RIGA - Allegations by MP Indulis Emsis that Russia intends to influence the outcome of this year's parliamentary election were met with consternation in Moscow and triggered a sharp response from the Russian Embassy.
Emsis, who is chairman of Parliament's national security committee, told reporters on Feb. 1 that the committee had information about money being channeled through the coordination council of Latvia's minority NGOs and noncitizens to influence the election, which is set for October.
He claimed that, according to unofficial sources, about $1 million from the Russian government had been pumped into Latvia through the said coordination council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov replied that he was unaware of any such information. "If there are concrete facts, we have the opportunity to study themâ€¦ Otherwise, these are groundless allegations," said Lavrov.
The Russian Embassy was less restrained, going so far as to hint that forces in Latvia were dissatisfied with the recent thaw in Latvian-Russian relations.
"The loud claims about Russia funding non-governmental organizations in Latvia for the alleged purpose of influencing the outcome of the parliamentary electionsâ€¦ [are] a pseudo-sensation [and] difficult to describe in any other manner as obtained from incompetent sources and therefore false," said the embassy.
The embassy added that Emsis' claims were timed to put a dent in bilateral relations.
"We are certain that it was not a coincidence that another invented cock-and-bull story about 'the Russian hand' was released right after a constructive and valuable dialogue between the Russian ambassador and Parliament's foreign committee. But times have changed. The standard primitive ways of scaring and zombifying the electorate by threatening them with Russia will hardly help those politicians who are stuck in the middle of the last century. The wise Latvian people will definitely make the right conclusions and won't let themselves be fooled," the Russian Embassy stated.
The embassy pointed out that Russia does fund local NGOs, although the latter help restore the graves of Red Army soldiers and organize trips for students to Russia.
"We do not keep such activities secret. As far as we know, the Latvian side also helps Latvian public organizations in Russia to preserve their culture. And it is completely normal," the embassy stated.
The embassy said it wanted proof or an apology.
"In view of the above-mentioned, the Russian embassy expects Mr. Emsis either to produce an official proof to the accusations he has voiced or to extend an apology."
In response to Lavrov's statement, Emsis told the Russian-language Telegraf daily, "I think the acuteness of this response shows what I said is right."
In recent weeks Emsis, a member of the Greens and Farmers Union, has been on a rampage against foreign funded NGOs, primarily those that are engaged in political activity, even if that consists of criticizing current political parties. Much of his suspicions have centered on Soros Foundation activities.
"The Soros Foundation literally pressures with its think tanks 's that's to say it uses not only financial, but intellectual capital as well. And that to me is dangerous," he told the Telegraf.
Emsis said he was not against funds per se, but didn't want them involved in the political process, especially since, according to Latvian laws, local political parties are also confined to what they can and cannot do during election periods.
The MP added that Parliament's national security committee wanted to meet with the leadership of the Constitution Protection Bureau, the country's national security agency, to discuss the threat of Russia funding local NGOs with an aim of influencing the parliamentary ballot.