Latvian President Edgar Rinkevics has announced that his country is prepared to close its borders with Russia and Belarus in an effort to safeguard NATO frontiers from potential mass migration or other unidentified “hybrid threats.” Rinkevics made this commitment during a meeting with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in Riga on Tuesday. In response to the increasing number of illegal migrants, Latvia has already enhanced border security and patrols and closed all border checkpoints with Belarus except for one.
The migration crisis in the region began in 2021, with Belarus emerging as a key transit point for Middle Eastern refugees attempting to reach the European Union. While the situation primarily impacted Poland, it also spilled over into Latvia and Lithuania. Officials in Minsk have consistently denied allegations of aiding the influx of migrants.
Additionally, Latvia recently implemented a policy of barring entry for vehicles with Russian license plates. Similar measures have been introduced by other Baltic countries, although Lithuania has made an exception for cars transiting through its territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
These latest moves by Latvia come in response to the European Union’s announcement that its broad trade sanctions against Russia also apply to personal belongings such as cars, phones, luggage, shampoo, and toilet paper. The European Commission has urged EU member states to evaluate and comprehend the potential risks involved in circumventing sanctions and to seize any such belongings from Russian passport-holders during customs checks.
Moscow has vehemently criticized these restrictive measures, with Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, condemning them as a clear manifestation of “pure racism” on the part of Western officials.
Following the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine last year, Latvia imposed a requirement for Russian nationals wishing to reside in the country to pass a Latvian language test. Ethnic Russians make up approximately a quarter of Latvia’s 1.8 million residents and have been denied Latvian citizenship since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In August, the Latvian government issued a warning that nearly 6,000 Russian nationals could face deportation for exhibiting no “desire” to take the language exam.
By taking these measures, Latvia aims to secure its borders and protect NATO’s interests. The closure of border checkpoints and stringent entry policies for Russian vehicles and residents reflect an effort to combat the migration crisis and ensure the country’s security. However, these actions have not been without controversy, as they have drawn criticism from Russia, which accuses Latvia and other Baltic countries of discriminatory practices.