Baltic Reports No 18 / October 28 – November 3

  • November 18, 2019


As the climate crisis intensifies politicians around the world have become very good at giving environment-friendly promises. Yet another such declaration was made this week. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian environmental ministers stated that they support the EU climate policy. At the same time, they used the opportunity to ask for more money from the EU. They emphasised that the EU should consider the economic and social needs of Baltic economies that are highly dependent on carbon. For example, the union should fund additional measures to create jobs. All the Baltic states are moving towards carbon neutrality, but the changes need new sources of financing, Estonia’s minister of environment Rene Kokk said. At the same time, Estonia has one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world, and, ironically, planning to build a government supported oil pre-refining plant on top of that. None of the Baltic environment ministers proposed any concrete plans or ideas on how to achieve climate neutrality in the region.



Latvia’s doctors and nurses will protest on November 7, because of low salaries, and the protest will take place by the parliament Saeima. Largest hospitals in Riga and elsewhere in the country have expressed their support, and hundreds of medical workers are expected to attend. Dozens of appointments have been cancelled or rescheduled because of this, but emergency medical services won’t be affected by the protest. All of this is happening, because, in accordance with the current legislation, the government was supposed to provide 100 million euros in next year’s budget for raising medical workers’ wages in 2020. Instead, the allocation has been reduced to 43 million euros. If the government still refuses to hear the medics’ demands after the protest and do not provide the required financing in next year’s budget, the Trade Union of Health and Social Care Employees of Latvia has threatened to launch a petition calling for the dissolution of the parliament. The president of Latvia and the prime minister have both agreed to hold talks with the medical organizations ahead of the protest to try to find a common ground. Latvia spends three percent less of its GDP on healthcare compared to the average spending in Europe, and every fifth Latvian medical student continues their profession in other countries with better pay, work environment and professional growth conditions.


The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has blacklisted the Russian chanson singer Grigory Leps and therefore denied him entry to the country. The announcement came from the Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs on Twitter. The minister said he based his decision on the evaluation of the State Security Service and the Immigration Law. No further comments were given, but the practice of including Russia’s citizens in the blacklist is nothing new to Latvia. Performers who have been banned from entering the Baltic country include Yosif Kobzon, Oleg Gazmanov, and Alla Perfilova, better known as ‘Valeriya’.  They were not welcome for comments they made about Ukraine. Grigory Leps was also included in a blacklist in 2013 by the US Department of Treasury. In May this year, Leps was denied entry to Lithuania, and last year was not allowed into Israel. In 2016, the UK did not issue him an artist visa. Along with five others, the US banned him from entering the country in 2013 for alleged links to a mafia clan called the “Brothers’ Group”. The Brothers’ Circle is a criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups that are largely based in the countries of the former Soviet Union, but which also operate in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Earlier this year in summer, after Leps’ concert in Latvia, the Minister of Justice Janis Bordans was perplexed how “a person who was close to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Russian criminal circles” was let into the country. 



The European Parliament will have to decide whether to defend Lithuanian judges against Kremlin’s revenge for sentencing soviet criminals. In January 1991, fourteen peaceful demonstrators were killed and hundreds were wounded when the Soviet troops attacked peaceful demonstration in Vilnius. Lithuanian prosecutors were investigating the atrocities for almost three decades and endured many obstacles. Most of the witnesses were hiding in Russia. The public personalities, among them the former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev, refused to testify. Only five of the almost 300 legal assistance requests sent to Moscow were partially executed. Despite all this, in March 2019 Vilnius Regional Court convicted a total of 67 Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. After the verdict was announced, Russian Investigative Committee, the institution known to perform Kremlin requests opened a criminal investigation against four Lithuanian judges as retaliation. Lithuanian officials are initiating the resolution at the EP to condemn Russia’s actions against the judges in this high-profile case. The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs is to consider Lithuania’s appeal during the upcoming session on November 7.


A group of police officers in the second biggest Lithuanian city Kaunas is under investigation over international fraud. It all started in the beginning of October, when a high-ranking police officer Donatas Karalukas was arrested under suspicion of taking bribes. Since then, five more people have been detained, more than a dozen people announced suspects, including foreign citizens. The Lithuania’s Police Commissioner General chose to suspend Kaunas’ police chief from his duties. Until today, pre-trial investigation uncovered a scheme of using forged documents to acquire various goods abroad. The group of the police officers was backing the  organized crime selling these mostly copycat or stolen goods including alcoholic beverages, car parts, and luxurious cosmetics. The Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau’s is pursuing the investigation in cooperation with the French, Spanish, Belgian, Danish and German law enforcement officials. This is the first time when high-ranking Lithuanian police officers are accused of being a part of international criminal group.



An American filmmaker and feminist Mary Kross lied to the Estonian Police. She claimed that she had been attacked on the beach in Tallinn in November 2018, while walking her dog. Kross said that two men had thrown rocks at her and the dog, and insulted her. What makes this case especially important is that Kross claimed that these alleged attackers wore the conservative party EKRE’s symbols. She gave that testimony just four months before the Estonia’s parliamentary elections, making national news. Mary Kross is a wife of Estonia’s member of parliament Eerik-Niiles Kross, who belongs to Reform Party, the main opposing force to EKRE. The police investigation this summer showed that Mary Kross had given false statements. She hadn’t even been on the beach at the time of the so-called attack. The investigation against her was then started, but this week, the court decided to stop it due to lack of public interest and because Kross had expressed regret. She will have to pay 3000 euros as a punishment, but EKRE members and supporters are criticising the court’s decision. They are saying that this Kross’ story was an information campaign to influence the elections, and that she shouldn’t get away with it that easily. The Reform Party has distanced itself from this case.

19 journalists and editors of Estonia’s oldest newspaper Postimees forced their editor-in-chief Peeter Helme to resign on Friday, November 1. They gave him an ultimatum and said that either Helme will have to go or they will resign. Postimees staff accused their – now previous – editor-in-chief of censoring their opinion pieces. Postimees has seen turbulent times lately. It made a loss of 9 million euros last year. On top of all the problems they’ve faced and despite the strong resistance from the newsroom, the company announced this week that it will sell ads on Russian TV channels in Estonia. One of them is the Russian language channel Первый Балтийский канал. Previously, Postimees journalists have written that this channel’s content is Russian propaganda. At the same time, the head of Postimees board Andrus Raudsalu said that the deal with the Russian TV channels was purely made to make money and will not influence the newspaper’s content. Postimees used to be one of the most respected newspapers in Estonia with the highest standards of journalism ethics. Under the new owner Margus Linnamäe this has changed. The past few years the journalists’ freedom has become increasingly restricted. Most of the previous heads of departments, and the best journalists have left Postimees by now.


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