RIGA -- Uncertainty surrounds the precise status of aRussian diplomat based in Latvia following rumors that he had been eitherexpelled from the country or included on the so-called 'Schengen blacklist' ofindividuals barred from entering the EU's Schengen border-free zone.
Latvia's TV3 commercial television reported on its Neka Personiga (NothingPersonal) investigative program on Dec. 30, that the first secretary of theRussian embassy in Riga, Anatoly Kogalov, had been asked to leave the country. The LatvianForeign Ministry denied the news.
On Jan. 02 Latvian Prime Minister IvarsGodmanis has called reports of the expulsion of a Russian diplomat "media rumors".
"Reports of the expulsion of a Russian diplomat arerumors spread by the Latvian media, and I do not see any reason to believeotherwise," Godmanis told journalists.
The Russian embassy responded sharply on Monday, with arepresentative of the diplomatic mission warning that the rumors might worsenrelations between the two countries and called on the Latvian National Radioand Television Council (NRTVP) to assess the incident and punish thoseresponsible for spreading the information.
Later, the Latvian Foreign Ministryconfirmed that an unnamed Russian diplomat working in Latviahad been included on the Schengen blacklist but denied he had been expelled fromthe country.
The ministry's deputy state secretary Alda Vanaga told the Diena daily newspaper that the case withthe Russian diplomat was "an extraordinary situation", explainingthat the reasons for the blacklisting might be because of legal offenses orespionage.
The black list is a part of the Schengen informationsystem, of which Latvia is a member. If any Schengen member state has blacklisted a person,the restrictions apply in all member states. The Russian diplomat has a Latvianvisa, which is valid till the middle of the year, but he is forbidden to visitother Schengen countries.
Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins was sanguine aboutthe affair. "If he has a valid Latvian visa, he may work," he said.