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EU state’s president threatens to close border with Russia

Latvia raised concerns over alleged “hybrid threats” from Moscow and Minsk

Latvian President Edgar Rinkevics has said his country is ready to close its border with Russia and Belarus, in order to protect NATO frontiers from mass influx of migrants or other unspecified “hybrid threats.”

The Latvian leader promised to take all necessary measures to defend NATO borders from the perceived threat during a meeting with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in Riga on Tuesday. The Baltic nation already boosted border security and patrols, and closed all but one checkpoint with its southern neighbor Belarus in response to the growing numbers of illegal migrants.

The migration crisis in the region first erupted in 2021, when Belarus emerged as a major transit point for Middle Eastern refugees trying to reach the EU. While the turmoil mainly affected Poland, it also spilled over to Latvia and Lithuania. Officials in Minsk have repeatedly denied accusations of helping to increase the flow of migrants.

Earlier this month, Latvia also closed entry into the country for cars with Russian license plates. Other Baltic countries introduced similar policies, though Lithuania has made an exception for cars transiting through its territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

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The move came after Brussels stated that its sweeping trade sanctions against Russia also extend to personal items such as cars, phones, luggage, and even shampoo and toilet paper. The European Commission urged EU members to “assess and understand the possible risks of sanctions circumvention” and confiscate any such belongings from Russian passport-holders when conducting customs checks.

Moscow has slammed the restrictive measures, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling it a blatant expression of “pure racism” by Western officials.

After the hostilities in Ukraine escalated last year, Riga also imposed a requirement for Russian nationals who wish to reside in Latvia to take and pass a Latvian language test, Ethnic Russians make up about a quarter of the Baltic state’s 1.8 million residents, and have been denied Latvian citizenship since Riga declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In August, the government warned that almost 6,000 Russian nationals could be deported for showing no “desire” to take the exam.

September 27, 2023 at 08:18AM

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