Latvians look likely to back their hawkish centre-right ruling coalition in a parliamentary election on Saturday amid increased tensions with giant neighbor Russia, Riga’s communist-era ruler, over the Ukraine crisis. Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma has taken a tough stance towards Moscow over its policies in Ukraine, boosting defense spending and joining Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania in pressing for a bigger NATO presence in their region. Among her main opponents in the election is the traditionally pro-Moscow Concord party, which draws support from the ethnic Russians who make up about a quarter of Latvia’s two million-strong population. “I think that most likely we will have the same centre-right coalition as we see now. And the main reason is Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” said Andis Kudors, executive director of the Center for East European Policy Studies. “Latvian parties will have a hard time convincing voters why they would go (into a coalition) with a Concord party which does not condemn Russia’s aggression enough.”
A survey conducted by polling company SKDS showed 32.5 percent would vote for the current coalition and 27.5 percent for the opposition, which includes Concord and a new leftist party called “For Latvia from the Heart”. Another 30.4 percent of respondents were undecided or did not plan to vote. Other polls have shown similar results.
Russia, which remains an important trade partner, has rattled Latvia by stepping up naval manoeuvres and military flights near its sea and land borders.
The former Soviet republic is a member of both NATO and the European Union and has backed EU economic sanctions imposed against Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.