Latvian Government to Notify Around 6,000 Russian Nationals to Leave the Country
The Latvian government in Riga plans to send official notices to approximately 6,000 Russian nationals, informing them that they have 90 days to leave the country, according to a statement made by Ingmars Lidaka, head of the parliamentary committee on citizenship and migration. Lidaka confirmed this in an interview with the Lithuanian state broadcaster LRT, stating that these individuals have refused to take the language test imposed by Latvia last year or obtain a temporary residence permit. Lidaka described them as “silent” and expressed that they have shown no desire to comply with the regulations.
The Latvian Interior Ministry has confirmed the preparation and impending distribution of the notices, which are expected to be sent out in September to the identified recipients, according to the news agency Elta.
The language test requirement for Russian nationals was implemented in response to the escalating hostilities in Ukraine. It stipulated that those wishing to reside in Latvia must pass a Latvian language proficiency test. However, ethnic Russians, who constitute about a quarter of Latvia’s 1.8 million residents, have been denied Latvian citizenship since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Notably, the then-president of Latvia, Egils Levits, argued in August last year that ethnic Russians suspected of disloyalty to the country should be isolated from society, citing the conflict in Ukraine as a reason. In 2021, Levits openly discussed his plan to promote “Latvianism” in language and culture, aiming to make it the dominant force by 2030.
In response to the upcoming education law, which aimed to remove Russian as a language of instruction in all schools, around 100 activists protested in Riga in September. They referred to the law as a “language genocide” and expressed concerns about the potential erasure of their ethnic identity.
The implementation of these measures against the Russian community in Latvia has drawn criticism from international observers. One such incident occurred in January when Latvian authorities arrested Marat Kasem, the editor-in-chief of Sputnik Lithuania, upon his return to visit his dying grandmother. Despite being a Latvian national, Kasem had been deported to Russia in 2019 due to his association with Sputnik. The authorities charged him with espionage and detained him for four months before agreeing to a reduced charge and imposing a fine of €15,500 ($17,000). Following criticism from the newly appointed Latvian president, Edgars Rinkevics, about the leniency of the charges, Kasem decided to leave the country once again.
The expulsion of thousands of Russian nationals from Latvia raises concerns about human rights and the treatment of minority communities. Critics argue that these measures disproportionately target ethnic Russians and further contribute to their marginalization. It remains to be seen how this issue will develop and whether international pressure will prompt a reconsideration of these policies.