RIGA - In what is regarded as a tit-for-tat move, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Jan. 25 that it had expelled a prominent Latvian diplomat, giving the official until Jan. 27 to leave the country. The diplomat's identity was later revealed to be Latvian Embassy Vice-Consul Peteris Podvinskis.
Russian authorities said Podvinskis was asked to leave for "operations incompatible with his status as a diplomat and damaging to Russia's security interests." The move, however, is widely seen as retaliation for Latvia's recent expulsion of Alexander Rogozhin, second secretary of the Russian Embassy in Riga, who Latvian officials said was buying state secrets.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry categorically denied that Podvinskis had acted in an inappropriate manner while on duty in Russia.
"The decision by the Russian Federation to expel Peteris Podvinskis bears no relation to his activities as a diplomat," the ministry said in a Jan. 28 press release.
The twin expulsions are unlikely to seriously dampen Russian-Latvian relations, which have begun warming in recent months with the enactment of a long-awaited border treaty between the two countries.
"Looking at relations between the two countries, this episode has ended. The spy has been caught and expelled, and Russia has made its response steps. Russia has adequately expelled a diplomat of the same rank. It is finished," President Valdis Zatlers said during a Jan. 28 interview with the popular television news program "900 seconds."