Baltic, UK foreign ministers discuss Euro-Atlantic security, relations with Russia, China

  • 2021-10-12
  • LETA/BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS/RIGA - The Baltic foreign ministers - Latvia's Edgars Rinkevics, Lithuania's Gabrielius Landsbergis, Estonia's Eva-Maria Liimets - met with UK Foreign Minister Elisabeth Truss in London on Monday to discuss Euro-Atlantic security issues and relations with Moscow and Beijing, LETA was told at the Latvian Foreign Ministry, 

In their discussion on security, the ministers stressed that NATO remains the main guarantor of Euro-Atlantic security and agreed to continue to work together to strengthen the Alliance as it adapts to new threats, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (New Unity) said at the meeting that Russia not a responsible international player at the moment and that the West needs to take a principled approach to Russia and that Western democracies' united response to "Russia's violations of international law, human rights and democratic freedoms" is critical. 

"Regrettably, we have to conclude that the Russian State Duma elections took place in circumstances that were not in line with democratic practice, OSCE standards and Russia's international commitments. We have been seeing for quite some time that Russia has chosen to distance itself from Europe. At present we do not see any changes in Russia's position or a readiness for possible compromises and constructive cooperation. The confrontation with Russia is likely to remain in the long term, hence, it is necessary to maintain a consistent approach and stick with our common values and principles," the Latvian foreign minister said.

"On the border with Belarus we are faced with a hybrid attack orchestrated by the Alexander Lukashenko regime to destabilize the situation in EU member states. Belarusian authorities must take full responsibility for these developments and stop the unacceptable practice to use vulnerable people for their political ends. The crisis caused by Belarus on the border is an asymmetric response to the EU's strict stance on ongoing repressions and human rights violations in Belarus, as well as to the sanctions imposed by the EU. By protecting the EU's external border, Latvia is fulfilling its international commitments," Rinkevics said. 

The United Kingdom's contribution to strengthening the security of the Baltic states was also noted during the meeting.

"At a time when the geopolitical situation in the world is complex and constantly changing and we are facing new threats, one of the most important challenges is to maintain our transatlantic unity," said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. "History has taught us that the world is much safer, when Europe and the US are working together."

Last month, the UK, Australia and the United States announced the creation of a new defense alliance (AUKUS).

The new alliance is seen as an attempt to counterbalance China's growing economic and military power in the region, but the news has fueled voices of concern in Europe, saying that it is further proof of America's dwindling attention to the old continent.

The participants of Monday's meeting in London urged Minsk to immediately stop fueling illegal migration across the Belarusian-Lithuania border.

"A hybrid attack orchestrated by Lukashenko's regime against Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, using illegal migrants as a political weapon, must receive a strong international response," said Landsbergis.

Nearly 4,200 migrants, mostly Iraqi citizens, have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year.

The ministers "expressed their concerns over the systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus and agreed to continue working together to exert pressure on the regime with the aim of having new free and democratic elections held, all political prisoners released, and those responsible for the repression punished," according to the press release.

The Baltic and UK foreign ministers agreed to work closely together in "multilateral fora" to ensure that Russia and China comply with their international obligations, including human rights.

"Russia remains the main threat to our region. It is difficult to talk about any changes in our relations with Russia, as the country still violates its commitments, continues the annexation of Crimea and its aggressive policy in eastern Ukraine, as well as disinformation and cyber-attacks," said Landsbergis.

The ministers also underlined the need for a principled policy based on shared values in response to "the systemic challenges posed by China", the ministry said.

"China's economic and diplomatic pressure on Lithuania for its efforts to foster closer economic ties with Taiwan is unacceptable," Lithuania's top diplomat said. "The diversification of markets and the strengthening of economic cooperation with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region are among our priorities."

Relations between Vilnius and Beijing have turned sour in recent months after Lithuania started developing ties with Taiwan, which China regards as a rebellious province.

In August, China recalled its ambassador to Vilnius and demanded that Lithuania withdraw its envoy to Beijing after it became know that Vilnius was allowing Taipei to open its trade office in the country under the name "Taiwan".

Elsewhere in the world, Taiwan's representative offices operate under the name of Taipei, in line with an international consensus that this does not run counter to the "one China" policy which prevents Taiwan from being treated as a separate state.

In London, the ministers also reiterated their strong commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration and reform process.

They also agreed "to develop closer economic ties between the UK and the entire Baltic region to promote trade and investment, and identified such sectors as cyber and digital economy, life sciences, research, high-tech, defense, energy and infrastructure", according to the press release.

The Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and UK foreign ministers issued a joint communication, stating their intention to continue meeting regularly to discuss key items on the international agenda and regional cooperation.