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Latvian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-04-05 12:23:48
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Latvia foreign minister 'concerned' by Russia's Crimea incursion

Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics has said that Latvia is "concerned" by Russia's recent actions on the Crimean peninsula. "We are very much concerned about what is happening currently in Ukraine, but we are not hysterical of course," Rinkevics told Sky News. He said that the perceived "information warfare" that Russia is carrying out in Crimea after mobilising troops in the region was reminding Latvians of the 1940 Soviet invasion of their nation.

latvia_400_01"For many Latvians, all the events as they currently unfold in Ukraine do have some emotional feeling. "We have gone through that in 1940, there is some resemblance to events of the 1930s and there is quite heavy Russian propaganda - I would call it 'information warfare'. "Some of that information has been passed to Russian speakers in Latvia." The diplomat added that NATO should supply more assets in Ukraine and that further sanctions should be imposed on Russia to deter them from progressing from their actions in Crimea.

"I certainly think if there is more escalation we will have to go to so-called phase three of sanctions - which include some embargoes on military equipment and also targeting some banking and trade issues. "This is a step which is needed if Russian troops invade the eastern part of Ukraine or there is some kind of escalation." Russian troops have seized three military bases in Crimea following President Vladimir Putin's annexation of the Russian-dominated region.


Post-Soviet ethnic tensions spill into Latvia

Security authorities here are investigating allegations of subversive behaviour by one of the nation's European Parliament members who has been accused of being a Russian agent of influence in the Baltics—underscoring the degree to which tension has escalated in a former Soviet state with a large ethnic-Russian population. Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of a political party that recently renamed itself Latvian Russian Union, is being scrutinized by Latvian security authorities for allegations that she is working to undermine the Latvian state in her support for Russia, said Kristine Apse-Krumina, a spokeswoman for the security agency. The investigation followed a formal complaint made by a fellow Latvian in the European Parliament, Karlis Sadurskis. Ms. Zdanoka, in an interview from Brussels, said she will return to Latvia on April 10 for questioning. She characterized his allegations as "completely stupid. This man just wants to raise his popularity."

In a telephone interview, Mr. Sadurskis said he filed the complaint with prosecutors based on Ms. Zdanoka's alleged activities in connection with Sutj Vremenji, a Russia-based organization that Mr. Sadurskis said advocates the restoration of the Soviet Union. "If one wants to renew the U.S.S.R., it is impossible without destroying Latvian statehood," he said. Ms. Zdanoka, a 63-year-old native of Latvia, has undermined the nation's constitution and independence, he said. "There are clear signs of a crime against the state as well as crimes against peace and humanity." Ms. Zdanoka, whose party was previously called For Human Rights in a Unified Latvia, was an observer during Crimea's March 16 referendum vote and said she also attended one conference held by Sutj Vremenji, which translates as "Essence of Time." She disputed Mr. Sadurskis' characterization of the organization as being in favour of the restoration of the Soviet Union. In recent media interviews and public speeches, she has spoken of her support for Russia, saying she is interested in smoothing relations between Moscow and Riga.

She is a well-known politician in Latvia, but as tension rose amid events in Ukraine she has come under increased scrutiny from others in the Latvian leadership. About a quarter of Latvia's residents are ethnic Russians, and Russian is the most commonly spoken language in Riga. Ms. Zdanoka, who opposed independence from the Soviet Union at the time, was later banned from running for the Latvian parliament or sitting on city council due to her association with the Communist Party of Latvia. Restrictions on her holding public office were lifted after she took legal action. In a recent interview with Latvian broadcaster TV3, she was asked about being regarded as Russia's agent of influence in Latvia. "If I fight for better relations between Latvia and Russia and the European Union and Russia, then you can call me an agent," she said. "In Crimea, the risk of violence has grown from radicals who have the power in Kiev. In order to survive, to preserve their dignity and defend their interests, the people of Crimea have taken the initiative in their own hands."


Latvia doubles ‘Golden Visa’ threshold

The minimum ‘Golden Visa’ property investment in Latvia is being doubled from €71,000 to €150,000, plus a €25,000 fee and is limited to only 800 applicants a year, before rising to €500,000. The Latvian ‘Golden Visa’ – which is among the fastest and cheapest options in Europe – is doubling its minimum property investment requirement. Investors have previously been able to obtain a Latvian ‘Golden Visa’ entitling them to five-year residency permit and access to other Schengen countries across Europe for an investment of around €71,000 (50,000 Lats) in the provinces or just under €145,000 (100,000 Lats) in the main cities. But now the minimum investment will be €150,000 for the first 800 Golden Visas every year, plus a €25,000 government fee – and once they are taken, the minimum investment rises to €500,000.

Lars Gehrmann, from www.Golden-Visa-Europe.com, which specialises in the property-for-residency scheme in various European countries, tells OPP Connect, “There are two classes of investors. The ones that really want the ‘Golden Visa’ – they tend to go to Latvia and Malta. “Then there are people looking for a safe place for their money and who want to invest in real estate; for them, the ‘Golden Visa’ comes as a bonus. Spain and Portugal are the most in-demand countries for these. Greece attracts parties from both sides.” Mr Gehrmann says that the changes are likely to mean that once the low-cost Latvian ‘Golden Visas’ are taken, schemes in other countries, including Greece and Spain, are likely to be more popular. The Latvian scheme has been one of the most popular in Europe and it has attracted real estate investment from overseas investors of €450million since the scheme was launched in 2010.

As in other countries, applicants have to be from non-EU nations, be over 18 and have no criminal history. To obtain a ‘Golden Visa’ in Latvia, no minimum stay in the country is required. Latvia, home of around two million inhabitants, joined the eurozone at the start of this year. In late 2012, its economic revival was the EU’s strongest and GDP is estimated around 4% in 2013. There is some concern in the country about Russia’s actions in the Crimea and the possibility of it spreading further and tension exists between pro-Moscow local Russian-speakers and pro-Westerners. In addition to assisting Latvian ‘Golden Visa’ applicants, Golden-Visa-Europe.com offers help for those wanting to apply for similar schemes in countries including Spain and Portugal, which require property purchases of at least €500,000, Cyprus at €300,000, Malta at €275,000 and Greece at €250,000. The photo of the Sabile and Abava region in Latvia, was taken by Alvis Balins. * Meanwhile, the European Union is aiming to expand and simplify travel to the Schengen Zone. The European Commission is looking to speed up and simplify the Schengen visa application process to its 26 member nations. The UK is not included. The plans include cutting the time authorities take to decide on a visa from 15 days to 10 days, allowing online visa applications, introducing a new one-year touring visa and allowing frequent travellers to receive multiple-entry permits for up to three years. It is hoped that the move will boost tourist numbers from China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the Ukraine by 60%.


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