The withdrawal of the ambassador from Moscow – first in Latvia's history – was prompted by the escalation in relations between Estonia and Russia. Estonia requested a reduction in the number of employees at the Russian embassy in Tallinn. Russia responded to this by expelling Estonia's ambassador, Margus Laidre.
The incident helped Latvia to solve the dilemma more quickly with Ambassador to Moscow Māris Riekstiņš, who would soon end his term of office.
“I must say, I think somebody's nerves in Russia just gave in,” commented Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs (New Unity) on the Russian decision to expel the Estonian ambassador.
The Ministry quickly decided to show solidarity with Estonia: to withdraw Ambassador Riekstiņš and to order the Russian ambassador to Riga Mikhail Vanin to leave. Diplomatic relations between the two countries will be reduced.
Rinkēvičs justifies this decision with the fact that Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine and Latvia-Russia relations are at a very low level.
“Second, our Ambassador Māris Riekstiņš' term of office would have also expired this year, and that big moral issue is whether we can in this situation – and the war, I think, will be relatively long – imagine a situation where a [new] ambassador of the Republic of Latvia submits a letter of accreditation signed by the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Russian President,” Rinkēvičs said, adding that the diplomatic form is also intended to indicate “good and friendly” relationships at such times.
Ambassador to Russia, Riekstiņš, said that before the relatively unexpected resolution of the situation, there was no plan of extending his service in Moscow: “No, in my case there was no discussion on the extension because I have actually had five and a half years in Russia at the moment. It's more than usual.”
He said that the mission would be able to carry out its daily duties without the ambassador.
Although Latvia chose to lower the level of diplomatic relations from February 24, which marks the year of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia announced on Friday that the country should be abandoned within two weeks.
The three Baltic States will therefore be left with no ambassadors to Moscow. Lithuania withdrew its ambassador last year.
Unlike Estonia, Latvia has not yet asked other Russian diplomats to leave in order to coincide with the number of employees in the embassies in Riga and Moscow. “There is a disproportion, but we will leave this in our arsenal for further decisions,” said Rinkēvičs.