RIGA - The Russian Federation is trying to return to a 19th century principle which stipulates that only great powers possess unlimited sovereignty, while being allowed to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of small nations in the name of their security interests or stability, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (New Unity) said during today's foreign policy debates at Saeima.
''Latvia is directly interested in sustaining good neighborly relations with the Russian Federation, but the principles that underpin those relations are no less important. We must be able to reply to the question “What kind of Russia would we like to see as our neighbor?” And the answer is directly related to Latvia’s national security interests,'' he said.
He pointed out that Latvia would like to see a democratic Russia with a stable domestic policy where human rights are honored and civic liberties are guaranteed, a neighbor which respects international law and the territorial integrity of its neighbors. Latvia’s national security interests also lie in a Russia which does not pursue an aggressive foreign policy and poses no threat to the sovereignty of the countries at its borders.
''Regrettably, 2020 proved that we still have a long way to go to reach that goal,'' said Rinkevics.
He said that efforts by the ruling circles of the Russian Federation can still be observed to utilize questions of history to solve domestic policy and foreign policy tasks and to pursue goals Russia is attempting to rewrite its own history – various interpretations it deploys are mainly aimed at distorting the facts about the origins of World War II and its denouement.
''Here we see an obvious attempt at manipulating internationally recognized values and norms, and to relativize them in the context of the current international developments and create a basis for the insistence of the Russian Federation it has a right to use force at its own discretion,'' Rinkevics pointed out.
Rinkevics said that throughout the year, Russia’s authorities continued exerting pressure on human rights defenders, public activists and organizations, and against members of the free and independent press. An attempt to poison the leader of the political opposition, Alexei Navalny, and after his return to Russia, sentencing him in a “hearing” held at the police station, without the presence of his lawyer, is one of the many incidents that demonstrate a negative trend in Russia.
''Over the past year, Russia continued actively falsifying history through a biased representation of historical facts, and was using this as a political instrument. I would like to mention but a few examples here: an attempt to present a tendentious assessment of the incorporation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the USSR 80 years ago by force, as well as manipulating public opinion concerning the causes and effects of World War II,'' the Latvian foreign minister went on to say.
Rinkevics pointed out that attempts to exonerate and absolve the crimes of the Stalinist regime and to present them as political normalcy cause great harm to the civil society of Russia itself, by distorting the public consciousness and curbing the formation of a modern democratic society in the country.
''We must be aware that only a democratic Russia that has a stable domestic policy, a Russia where human rights are honored and civic liberties are guaranteed, a Russia which respects international law will make it possible to achieve economic cooperation between our countries which as productive and mutually advantageous as possible. 30 years ago many of us stood at the “barricades” to protect our freedom. Democratic Russia helped us in those days. It is our duty today to help democrats in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the world,'' Rinkevics said.
He emphasized that Latvia also wishes to see its neighbor, Belarus, as an independent, economically developed and sustainable democratic country, a country where its citizens can express their opinions openly in free elections.
''Regrettably, the presidential elections that took place on 9 September 2020 marked a turning point in the opposite direction. The decision on which direction to take for Belarusian society and the Belarusian state should be made by the Belarusian people. Latvia is already providing, and will continue providing support for Belarusian civil society and to businesses that do not see the possibility of continuing their work under the conditions of Lukashenko’s regime and are expressing their intention to move to Latvia in order to implement their business ideas here,'' Rinkevics said.
''The European Union’s previous sanctions package was only the first step towards sanctioning Belarusian oligarchs who support the regime or enrich themselves due to favors offered by the current regime. The fact that the European Union imposed restrictive measures on just a few oligarchs should be seen as a signal to the others that if they do not stop supporting those who crack down on their people in the streets, throw them in jail and drive them into exile; the European Union will not hesitate to apply sanctions to such individuals in the next rounds and Latvia will not protect them,'' the Latvian foreign minister went on to say.
He said that the time has come to decide what they see as more important: another million brought by favors granted by the regime, or the will of the majority of the people to have justice, change and new, fair presidential elections. It is time for them to decide on which side they stand. Only standing on the side of the people, ceasing to finance the regime and condemning, without further delay, its brutal treatment of its own people, is the way in which these businessmen will be able to continue cooperating with companies in the European Union.
''It is totally clear that the way out of the crisis is a free election in Belarus to be followed by the transformation of this authoritarian political system into a democratic system,'' Rinkevics emphasized.
Belarus is, and will remain our neighbour with whom we are linked by long-term cooperation. Latvia’s long-term interests lie in continued cooperation through the development of railway corridors and logistics for the movement of goods with Belarus, and in transit through Belarus, with third countries – such as Ukraine, China and others. This could be fully implemented after the stabilisation and resolution of the crisis in Belarus.