Latvia readies new Riga Nato comms center

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Latvia on Thursday hailed the opening later this summer of a new Nato-backed Strategic Communications Center in its capital Riga amid fears about Russia's ability to influence the country's large ethnic Russian minority over the crisis in Ukraine.

"For several years, the Nato alliance has been aware of the need to strengthen the strategic communication skills in our arsenal... Russia's aggression using propaganda in parallel with military force in Ukraine vividly demonstrates that NATO must be able to operate effectively in the information sphere," Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said in a press statement.

On July 1, Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, the UK and Germany signed a memorandum of understanding with Latvia during Nato talks in Norfolk, Virginia in the United States that will lead to the formal recognition of a new Nato communications center in Riga.

Though it has not yet been formally accredited on a Nato-wide level, the Latvian Defence Ministry says the new center has already been established at national level and has been operational since January 1, 2014 at the ministry's main building. It is expected to receive full Nato accreditation “by the end of the summer”.

It will then be officially launched at a planned Nato summit in Wales in September.

At the signing ceremony in the US, Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis said “The battle for the hearts and minds of people nowadays is becoming more and more important.”

The center will help to counter worries in the Baltic states that Russia is mounting a propaganda campaign to win over the region's large ethnic Russian minority on the subject of Ukraine and other issues. 

In her annual address to the Latvian parliament on national security issues Thursday Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma warned about Russia waging an “information war”.

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