The World Today for August 29, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

The Little Country That Could

LATVIA

Latvian authorities began dismantling a 262-foot-tall Soviet-era monument that commemorates the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. As Bloomberg reported, the move came after Russia launched a massive cyberattack against Estonia for taking down a similar monument for similar reasons – a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The move in the Latvian capital, Riga, was just one example of how the former Soviet republic is perhaps the best example of Russophobia in the world.

Latvian officials recently declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, Agence France-Presse wrote, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, is tantamount to genocide. The small Baltic country is even considering banning the Russian language in workplaces, Newsweek added. It also might institute a military draft in order to beef up its defenses in case of a Russian attack.

Russian hackers have launched cyberattacks on Latvia in response, wrote the Record, a publication of Recorded Future, a US-based private cybersecurity company.

Latvia’s history and geography make a total escape from Russian influence almost impossible. As the BBC explained, around one-third of just under two million Latvians speak Russian. Many absorb Russian state-controlled media that presents pro-Kremlin perspectives on world events. Only 40 percent of Russian speakers in Latvia supported Ukraine in June, for example.

The decision to destroy the World War II victory monument struck Latvians of ethnic Russian descent as a repudiation of a positive shared history throughout the former Soviet Union.

“This is silly. It’s such a stupid decision,” said Svetlana, a Russian-speaking resident of Riga who spoke to National Public Radio – but withheld her last name out of fear of reprisal. “Each year, I’d come here with flowers and a portrait of my grandfather, who fought in the Soviet army and was wounded. It’s very sad to see what’s happening to it now.”

Latvia has banned Russian propaganda-peddling media outlets in the country, and even hosted anti-Kremlin newscasts in a bid to influence Russians’ opinions about Putin, the Foreign Policy Research Institute noted.

Putin is hitting back. The Russian gas company Gazprom has cut off natural gas supplies to Latvia, though the latter said that the move would have little effect, as they already ended gas imports from their neighbor starting from next January, Al Jazeera reported. Latvia is now securing alternative sources, added the Lithuanian Information Agency.

Latvia might be small but sometimes little countries punch above their weight.

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