I am following this now with some interest and have a few observations:
1. Disparaging (Arch?)Bishop Vanags's academic qualifications seems a bit disingenuous to me seeing that he was educated in an era and place of unmitigated hostility to Christianity. He indeed has a seminary degree (as the text references his “seminary cronies”) so this seems moot to me in any respect.
2. On doing a bit of research, I dug up that he converted to Christianity as an adult, began a ministry as a lay preacher and consequently lost a professorship (you're right about the chemist part). This indicates a degree of authenticity that, IMHO, his rivals are unwilling to grant him. They also likely don’t count the time he spent as a lay preacher as “time in the parish” (as opposed to time in a state-sanctioned parish?).
3. His underground preaching before the fall of the Communist regime earned him popular approval, thus I doubt that his election was contrary to the will of the general laity. Also, another article (FT Jan 95, p.84) citing the NYT said that the Latvian Synod of Bishops elected him. This leads me to wonder about the legitimacy question raised above.
4. Is the Western Latvian Church actually in Latvia? If not, then whence do they derive their authority?
5. Are doctrinal directions influenced (perhaps governed) by the policies of the chief financier? I don’t suggest that this point is argued above, but it seems to be in the background.
6. Once again, I might ask: who are the sectarians? The Latvian Lutherans and the majority of their bishops under Vanags, or the “western (German?) Latvians” who called foul and effectively went in to schism by electing their own bishop.
7. Es gibt ein gutes aber oberflächliches Interview mit Erzbischof Vanags an www.luther-in-bs.de.
8. I'm just being devil's advocate here, so feel free to rip me to shreds. I sense a ELCA vs. LCMS subtext. If so, I'll stay out of the fray.
9. I must say, valid or no, orthodox or just plain conservative, I admire that man's moxie.