• 2006-02-08
Much of the commotion in Latvia surrounding foreign-financed non-governmental organizations has focused on western institutions, i.e., the Soros Foundation, while relatively little attention has been paid to so-called eastern money. That changed at the beginning of February, when Parliament's security committee brought to light risks posed by Russian-financed NGOs based in Latvia, particularly in the months leading up to parliamentary elections. The committee's chairman, Indulis Emsis, suggested in no uncertain terms that there were enormous sums of money involved, and the committee has requested a meeting with the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the nation's security agency, to discuss the issue.

Russian diplomats reacted immediately, slamming Emsis' claims as "groundless allegations" and "another invented cock-and-bull story about 'the Russian hand.'" Russia's ambassador suggested the charges were an attempt to undermine the recent thaw in bilateral relations, which works against nationalists running for re-election. Diplomats have demanded that Emsis provide evidence to his accusations.

In this case, the proof is in the precedent. Two years ago the entire world bore witness to how the Kremlin toiled day and night, sparing no finance, in an attempt to help its footservant, Viktor Yanukovich, take the Ukrainian presidency. President Vladimir Putin even visited the country twice during the election campaign - unthinkable interference for a civilized head of state. It is no secret that Moscow is reasserting its super-power status, which it naturally wants to start in the "near-abroad." Granted, Latvia is no Ukraine, but for the Kremlin a few million dollars spread around several Baltic NGOs could bring dividends too big to pass up.

Because for the time being, Moscow see benefits in tension among Latvia's ethnic communities. By supporting minority movements, via NGOs, in the fall elections, Moscow could potentially foment several scenarios that it would subsequently use to paint Latvia as "Europe's problem child" in its negotiations with Brussels. It wouldn't be the first time. This is not to say that Russia has grand designs on Latvia; it only wants the opportunity to use the Baltic state to downplay its own domestic messes in Chechnya and, say, among its Finno-Ugric peoples.

Despite talks of a thaw, turn on the Russian news channel and you will see nothing has changed since September 2004 when Latvia implemented its educational reform program for high school students. Moscow is still churning out the anti-Latvia propaganda. The gist of this week's report on the RTR channel: Latvian dog-owners can have their dogs registered to travel to Europe, no citizens still cannot travel to Europe, hence Latvia's dogs have more rights than its noncitizens. These kinds of reports will only persist, especially after Moscow's recent launching of a 24-hour English-language TV program dedicating to spreading "Russia's view of the world."

Thus regardless of Emsis' ineloquence (much of the logic to his arguments is warped), the risk of Russian-financed NGOs influencing the upcoming election is real and should be addressed by the security services.