• Government will decide on Lattelecom-LMT merger, premier says
  • TeliaSonera to be informed of decision in four weeks, he says

Latvia needs to keep its telecommunications companies under government control or risk losing access to critical infrastructure at a time when Russia is stepping up its propaganda efforts, Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis said.

The Baltic country has ruled out selling its stakes as it weighs options for fixed-line phone operator Lattelecom SIA and mobile provider Latvijas Mobilais Telefons SIA, Kucinskis said in an interview Tuesday in the Latvian capital, Riga. TeliaSonera AB, the former Swedish phone monopoly, owns 49 percent of Lattelecom and through direct and indirect shareholdings has 60.3 percent of LMT.

If TeliaSonera were to sell the stakes further, the companies could “end up under the control of forces that broadcast this information war,” Kucinskis said in his Riga office yesterday. Latvia now will decide whether to merge the two companies and plans to answer TeliaSonera in four weeks, he said. Latvia rejected an offer from TeliaSonera to buy out its stakes in the two companies for about $1 billion in 2008.

“We aren’t ready to lose our control,” Kucinskis said. “With all respect to TeliaSonera, but business is business and from our side it’s very important” who controls the company in the future.

Monitoring Propaganda

Latvia is monitoring propaganda online and on broadcast television, Kucinskis said. The nation is now receiving more support from other European governments, who had earlier been skeptical of the seriousness of the issue, he said.

“I think that gradually, Russia’s info war has shown up in other countries,” Kucinskis said. That means they no longer look at propaganda as an “exception lacking seriousness,” he said.

Authorities in Riga closed the Latvian language version of Russia’s Sputnik news website after the Foreign Ministry cited potential violations of European sanctions, the Baltic News Service reported Tuesday. Lithuania expelled 4 Russian state TV journalists this month, according to BNS. Both countries earlier suspended Russian TV channels.

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