RIGA - Despite a deep thaw in bilateral relations, the Latvian Foreign Ministry expelled a mid-level Russian diplomat after a report from the nation's national security agency said the Riga-based embassy worker was a threat to the nation's security.
As is practice, the name of the diplomat was not disclosed and Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins refused to reveal the identity of the diplomat during a Jan. 21 press conference, saying only that the man had not recently arrived in the country.
Also, ministry officials were unequivocal that the incident was not related to Riga-based Russian diplomat Anatoly Kogalov who has been blacklisted in the Schengen area but that Latvia did not know had been barred until it joined the visa-free travel zone on Dec. 21. Kogalov will be allowed to stay in the country until his visa expires.
The Foreign Ministry said the recently expelled diplomat must depart the country on Jan. 23 's 48 hours after officially being asked to leave.
Latvian government officials braced themselves for a tit-for-tat expulsion from the Russian end, while insisting that the decision to declare the diplomat persona non grata was entirely justified.
In an interview with the television program Labrit Latvija (Good Morning Latvia), Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis said there was irrevocable evidence that the diplomat had breached international code. He said there are no political underpinnings to the decision.
"I have worked as an interior minister for a year, and I am informed of what irrevocable documentary evidence is. In this case the discussion is out of the question. There is no political background whatsoever," he said.
Godmanis added that the information 's gathered by the Constitutional Protection Bureau as the authority in charge of counterespionage 's was the result of a long-term investigation, and the professional work of special service officers.
It is still unclear what the diplomatic ramifications of the move may be.
"It is difficult to say if they [Latvian-Russian relations] will or will not worsen. I hope that the other side will assess the issue from professional point of view," Godmanis said. "There is no political background to the issue."
Riekstins also weighed in on the issue, saying that the ministry carefully assessed bilateral relations before coming to the decision to expel the diplomat.
"It can't be ruled out that this incident might have an impact on ties in the short term, but I think that there is no reason to speak about a [negative impact] in the long term," the minister told Latvian radio.
Russian authorities did not mention any long-term damage to relations but pledged to expel a Latvian diplomat in retaliation.
"I regret that this has occurred when difficult Russian-Latvian relations were just beginning to improve," Andrei Klimov, a Russian lawmaker, told the Interfax news agency. "But everyone understands that from time to time states suspect this or that foreign diplomat of activities not relating to his work."
Interfax also cited Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Security, as saying that Russia was prepared to take "identical measures in response."
Russian ambassador to Latvia Viktor Kalyuzhny was invited to the Foreign Ministry on Jan. 21, where he received a note explaining that one of the Russian diplomats had "engaged in activities incompatible with his status of diplomat."
News of the expulsion came as a shock to Latvia, where relations with Russia have undergone a noticeable improvement in the past half-year. President Valdis Zatlers was expected to visit Moscow in the near future, while Latvia has invited Russia's next prime minister 's possibly Vladimir Putin 's to come to Riga in July for the summit of the Council of Baltic Sea States.
It was only the second time since Latvia regained independence that a diplomat has been expelled from the country. The first instance was in April 2004, when Second Secretary at the Russian Embassy in Latvia Pyotr Urzhumov was expelled for attempting to spy on NATO infrastructure.
The Constitutional Protection Bureau blocked three people from entering the country last year on concerns that they could create threats to Latvia's national security.