RIGA - Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambitions are much bigger - he dreams of restoring the Russian empire as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics said at a breakfast discussion on Ukraine in Davos.
Rinkevics noted that Russian propaganda and hybrid warfare point to this. Being a member of NATO and the European Union (EU) is the greatest guarantee of security in the world, he said. He noted that important decisions were taken at the NATO summit in Madrid.
The Latvian president pointed out that Canada is leading the NATO enhanced presence battle group in Latvia, which will be increased to brigade level. The battle group includes troops from Latvia's allies, including Poland. According to Rinkevics, Latvia must also be prepared for hybrid warfare. For example, Belarus is using migration as a hybrid weapon against Latvia, Poland and Lithuania. Latvia also has to deal with disinformation all the time.
"We see attempts to use new technologies such as artificial intelligence. This is the first cyber war. (...) I can agree with the people who have talked a lot about Ukraine being our first line of defense. We are grateful to the Ukrainians who are fighting more than perhaps they should be grateful to us," said the president.
Rinkevics pointed out that there has been quite a big change. He said that when talking to his Finnish and Swedish friends, he used to joke that the time had come for them to join NATO, and if Finland and Sweden decided to do so, Latvia would be the biggest supporter of both countries. The president stressed that this is now a reality.
The president assured that preparations were underway, but there were also serious challenges. One of them is the defense industry. In his view, the capacity of the defense industry needs to be increased not only to help Ukraine, but also because we need much more equipment ourselves, for example, when trying to buy equipment, it takes time to produce it.
Rinkevics pointed out that it is essential to increase public spending on defense - by 2027 Latvia is expected to spend 3 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. The president added that in addition to military preparations, we must be prepared for all kinds of provocations and hybrid warfare.