By Paul Goble July 23, 2016
There are more than 3,500 veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan – the so-called “Afgantsy” — and some in Riga view them as a potential threat to the security of that NATO member country both because of their military experience and because of their own efforts to remain a unified force.
Last month, Russian commentator Vyacheslav Samoylov points out in an essay on the Stoletiye portal, the Latvian Security Police blocked a meeting of Afghan veterans in Yelgava that their former comrades in arms from Estonia, Lithuania and Belarus were planning to attend (stoletie.ru/zarubejie/_afganskij_sindrom_rigi_918.htm).
That action, one motivated by Riga’s concerns about the possibility that such groups pose a security threat to the Latvian state, has attracted the attention of Russians in Tallinn and Moscow and prompted Samoylov to look into the matter and especially to examine a recent Latvian commentary on the Afgantsy of that country.
In April, he writes, Janis Lasmanis, a columnist for Riga’s Latvian daily, “Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze,” laid out in some detail why Latvian officials are concerned about what the Afgantsy may do and called for Riga to take more serious steps to restrict their activities. The ban on the June meeting appears to be in response to such concerns.
According to Lasmanis, “After the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, organizations registered in Latvia of veterans of various [Soviet] became the subjects of intense interest by the organs of state security. There are concerns that under the cover of these structures, the ground is being prepared [for them to] assist in the dissemination of ideas unfriendly to Latvia.”
Even more, the Latvian writer suggested, “communities of Soviet veterans of the force structures” can “become an instrument for the dissemination of influence, force and control by the Kremlin.”
Riga earlier this year blocked a visit to Latvia by Gennady Shorokhov, vice president of the All-Russian Veterans Organization, “the Military Brotherhood,” because that group was known to have been involved with the recruitment of fighters for the pro-Moscow militias in the Donbass.
Shorokhov wanted to link up in Latvia with AKVA, the Association of Afghan War Veterans Living in Latvia, Lasmanis wrote. “According to unofficial information, there has been a longstanding struggle between its moderate members and the leadership” which is far more radically pro-Moscow.
Most of the members, he continued, “do not want that the organization actively participate in Kremlin activities; but the current leadership views itself and AKVA as the advance “’soft force’” of the Russian leadership. As such, it works against Latvia’s democratic political system.
According to Samoylov, the Afgantsy in Latvia have many reasonable grievances. “You wouldn’t call their life especially enviable,” he says. AKVA’s leader Adu Aduyev complains that the Latvian government does not recognize their service in calculating pensions or even recognize their special needs as a distinct group.
In particular, Aduyev has said, “there is no medical service” specially designed for these veterans even though many suffer from “the so-called ‘Afghan syndrome.’” “We are not asking anything supernatural for ourselves,” he continued. “We simply want that the government and the parliament direct their attention to our needs.”
That is something the Latvian authorities have not done, Samoylov says; and it is clear from his commentary today that at least some in Moscow are thinking about how they might exploit a group in a neighboring country that is unhappy with its situation and whose members have experience in combat.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .