Krisjanis Karins: Prime Minister of Latvia: “The entire eastern flank of NATO is in a vulnerable position” | International


Krisjanis Karins (Wilmington, United States, 57 years old) calls for more aggressive measures against the Kremlin. The Prime Minister of Latvia defends that the only option for peace in Europe is through a defeat of Russia. And for this, the president of the former Soviet republic believes that it is necessary to send more military aid to Ukraine and the adoption of new retaliation, such as an embargo on Russian gas or the confiscation and subsequent delivery to kyiv of all the assets of the Russian central bank. frozen by the West. Karins, who also urges NATO to reinforce his presence in Eastern Europe, received EL PAÍS on Monday, a few hours before meeting in La Moncloa with Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish president. “Peace can only be achieved through victory,” emphasizes the Latvian head of government, from a center-right formation, during the interview at a hotel in Madrid.

Ask. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, you have repeatedly asked NATO to strengthen its presence in the Baltic countries. Do you feel that Latvia is in a vulnerable situation?

Response. The entire eastern flank of the Alliance is in a vulnerable position, because unfortunately we have seen that Russia is willing to violate the borders of its neighbors. And the war in Ukraine is being extremely brutal. Russian troops are not focused only on military objectives, but rather indiscriminately attack the civilian population. Given this situation, we have to increase the military presence in the East, including the Baltics, so that Russia cannot even consider the option of attacking another country.

P. And are you satisfied with the response NATO has given to your requests?

R. It has been profoundly positive. We have a Canadian-led Enhanced Forward Presence battalion. The number of Spanish or Italian troops in our territory has also increased, Denmark has sent a full battalion, and new weapons have arrived. Spain’s response has been excellent, it is allowing us to improve our anti-aircraft defense capabilities.

P. What do you expect from the NATO summit to be held two weeks from now in Madrid?

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R. I think it’s critical that the Alliance change its doctrine on advanced defense. Currently, the defense strategy for the Baltic states and Poland implies that, in the event of an attack, NATO would be willing to lose some territory in order to recover it later. Having seen what has happened in Ukrainian cities like Bucha or Mariupol, it is clear that the option of ceding territory should not be considered, even for a short period, because Russian troops attack, rape and kill civilians. So we need to build an advanced defense strategy with a more permanent troop presence on the eastern flank.

P. Do you think there is any chance of reaching a peace agreement in Ukraine in the short term?

R. The only solution is for Russia to stop its aggression and withdraw its troops. That is, lose the war. At the moment there is no sign that the Russian government intends to abort its invasion. Y [el presidente Vladímir] Putin has publicly declared that he intends to recreate a kind of Russian empire. Therefore, we have an imperialist neighbor who will only change his attitude if Ukraine wins the war. Peace can only be achieved through victory.

P. And what do you mean by a Russian defeat? A return to positions prior to the February invasion? That Ukraine recovers Crimea and all the areas occupied since 2014?

R. A defeat that is perceived in Moscow as such. The only way to restore peace and security in Europe is to ensure that Russia does not get any kind of reward for its attack on a sovereign neighbor. A different question is what kyiv considers a victory, I think that is up to the Ukrainians. And a freezing of the battle front that implies that Russia and Ukraine maintain their current positions would not mean reaching peace; even if there was a ceasefire, the suffering of the population would continue in the occupied areas and Putin would have time to rearm and reorganize his army.

P. And isn’t it a great risk to try to inflict a humiliating defeat on a government that is threatening to use nuclear weapons and an army that is completely destroying cities in an attempt to achieve its goals?

R. The biggest risk is non-response. The West made a collective mistake in Georgia in 2008, and repeated it in Crimea and Donbas in 2014, by not reacting decisively. Putin deduced that he could carry out his actions without expecting too much retaliation. Now I think that the Western bloc’s response has been more powerful than Putin expected, and we are seeing that almost all European countries are increasing their investment in defense, or that the EU has agreed to jointly purchase weapons to send to Ukraine. We European democracies have understood that to be protected we have to be strong, not only economically, but also militarily. If we do not keep up the pressure on Russia, security in Europe cannot be guaranteed.

P. The Ukrainian army said last week that it is running out of ammunition. Should we send them more weapons?

R. Yes, much more, the only way that Russia can be defeated is by supporting Ukraine militarily. Latvia has delivered the equivalent of a third of our annual defense investment in weapons. I think it’s important that other allies, especially those with larger budgets, contribute even more.

The Latvian Prime Minister, during the interview.Claudia Alvarez

P. Do you consider that the six packages of sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia are sufficient? Or can more be done?

R. With each round we have passed we are getting closer to the goal of strangling the Russian economy. In the last one we include oil, but gas is still pending. The sanctions are having an impact, but most EU countries are still buying gas, and this allows the stability of the ruble to be maintained and the war to be financed. We need to find a way to reach an agreement on how to include gas in the sanctions. About 90% of what Latvia imported last year was Russian, and we are not going to buy any more.

P. And in case an embargo doesn’t pass and the next winter is extraordinarily cold, won’t they import Russian gas again?

R. We do not consider that option. We have contingency plans so that it is not necessary.

P. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, traveled to kyiv last Saturday to discuss Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. Should a kind of express procedure be approved?

R. I think that Ukraine should be granted candidate status, but that does not necessarily mean that it has to enter through a fast track, all members have to meet community standards. The important thing is to send a clear signal that we want Ukraine in the EU, so that they undertake the necessary reforms with a defined objective. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for European ideals, for freedom, democracy, the rule of law; they just want to live like us. And they need to be clear that we have them.

P. It does not seem easy that they can carry out the pending reforms during the war, with occupied territory, devastated cities and an economy that is likely to contract more than 40% this year.

R. Perhaps the war and the authority and popularity of [el presidente ucranio, Volodímir] Zelensky enable action to be taken in less time than would be required in peacetime. The reforms require momentumthis could be a great opportunity to carry them out.

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