RIGA - To make the warfare end, NATO member states must increase their military support to Ukraine, President Egils Levits told journalists following a meeting with Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins (New Unity) on Wednesday.
The president indicated that NATO is ready to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in two ways - by strengthening Ukraine's military abilities to resist the aggressor and by bolstering NATO's eastern flank.
Levits noted that NATO has decided to increase the number of the Alliance's battlegroups from four to eight, of which one is stationed in Latvia's Adazi military base. In Levits' words, the four new battlegroups will be set up in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to cover NATO's entire eastern flank.
The president said that this is only a part of the plan to beef up the eastern flank's defense. Planning is ongoing and the result will be announced at NATO's upcoming summit in Madrid in June.
Levits said that Latvia, too, is actively involved in the planning and developing NATO's new concept. Latvia will coordinate its position with other like-minded members of the Alliance, Levits said.
The president underlined that although NATO is not getting directly involved in the war in Ukraine, its member states have decided to significantly increase military assistance to Ukraine. Indications about the results of the Russia-Ukraine talks show that because of Ukrainians' strong motivation to defend their country, Ukraine has proven its ability to resist the Russian offensive. They also show that NATO countries' assistance to Ukraine has been effective and must continue.
"Latvia, as a relatively small NATO member state, as well as Estonia and Lithuania, has provided significant military assistance to Ukraine. Larger NATO members have provided more. But we in the Alliance underline the necessity to increase this assistance. This is a necessary precondition to make warfare end," the president said.
Karins pointed out that the government on Tuesday decided to increase the defense budget to 2.5 percent of GDP. The prime minister also thanked all those citizens that have joined the National Guard, including those who have enlisted in the past four weeks. The prime minister said that interest in joining the National Guard has been huge and that these people's contribution is essential for our country's resistance and defense abilities. It is also consistent with Latvia's national plan to strengthen its military capabilities not only technically but also by enlisting and training more would-be soldiers.
Karins said that Latvia is supporting and will continue to support Ukraine both militarily and non-militarily. On Tuesday, the government decided to send ambulance vehicles and other medical aid to Ukraine. The prime minister underlined that Ukraine must be supported because it must win the war.
"It is important for NATO member states to help Ukraine because Russia as an aggressor country must be stopped. This is the basic objective - to stop Russia so that it could not threaten its other neighbors. Although Latvia is safe with the help of NATO, we must not drop out guard. We must not relax, we need to strengthen ourselves, including our energy sector," Karins said.
The prime minister said that Latvia aims to make its energy sector independent from Russia. The reason for Latvia's unwillingness to buy Russian oil or gas is simple - Russia uses these revenues to finance its war machine. It takes two elements to stop this Russian war machine - armed forces that destroy the enemy on the ground and an economic leverage preventing Russia from rebuilding its military.
"This can be achieved with sanctions. The largest still unsanctioned sector is energy. We as a country, and actually whole Europe, will move away from Russian energy sources to stop sending money to Russia which is buying tanks and killing our Ukrainian friends," Karins said.