Courtesy The Global Post
March 23, 2015

Over the past year, hostilities in Ukraine have been making Latvians jittery about their own country’s security.

To reassure Latvia and other Eastern European allies, the United States has launched Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate commitment to collective security in a series of actions like rotations of troops and military equipment, as well as maneuvers in the Baltics and other countries.

Although the launch was intended to calm people down, it appears that the presence of U.S. troops has instead made some even more nervous.

Meanwhile, major military exercises are reportedly underway across Russia, including in its western regions bordering Baltic states.

In the midst of this increasingly tense atmosphere, Latvian authorities have started turning their attention to civil defense, an issue that for a long time had remained largely neglected, as Latvia was considered a fairly peaceful and secure place that hardly faced any disasters or emergencies.

The Latvian Interior Ministry has drawn up a war manual for Latvia’s population, containing detailed instructions for situations typical of wartime. The state’s fire and rescue service has also drafted alternate instructions for emergencies.

This week, both draft manuals were reviewed by the Latvian parliament submissions committee, and lawmakers were far from unanimous on what kind of information should be included in such manuals. It also remained unclear which of the two proposed manuals should be published for mass distribution and how much it might cost.

The manual drafted by the Interior Ministry contains information about Latvia’s public warning system, evacuation, items that should be put into an “emergency bag,” preparing one’s home and supplies, and how to survive in a conflict zone.

Recently, a similar war manual was published in Latvia’s neighboring country, Lithuania.

Latvian political scientist Karlis Dauksts believes that all this is only increasing tension inside Latvia.

“The media have made the atmosphere so tense, that any new reports about maneuvers near our borders create fertile soil for the mobilization of people. Reports of this kind make people feel insecure about their future. The calls for stocking away food, which have already been made in Lithuania, and soon will be made also in Latvia and Estonia, are part of a scaremongering scheme of sorts,” says Dauksts.

He also claims that this is a “coordinated policy of the EU” and that the authorities’ calls to prepare for a possible war only increase the growing public anxiety.

In an opinion piece published in the Neatkariga Rita Avize daily, journalist Juris Paiders says it is indeed high time for the authorities to explain to the people how to respond to various emergencies.

Paiders believes though that people might find the instructions drafted by the ministries rather confusing. The list of items for the “emergency bag,” for example, is too long, making for a load of 25 kg to 30 kg. Carrying a bag of this weight might prove a serious test even for a trained trooper, he says.

Media expert Sergejs Kruks notes that such scaremongering tactics can eventually make people numb to the topic of war.

“It can be benumbing, because psychologically, a person cannot stay constantly distressed, so we learn to ignore the stream of information, especially in the current situation,” Kruks says.

Latvia’s top state officials, including President Andris Berzins and Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis, have stressed lately that there are no direct military threats to Latvia, at least for now.

During a recent joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Oslo, Berzins indicated that Moscow does not pose a military threat to NATO, including Latvia.

Asked if Russia poses a threat to the Baltic states, the Latvian president said: “NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has made himself perfectly clear on this issue. There is no direct threat to any NATO member states, including Latvia or any other Baltic state.”

He also pointed out that Latvia has been taking all the necessary precautions both on the national and regional level to beef up its security.

“We also receive all the necessary support from our NATO allies,” Berzins said.

Vejonis, meanwhile, has described the level of military threats to Latvia as low, adding at the same time, that just like other Baltic states, Latvia is prepared for various scenarios that might unfold in the region in the future.