Latvia, like the other two Baltic republics (Estonia and Lithuania), is a small country that became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. During the two world wars it had already experienced a troubled period of independence (1918-40) and for this reason the Constitution in force today is still that of the first republican era (1920-34), albeit partially amended. Given its small size, especially compared to Russia, its geographic location and the fact that more than a quarter of the country’s residents are ethnic Russians, relations between Riga and Moscow have been the focus of the country’s foreign policy, as well as a important source of contrasts. Tensions between Riga and Moscow re-emerged with the status referendum of the Russian language (February 2012) and with the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises conducted along the Latvian border (September 2013), they reached a new height on the occasion of the Ukrainian crisis. Tensions have increased in the context of the NATO- Russia crisis and with the consequent Western sanctions against Moscow: the incidents at the border have multiplied and Latvia has pushed to maintain a hard and uncompromising line against Russia.
In terms of international relations, Latvia has maintained a strong pro-Western imprint over the last decade. Since the mid-nineties it has initiated an ever closer dialogue with the European Union (E u) and with NATO. A choice that has provoked strong discontent on the part of the Kremlin. Since 2004, the country has been a member of both international organizations, as well as the other two Baltic republics. Furthermore, from 1 January 2014, Latvia adopted the euro as its national currency and became part of the eurozone countries; during the first half of 2015 he held the temporary presidency of the EU Council.
Internally, since 1991 Latvia has been a parliamentary republic, the president of which is elected by parliament every four years: it cannot remain in office for more than two terms and in peacetime it has exclusively ceremonial duties, apart from the power of appointment of prime minister. Even parliamentarians have a four-year mandate and can dishearten the current government. In the transition from Soviet domination to independence, continuity was ensured by the stay in power of the Latvian Popular Front (Latvijas Tautas Fronte, Ltf), protagonist of the independence struggles of the 1980s. In 1993, however, the economic crisis resulted in the electoral defeat of the LTFand the formation of different and unstable electoral coalitions: in the 14 years between 1993 and 2006 there have been eight different governments. Coalitions were generally made up of no less than four parties and the strong instability of the smaller formations – often little more than instruments of maneuver in the hands of some of the country’s leading political figures – only accentuated the fragility of the executives.
All governments since 1993 have in any case had a center-right, liberal, conservative and openly anti-communist orientation and have thus guaranteed a certain homogeneity of political choices both from an internal and an international point of view. In February 2009, Ivars Godmanis, who has been leading a coalition government since 2007, resigned, taking responsibility for the heavy effects that the global economic and financial crisis had had on the country. A new government led by Valdis Dombrovskis, finance minister in the previous executive, ferried Latvia to the October 2010 elections, winning them. A second crisis brought Latvians back to the polls in September 2011: the results of the consultations led to the formation of a new executive. However, the Saeima (parliament) in October of the same year granted only 50% of votes in support of the new government. The Dombrovskis executive had to rely on Zatler’s Reform Party (Zatlers’s Reform Party,Zrp). The most voted party in 2011, however, turned out to be the pro-Russian, left-wing National Harmony Party, with 29% of the votes. In 2013, Dombrovskis was succeeded by Laimdota Straujuma, first independent and then joining the conservative pro- Eu Unita party. Following a protracted government crisis, Latvians again went to the polls in October 2014. In a reissue of what happened in 2011, the pro-Russian Armonia party still managed to win the highest percentage of votes, remaining however, outside the coalition government – formed in the following November by Unity together with N aand the Union of Greens and Peasants and again chaired by the Straujuma. Given the instability of Latvian governments in recent years, it is possible that the coalition will not be able to carry out its electoral mandate, however it is unlikely that there will be major changes in the orientation of government policies. Since July 2015, the new president is Raimond Vejonis, a member of the Green Party and known for his tough positions towards Russia.