Russia offers visas to defenders of Soviet monument
Police in Riga earlier reported arresting 14 protestors
Russia is ready to grant asylum to Latvians who face harassment in their home country for protesting their government’s crackdown on Soviet-era symbols, Moscow’s envoy to Riga has said.
The embassy “has started issuing Russian visas to citizens who had been detained these days near the monument to the liberators of Riga,” Ambassador Mikhail Vanin told Russian television on Wednesday.
This will allow them “to flee Latvian territory and find asylum in Russia, should they need it,” he added.
Latvian police reported detaining 14 people who were demonstrating on Tuesday against the government’s move to demolish the World War II memorial. Law enforcement said the demonstrators were taken into custody for their refusal to disperse when ordered.
The monument has long served as a flashpoint for tensions between Latvia’s government, which brands the historic period when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union as an “occupation,” and the country’s ethnic Russian community, which seeks to preserve some parts of the Soviet legacy.
Latvian nationalist forces have long sought to rid the country of all Soviet symbols. This campaign gained impetus amid the rift between Russia and Western nations over the conflict in Ukraine.
The government announced earlier in August that the monument in Riga, which had served as a place for commemorating World War II victims, would be torn down and recycled. The promise was carried out on Tuesday, but the move sparked protests.
The Russian embassy called the removal of the monument “an act of vandalism by the state” and accused Riga of mislabeling people who disagree with the decision as a national threat.
The protesters “get roughly detained by the police, while leaders of the state voice various threats against those people, from expulsion and revocation of permanent residency permission to criminal prosecution,” the statement said.
Latvian President Egils Levits said in an interview on Wednesday that Russians in Latvia who are not loyal to the country’s government should be “isolated from society.”