Latvian lawmakers have recently passed a bill that gives them the authority to seize vehicles with Russian license plates if they have not been registered in Latvia. This decision comes in response to recommendations issued by the European Union (EU) last month, which outlined how member states should implement sanctions against Moscow.
The Latvian parliament has approved amendments to the road traffic law in a first reading, stating that Russian vehicles must be either registered with the Latvian authorities or removed from the country within three months of the legislation taking effect. A summary of the bill, posted on the parliament’s website, explains that any unregistered Russian vehicle found to be in use on Latvian roads after this period will be confiscated. The bill also outlines plans to hand over the confiscated vehicles to Ukraine.
However, vehicles with Russian license plates will still be allowed to transit through Latvia as long as it is completed within 24 hours. Exemptions to the registration requirement will also be granted to vehicles used or owned by diplomats. The bill is expected to come into force on November 15.
The justification for this measure from the bill’s authors is two-fold. Firstly, they argue that it is necessary to implement EU sanctions against Russia in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Secondly, they cite the need to “reduce security risks,” although no further details are provided.
Latvia is not the first country to impose restrictions on Russian vehicles. Several other European nations, including Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Norway, Germany, and Bulgaria, have also barred Russian cars from entering their territories. These measures were introduced following the EU Commission’s release of a document containing “frequently asked questions” in early September. The document clarified that Russians are not permitted to bring cars into the EU, regardless of whether the vehicles are for private or commercial use.
In addition to restrictions on vehicle imports, EU officials have highlighted that a wide range of personal items, including hygiene products, are also subject to sanctions. However, they have advised national authorities to implement these measures in a “proportionate and reasonable manner,” with the aim of preventing sanctions evasion.
In response to the ban on importing personal items, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has described it as a form of blatant “racism.” She has also condemned the vehicle entry ban, characterizing it as an attempt to resurrect the Iron Curtain in Europe and accusing it of being rooted in Nazism and its modern-day forms.
The decision by Latvian lawmakers to seize unregistered Russian vehicles is a reflection of the continued tensions between Russia and the EU. As the conflict in Ukraine persists, member states are taking steps to align themselves with EU sanctions and implement measures aimed at preventing sanctions evasion. While this move may have consequences for Russian car owners in Latvia, it underscores the broader geopolitical dynamics and divisions within the region.