RIGA - The European Union (EU) must ramp up its security and defense capabilities both in military and nonmilitary ways, but this should not go against NATO, the very cornerstone of Europe's security, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (New Unity) said during the Saeima's annual foreign affairs debate Thursday.
Urging to increase Latvia's defense spending, the minister referred to his opening speech in which he underlined that defense spending has to be increase, taking into consideration Latvia's overall financial state. In his opinion, Latvia should aim for raising its defense budget to 2.5 percent of GDP in the next three years.
Expenditure on strengthening internal security is no less important, Rinkevics said, adding that this does not mean just building border infrastructure and supporting the State Border Guard, but also investing in the capacity of internal security institutions and agencies.
Turning his attention to Poland as Latvia's strategic partner, Rinkevics indicated that in the context of the hybrid attack launched by Alexander Lukashenko's regime against Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, cooperation among countries is essential. Latvia sees Poland as an important partner not only in the field of defense and security, he said.
It is in Latvia's interests to strengthen cooperation with Poland also in energy and transport connections, Rinkevics said, noting that in 2025 the Baltic states are scheduled to synchronize their power grids with Europe's networks, and this can only happen through interconnections, which have to be established between Poland and Lithuania. The same goes for the Rail Baltica project and transport matters, Rinkevics said, stressing that all these issues are important and Latvia is open to stepping up cooperation.
The foreign minister said in his speech that a lot of myths are circulating in society about the damage Latvia is allegedly suffering from sanctions policy and how it has impacted trade with Russia. The minister pointed out that over the year, trade turnover with Russia has grown by 44 percent, while Russia's share in Latvia's total foreign trade turnover is 6 percent.
"People like to talk a lot about the negative impact of sanctions. We hear this narrative mainly in various Russiam propaganda channels. I think, we need to look at the facts," the minister said.
Commenting on the European Union's (EU) migration policy, Rinkevics said that migration is being used an instrument in the context of hybrid attacks. Latvia has talked about this with European authorities and officials, as well as like-minded countries. The foreign minister agreed with the opinion that the bloc needs a sweeping migration policy reform. He admitted that the reform process will not be easy but that on the whole, awareness of the problem has increased.
At the end of his speech, Rinkevics emphasized the need to strengthen academic research and studies on national history. It is important for Latvia to have a new generation of historians who would focus their research of the history of the 20th century and who would be able to disprove and refute various lies and slander spread by Russia's propaganda outlets.