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Latvia

Latvia

  • Latvian activities largely focus on restricting Russian media and trying to provide quality news reporting for the Russian minority in the country.
  • Latvia has a sophisticated and coordinated network dedicated to cyber-security.
  • The NATO Stratcom COE resides in the Latvian capital and the country is a major supporter of international activities.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Principled defender. Held concerned views over Russian foreign policy and is now at the forefront of the European response to its aggression.[1]

Latvia was one of the first ex-Soviet states to join NATO in 2004 and remains a key NATO member state, sharing a border with Russia and Belarus. Latvia is the most Russified of the Baltic States. Like Estonia, it has a sizeable Russian minority (including non-citizens) living in the country. Due to its geographic location and problematic infrastructure, Latvia was traditionally dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Russian intelligence, fake news, and disinformation are all very prevalent in the area. Still, Latvia is highly active in NATO efforts to counter Russian threats and supports the sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea.[2]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Together with the other Baltic states, Latvia is on the forefront of countering Russian disinformation. Besides taking an active role in solving this problem internationally, it has noticeably stood up to the Russian threat at home as well. The Latvian government is well aware of the influence of Russia in their country and has developed measures aimed at countering it. Functioning democratic institutions and rule of law in Latvia – together with the healthy scepticism towards Russia of the vast majority of ethnic Latvians – have contributed to its resilience.[3]

The Latvian Ministry of Defence’s 2015 National Security Concept laid out directions that Latvia should follow in order to prevent further threats to its information space. These priorities are: “development of the public media, reduction of influence of the information space of the Russian Federation, and development of the Media Literacy and Media Education.”[4]

Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, attended a new joint Nordic-Baltic-US forum in London and urged the US Congress to “press ahead with its inquiry” into the Russian interference that occurred in the 2016 US election, stating that “it is essential for all US allies to understand the mechanics of how you combine [cyberattacks] and then use [them] as [an] information weapon to influence people’s opinions.”[5]

The country has also warned troops deployed in the country as part of NATO missions to thwart Russian aggression. Foreign Minister Rinkēvičs claims that Canada’s presence in the country – beginning with the deployment of hundreds of Canadian troops into Latvia – will trigger disinformation campaigns against the troops in order to sow distrust among Latvians, as well as threatening Canada itself by “eroding support back home for the mission.”[6] This has proved to be true, as disinformation campaigns against these NATO troops have become a constant presence in Latvia since deployment.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Latvia has taken to fining and suspending channels that display “overt biases.” It fined PBK three times in 2014 and once in 2015; the radio station Autoradio Rezekne was also fined once.[7] The country suspended RTR Planeta in 2014 for “incitement to war”; it has also supported an independent news site called Meduza, “founded by journalists fired from Russian news site Lenta.ru.[8] Latvian authorities and independent media try to offer the Russian minority population in Latvia their own programmes and sources of information which are not part of the Russian media machine (like Russian independent TV channel Dozhd and Ukraine’s Russian language TV channel Espreso.)[9]

The country has its own Cyber Security Strategy, which was published in 2014. The development of cyber security policy and planning and implementation of objectives and measures is coordinated by the National Information Technology Security Council, which also pushes for an exchange of information and cooperation between the public and private sector.[10] The National Computer Security Incident Response Team (CERT.LV) is responsible for the country’s IT security. It cooperates with more than 600 IT specialists from government institutions and local authorities. The country also has a Cyber Defence Unit, which consists of a team of IT specialists and students from the public and private sector, who are trained to help the national armed forces or CERT.LV if necessary.[11]

The government in Latvia has been working hard to build media literacy, especially within its population. School workshops that teach Latvian teachers and students how to differentiate fact from fiction have risen in recent years.[12] Unlike Estonia, policymakers have not agreed on creating a new Russian news channel. Latvia has, however, created “cyber units” in the National Guard and began training in 2016.[13]

The country has a seconded-national expert at the EEAS East Stratcom team in Brussels and is the “founding and hosting nation” of NATO Stratcom COE. It is also a member of the Finnish COE on Countering Hybrid Threats.[14]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


The Latvian Security Police (DP), according to its Annual Reports, is “one of three Latvian state security and intelligence services implementing state policy in the national security sphere and whose work is usually associated with high confidentiality.”[15] They have admitted that the biggest challenge to Latvian national security will be Russia’s foreign policy initiatives and propaganda. They believe that the threat of military invasion remains low at this time. Espionage, compatriot policies used to draw out ethnic Russians from the country, Russian TV channels available in the Latvian information space, and influence from online extremist groups are some of the other major issues Latvia has been facing recently. The Latvian Security Police believes that awareness, training the younger generations, and saturating the information space with Latvian news will all contribute to the country’s fight against Russian disinformation. The Security Police also call for a diversification of Latvia’s natural gas and transit markets.

Activities of the non-governmental sector


Sandra Veinberg, a Latvian journalist working in Sweden who focuses on disinformation in the media. The Baltic Centre for Media Excellence (BCME) – a Latvia-registered non-profit organization founded in 2015 – also plays a significant role in battling fake news and propaganda with consultancy and workshops.[16] The work of blogger Jãnis Polis – who conducted thorough research on Russian disinformation campaigns, and whose activities even received praise from the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs – is also worth mentioning.

Regarding media literacy in Latvia, Turība University in Riga offers programmes focused on this issue. Websites have a significant role in media literacy as well. MansMedijs is run by the Latvian Mediju institūts and the European Journalism observatory. Its main goal is to promote more education in media literacy for teachers in order to properly teach it in general education.[17]


 




[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] Janda, Sharibzhanov, Terzi, Krejčí and Fišer: “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression?”. European Values Think-Tank. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/vyzkum/european-democracies-react-russian-aggression/ 
[3] “Latvia” in Conley, Stefanov, Mina and Vladimirov: The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe. October 2016. Available at: https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/1601017_Conley_KremlinPlaybook_Web.pdf 
[4] “The National Security Concept”. Latvian Ministry of Defence. 2015. Available at: http://www.mod.gov.lv/~/media/AM/Par_aizsardzibas_nozari/Plani,%20koncepcijas/NDK/NDK_ENG_final.ashx 
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/west-failing-to-tackle-russian-hacking-and-fake-news-says-latvia 
[6] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/latvian-minister-warns-canadian-troops-to-expect-russian-smear-campaign/article34398851/ 
[7] https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/07/fighting-disinformation-baltic-states/ 
[8] Ibid. 
[9] Una Bergmane: “Latvia’s Debate About Russian Propaganda”. Foreign Policy Research Institute. 6 July 2016. Available at: http://www.fpri.org/article/2016/07/latvias-debate-russian-propaganda/ 
[10] https://www.enisa.europa.eu/topics/national-cyber-security-strategies/ncss-map/lv-ncss 
[11] http://www.dw.com/en/latvia-launches-cyber-defence-unit-to-beef-up-online-security/a-17471936  
[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/04/05/if-you-want-to-see-russian-information-warfare-at-its-worst-visit-these-countries/?utm_term=.f16cefbc79ba  
[13] http://liia.lv/en/publications/latvian-foreign-and-security-policy-yearbook-2017-577 
[14] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[15] http://www.dp.gov.lv/en/useful/annual-reports/ 
[16] https://baltic.media/about 
[17] http://mansmedijs.lu.lv 

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