Russia pursuing sanctions-busting strategy: expert

In its attempts to influence the Baltics in regards to EU sanctions, Russia could use this to try to convince Western Europe to lift these sanctions, Andis Kudors, executive director of the Center for East European Policy Studies, believes, the LETA newswire reported January 21.

In a publication called "Latvia's Foreign and Security Policy 2017" written for the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, Kudors recalled the unofficial meeting between government ministers and Russian Vice Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich in Latvia last August.

Dvorkovich not only met with Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony), but also three government ministers from the Union of Greens and Farmers - Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Transport Minister Uldis Augulis and Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs.

The expert points out that Dvorkovich is a close associate of Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev, but added that even though he is a top official, he is not on the highest hierarchy levels of the Russian elite.

''However, we should not underestimate the visit - Dvorkovich is a close associate of Medvedev and symbolizes the new generation of Russia's elite, who together with Medvedev must look modern, so to facilitate the loyalty of Russia's youth to the regime and try to give at least a glimmer of hope about Russia's future for the more liberal minded,'' he writes.

According to him, two conclusion can be made from this unofficial meeting. The first is Russia's attempts to decentralize Latvia's foreign policy.

Since EU sanctions were imposed against Russia, the Latvian Foreign Ministry is the responsible institution which follows whether or not the sanctions are being observed. Secret ''agreements'' with individual countries, which is something Russia likes, is a dangerous practice for a country like Latvia, he said, adding that transparency must be maintained by the Latvian side when dealing with Russia, so that ''deals'' are not secretly agreed upon which could harm Latvia's national interests.

''We also observe [Riga mayor] Usakovs taking an alternative approach with Russia, who has already since 2009 attempted to form close relations with Moscow. Riga represents itself in these relations, however, Moscow is officially involved in the implementation of Russia's compatriot policy, which is an official foreign policy of Russia,'' Kudors says.

He reminded that just recently Usakovs expressed hope that EU sanctions towards Russia will be lifted. ''Usakovs is hindering the coordination of foreign policy towards Russia, which challenged the global order by annexing Crimea in 2014,'' the expert points out.

The second conclusion which can be observed from Dvorkovich's visit is Russia's attempts to look for weak spots in the EU's common foreign policy, with the aim of lessening the impact of the sanctions imposed for its aggression in Ukraine.

''Latvia, of course, does not set the main tone for the EU's foreign policy decisions, but it is influential in Brussels in matters related to the Eastern Partnership initiative and relations with Russia,'' he said.

He believes that by influencing the Baltics on these matters, it would also mean influencing those who have most actively preached solidarity with Ukraine and taking a tough stance towards Russia.

''If Russia is successful in convincing the Baltics, or at least Latvia, that sanctions should be lifted, it could use this to convince that even the ''angry Balts'' believe that sanctions must be lifted and Western Europe should seriously consider this. Russia, of course, has not yet been successful, but it continues to carry out such activities not only in the Baltics,'' he explained.

Andis Kudors was a recent guest on LSM's Minutes from Latvia podcast, which you can listen to HERE.

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