About 500 persons gathered across the street from the Russian Embassy in Riga on Sunday, March 2, to protest the deployment of Russian troops in sovereign Ukrainian territory, reports LETA. About 20 police officers were at the scene [at Kronvalda Park] to keep order, though the situation remained calm, unlike in the Crimea.
Once in a while the crowd chanted protest slogans, and many were holding placards that told the story: HANDS OFF UKRAINE!, NO TO WAR!, and PUTIN=FASCIST, to name just a few.
On a more official level, according to a joint statement issued by Latvian President Andris Berzins, Saeima Speaker Solvita Aboltina (Unity), Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma (Unity) and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (Reform Party), Latvia strongly stands for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and is of the opinion that any measures aimed at splitting Ukrainian society and questioning the territorial integrity of the country must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.
"The decision by the Russian Federation to sanction the use of armed forces in the territory of Ukraine is a gross violation of international law and a direct interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. The international community does not have the slightest doubt that the said decision is only a hypocritical attempt at disguising behind legal rhetoric the military interference that has actually taken place in the inalienable part of Ukraine, the Crimea. Russia's arguments regarding such manner of the use of armed forces are completely unjustified and in a direct contradiction with Russia's international commitments," emphasize the officials.
"By acting this way, Russia is undermining the fundamental principles of the international security system. We reiterate that under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine's accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom guarantee independence, integrity and security to Ukraine. Latvia expects that the territorial integrity of Ukraine will be fully respected."
"The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is a legitimately elected body of public administration and its decisions are legitimate and cannot be called into question. The refusal by the Russian Federation to come into contact with the legitimate leadership of Ukraine is not indicative of Russia's willingness to deal with the current situation constructively and in a peaceful manner. The tension and escalation of the situation, including the course towards open armed clashes, and the possible victims of these will be on Russia's conscience."
Latvia calls on the international community to actively express its strong support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. International organizations - the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and others should act without delay. Latvia urges that the developments in Ukraine be discussed at the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council and NATO's North Atlantic Council.
"In our hearts and minds we are together with the Ukrainian people," say officials.
Europe remains quiet
The reaction of international organizations, including the European Union, to the latest developments in Ukraine is belated and Europe is acting as if nothing has happened, complained Latvian MEP Inese Vaidere in an interview on Rietumu Radio.
Many events have taken place over the weekend. Russia's troops entering Crimea is an extraordinary situation, even though these events were predictable, explained Vaidere. She believes that the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council should have convened earlier.
"In Latvia, we also act as if nothing has happened. Let us not forget that these scenarios, which began in Georgia and are now continuing in Ukraine, can also unpleasantly surprise us in the future," emphasizes Vaidere.
Vaidere believes that President Berzins should call for the National Security Council's session immediately upon his return from vacation.
The recent events in Ukraine are a disaster, a tragedy caused by unskilled local politicians, and it cannot be supported, Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony Center) said in his Twitter account, commenting on the decision of Russia's upper house of parliament to approve Russian President Vladimir Putin's request for Russian forces to be used in Ukraine.
However, he made a rather provocative statement that could incite unrest in Latvia: Usakovs said that the politicians of Latvia's largest political parties, instigators, journalists and others should start thinking about preventing similar events from happening in Latvia.
"We are against war too," Russian Ambassador Alexander Veshnyakov said in an interview with Latvian State Television on Sunday.
"We want Ukraine to avoid a civil war," added the ambassador, adding that Russia had no claims on Ukraine's territorial integrity.
The ambassador had a meeting with Foreign Minister Rinkevics to inform him about Russia's position on the developments in Ukraine. He said he was prepared to also meet with Saeima members if necessary.
Calming worries among the population as a result of Russia’s aggression in the Crimea, after a National Security Council meeting on March 4, President Berzins said in an interview to Latvian Radio that Latvian residents are “safe.”
The president said that the main topic discussed during the meeting was the situation in Ukraine and Latvia's reaction to it. He added that also discussed was internal political stability, as well as matters related to external threats to Latvia. ''Latvian residents are safe at the moment,'' Berzins said.
Asked whether sanctions should be imposed against Russia, Berzins said that this would be dependent on the type of sanctions proposed. ''We ourselves cannot change anything for the better by aggressively restricting something,'' the president emphasized.
The president said that before deciding on sanctions against Russia, Europe must first seriously re-think whether this will not lead to an opposite result.
Speaking about the EU's reaction to this whole matter, Berzins said that he does not want to criticize Europe. According to him, the reaction of European ministers was well-founded and reasonable.
The AFP news agency reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia had the right to use "all means" to protect its citizens in Ukraine but denied it had sent troops to Crimea, amid a Cold War-style standoff over the ex-Soviet state.
His tough-talking comments underline the struggle the United States and European Union face to resolve the most serious crisis in the region since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
"We reserve the right to use all means to protect," Putin told reporters at his suburban Moscow residence in a briefing broadcast live on state television.
But he said there was currently "no need" to send troops into Ukraine, comments that appeared to reassure financial markets which have been on edge over fears of an armed conflict on the eastern edge of the European Union.
Nonetheless, Russia's decision to approve deploying troops in Ukraine's Crimea region is in contradiction with international law, Minister Rinkevics confirmed over the weekend. Russia's decision is in contradiction with the 2014 agreement which guarantees Ukraine's territorial integrity. Russia's actions are condemnable, pointed out the minister.