Latvia’s parliament on Wednesday elected Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis as the Baltic state’s new president, making him the 28-member European Union’s first Green Party head of state. His victory comes as the small NATO and eurozone member of two million people is grappling with security concerns amid heightened tensions with Russia, and Vejonis acknowledged the troubled ties with the former Soviet-era master in his first speech after being named to the post. “I would like to improve relations with Russia… but while Russian rockets and heavy weapons remain in Ukraine, that’s not really possible,” the 48-year-old Vejonis said after winning the secret ballot in which 55 out of 100 legislators backed him.
The Latvian president is commander in chief of the armed forces, nominates the prime minister and has the right to propose and return legislation to parliament. Vejonis will replace centrist Andris Berzins, who took office in 2011.
Centrist Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma told AFP she was “very pleased” with the outcome.
The European Green Party told AFP that Vejonis, a biologist and 25-year party member, was the first Green member to become a European Union head of state.