Foreign Ministry Announces Latvian Diplomat's Expulsion

The Foreign Ministry said Friday that it would expel a Latvian diplomat in apparent retaliation for Latvia's expulsion of a Russian diplomat this week.

The unidentified Latvian was ordered to leave Russia within two days for "activities incompatible with his diplomatic status and which are damaging for Russia's security interests," the ministry said in a statement.

Latvia's Foreign Ministry on Monday declared a Russian diplomat persona non grata, citing a report that he was a threat to national security.

It was the second time since 1991, when Latvia achieved independence from the Soviet Union, that Latvia has expelled a Russian diplomat. The last case was in April 2004, the same month the Baltic state joined NATO.

After years of icy relations, Latvia and Russia have made strides to improve bilateral ties over the past few months. In December, the two countries ratified border agreements, and Latvia's President Valdis Zatlers said he expected to visit Moscow in the near future.

Russia has long accused Latvia of discriminating against its large ethnic-Russian minority. But as part of agreements reached in December, Latvia agreed to provide social security payments to Russian pensioners living in Latvia.

Latvia, however, continues to deny citizenship to thousands of ethnic Russians living there, which deprives them of the right to vote or hold public office.

There are approximately 400,000 noncitizens living in Latvia, while ethnic Russians account for one-third of the country's population of 2.3 million.