ISSN 2330-717X

Latvians In Foreign Conflicts. How Many? – OpEd


The Latvian State Security Service (VDD) has so far initiated four criminal cases on the grounds of illegally participating in armed conflicts in Syria or Iraq and for joining the terrorist group Daesh. One of the accused persons was charged with crimes against humanity and peace and was given a prison sentence of six years and eight months with two years of probation.

The VDD has informed that the activities of the Latvian Muslim community do not pose a threat to the security of Latvia. The Latvian Muslim community’s interpretation of Islam does not stimulate radicalization among the believers, and the VDD has not identified an increase of radicalization within the community.

The security service has information that more than ten persons have illegally taken part in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

One of the persons has been sentenced to five years in prison with two years probation.

Another one is currently being tried, while the cases of the remaining persons are still in investigation.

Due to the ongoing investigations, the VDD did not give any further comments.

Mārtiņš Grīnbergs

The Riga Regional Court first sentenced Grīnbergs to ten years and three months in prison, overturning the sentence pronounced by the court of first instance that acquitted him of charges on participating in crimes against humanity or war crimes as part of an illegal organization, but charged him with four years in prison for illegally participating in an armed conflict.

Afterwards, Grīnbergs received a sentence of six years and eight months. In the court of first instance, the prosecutor asked that the defendant be punished with 11 years in prison. The young man filed an appeal, and a protest was submitted by the prosecutor’s office, however the defendant did not admit his guilt.

After the ruling by the court of second instance, Grīnbergs felt that it is unjust and loudly proclaimed that it is an example of government corruption and that the “state is the real terrorist”.

In his final statement, Grīnbergs said that he does not believe in Islam anymore and that he has now turned to Christianity. He also stressed that he voluntarily returned to Latvia after risking his own life and asking to be deported from Turkey. He also noted that he cooperated with Finland to help combat international terrorism.

The defendant asked the sentence to be reduced, saying that if he would be released from jail he would be able to help the society by telling his story and reminding people that joining terrorist organizations can be very dangerous. Grīnbergs also repeated that he has never fired or even aimed a gun at someone.

The prosecutor’s office of the Riga Court District charged him of violating two articles of the Criminal Law, i.e. for illegally participating in an armed conflict and for participating in crimes against humanity and peace as part of an illegal organization. Participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity or peace is punishable with life in jail or a prison sentence of ten to twenty years.

The prosecutor’s office confirmed that the defendant had acted in the interests of the terrorist group Daesh. In summer 2019, the VDD acquired information that Grīnbergs has been detained by Turkish authorities, and in September it was decided to deport him. After being deported from Turkey, the VDD convoyed the young man two Latvia where he was arrested.

Latvijas Televīzija reported that Grīnbergs is from Brocēni, has a good command of English, spends much time online and that in 12th grade he registered in one of the largest Muslim forums.

In an interview with Latvijas Televīzija, the young man explained that he went to Syria because he was fascinated with the idea of a caliphate and that he was “searching for the truth”. Grīnbergs wanted to help establish an Islamic state as a civilian – he wanted to help the locals and did not want to take part in warfare. He said that while still in Latvia he was unaware of the terrorists’ cruelty, despite it being widely reported by the media.

Artjoms Skripņiks

In late 2019, the Department of Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court of Latvia (Senate) did not overturn the decision by the Riga District Court that sentenced Artjoms Skripņiks from Daugavpils to five years in jail for participating in an armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine by training new combatants. 

Representative of the Senate Baiba Kataja said that the Senate processed the evidence in accordance with the Criminal Law.

The Senate concluded that the court of appeals has based its verdict on the appropriate laws and evidence, and it reads: “while part of an armed military group, the defendant used firearms to teach new participants of the armed conflict the construction and use of firearms, and this is assessed as an active and illegal participation in an armed conflict against the territorial integrity of another nation.”

The Senate pointed out that it has no legal basis to question the fairness of the verdict by the court of appeals that acquitted the defendant of violating Paragraph 2 of Section 891 of the Criminal Law on leading a criminal organization or participating in committing crimes by such an organization.

It was already reported that from February to late April 2015 the defendant, who is not a soldier in the Latvian National Armed Forces, was in Luhansk, Ukraine as part of an armed military formation.

In March 2019, the Riga District Court left unturned the decision by the Riga City Vidzeme District Court of 4 August acquitting the defendant of violating Paragraph 2 of Section 891 of the Criminal Law on leading a criminal organization or participating in committing crimes by such an organization.

There is another criminal case in the Riga City Vidzeme District Court in which Skripņiks is being accused of illegally attempting to participate in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

The prosecutor’s office told the Latvian news agency LETA that an unnamed man is being accused of illegal attempts to participate in an armed conflict outside Latvia, as well as attempts to become part of a criminal organization that consists of at least five persons with the intention to commit particularly severe crimes against the state.

The defendant, who is not a soldier in any unit of the Latvian Armed Forces, used a website to contact several persons with the intention to participate in military operations in Eastern Ukraine as part of a non-state armed group. In September 2017, the defendant crossed the Latvia-Russia border to then head for Eastern Ukraine. He did not succeed, as he was detained by Russian border guards after crossing the border.

*Augusts Augustiņš, Reserve Sergeant of the Latvian National Guard.

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