Russia must be stopped in Ukraine - Rinkevics in interview to AP

  • 2023-11-13
  • LETA/AP/TBT Staff

UNITED NATIONS (New York) - Latvia’s president says Russia is planning for a long war in Ukraine and he has a message for countries wavering on continuing military support to Kyiv: Keep supplying arms or the Ukrainians will lose and Russia will have a green light for threatening others in the future.

Edgars Rinkevics said in an interview with the Associated Press that “it is important to actually fight for international peace, and peace in Europe, because if we stop Russia in Ukraine, then Russia is not going to be able to challenge other countries.”

He pointed to the disruptive role that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is playing in Africa and to Russian meetings with officials from Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s ruling militants whose surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7 killed some 1,200 people.

In July, Rinkevics was sworn in as president of Latvia, which was part of the Soviet Union until its break-up in August 1991. The Baltic nation, population 1.9 million, in 2004 joined both the European Union and NATO, holding a key point on their eastern flank with its 214-kilometer (133-mile) border with Russia.

Rinkevics, who was Latvia’s foreign minister for 13 years before being elected president, said that despite some members of the 27-nation EU having “their opinions,” at the end of the day the alliance has agreed on sanctioning Russia and on providing more support to Ukraine over Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

“Interestingly enough, at this point, the EU is more divided when it comes to the Middle East, rather than to Ukraine,” he said in Thursday's interview.

He said it is important for the West to support both Ukraine and Israel against attacks on “our values” and the international order. He also stressed the need to push for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza fighting to provide assistance to Palestinian civilians, whose death toll in Israel's retaliation for the Hamas attack has topped 11,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Rinkevics said Iran is “very pleased to see this kind of development in the Middle East," and pointed to Tehran’s supply of arms and other equipment to Russia for its fight in Ukraine.

It's in NATO's security interests "that both cases are viewed the same way,” he said. “I do believe also that it will be much easier for us to keep peace in Europe if Ukraine succeeds rather than we let Ukraine down, or for that matter, also to let the situation in the Middle East to get out of control.”

Rinkevics said Ukrainian soldiers are fighting “in a very brave way” and the West has the responsibility to respond to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appeal for more weapons, “because we have not provided as much as we should have.”

He said Russia is mobilizing its economy, resources and military machinery “for a very long war.” It tried to win the war quickly and realized it can’t, and now Moscow wants to “strangle” Ukraine, he said, predicting it will reprise attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure in the coming months, as it did last winter.

Rinkevics said the EU and NATO need to prepare for a long war in Ukraine.

“The EU has realized that we need more defense and military,” he said. “And at this point, I would love to see that this is going to be a bit faster process. But still, those things are now finally moving.”

But many European members of NATO still need to reach the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, he said, adding that Latvia expects to spend 2.4% of GDP on defense next year and 3 percent in 2027. Europe’s defense industrial production needs to be increased, he added.

Many experts and officials have said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hope is to outlast Western support for Ukraine in a long war.

“I think this is very important that he fails,” Rinkevics said.

If the world sees that Europe and the United State are failing to provide support to Ukraine, he said, “then I think that is going to be increasing pressure on Israel.”

“Also, I think that Iran is going to be more assertive,” he said. “Let’s also not forget about the whole Asia region, and let’s not forget about Taiwan.”

The Latvian leader said Russia is turning from an autocracy to a totalitarian regime and resorting to propaganda worse than the Cold War.

They are showing “brutal pictures or video or animation videos about destroying cities in Europe, or the United States, using nuclear weapons, saying that the use of nuclear weapons is actually just a piece of cake,” he said.

They are calling Ukrainians “kind of a lower human race — it’s very much resembling what Nazi Germany was saying about the Jews,” he added.

Rinkevics, who is in New York to launch Latvia’s bid for a U.N. Security Council seat in 2026-2027, announced in 2014 that he is gay and is one of Europe’s few LGBTQ+ heads of state.

If people can accept a gay head of state, Rinkevics said, “then I believe that very quickly also they are going to be more inclusive, more open to the whole community. That’s the message also I hope will be received everywhere else.”