Monday, December 05, 2016

Latvia's Internal Problems of Social Disequilibrium

"It's hard to find a job here if you're Russian, because they [Latvians] discriminate. I was born here, I lived my whole life here. But I'm still considered a foreigner. It can be really frustrating to live here."
"That's just politicians [warning of a Russian invasion] distracting us from real problems. It's a waste of money to send soldiers here. They should instead use the money to give people jobs."
Alexander Krasnopercev, job-seeker, Riga, Latvia

"It's very, very important. Russia does not abide by the laws of behaviour which have kept peace and stability in Europe since the Second World War:"
"We are really proud that Canadians will be here in Latvia, and we are ready to host. It also gives a very strong signal to society -- local society, international society, neighbouring societies -- that we are not alone."
"In 2014, the situation changed suddenly [with Russia involving itself in Ukraine]."
"The government [of Latvia] decided that security is [the] key priority [investing in modernizing Latvia's military equipment]."
"This is quite a challenging time. We must be ready." 
Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis, Riga Castle
Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool Photo via AP
Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool Photo via AP    Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to attend a meeting of the Presidential Council for strategic development in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.

"I go to work in Germany every few months. The prices are the same here, but we're making a third of their incomes."
Yuri Semynov, naturalized Latvian, ethnic Russian

"Russia isn't a threat to anyone, but bringing NATO soldiers will just upset Russia."
"What would Russia want from Latvia: the rail system, the ports?"
"This country's real problem is the economy."
Deniss Ciganov, ethnic Russian Latvian

"If you live in Latvia, you should speak Latvian."
"The Russians here need to integrate. They're not useful to us; they cause problems."
Janis Erins, ethnic Latvian, Riga

"Thank you to Canada, but it's a bad idea. Russia isn't a big threat. It's refugees we need to worry about; they're killing Christians."
Dace Kudina, ethnic Latvian, Riga
NATO is invested in ensuring that Russian ambition does not succeed in a repeat of its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, much less its acquisition of the Crimean peninsula. NATO's alarm stems from the nervous anticipation of the Baltic states. And that state of affairs has everything to do with the fact that Russian troops have been stationed along Russia's Baltic borders. And then that spanner thrown into the works of unexpected complications with president-elect Donald Trump ruminating on a step back from confrontation with Vladimir Putin.

The region swirls with geopolitical, economic and ethnic tensions. The NATO presence provokes Russia which feels itself assaulted by a foreign entity representing western European and North American interests in Russia's eastern European near-abroad of nations which were formerly part of the USSR. Russian jets and submarines cross into Baltic states with an entitled frequency, read as the foretaste of Moscow's plans for the region in resurrecting the Soviet Union's former glory days.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld    Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis(left) jokes about hockey with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of a meeting between sessions at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland Saturday July 9, 2016.

A situation which explains why it is that NATO has campaigned for its members to station troops in the Baltics for the foreseeable future in Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. Canada is destined to send Canadian troops to Latvia until at least Mach of 2019. As NATO members, they are all pledged to defend any NATO member which comes under attack. NATO fears the possibility of another "hybrid war" looms on the horizon, of disenfranchised ethnic Russians incited to disrupt the Baltic nations as was done with Ukraine.

Twelve percent of the population of Latvia hold a "non-citizen passport". They cannot vote, and have minimal pension rights, as a result. During Soviet occupation, 250,000 people other than native Latvians settled in Latvia. Of that total, which now includes descendants, two-thirds are ethnic Russians. They cannot apply for citizenship status without knowledge of the Latvian language which only 60 percent of the citizens of Latvia speak at home.

People speak both Latvian and Russian on the street, at the markets. T-shirts with Russian President Vladimir Putin's visage complete with aviator sunglasses, are found at a stall in a market, with printed statements on the T-shirts such as "Can't stop us". The vendor boasts he keeps selling out of them. "Maybe people agree with him, or maybe they wear them ironically. I feel wonderful about Russia", said vendor David Gelbrots, a Latvian.

An in-depth study on "the possibility of societal destabilization" undertaken by Latvia's National Defence Academy found that about a fifth of respondents would support a takeover of their country by Russia. They were of the opinion that the most serious fault lines in their country were immovable incomes along with a lack of trustfulness in politicians. There is a ten percent unemployment rate, notable income inequality, a descending population base, and widespread acknowledgement of endemic corruption.

While a third of people interviewed informed researchers they were prepared to move outside the country to find employment, slightly greater numbers of Russians than Latvians agreed with that statement. "This is a warning signal about problems in the state's relationship with society in Latvia", reads the report. According to President Vejonis, Russia represents the biggest threat his country faces.

Because Latvia feels so vulnerable, the government began increasing border controls and set about to modernize Latvia's military with new equipment. The government plans to meet the NATO directive that member states dedicate two percent of GDP to defence spending, by 2018. At the present time, Latvia is involved in ensuring its bases are prepared to welcome three Canadian battalions "one of which will soon spend its time on the ground, one for standby support, and one to switch during regular rotations", explained Canada's military spokesman.

As for Donald Trump's threat that the United States under his rule would defend only those NATO members who have met their NATO funding quote, President Vejonis shrugs it off as pre-election rhetoric. Politicians know politicians. Since then, high ranking Republicans visiting on tours to the Baltics have reassured him: "Of course everybody said, 'The U.S. will follow our responsibilities'."

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