The violent incidents in Ventspils involving NATO soldiers do not pose a threat to national security; however, Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs' (For Latvia and Ventspils) statements cannot be ignored, because these statements and Russian propaganda speak with one voice, Latvian ex-President Valdis Zatlers (Reform Party) said in an interview on Latvian Radio on May 16, reports LETA.
"On a daily basis, we can smile when we hear that Lembergs and his relatives say they have forgotten their bank accounts or codes [during their criminal trials], but in a situation when a state official is harsh in his or her statements about Latvia's allies who have come here to protect our country, we cannot wear a smile anymore," Zatlers said.
"I understand that Lembergs is an amateur in the field of defense, but these statements are a matter of attitude against our security and allies," Zatlers added.
Critics will add that what the Ventspils mayor’s comments this week show is his loyalty only to his Russian partners in Moscow, filling his bank account, and a worn out Soviet-era mentality.
Ruling coalition parties will meet on May 16 to discuss the security situation in the municipalities, including the incidents in Ventspils.
Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma (Unity) also condemned Lembergs' statements about the NATO forces' presence in Latvia and believes that his statements are irresponsible rhetoric.
President Andris Berzins on May 15 said he will not yet call a National Security Council meeting, as was suggested, in order to evaluate Mayor Lembergs' actions, said the president's press adviser Liga Krapane. At the same time, Berzins expresses regret about viewpoints like those expressed by Lembergs, a state official, that in the international context, make Latvia vulnerable to destabilization and send the wrong signal to the allies in NATO.
Such statements have also fueled the Russian media frenzy, further stoking its propaganda campaign against the West.
According to Krapane, an emergency coalition meeting will be held on May 16 which will focus on the incidents connected with the NATO servicemen.
"Latvia has made the right decision by joining the alliance. The Ventspils mayor's opinion has not and cannot affect Latvia's choices and actions in any way, while being part of NATO. Not now, not in the future," Berzins said.
Minister of Defense Raimonds Vejonis (Green Party) had planned to call a National Security Council meeting in order to evaluate Lembergs' actions and decide on further action.
Vejonis, who is a political cooperation partner of the controversial Mayor Lembergs, said that Lembergs' comments about the presence of NATO forces in Latvia, as well as his actions in sending a letter to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging him "to apologize to Latvia and the City of Ventspils," undermines national security interests and spawns threats to national security.
Chairman of the Defense, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee Ainars Latkovskis (Unity) supports Vejonis' statements, including the plans to call a National Security Council meeting. Latkovskis condemns Lembergs' statements and believes that they, including Lembergs' letter to Secretary General of NATO, "humiliates Latvia." His statement about occupants are counter to national interests, Latkovskis says.
''The incidents which took place in Ventspils last weekend involving NATO soldiers had to be solved in a constructive and professional manner by objectively determining the circumstances, with the cooperation of all the competent institutions. Furthermore, Lembergs' inconsiderate comments point to the local government's lack of being capable of effectively dealing with the situation,'' Vejonis emphasized.
The minister went on to express gratitude to the State Police, which immediately began its investigation and quickly worked to detain those suspected of attacking and beating up the NATO sailor this past weekend. The minister said that the Military Police will continue to be on high-alert and monitor the conduct of NATO servicemen in public places.
''In the wake of Russia's aggression towards Ukraine, we are very thankful for the deployment of additional allied troops in our territory. This is a huge contribution by our allies in our security. We remain extremely thankful for this, and believe that continuing our close cooperation with our NATO partners, we will be successful in strengthening Latvia's security against possible threats,'' the defense minister emphasized.
In one of his regular press conferences earlier this month, Lembergs said that an increased NATO presence and the deployment of additional allied troops in Latvia could be compared to the 1940 Soviet occupation of Latvia.
Lembergs, the allegedly corrupt ‘seaside mayor’ who is currently on trial for serious fraud, bribery and money laundering charges in Latvia, was named as one of the country's three so-called oligarchs by former Latvian President Zatlers.
Lembergs' party For Latvia and Ventspils is part of the Union of Greens and Farmers, while Vejonis is a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers.