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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RIGA 000496 NOFORN SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/15/2023 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MARR, PHUM, NATO, EUN, RS, GG, LG SUBJECT: TFGG01: WHAT GEORGIA MEANS TO LATVIA REF: A) RIGA 478 B) RIGA 472 C) RIGA 492 Classified By: A/DCM Tamir G. Waser. Reason: 1.4 (d)

1. (C) Summary: Events in Georgia have dominated the news and discussion here like few other events in recent memory. Latvians, at least ethic Latvians, look at Georgia and think that this could easily be them. As the EU and NATO have been unable to respond forcefully to Russia — and many members advocate for a balanced approach — Latvians are beginning to worry if membership in these two organizations provides them the assurances of their security that they had hoped for when they joined. So far, the US willingness to take a tough line in opposition to Russian actions and in support of Georgia has been well received here, but some key figures are asking if the west is fully prepared to deal with a resurgent Russia. We expect that the Latvians will make additional requests for tangible signs of our commitment to their security in coming weeks and months. A wild card in Latvian thinking is how the personal economic ties many key players have with Russia will influence their thinking – and whether they continue to believe that they can separate politics and business with Russia.

2. (C) Summary, cont’d. Also influencing events is the fact that roughly one third of the country is ethnic Russian, who receive much of their information from Moscow based or affiliated news sources. Their perceptions of the crisis in Georgia and our role are diametrically opposed to those above and are a reminder of the serious ethnic divide in Latvia. Unfortunately, while these events have highlighted the need for greater integration in Latvia, the resulting political tensions have made integration that much more difficult to achieve. End summary.

3. (C) Georgia dominates here at the moment. Most any conversation includes some discussion of the situation, newscasts and newspapers are covering little else, and internet discussions are lively and have wide participation. Among Latvians, at least ethnic Latvians, what you hear is a sense that this could have been us. Recalling their own history with Russia, Latvians have been visibly demonstrating their support for and solidarity with Georgia. An August 11 march, advertised only through mentions on newscasts and online posts, drew over 1,000 people in support of Georgia. Candle lightings outside the Georgian Embassy are well attended and Georgian flags can be seen around Riga. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sales of Georgian wine and mineral water have increased.

4. (C) In discussing events in Georgia, most Latvians we talk to say that they feel the value of NATO and EU membership and believe that the possibility that the same thing could happen to them is greatly reduced. At the same time, the divisions in both organizations over how to deal with Russia worry Latvians. Comments by Russian Ambassador to Latvia Veshnyakov that the Baltics and Poland should not “rush to judgment” lest they encounter “unforeseen consequences” did not put any nerves at ease. We reported on MFA views on a full re-evaluation of relations with Russia and frustration with NATO and EU positions (Ref A), but it is also worth noting some of the public comments of key opinion leaders here. Former President Vike-Freiberga said she was “surprised and disappointed” that an emergency GAERC was not convened until August 13 and that the EU “failed to come out with a common, coordinated and condemning stance,” in contrast to the joint statement by the Baltic and Polish Presidents. Aivars Ozolins, perhaps the country’s most influential columnist, wrote that the crisis has exposed “serious divisions” in the west on relations with Russia and argued that Latvia must demand clear plans from NATO to defend its territory. He concluded one recent column with the line, “We are in a new cold war and Latvia is on the front line.”

5. (C) The question of what Latvia does in response is also vexing to key figures. PM Godmanis was widely praised for his visit to Georgia with Baltic, Polish and Ukrainian leaders, and for delivering a strong message of support (and President Zatlers has been criticized for not cutting short his visit to the Olympics in China). The parliament adopted a tough resolution critical of Russia and calling on the EU and NATO to reconsider their approach to Moscow. Latvia has reaffirmed its strong support for MAP for both Georgia and Ukraine. But Latvians are frustrated that they cannot do more to influence the situation directly. They want to be an active voice in debates at both headquarters in Brussels, but feel lost between the big powers. They see their best hopes as getting the Nordics on board with the Baltics, Poland and Czech Republic and are heartened by what they view as realistic comments on a “changed situation with Russia” coming out of Stockholm and Helsinki in particular. Former RIGA 00000496 002 OF 003 FM Pabriks told the Ambassador that “Now it is important that Latvia works to convince the EU that there is no business as usual with Russia.”

6. (S/NF) In this, though, Latvia will face its own internal challenges. Many people in Latvia, including key political figures, have very lucrative business relationships with Russia that they fear losing. It was telling that FM Riekstins, asked about the future of bilateral relations, remarked that “business is business.” (ref B) Leaders of the People’s Party, to which Riekstins belongs, have many business deals with Russia, notably in the energy sector. Transport minister Ainars Slesers, who has made a fortune off real estate and transit deals that rely heavily on Russia, stated at the parliamentary debate on Georgia that “although Russia clearly crossed a line a in its response, we need to at least consider whether Saakashvili does not bear some blame for provoking this crisis.” From sensitive sources, we understand that immediately after the crisis broke out, the Russian Ambassador to Latvia called Slesers and former PM (and People’s Party founder) Andris Skele to explain Russia’s position. We think it is no accident that he called two fof Latvia’s three oligarchs (and while he didn’t call Aivars Lembergs directly, he also called the parliamentary leader of the party closest to Lembergs) to try to play the business card to build political support for Russia. As the days move on, key figures in Latvia will likely find that they face much tougher choices on relations with Russia than just whether to cease NATO military cooperation with Russia or end EU negotiations on visa facilitation. The one exception to this may be PM Godmanis. As reported in other channels, he immediately recognized the possibility for Russian retaliation through the energy sector and ordered contingency plans drawn up. Unfortunately, we expect that the first instincts of many of the other political players will be to do everything they can to preserve their personal business deals, clinging to their naive idea that business and politics with Russia can be separated.

7. (C) One area where we do expect to see concrete actions by the Latvians is to increase their military preparedness. PM Godmanis was clear with the Ambassador that this needed to be done, even knowing the costs involved. (ref C) The Defense Minister has stated publicly that Latvia needs to review its own defense posture and privately told us that he will look for US assistance in this project. We can expect further political calls for a comprehensive NATO plan to defend the Baltics. Former FM Pabriks suggested to us that Latvia needs to look at increasing the size of its military forces, noting that Georgia, less than twice as large as Latvia, had 2,000 troops in Iraq when Latvia had a hard time finding even 100 to deploy.

8. (C) The aspect of the Georgia crisis that has ethnic Latvian especially nervous is the Russian claim that they went in to Georgia to protect Russian citizens. Latvia’s population is nearly one-third ethic Russian and half of those, more than 420,000 people, are not citizens of Latvia. While only a small number (estimated at roughly 20,000) have Russian citizenship, Russia has been taking steps to increase ties with these “compatriots” through steps such as waiving visa requirements to enter Russia and providing access to educational and social benefits in Russia. This population gets its information from a completely separate media space that relies heavily on Moscow sources for its foreign news. As a result, Russian language media here is talking of Georgian ‘genocide’ in South Ossetia, suggesting that the US endorsed Saakashvili’s move on Tsinkvali in advance, and drawing parallels to Kosovo. (septel will report on this in greater detail)

9. (C) Some Latvians recognize that the lesson of Georgia is that Latvia needs to do more to integrate its ethnic Russian population and have them view themselves as Latvian (or at least European Union) citizens first and Russians second. Political scientist Peteris Vinkelis, himself married to a Russian, ended a television interview on events in Georgia with a plea for the two communities to work together and find common ground so as not to become like Georgia. Other senior officials have told us that they would also like to see progress on this front.

10. (C) All of those good ideas, though, go out the window the minute politics is injected and there are few issues as politically divisive here as integration of the Russian speaking population. With a crowded political field among the ethnic Latvian based parties, none of them are willing to risk the firestorm that would ensue from advocating any change to the citizenship process. In fact, more likely is that they will take steps to, for example, increase the number of jobs for which certification of Latvian language skills are required. Logical steps on integration, such as RIGA 00000496 003 OF 003 allowing everyone born in Latvia automatic citizenship, are rejected because they are what Moscow has been pushing for years and ethnic Latvians are unwilling, as they see it, to “reward Russia’s aggression in Georgia” by easing the requirements for citizenship. Meanwhile, ethnic Russians are unlikely to respond to events by seeking Latvian citizenship and some of the more radical elements will hope that Russia might decide to make acquisition of Russian citizenship easier for this group.

11. (C) The challenge for the United States policy in Latvia given events in Georgia is to consider ways that we can bolster our relationship to both assure Latvians of our continued commitment to their security and helps them develop the tools needed for coping with changed relations with Russia, including in their domestic situation. We will be putting our heads together here and sending in some thoughts in coming days. LARSON

C O N F I D E N T I A L RIGA 000478 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2018 TAGS: PREL, MOPS, EAID, PINR, EUN, NATO, RS, GG, LG SUBJECT: TFGG01: MFA STATE SECRETARY UNUSUALLY BLUNT IN CRTICISM OF RUSSIA REF: RIGA 472 Classified By: Ambassador Charles W. Larson, Jr., Reason: 1.4(d)

1. (C) Summary: In an unusually blunt briefing for NATO and EU Embassies, MFA State Secretary Penke on August 12 was exceptionally critical of Russia’s actions in Georgia. He stated that Russia had “violated Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” committed “aggression, including through its massive and disproportionate response.” Commenting on Medvedev’s reference to Georgia as the aggressor, Penke termed this “crazy.” He said that NATO and EU member states needed to assess what kind of partner Russia is, since it used “nonsense” excuses to attack Georgia and the suggestion that Russia was attempting to force peace is “unacceptable.” While praising efforts by the EU presidency and OSCE CiO to foster a solution, Penke lamented the inability of NATO to reach agreement on a tough statement, which revealed “important differences” on Georgia within the alliance. He also bemoaned the NAC’s failure to discuss the Georgian request for military assistance. Penke added that “business as usual” with Russia was no longer possible and we need to develop strategies vis-a-vis Moscow that are based on “hard wording, strict decisions, and full implementation. Russia must understand that these actions are not without consequences and sanctions.” Latvia is sending humanitarian assistance to Georgia valued at nearly 250K USD. End summary.

2. (C) MFA State Secretary Normans Penke briefed NATO and EU Ambassadors the afternoon of August 12 on Georgia. Ambassador and A/DCM attended. Penke was blunt in his language and presentation throughout. His opening words were that “Russia has violated Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Abkhazia and South Ossetia themselves belong to Georgia. What Russia has done is aggression, including through its massive and disproportionate response (to alleged provocations).” Recalling the statement by Russian president Medvedev an hour or so before that offensive operations would cease because the “aggressor has been punished,” Penke termed the Russian view of the conflict “crazy.” He added that Russia’s various justifications for its actions, including that it was forcing Georgia to make peace, were “unacceptable.”

3. (C) Saying that Georgia had made several cease-fire offers of its own and had been willing to work with others on peace plans. Praising efforts by the French presidency of the EU and the OSCE CiO, Penke said that the lack of a commensurate Russian response forced us all, and NATO and the EU as organizations, to ask what kind of Russia could be. He called for a complete reevaluation of relations with Russia by both organizations and suggested that as first steps the EU should suspend further negotiations on visa facilitation or on a new PCA. Saying that Russia would not heed “weak partners” he advocated for NATO and EU statements with “hard wording, strict decisions, and full implementation. Russia must understand that these actions are not without consequences and sanctions.”

4. (C) Penke’s frustration at the inability of the NAC to adopt a tough statement at its August 12 meeting was evident. He said that the debate revealed “important differences” among allies on Georgia policy and he was especially concerned that NATO had not discussed Georgia’s request for assistance and hoped that would be possible “at least on the margins” of the August 13 GAERC. In response to a question, Penke said that NATO must move faster on MAP for Ukraine and he hoped that events in Georgia also spurred Ukraine to “finish its homework.”

5. (U) Penke said that the Latvian cabinet had approved a shipment of nearly USD 250 thousand worth of humanitarian assistance and much of it would be sent in the evening of August 12 with the plane carrying it Yerevan, bringing back a load of Latvians and others looking to leave Georgia. He also said that Latvia was looking on how to respond positively to a Georgian government request that Latvia extend the validity of visas for Georgians in Latvia who cannot safely return home.

6. (C) Comment: A/DCM has worked with Penke for over two years and been in a number of meetings with him. Today’s brefing, especially for this large crowd, was unusually emotional and blunt. In fact, Penke, a former Ambassador to Moscow, has a reputation within the GOL for being somewhat soft on Russia. You wouldn’t have known it today. His passion seemed genuine and his frustration with Russia, and the inability of NATO to respond forcefully, was deep. In stood in contrast to the more measured and traditionally diplomatic tones of FM Riekstins when we saw him earlier the same day. LARSON

C O N F I D E N T I A L RIGA 000463 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/07/2018 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, GG, RU, LG SUBJECT: TFGG01: LATVIA ON GEORGIA/SOUTH OSSETIA – BLAME RUSSIA Classified By: Charge d’Affairs a.i. Tamir Waser for Reasons 1.4 (b) an d (d)

1. (C) On the afternoon of August 8, Charge was summoned to the MFA to meet with State Secretary Normans Penke to discuss developments in Georgia/South Ossetia, where Penke expressed the GOL’s great concern about the escalating situation. While he initially described that he had held discussions earlier in the day with both the Russian and Georgian ambassadors to Latvia, urging both sides to take measures to de-escalate, he later made clear that he and the GOL lay the blame squarely at the feet of the Russians. He noted with amusement, though, that the Georgian ambassador, in describing the GOG’s own operations, used the term that Georgian forces were “occupying” South Ossetia, which Penke said was not a “favorable” choice of words.

2. (C) Penke said that the MFA is urging all parties to stand down forces and negotiate. He noted that the Georgian FM had complained to Latvian FM Riekstins in a phone call the morning of August 8 that she could not get a call through to Russian FM Lavrov, and has only been able to speak to DFM Karasin. Penke noted that in a subsequent call with the Finnish FM, the Finns had a call with Lavrov set up for later in the day.

3. (C) Penke stated a desire for a NATO statement on the crisis, but with the NATO Secretary General on vacation, he did not see much possibility for such a statement. He expressed his desire to have NATO at least meet in Brussels on the evening of August 8, to decide how best to put pressure on the Russians to calm events. Penke also mentioned engaging the OSCE, but he did not specify a role for the body.

4. (C) When asked about what he envisioned the French reaction would be in their EU Presidency role, Penke stated that it was hard to tell but that he was mildly optimistic, as he believed the current French government would be more forward-leaning than during the Chirac administration.

5. (C) Penke said that the MFA has no plans to remove staff from their embassy in Tbilisi, and that they had, in fact, ordered their ambassador to Georgia to return to post from his vacation.

6. (U) Penke expressed a desire to remain in close contact with the USG in coming days.

7. (C) Comment: The Latvians view the situation as essentially Russia’s fault, although they also feel that Tbilisi has been looking for a provocation to act. In the back of the Latvian’s mind is always their own relationship with Russia and they are anxious to ensure that the Russians don’t come out of this with a greater sense of entitlement to act in the former Soviet space. WASER

C O N F I D E N T I A L RIGA 000472 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2018 TAGS: PREL, MOPS, ENRG, NATO, EUN, RS, GG, LG SUBJECT: TFGG01: LATVIAN FM WANTS STRONG NATO AND EU STATEMENTS BUT NOT OPTIMISTIC REF: A) STATE 856708 B) STATE 86108 Classified By: Ambassador Charles W. Larson, Jr., Reason: 1.4 (d)

1. (C) Summary: Latvian FM Riekstins supports strong statements by the EU and NATO in support of Georgia and in opposition to Russian actions, but he is skeptical that consensus can be achieved in either organization for a tough line. He feels that it is important for the Latvian public to see that these organizations stand up for their friends. He also remains interested in staying in close touch with the US on responding to Georgian requests for military assistance. Looking ahead, the minister advocated for a quick NATO decision to grant MAP to Ukraine to stave off Russian provocations there and said that events in Georgia will likely lead Latvia to take a critical look at its energy security needs. End summary.

2. (C) Ambassador and A/DCM called on FM Riekstins August 12 to urge Latvian support for strong NATO and EU statements on Georgia. Riekstins was in full agreement on the importance of both organizations issuing tough statements. He said recent statements by the NATO SYG were good, but Russia is looking to see a tough, united statement, otherwise it will continue its activities in Georgia. He also noted that the Latvian public is looking to both organizations to increase their level of activity on Georgia, as a sign of how these organizations treat their friends. The August 11 Georgian request for military assistance from democratic countries was “unlike anything” he had seen before and Riekstins said he wanted to stay in close touch with the US on potential responses to this request.

3. (C) Riekstins positively noted the strong statement by President Bush August 11. Echoing many of our own points, the FM said that Russia has discredited itself a peacekeeper in the “near abroad” and its justification of “protecting its citizens” is a worrying precedent. What if it asserted a right to protect Russians living in Germany? (Comment: what he really meant was “what if Russia asserted a right to protect ethnic Russians living in Latvia, with force if needed? End comment.) He added that he was very skeptical of Russian claims of Georgian atrocities, but expected “evidence” to be produced to advance this claim.

4. (C) That said, the FM did not believe that either NATO or the EU could agree on a tough statement, “unless Sarkozy is rudely kicked out of Moscow.” More likely, he thought, was the Russia would express some support for a French plan, but place conditions or other restrictions on it that would water it down. That would still be enough though to get some countries (he specifically cited Italy) to urge a “balanced” statement that would not give Russia any cause for concern. In that regard, he though the visit by Latvian PM Godmanis and the presidents of Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine to Georgia August 12 was very important. Riesktins and his Baltic and Polish colleagues could speak at the August 13 GAERC on the basis of what their leaders had seen in Georgia first hand, but even with this, he projected uphill sledding in the GAERC.

5. (C) Riekstins opined that apart from statements, we needed to consider concrete actions that could be taken that would demonstrate to Russia the real consequences of their action and cause them to rethink their activities in Georgia. Suspending the PCA negotiations with the EU, he said, was of no real consequence to Moscow. Ideas he mentioned (but did not advocate for any one in particular) included pulling the 2014 winter games from Sochi, kicking Russia out of the G8, and suspending Russian membership in the Council of Europe.

6. (C) Looking ahead, Riekstins said that NATO should move quickly to grant MAP to Ukraine, before Russia could stage provocations there. He also said this was an important symbol that NATO would not be deterred by Russian aggression.

7. (C) Asked by the Ambassador what consequences events in Georgia would have on Latvia’s relations with Russia, Riekstins said that he was not yet sure. Some economic ties would continue because “business is business.” However, Latvia viewed the August 11 comments by Russian Ambassador Vyeshnakov that the Baltic States and Poland were “hurrying to conclusions with potentially dangerous consequences” as a not very subtle threat. The GOL had checked and their energy supplies were OK on electricity, even though the Ignalina plant in Lithuania is undergoing annual maintenance. On gas, the underground storage facilities in Latvia gave them a buffer from an immediate cutoff. He said that PM Godmanis had said that he wanted to lead a cabinet discussion of the future relationship with Russia upon his return from Georgia. LARSON

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