The Baltic country, which borders Russia and Belarus, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since the war broke out in February. Last week, Latvia’s state security service (VDD) said that it had denied entry to several Russian and Belarusian nationals at its border who could “pose a threat to Latvia’s national security”.
The VDD said it had denied entry to 53 foreigners, including 35 Russian citizens and 12 Belarusians.
It said: “During the inspections, specific attention is paid to foreigners who, for example, once served in the power structures of Russia or Belarus, publicly demonstrate symbols glorifying Russian aggression or express a negative attitude towards the Latvian state.
“A large number of foreigners who were refused entry to Latvia openly expressed their support for Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and its residents, using typical Kremlin war propaganda narratives.”
There is no evidence that the foreign nationals were detained.
The news comes as the VDD is reportedly increasingly concerned about Russian and Belarusian intelligence services recruiting local officials on NATO’s eastern flank.
Delfi reported the VDD as particularly concerned about Russian intelligence services targeting “Latvian state and local government officials who have information containing state secrets or other information about Latvia and its allied countries accessible to a limited circle of persons”.
Latvia has ethnic Russian and Belarussian populations, some of which have been sympathetic to Putin’s cause.
Although Belarus has not attacked Ukraine directly, the Government there allows Putin’s forces use of the territory, including airfields, to launch attacks into Ukraine.
The Baltics would form a key theatre in any conflict between NATO and Russia, if the region were to fall it would effectively cut the alliance in half leaving NATO applicants and allies Finland and Sweden cut off from the bulk of NATO forces in central-eastern Europe.
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NATO has been increasing its troop numbers in the Baltics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and Latvia has proposed mandatory conscription to bolster its own armed forces in the face of Russian aggression.
This is not the first time there has been concern about Russia intelligence services operating in the region.
In March, just weeks after the war in Ukraine began, Lithuanian intelligence services detained several individuals for taking pictures of strategic and military sites near the eastern border of the country.
It is believed that when Russia moved its forces away from NATO’s eastern flank towards Ukraine, the Kremlin stepped up its intelligence gathering in the Baltics.
Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anuaukas said several individuals had been detained for taking photos of “military and strategic objects”.
He said: “There have been reports of people, for example, taking photographs of military and strategic objects, which may be infrastructural, important objects. This is being monitored and there have been cases when people were detained for doing that.”
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He added: “Of course, there is an increase in activity as when Belarus and Russia withdrew a large part of their forces and threw everything near Ukraine, and the Russians threw everything into Ukraine, they undoubtedly intensified their intelligence by looking at what the situation is like in our country.”
He also noted that there had been an increase in Russian and Belarusian intelligence operatives following opposition leaders from those countries living in exile in the Baltics.
The news comes as Russian forces have stalled in their offensive in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. Although both sides have increased artillery strikes, Russia has thus far failed to break through and capture territory there in a meaningful way.
As the West continues to provide Ukraine with advanced weapons systems and Putin is forced to send more men and equipment into combat in Ukraine, it is likely Russia will try to use its intelligence services to keep an eye on developments on its western NATO border.