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Latvia’s View on Its Near Abroad

26.12.2016 | By Gints Amoliņš and Paweł Musiałek

Paweł Musiałek: In Poland we have a broad discussion on how to react to the different crises in Europe: Brexit, immigrant influx and the situation in Ukraine. The answer is that we should integrate within our region, not with the wider EU. I am talking not only about the Visegrad format, but also the Baltic countries with whom we feel the same about security. I am curious to find out what from Latvian perspective is the regional cooperation and what role Central Europe plays in it. Do you talk about it, or is this a marginal idea?

Gints Amoliņš: I think the Latvian foreign ministry is focused more on the so-called NB8 format, which includes the five Scandinavian and three Baltic states, and wants to cooperate within that framework. The Baltics are often bundled up together, but despite our shared history and relations we are not that united. We are three separate countries whose interests sometimes clash. So I would say that Latvia is oriented on the Nordic and Baltic Sea cooperation. And of course the other area of partnership is the Eurozone, at least from the government’s perspective. Joining the Eurozone was not only about the economy, it was also seen in Latvia as a security issue. 

PM: What is the most important issue in the region that has potential for regional cooperation?

GA: I think that would be security. Out of Central Europe, Poland is definitely Latvia’s main partner. Especially in terms of security. I imagine that when it comes to security Lithuania and Estonia consider Poland their closest partner in Central Europe. We also need to cooperate more within NATO and push for more NATO presence in our countries, which was achieved during the Warsaw Summit.

PM: How was the Summit commented on in Latvia? Did it fulfill your expectations, or was the overall result not satisfactory considering the dangerous world we live in?

AG: I think in Latvia the results of the summit were seen positively. I didn’t feel any sense of unfilled expectations. It was known beforehand that there would be battalions, which is quite an important thing if there are several hundred troops from, in our case, Canada. In Lithuania there will be German troops, and in Estonia British. So there will be hundreds of troops with Canadian citizenship here. If there should be any conventional warfare or attack from our neighbor then there would be casualties from American, Canadian and British citizens. And that is another layer of deterrence.

PM: How is the conflict in Ukraine perceived in Latvia? Are Latvians afraid they could be next on the list?

AG: I don’t thinks so. Immediately after the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine there were lots of discussions and debates on whether we should be afraid. But I think that as NATO started to talk about strengthening the eastern flank those concerns became less acute. Today there is no climate of fear that Russia would attack us conventionally. My feeling is that the public in general is not worried about that, but others may say otherwise. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to prepare because that’s your deterrent. In the end there is more concern about the so-called hybrid warfare like cyberattacks, creating tensions within the society by using the large Russian-speaking minority in Latvia and Estonia. But I think the society is not afraid that the minority will turn on the majority. They watch Russian TV, but they understand that life here is much better economically than in Russia. I think it was president Ilves, the ex-president of Estonia who said that you need to understand how much miners earn in Estonia, eastern Ukraine and Russia and that’s that kind of debate.

 

Gints Amoliņš is a Latvian radio correspondent

Paweł Musiałek is a member of the board at Jagiellonian Club, expert on political science and energy security

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