May 24. 2024. 7:09

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Russia is a threat for generations, Latvia’s PM says

Russia poses a threat not only to Ukraine but the rest of the West, something that can be partially mitigated by Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš told EURACTIV’s media partner European Pravda.

Kariņš has been heading Latvia’s government since early 2019. His country is on the list of member states that help Ukraine the most based on their GDP.

You can say it, I suppose that in many ways, Russia has to lose this war.

In Europe’s history, not long ago, we had many imperial powers. As Latvians, we know this. We have been under the empire of the Germans, under the Empire of the Poles, under the Empire of the Swedes, and the Empire of the Russians. The Swedish Empire is no more. They are our friends and ally. The German Empire is no more. They are our friend and ally. The Polish Empire is no more. Poland and Lithuania are our friends and allies.

The Russian Empire still wants to be an empire. This is the only threat we face in Europe to our peace and security. We have to make sure that Russia does not succeed in its endeavour to change the world order.

Europe went from empire to nation-state. But nation-states individually are vulnerable, but collectively we are very, very strong. We need to make sure that our strength is strengthened by Ukraine joining us anyway.

How do people see post-war Russia in Europe?

I don’t see anything very positive. Unfortunately, there’s no indication right now that anything inside Russia is about to change. The government doesn’t seem to be very vulnerable. Civil society has been completely suppressed, the opposition has been either eliminated or put in jail, or they have fled to the West.

Because of this, we can assume that Russia will not change in the near future. We have to adapt to that by becoming stronger. Russia understands its current leadership and only one thing – strength. They’re meeting strength in Ukraine that they never expected.

NATO is very strong. Getting Ukraine in after the war into NATO is what will keep us, regardless of what happens inside Russia, sure they don’t come into Europe with armies anymore.

Do you think the collapse of Russia is the only thing that can restrain it for a long time?

This is something that would be possible only with internal changes. I don’t see easily how this could be done from the outside. I don’t know if this is something we should be putting all of our attention onto right now. We need to focus on helping Ukraine win the war and then working with Ukraine to integrate it into the EU and NATO after the war.

Russia will be a problem for the next coming generation or longer. I’m a practical politician also. There are things that I can influence and things that I cannot directly influence. I can help to influence Ukraine’s future in the EU and NATO, but what happens on the other side of the border in Russia is really up to the Russians.

Ukrainians have already defined what victory would be for us. A condition is the return of Crimea and Donbas. What does victory mean for you?

It’s up to Ukraine, Zelenskyy, and the government of Ukraine to define a victory now.

Well, victory would also imply peace. There is no peace right now because the Russians continue their brutal attack.

This is a process. The war is still ongoing. I have been concerned in the past that some of my European colleagues have tried to have various versions. I’m arguing that it’s not up to any of us from the outside to say what a victory is.

Are you sure Ukraine will definitely win?

I see no possibility of Ukraine losing. I see no possibility of Russia winning.

It is completely unimaginable. What your people and your army has shown is a lesson to everyone. You are fighting for your homeland, for your families. Russia is fighting for Moscow’s imperialistic dreams. A soldier is not motivated to fight for someone else’s imperialistic dream.

Do you believe an invasion of one or more NATO states is possible?

This would be extremely irrational, but the irrationality of a different order. So it seems that Moscow did not consider it possible that Ukraine would resist. Moscow was under the illusion that Ukrainians would, in some perverse sense, be happy that they would be occupied and taken over by the Russians.

But Moscow never had the illusion or the understanding that anyone would necessarily come to Ukraine’s defence. Because Ukraine was not and still is not a member of the NATO alliance. With NATO, it’s somewhat different because there is a very clear article 5 of what being in NATO means.

What NATO has done since 2014, but especially since February 24, has greatly reinforced the eastern border of NATO, starting in the Baltics and down through Romania and Bulgaria. It is also now in the process of accepting Sweden and Finland into the alliance, which is something that before February 24th was unimaginable.

