RIGA - Latvia wasted no time in reacting to Belarus' diplomatic aggression and declared a top Belarus Embassy official persona non grata on Aug. 2. The diplomat was given 24 hours to leave the country.
The Foreign Ministry said that, formally, Dmitry Krayushkin, first secretary of the Belarus Embassy, was expelled for engaging in activity incompatible with his diplomatic status. However, many believe that the expulsion was a direct response to last month's incident in Minsk, when Belarus law enforcement authorities entered Latvian diplomat Reimo Smits' apartment and later accused him of disseminating pornographic materials. Although charges were brought against Smits, Belarusian law enforcement officials did not pursue them.
On Aug. 8, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry urged Latvia not to politicize the incident.
"We would like the Latvian party to give up further attempts to politicize the incident and emotionally evaluate the situation, which requires criminal proceedings," Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Vanshina told the press.
She said that Belarus was against escalating tension in any area of bilateral relations.
Vanshina added that "Belarus has not infringed any international or national rights," and said that authorities' actions were legitimate since they searched Smits' apartment without knowing that its resident was a diplomat.
Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks had previously expressed anger that, one week after the incident in Minsk, Belarusian officials had failed to provide a legitimate explanation for entering Smits' residence, as he is protected by diplomatic immunity.
On Aug. 4, Belarus finally submitted to the Foreign Ministry an official reply on the events in Minsk. However, its contents failed to satisfy ministry officials.
In an interview with LNT television, Pabriks said that the reply was very broad and failed to provide specific answers to several important questions. "There are no explanations about a violation of the Vienna convention," the minister stressed.
But on Aug. 8, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry explained the reasons. "The apartment had not been registered as a diplomatic residence in accordance with Belarusian legislation, and thus the Vienna Convention does not refer to that," Vanshina said.
Pabriks had previously refused to discuss the issue with Belarus' new ambassador to Latvia, Aleksander Gerasimenko, until the Belarusian Foreign Ministry provided an explanation for the incident in Minsk. The two were scheduled to meet on Aug. 9.
At the time, Belarusian officials even failed to inform Latvian Ambassador to Belarus Maira Mora of the reasons for searching Smits' residence.
In an interview with Latvian State Radio, Mora stressed that diplomatic duties did not involve peeking into other diplomats' bedrooms.
"If I had been given such instructions from my superiors, I would have simply stepped down from my position," the ambassador said.
Finland, which is current president of the European Union, last week expressed its disapproval of Belarus' actions against Latvia's diplomat. Finnish officials said the incident was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, which Belarus ratified on May 14, 1964.
The French ambassador to Latvia also expressed France's full support for the EU Presidency's announcement, requesting an immediate explanation from Belarusian authorities and calls on Belarus to comply with its international obligations.
As reported earlier, the diplomatic conflict arose between Latvia and Belarus two weeks ago when Belarusian authorities conducted a search of Latvian diplomat Reimo Smits' residence and confiscated video casset-tes.