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“Ukraine is fighting for the security of Europe.” Latvian Foreign Minister on the Russian special operation and the strengthening of NATO forces

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics gave an interview to RTVI. The head of the diplomatic department told Alexei Venediktov* about the attitude of Latvians to the military special operation in Ukraine, the need to build up NATO forces in countries bordering Russia, and also why the authorities decided to ban the broadcasting of Russian federal television channels.

About what can be considered a victory for Ukraine

Yet Ukrainians themselves can answer this question. I have at least two versions. The first – of course, I think this is what both the President of Ukraine and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine are saying – is in principle the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the borders until, say, February 2014, including Crimea – we hear this.

There is a second version, which has been talked about a lot and is also being talked about – this is, in a certain sense, what happened to Finland during the Winter War of 1939-1940 – peace in exchange for territories. But I think that the more we see what is happening in Ukraine now, the less it is possible. <...> But this version, by the way, was analyzed quite a lot at the end of February – in March, when it seemed that Ukraine would not be able to survive, it seemed that this was the best. <…> Ukraine itself can determine what it considers a victory. Neither we here in Latvia nor anyone in Brussels, Paris or Washington can do this. <...> And we also believe that no one now has the right to put pressure on Kyiv to say: “Now stop, conclude some kind of truce.” <...> So here our position is very clear: we will support the decisions that will be put forward by the legitimate Ukrainian leadership. President Zelensky, the Verkhovna Rada, the government are legitimate, and when they consider it necessary to negotiate, we will support them.

Vadim Ghirda / AP

On the resistance of the Ukrainian army

I knew that Ukraine would resist. I had no doubts about this. It so happened that I arrived in Kyiv on the evening of February 23, we were supposed to have a visit by the ministers of the three Baltic countries, my colleague from Lithuania did not even have time to board the plane, because it was supposed to arrive on the morning of February 24, but the airspace was already closed over Ukraine. I saw the first reaction of people in Kyiv, in a hotel. Those people whom we met, because we had already left Kyiv by car for the Polish-Ukrainian border. I saw not only shock, but also such a will to resist, I would say, such anger: “Why are the rockets flying now?” <...> But I think that no one expected that the resistance would still be so professional and so tough.

Russia’s unwillingness to engage in dialogue with European politicians

I do not see the inclination of the Russian leadership to real, effective negotiations, to the cessation of hostilities. I see only harsh rhetoric from senior officials. <…> I remember very well the period from the end of October to the end of February, when there were a lot of visits by the leaders of the EU countries, a long table, negotiations. We then receive some reports about what these negotiations were about, and we saw that, in principle, our colleagues were openly lied to.

On obtaining status by Ukraine state-EU candidate

Pascal Bastien / AP

If two months ago it seemed to me that the status of an EU candidate for Ukraine was very desirable, but there are a lot of political obstacles, now I see that after the visit of four leaders of large European states, this is more realistic than ever. Still need to work, but it’s real. Of course, this is a political and symbolic gesture today. <...> But at this stage, I think, for political, for moral reasons, where we see that Ukraine stands up for our values ​​and fights for the security of Europe, I think this is a good gesture. <…> But, of course, Ukraine will not get EU membership in a year or a week, but I hope not in the middle of this century, I think, closer.

On the support of the special operation in Ukraine by the majority of Russians

I think that several factors played a role here. First, when hostilities begin, aggressive, defensive, yet society, the people tend to support their leadership first. <…> As long as you come with victories “Crimea is ours” or some other slogans, of course, there will be such support. <...> In addition, they closed Ekho Moskvy, closed all newspapers, radio stations or TV channels that tried to give objective information. Propaganda is rampant right now. If someone believes that it is possible to destroy the United States, or Great Britain, or the Western world with nuclear strikes or missiles, then, as my former colleague, the French Foreign Minister, said: “Do not forget that we also have something to answer.” If we are already talking about this, then this shows that society is also zombified. And, of course, I think it must be admitted that a lot of Russian citizens think that the return of the Soviet Union or the return of the Russian Empire is something they should support and do. But that’s what we don’t like.”

On the attitude of the inhabitants of Latvia to the military special operation

We now have a rather interesting situation. According to the polls that I saw, they were around April, somewhere around 25% [респондентов] against Russian aggression, somewhere, too, 22-23% support. And then there are many who, I think, do not want to answer this question, perhaps they are secretly supporting, perhaps they are just confused. <...> By the way, the same Harmony party, which now still represents the majority of Russian-speakers, also condemned this aggression. We see confusion. I think that in principle there is nothing shocking here. It just shows that we have to fight for the people who are thinking right now.

On the arrest of a student detained in Riga for demonstrating the Russian flag

I think the law was broken here. On May 9, especially and in principle, we banned all kinds of support for aggression, as well as the demonstration of the Russian flag, especially under these conditions, which were on May 9-10. The law must be observed. By the way, he has all the rights to protection. Our courts decide differently, sometimes the decisions of the courts are not very approved by society. Some time ago, the court overturned the decision of our Electronic Media Council to ban five or six channels, and found no legal grounds, but now I understand that this decision is being finalized and taken into account. So I think that here this gentleman, this guy who came out with the Russian flag, has every opportunity to defend his truth in court, but the law must be enforced.

About the law allowing to deprive of citizenship for support of Russia

This amendment applies to all citizens of Latvia who are dual citizens. If by some of their actions they support the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation, then there is a procedure when Latvian citizenship can be cancelled. There, by the way, there is also the possibility of challenging this decision in court, which is made by the Office of Citizenship and Migration. I don’t even know at what stage this or that case is now, this is no longer a question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We do not grant or revoke citizenship. <…> In order for such a decision to be made by the Office of Citizenship and Migration, they must receive materials from our special services, they must check these materials. If someone simply writes “he said something wrong”, I think this will not be the basis.

On the creation of a certain union of Eastern European countries within NATO (mini-Entente)

First, you know, NATO within NATO is impossible. But at the same time, coordination of efforts is already taking place, and it is taking place in the so-called Bucharest-9 format. Nine countries of the so-called eastern flank of NATO meet at the level of heads of state, foreign ministers, and defense ministers, about a week ago the heads of state met, coordinated the position for the NATO summit in Madrid. We work very hard with our Baltic colleagues, with our Polish colleagues. But I would like to say that we see that both NATO and the European Union are now doing a lot to maintain stability and security in this region, and, of course, to support Ukraine. <...> I know that there are a lot of talks, well, they are more theoretical, about the creation of some kind of internarum [внутренней] Ententes between the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the like. But I would like to say that this is now more academic than practical reasoning.

On the need to build up NATO forces in countries bordering Russia

We are now working on some elements so that, taking into account new realities, for example, the presence of Russian troops in Belarus (we believe they are there for a long time), accepting what is happening in Ukraine, gradually increase the presence of our allies here. Negotiations are underway on this, in particular, on the need to strengthen air defense.

On the duration of the military phase of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine

Stringer / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

I think that hostilities will continue. Perhaps they will not be as intense as they are now. But just like that, this situation will not end in a month or two. I think that here, as in a war, unfortunately: there are victories and defeats, and there are successful operations. <…> But we also see the impossibility of… If someone thinks that the Ukrainian leadership can just say: “That’s it, stop it, finish it”, there are also people, society, who strongly oppose this. Ukrainian opinion polls show that the president and the government are now supported by almost 90%. This is an indicator that, perhaps not so intensively, but the hostilities will continue.

* recognized in Russia as a foreign agent

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