A drive-in concert in Riga, 11 June 2020. ‘Latvia has one of the lowest Covid-19 infection and mortality rates in the EU, thanks to aggressive contact tracing.’ Photograph: Ints Kalniņš/Reuters

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rush by governments, private companies and digital startups to harness and develop the latest technologies in the fight against the spread of the virus.

To best meet public health needs, digital technology should be able to trace the spread of the virus, identify dangerous Covid-19 clusters and limit further transmission. The essential goal is to register contacts between potential carriers and those who might be infected. This has led to tech solutions using smartphones to perform the otherwise arduous and labour-intensive task of “contact tracing” – determining who has come into contact with a disease carrier and what should be done when a person has had that contact.…  Seguir leyendo »

Algo más de 2.800 kilómetros separan en línea recta Madrid de Adazi, una pequeña ciudad ubicada a media hora al noreste de Riga. Desde la primavera de 2017, y con el ánimo de defender el flanco este de la OTAN, la Alianza Atlántica ha puesto en marcha una operación militar en los tres países bálticos para dotarlos de fuerza disuasoria frente a la amenaza rusa. En Letonia, las fuerzas aliadas se encuentran acantonadas en una vieja base militar de la época soviética ubicada a las afueras de Adazi. España tiene allí a más de 300 militares desplazados y es la primera vez que los espectaculares vehículos acorazados españoles, en este caso los Leopardos y los Pizarros, salen de nuestras fronteras en misión de combate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images- The basement of the “Corner House,” the former headquarters of the Soviet KGB in Riga, Latvia, July 9, 2014

A few weeks ago, just before the dawn of the new year, I typed my Latvian national identification number into a crisp online database and watched as an index of more than 4,000 crumbling, yellowed index cards appeared on my screen. Some were marked with the telltale script of typewriters, staid and blotted, but most were covered in a sloping Cyrillic scrawl. All of them took the same bureaucratic form: alias, name, date and place of birth, category (“agent”), recruiter, and date of recruitment.

Alongside all these names, there was also a KGB phonebook, a counter-intelligence dictionary, a list of “freelance” personnel, and regulations for agency conduct and record-keeping.…  Seguir leyendo »

The heated exchanges between David Miliband and leading Conservatives over the proposed co-operation between Tory MEPs and the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party in the European parliament seem, at first sight, to revolve around arcane historical issues. The rightwing, nationalist Latvians, seen by the Tories as partners at Strasbourg, stand accused of supporting the parade of war veterans that takes place each year on 16 March in Riga, the Latvian capital. This would not be a problem were it not for the fact that the parade includes former soldiers who fought in the Latvian Waffen SS. Worse, some of the volunteers who served in the Waffen SS were implicated in the mass murder of Latvia's Jews.…  Seguir leyendo »

The sight of SS veterans marching down the main avenue of the capital city of a member of Nato and the European Union is hardly a sight to bring joy to the heart of a British political leader. Yet just a few days ago, Conservative chairman Eric Pickles saw fit in an interview on Radio 4 to rush to the defence of the Latvian "For Fatherland and Freedom" party which is among the staunchest supporters of precisely such an event that takes place annually in Riga every 16 March.

The simple explanation is the hackneyed cliche that politics makes strange bedfellows, and that Pickles felt obliged to defend his new partners in the European Conservatives and Reformists group of the European parliament in Strasbourg.…  Seguir leyendo »

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, spent a couple of days last week reassuring the Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – that fellow Nato members would stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, should they face Georgia-style aggression from close neighbour Russia. His pledge, undoubtedly sincere, was not entirely convincing.

Mullen does not speak for key European states such as France, Germany and Italy, whose leaders have been notably weak-kneed about punishing Moscow for its August incursions into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, led efforts to block a US-backed Nato membership plan for Georgia and Ukraine earlier this year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Outside the Soviet Union, communist Poland was the strongest member of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-led alliance that bound eastern Europe between 1955 and 1991. The very name of the treaty underlined Poland's special role in it. Most Poles disliked Russian rule, but many thought that the Soviets at least could defend them and their newly gained western territories against the Germans.

Today a new kind of Warsaw Pact emerges, this time with a strong anti-Russian and pro-US profile. Poland and the three Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - harmonise their policy with regard to their status as super-ally to the US, their suspicion of Russia and their hidden frustration at "soft" European foreign policy.…  Seguir leyendo »