Monday, January 28, 2008

"Swing state" or a Troyan horse?

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanded Latvian diplomat, Mr Pēteris Podvinskis to leave the Moscow Embassy last Friday. Thus, Russia played its tit for tat policy in the Vice Consul Mr Rogozhin affair who was expelled from Latvia early last week. The spy scandal created a storm in the teacup, and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs last Wednesday expressed his hope that Russian - Latvian relations would stay pragmatic and would not be impaired by scandal.

Tonight there was an interview with Mr Zatlers in the Latvian TV prime news. Whilst asked about the spy scandal incumbent president was diplomatic. He courtly argued that the present spy scandal in Latvia is over and would not affect future relations with Russia. Rather hypocritical answer came, however, when journalist asked about his plans to visit Moscow. At the end of the last year Russian outgoing ambassador Mr Kaluzhny handed Mr Zatlers an invitation to visit Moscow (Former Latvia's Ambassador in Moscow Jānis Peters thinks that thus Mr Kaluzhny wants to satisfy his vainglory). The visit is prepared but not finalized, thus incumbent president confirmed only his last week's discussion about the forthcoming visit with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Lavrov. Nevertheless, he did not reveal anything about the exact timing of the visit. Also, at the end of the interview, whilst asked to express his opinion about the possible decision to present the Russian outgoing Ambassador with the Latvian State Award president Zatlers diplomatically retorted that he would not propose giving such award.

Edward Lucas in his latest article rather correctly stated, that the EU member Latvia is a "swing state" where the West and Russia are competing for their strategic interests. This article's translation was reprinted in Saturday's Diena ,and referring to this article's ideas columnist Aivars Ozoliņš spent his Monday column to discuss about the future of liberal democracy in Latvia.

In the meantime the Head of Saeima Security Commission, Mr Pēteris Jaundžeikars reiterated for the second time already, that there should be a proper oversight over intelligence organizations. Therefore he thinks that the omenous law on security organiations should be amended. Mr Jaundžeikars is a long time friend of the former PM Kalvītis, and they are close chums since time when they were active in the Latvian Dairy Association. Mr Jaundžeikars is an opportunist and actually squeezed into the parliament with a soft mandate, because he had his way open only after another LC/LPP party member became the government minister.

Mr Jaundžeikars was specifically dissatisfied about the work of the Latvian Intelligence Agency (SAB). According to him it is not normal that members of the Latvian National Security Council (NSC) are not informed about Russian spies trying to buy Latvian officials. Interestingly enough, but the incumbent president in his TV interview accused the present Head of the Security Commission about the lack of interest in the security affairs of the state, and suggested him to visit or at least get into contact with the Latvian intelligence community more often.

It is known that the mandate of the SAB director Mr Jānis Kažociņš expires in May 2008. Already last year the former Minister of Health, and probably the most vulgar and controversial Peaople's Party member, Gundars Bērziņš accused Mr Kažociņš of being too subservient to the US government because of his frequent visits to the US Embassy in Riga [such accusation was in December 2007 declined as false by the SAB]. The fact that Mr Kažociņš spent most of his adult life in misty Albion, and that he was employed by Her Majesty's Armed Forces probably did not make any difference for the Latvian political boors, because he is Western to them[boors]... .

Anyway, the targeting seems already like a concerted action. In December it was Bērziņš (TP), now its Jaundžeikars (LPP/LC), and also Minister of Interior Segliņš (TP) openly question credibility of the Latvian Intelligence Agency. Autumn demonstrations and leaving the Head of Anti Coruption office Mr Loskutovs intact was a blow for the governing coalition God/masters (AAA team). They have probably realized, that to start touching Mr Loskutovs again would be too direct affront to civil society groups and Western embassies.

Thus, they probably decided to try another move. Because mandate of Mr Kažociņš expires anyway, it is convenient now to find a new "trusted" head of the Intelligence Agency (SAB), who would after his appointment be in position to mastermind leaving of Mr Loskutovs. Because the public is veary about shady deals of existing coalition government with the Russian big business it is paramount for governing coalition to discredit the SAB in eyes of public opinion, and so to find a legitimate cause for not renewing the mandate of the incumbent dirctor of the SAB.

Hereafter the technique of appointing the new head of the SAB is relatively easy. The only institution that has a mandate to propose the new candidate for the director of the Intelligence Agency for the Saeima is the National Security Council (NSC). In the Saeima the governing coalition still has a majority. In the eight member NSC four votes have People's Party (TP)-Segliņš, Riekstiņš, Veldre, Dalbiņš - , two go for Latvian Way/First party Coalition (LC/LPP) - Godmanis, Jaundžeikars - and also incumbent president and the Speaker of the Saeima, Mr Daudze (Union of Greens and Farmers) are there. It looks as if without two members from the notorious AAA team nothing could be decided in the NSC, thus I should follow whether discreditation campaign of Mr Kažociņš would increase, and it would be interesting to wait until the end of the mandate before the Saeima recess just prior Summer Solstice.

The governing coalition still feels omniscient and overpowerful. There are rumours that Western entrepreneurs are openly intimidated by Latvian law enforcement agencies and "kindly asked" to leave the place for "other businessmen". While Latvian oligarchic groups divide spoils of the privatization process with their Russian bro's they are playing on their "home turf". It is all calm and peaceful while the Lettish society is ignorant. However, there are Western businessmen who have not enriched themselves by employing questionable Post-Soviet methods, and have invested in Latvia their hard earned monies instead. I am somehow optimistic to believe that they would not allow egoistic Soviet boors to question their property rights after all.

There is a hope that the market would correct itself in Latvia. I somehow think that another prediction of Edward Lucas last Summer hit right into the bullseye however. The Achilleus tendon for Latvian economy, it is its hyperliberalism and assymetric openness to the Eastern neighbour. Thus, the only way for Latvian elite abd liberal circles, in order to sustain its Western and liberal lifestyle is to work hand in hand with its Western allies and have concerted responses together with Tallinn, Vilnius, London, Warszawa, Washingon and other liberal democracies vis-a-vis neo-patriarchal Kremlin. Today, Foreign Minister Riekstiņš said that Latvia wants to follow into steps of its EU partners and recognize the independence of Kosovo. Lets wait for official Latvian reaction to the event folowing this weekend's elections in Serbia. The Kosovo vote would very much signal whether Latvia is a mere "swing state" or already a Russian Trojan horse in the EU?

P.S. For those of you reading in Latvian I have a piece in todays Diena as well

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