Latvia Closes Two Border Crossings with Russia in Response to Ukraine Travel Restrictions

Latvia Closes Two Border Crossings with Russia in Response to Ukraine Travel Restrictions
Photo credits: Dinija Jemeļjanova 

In light of Russia's significant limitations on the ability of Ukrainian citizens to enter from European Union nations, Latvia has decided to close two of its border crossings, Pededze and Vientuļi, starting October 16th. The decision comes in response to Russia's move to only allow Ukrainians to enter its territory via one border checkpoint in Latvia – Vientuļi. This policy shift by Russia has raised concerns in Latvia regarding national security and public order.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis of the "Jaunā Vienotība" party highlighted the unavoidable risks that the Russian decision poses to Latvian security. The minister underscored, "This was an evident deliberate decision by Russia to not only create risk but also potentially a humanitarian crisis."

Based on current data, nearly 600 people cross the external land border daily from countries like Finland, Norway, Estonia, and Latvia. However, the Vientuļi border control point only has a capacity for roughly 65 people a day. This discrepancy means that about 500 people could accumulate at the Latvian border daily. Projections suggest intentional moves to cause issues for Latvia.

The decision to shut both border crossing points came from the Interior Ministry, which took into account Russia's new policy. Starting October 16th, 2023, holders of Ukrainian passports will only be permitted to enter Russia from third countries via two points – Vientuļi and Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. The Latvian Interior Ministry noted that Russia's decision could severely impact public order and pose a security threat. This move by Russia is seen as a response to EU decisions, including Latvia's ban on vehicles with Russian license plates.

Sergejs Maksimovs, the head of the Balvu county council and member of the "Latgale party", termed this as one of the "hybrid warfare attacks" on Latvia and the European Union. An influx of dissatisfied people can pose various threats, including illegal border crossings.

While local authorities had plans to set up tents for Ukrainians waiting at the border and to prepare a nearby sports hall for shelter, these plans are now on hold.

Given Russia's military aggression in Ukraine and the need to counter threats to Latvia's internal security and sovereignty, there's a planned suspension of operations at the Pededze and Vientuļi border crossing points on October 16th.

It's important to note that other border crossings between Latvia and Russia, such as Terehova and Grebņeva, remain operational. Also, the government had previously suspended operations at the Silene border crossing point in September, following pressures of illegal immigration driven by Belarus.

Starting October 16th, all Ukrainian passport holders aged over 14 will only be allowed to enter Russia from third countries via two points: Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow and the smaller Vientuļi border checkpoint on the Latvia-Russia border.