WASHINGTON — A Latvian parliamentarian calling for a fellow Latvian to be expelled from the EU's Green Group over her support of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Vilnis Kirsis, a member of Latvia's parliament, sent an open letter to Rebecca Harms, co-president of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the EU Parliament, calling for Green Group member Tatjana Zdanoka to be kicked out.
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Ms. Zdanoka is more likely to advocate Russia's interests and its aggression towards Ukraine, Baltics states," Kirsis wrote. Kirsis cites a March 10 rally in Riga organized by Zdanoka in support of the Russian moves in Ukraine. Zdanoka also served as an observer to the Crimea referendum over the weekend, which the U.S. has alleged was plagued by electoral anomalies.
The conflict is a sign of the escalating tension on Russia's perimeter, and particularly in the Baltics, in the wake of Russia's assertion of control over the area of Ukraine with the largest Russian minority. As in Ukraine, the Baltic States — and particularly Latvia — are homes to large Russian minorities. The countries, which the Soviet Union occupied during World War II, sought and won membership in the European Union and NATO more than a decade ago to protect themselves from a Russian revanchism that seemed far-fetched at the time, but which now is at the heart of President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy.
Zdanoka has long embodied Latvian leaders' fear that its Russian minority — many of whose members do not hold citizenship under laws excluding families who moved to the country during the occupation — could become the pretext for Moscow to again assert control of the country. A leader in the Russian community, she is a former Communist Party member in Latvia who resisted Latvia's independence from the Soviet Union and was banned from running for parliament because the Party had called for a coup against Latvia's elected government in 1991.
Zdanoka gave a quote to Kremlin news organ Russia Today criticizing the West for its skepticism of the Crimea referendum.
"The European parliament's resolution demands that Crimeans comply with the Ukrainian constitution and says that the referendum is against that constitution," Zdanoka said. "But that's the same as to demand Kosovars to comply with the constitution of the former Yugoslavia, which naturally never happened. Double standards are everywhere in global politics. We know it from history. We see it now."
Zdanoka did not immediately return a request for comment.
"Her position is literally the total opposite of the position of our political group on the Ukraine/Russia/Crimea issue, as you can see from our recent statements," a Green Group official told BuzzFeed in an email, linking to this press release. "She is very much alone with her totally opposing stance."
"Our 58 member group in the European Parliament is composed of two political families: the Greens (representing MEPs from Green parties and some independents across Europe, with 51 MEPs) and the European Free Alliance (which is a grouping of parties representing 'stateless nations', with 7 MEPs of which Tatjana Zdanoka is one)," the official said. "The way our alliance is set up, the Green side of the group has no say over the composition of the EFA side i.e. we have no possibility to do anything under the legal statutes setting up our cooperation. Only the EFA alone could take such a decision."
"However, despite the fact that we would be strongly critical of Tatjana Zdanoka's positioning on this issue, we are also a democratic party, which believes very strongly in the freedom of expression," the official said.
EFA leaders didn't immediately respond to a request for on-the-record comment.
Latvian foreign ministry spokesman Karlis Eihenbaums declined to comment, saying: "There is what to comment regarding Tatjana Zdanoka in substance. Her recent trip to Crimea was totally private travel, she was not representing there neither people of Latvia, neither our country – Latvia or European Union."