The chief diplomat accuses Russia of shelling its own allies’ detention center, but provides no evidence
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has accused Russia of shelling a detention center in the Donetsk People’s Republic, and called on the EU to suspend tourist visas for Russian citizens. Latvia has recently proposed a range of hardline measures against Moscow, including forcing ordinary Russians to denounce their government.
In a tweet on Saturday, Rinkevics accused Russia of the “brutal murder of Ukrainian POWs,” a reference to the fatal shelling of a detention center in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Friday. The facility held members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion who surrendered to Russian and Donbass forces in Mariupol in May. Fifty of these prisoners of war died in the strike.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the strike was carried out by the Ukrainian military using US-made HIMARS rocket launchers. The DPR authorities accused Ukraine of bombing the facility to stop the Azov prisoners from testifying about their unit’s alleged war crimes.
The US and UN have declined to blame either side for the strike, citing a lack of information.
Regardless, Rinkevics called on the EU to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” something that the bloc has not indicated that it will do. In Washington, the US State Department has explicitly refused to apply such a label to Russia, as doing so would interfere with sanctions exemptions.
Rinkevics also called on the EU to impose a tourist visa ban on Russian citizens. Latvia has already enacted such a ban, as have several Eastern European states, including Poland. However, freedom of movement laws mean that Russians allowed into one Schengen Area country may then enter any of the other 25 states in the border-free travel zone.
Furthermore, while individual countries can restrict most kinds of visas, EU rules mean that visas must always be issued to certain categories of people, such as family members or journalists. A source in the European Commission explained this situation to Russian news agency Interfax on Friday amid discussion in Finland on imposing a complete visa ban on Russian travelers.
However, Latvia has already found other ways to restrict entry from Russia. Latvia’s State Security Service (VDD) told broadcaster LSM on Friday that foreigners entering the country from Russia or Belarus would face “increased scrutiny” at border checkpoints, in order to “identify persons who support Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.”
One woman told LSM that her husband – a Russian citizen and permanent resident in Latvia – had been asked to sign a document denouncing Russia as an “aggressor” or have his residency revoked. Moscow sent a protest note to Latvia condemning the use of coerced statements, but Rinkevics told LSM that Latvia would continue to employ such measures “in our security interests.”
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