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Latvian Television has learned that the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Riga is expediting recruitment of local residents who wish to head to Ukraine to fight alongside pro-Russian separatist forces, news program Panorāma reported Sunday.
LTV correspondent Odita Krenberga continued her visit in Latgale this weekend and spoke with several local residents planning to become hired mercenaries of Russia in Ukraine.
Declining to reveal their identities, the anonymous prospective fighters explained that the Russian Federation’s embassy was prepared to quickly handle all of the necessary paperwork and even help volunteers with expenses.
One man named 'Sergejs' told Panorāma that he has already submitted his documents there and was told that he could travel to Ukraine “right away” if he wished. He also claimed that he was told fighters would earn €1500 per kill.
Russia was also said to be willing to take ex-convicts from Latvia’s prison system should they be inclined to go to Ukraine to fight on their side.
A man named 'Dmitrijs', who says he wants to fight on behalf of Russians in Ukraine explained his feelings in fluent Latvian.
“We simply renounce (our) national citizenship and right there at the embassy they give you your tickets and you’re off to Russia. They said they are just waiting for us to come and sign up. My thought is, I’m prepared to go anywhere to fight, and I don’t know how much time I’ll spend there in Russia, but I will know that I am defending my identity, that I am a Russian and that I have a right to be Russian,” he said.
The only obstacle in his way at the moment is that a former criminal conviction has not been struck from the record after serving his prison term and he is therefore barred from leaving the country.
“But I know in my own heart – if I want to I’ll just leave anyway. I live by the very borderline and I’d have no problem simply taking a boat and rowing over to Russia. If the Harmony Center, the Russian parties again remain [excluded from power] after elections, then there’s nothing for me to do in this country anymore. Nothing’s keeping me here,” said Dmitrijs.
Although none of the radically-oriented pro-Russian political groups in Latvia admit that they are directly involved in recruitment of fighters, figures such as Vladimirs Lindermans, who led a campaign to have Russian given the status of an official state laguage, have expressed support for such actions.
The Latvian Russian Union, a party led by MEP Tatjana Ždanoka has stated that it understands those residents of Latvia who want to go to Ukraine to "defend" Russians there. Activists from the Harmony party, which currently leads in election polls, are also said to have been interested in such recruitment efforts.
The Security Police (DP) responded in writing to LTV’s request for a statement, saying that it regularly receives information from various sources about possible residents of Latvia heading off to fight in Ukraine.
“Based on analysis of the obtained information, we are carrying out counterespionage operations to prevent any potential risks that could result from residents of Latvia joining illegal groups of fighters in foreign countries. At the same time the DP has initiated criminal proceedings against three residents of Latvia who have in videos posted on the Internet urged other persons to go to Ukraine and become involved in illegal activities there,” the DP statement said.
As reported, two citizens and one non-citizen have been identified in Internet videos claiming to be from the Latgale town of Ludza and fighting for pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region of southeast Ukraine. The DP has confirmed that criminal investigations into the three men are underway and that recent raids have revealed a cache of weapons and ammunition in the process.