Maybe 15-20% of the Swedes and the Finns wanted to be in NATO. They had been neutral for more than 200 years. Why would they want to change this? Well, Russia’s war in your country has convinced them to join NATO.

So many things are now changing. It was unimaginable one year ago. Maybe for some, it’s not understandable how Ukraine will join NATO. But to me, I see it quite clearly.

You said Ukraine would definitely become a NATO member. Is this supported by other members of the Alliance?

Right now, I’m arguing that Ukraine not only needs to join the EU and negotiation discussions, but formal procedures should also start this year, even with the war. I’m arguing that after the war, it’s important for all of European security that Ukraine becomes part of the NATO alliance.

I have colleagues that agree with me. The Poles, of course, also agree. It’s a process we are now undertaking, and looking forward to the NATO summit in Vilnius in just a few months. I’m hoping that this is something that we can discuss.

I am now making the argument that even with the ongoing war, all of us have to start thinking about what will happen after the war. How will we secure peace? We are now focused and correctly focused on helping Ukraine with weapons, ammunition, and humanitarian and financial aid now to win the war, but then we have to look ahead.

I am urging my fellow colleagues to also look ahead, and it’s in everyone’s interest, not only Ukraine’s but all of Europe’s, that Ukraine would be in the NATO alliance.

What do the other NATO members think about it?

Before the war, the Baltics and Poland were delivering weapons to Ukraine. We had the US intelligence, we acted on this intelligence. Many of our other friends and allies were not so clear. They thought maybe there was no war.

We are once again saying that we have to look forward to when the war ends and the role, the place of Ukraine, which should be in NATO. No NATO member wants to bring NATO into a war. This is very clear. That’s why I’m also stressing that once the war ends.

When the war is over, we have to look at that. Many NATO partners are not yet looking at what happens after the war. They’re still looking at it today. How can we get more tanks and ammunition? We have to increase weapons manufacturing in Europe.

We have to look at how we can do more, but we also have to start looking to the next step. I see no other choice for NATO and Europe. All political processes are processes, and you always need someone in the front.

Ukraine’s military says it needs fighter jets and long-range weapons to win. Does the West understand this?

Certainly, everyone in the West knows Ukraine’s request. Different countries from the beginning of the war, first, the Baltics and Poland, gave weapons.

No one gave weapons, then. Now they’re starting to give weapons, but they’ve had no heavy artillery, no long range. First, they said no to longer-range artillery, then no air defence, no tanks. Now it is tanks.

The first reaction is no, but then there’s a certain pattern evolving.

The reason why some governments are starting to say no is that there is an inherent fear of so-called escalation. What seems clear is that Moscow can or cannot escalate depending on what Moscow thinks, not depending upon what any of us on this side of the border do. It’s just a question of time.

As much as Ukraine needs these kinds of weapons, it’s also very clear Ukraine needs ammunition for the existing weapons, especially artillery, ammunition and. Here in Europe and NATO, we have a difficulty that our production capacity is too low. Russia is manufacturing on a war basis as much as they can. In Europe, we are still manufacturing on a peaceful basis.

The demand is much bigger. We need to make sure the production goes up. We are now discussing having a joint European purchase of artillery shells, for example, so that companies make the right investments and increase production. It will happen.

Regarding the mood among EU member states on Ukraine’s EU accession, are they ready to start negotiations this year?

They are not yet ready, but they will be. It’s a process, and as with weapons. We in the Baltics, were in the avant-garde. In the beginning, many said no, but now they say yes. As the prime minister of Latvia, I am fully convinced that we are right. It is in our interest, the European Union and NATO that your country becomes a member of both.

In order for Ukraine’s path to be looked at in NATO, you have to plan now before the war is over.

How quickly could Ukraine be ready to join the EU?

Right now, Ukraine has a rare opportunity because of the war because of what Russia is doing, it seems to be also solidifying your nation into setting its goal.

You seem to be much more united in this wish than maybe many other candidate countries in the early stages were. This gives you the possibility of perhaps even being able to do everything quicker than others.

But what’s very clear is that the process must begin.