On May 1, 2000, then-President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga made a sensational statement in an interview to the BBC. She said, “Russia is preparing an armed aggression toward Latvia. The country is in great danger, and only NATO and EU are able to help it avoid the imminent danger.” The president also warned the European Union that “any attack on Latvia will be an attack on the European Community.”
Such talk came as a surprise to Russia, especially when the Gordian knot of misunderstanding between the two countries seemed to loosen up.
To no one’s surprise, the statement caused indignation in Russia. The Russian Ambassador to Latvia Aleksandr Udaltsov said such a claim ‘came as a surprise’. The Kremlin refused to comment, but pointed out that ‘this is not a political, but a medical case’. The Russian Foreign Ministry was sharp in its response, calling Vīķe-Freiberga’s words ‘unprecedented in their anti-Russian tone’ and ‘resorting to the worst-case Cold War scenarios’. Other reactions from many of the politicians were similar, if not more infuriated. In her desire to get closer to the West, Vīķe-Freiberga had gone well beyond the usual boundaries.
Unsurprisingly, the speech evoked a response worldwide. The Latvian Foreign Minister Andris Biedrins, a figure who had hoped to become the mediator of the Russian-Latvian relations, landed himself in a predicament when he had to mitigate the president’s statement. In his attempt to mitigate it, he said that “Latvia essentially is a European country,” and that it “sees itself as a part of Europe, and an EU member in the future, since this organization for Latvia is not only a key to well-being, but, teamed up with NATO, becomes a security mechanism.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the former Soviet republics reviewed their history, painting Russia as an invader and accusing it of an imperial attitude, and in turn they sought support from the European Union and NATO. Such strong tendencies developed in the Baltic States. Despite the general intention to come to terms with Russia, there are always extremist patriotic forces that do their best to disturb the fragile balance. It was, for the first time, however, that an official with a rank so high had openly taken the side of the extremist wing. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, the Latvian President in 1999-2007, was known for her extreme antagonism toward Russia and legislation against the Russian-speaking population in Latvia.
However, regardless of the fact that it was during her term of office the first monument to the SS legionnaires was erected, the national Latvian surveys named her the most popular figure in Latvia, referred to by the citizens as ‘Our Vaira’.
Not surprisingly, Vīķe-Freiberga was extremely unpopular with Russians for encouraging a pro-fascist policy in Latvia and her numerous accusations of Russia as a potential Eastern aggressor, “hoping to restore the collapsed empire.”