up about 35 percent of Latvia’s 2 million population. There was some disquiet in the country when, as pro-Russian forces took up positions in Crimea, the Russian ambassador to Latvia offered Russian passports and pensions for ethnic Russians.
“We strongly condemn any attempts driven by politically provocative motives to create tension and artificially facilitate disagreement in Latvia’s society,” the three said in a statement.
Some people in Latvia and Estonia fear their Russian enclaves could be geopolitical flashpoints, which have the potential to be manipulated to destabilize the region. Moscow has long complained about the rights of ethnic Russians in the Baltics.
In the eastern part of Latvia, in a region called Latgale which borders Russia, nearly 40 percent of the residents are Russians. Many in the capital are worried they rely on Russian media and therefore support Russian activities in Ukraine.
The statement by Latvia asked those residing in the country to “critically review” Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“We reassure that Latvia is and will remain a democratic European country that respects and protects both Latvian and minority nationalities’ culture and many languages,” the statement said.
Thousands of Russians came over during the Soviet era to work in Baltic industries. But after 1991 independence, they were not granted automatic citizenship in the new republics. Many still hold on to Russian passports.
Earlier this month, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that “language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups”, and Russia was “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine”.
Reporting by Aija Krutaine; Writing by Mia Shanley; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall