On 22 December, the diet approved General Leonid Kalnins in the post of commander of the NAF after many unexpected resignation from this post announced Raimonds Graube, commander of the armed forces for ten years. Kalnins promises to continue work on the development of the armed forces, but his priority calls for greater involvement of society in the defense system of the state. The level of aggressiveness of Russia has not reached a critical point when one would expect a direct military attack, but the biggest threat to the Latvian state is the loss of the power of the spirit of the people and unwillingness to defend their country, said the General.
Ir: Now is the time the memory of the barricades. What we need to learn or what not to forget of the events of 1991?
Leonids Kalnins: I would say not to forget. What you need to learn, we are already cemented in your mind. Don’t need to forget how to protect your idea. The idea of state independence occurred much earlier than 1991, and barricade was a demonstration of the ability to protect the idea. People United, even if unarmed, can demonstrate the ability to implement this idea.
You in 1990 is back from the Kharkov military Academy. What are your memories of that time?
I returned to civilian life at the end of 1991, the barricade has ended. It was a time when everyone had to decide what to do. The situation was extremely difficult and very dangerous. And there were different people: one went to the barricades, others watched expectantly from the side. I certainly would not like it if the next time this kind of crisis is quite a large percentage of expectant where it will end. I wish it was much more those who decide to defend the state.
— You swore allegiance to the Soviet Union, and you had to decide on which side to stand. Was it hard?
— Absolutely not! Many Latvians were forced to be in the occupation of the situation, but actually internally we belonged to the Latvian culture, to remember that we fought and won independence. In my family talked about that too, although dad sent me to military knowledge.
— Although he was in the Legion, and then was deported…
— He was deported, and previously he was a foreigner, an instructor in 19th division. Father didn’t talk about the times of independent Latvia, were careful not to face with some trouble. But in the atmosphere of Latvian culture, which prevailed in the family, could not make other decision, except how to stop service in the Soviet army and return. So I did. As soon as the Supreme Council declared the restoration of independence, I wrote a letter of resignation by the end of 1991 returned to Latvia.
— What do you say to those who comment on your statement wrote: “the Soviet militarists, warped brains propaganda”?
— I suggest to look at my business. I’m in the armed forces since 1997, started as a volunteer and in just a few years was restored to the rank, he also graduated from the military schools in the West. I have proved myself on the job, and I for neither his decision should not be ashamed.
— Does the knowledge of mentality of the Russian military to understand what they are planning?
— To me, this experience helps, frankly. I am able to perform a fairly deep analysis to consider the military knowledge that I have received in Soviet military schools, aligning them with the knowledge that I have now. Can well enough to understand what kind of operations they might be planning.
And what are your conclusions — do and are they to fight?
— No potential enemy should never be underestimated. I recently met with their military representatives. But if you analyse as a whole: to people started the hostilities, he should reach a particular psychological state. Now they have not yet reached the Rubicon, so we can panic and worry. But, on the other hand, we have no right quietly do nothing, do not provide the ability at any time to protect the Latvian government.
— As you said yourself, the level of aggressive propaganda of Russia growing strongly. Does this mean that the Russian government purposefully works to achieve the mentioned critical edge?
— Systematically or unconsciously, but they go towards that goal. Maybe, haven’t decided in which direction to act — I’m talking about open military aggression during the Second world war or a limited conflict, as in Georgia and Ukraine, or even in some other way. They work in several ways that it is now fashionable to call a hybrid war. This information pressure on the society of Latvia and the increasing military abilities, and a show of force with the location of the best divisions of troops at the borders of the Baltic States, and aggressive statements in international institutions, and non-consideration of international treaties.
There are new methods related to cyber security and information warfare. One of the main purposes, of course — it split the unity of NATO and the European Union to each country to sow doubts about the ability to protect the state. We feel this every day.
— Former commanders of the NATO high-rank international experts in the field of security to assess the military conflict with Russia in 2017 as one of the major risks. What is your prediction?
— You want to reduce this to a purely military threat. I would like to stress that for me the biggest threat is if the Latvian society will disappear the power of the spirit, and it will no longer be able to create a state and defend it. In this case, Russia does not need a huge military means to change the political system and development direction, and we again find ourselves in a situation in which lived under the occupation regime.
I respect you mentioned the generals and experts. But our society needs to start thinking critically, to what extent is true, for example, that Latvia can occupy up to 48 hours. My main message for the society of Latvia: the most dangerous if we are not aware that we’ll be the first to defend their country and that only depends on us whether this state to exist.
— Can I conclude that you are one of those who recently wrote The New York Times, “deathly afraid” of Russia?
— Absolutely not. I don’t want a society of Latvia were afraid of this kind of statements that continually appear in the press. I don’t want a society of Latvia trusted in what claims the leadership of Russia: how easy is there to occupy that Latvia is the so-called failed state. I want to be in the society of Latvia had confidence in their abilities, and that we can even, God forbid, from the superior force to protect what you must protect your land, family and home.
— General Grube in an interview with us said that this year will be no war. You spoke more cautiously: “it would be no war, but if you look at our history since 1991, it seems that without the moral and physical challenge will be difficult.” Do you think that can still occur is a serious crisis?
It was the answer to the question about the ability to mobilize our people in a broad sense. We can hold hands, as during the “Baltic way”, to the barricades. Question: is there a need for another such conflict, which tempered the spirituality of the nation and created a consolidated society? We can achieve such consolidation not only in the face of any attack, but when faced with other economic or due to natural disaster crises. Of course, one of these tests can also be physical attack on the state. But I absolutely do not predict that it could happen. Of course, we don’t know anything about the distant future what will happen in 50 or 100 years. But in the near future the society of Latvia can be absolutely sure that there will be military conflicts here on Latvian soil.
— Do you have concerns about the reliability of the main ally —the United States, given that the newly elected President of this country believes that NATO is “outdated” and even questioned the 5-th paragraph of the NATO Treaty?
In this sense, I am an absolute optimist. The election trump is the choice of the people of the United States, and neither the trump nor the it team was not any statement aimed at changes in the organization of NATO. Moreover, all the plans launched last year and the year before, continued successfully. In February in the order of rotation will arrive in Latvia company armored division of the United States. There is absolutely no change in the plans provided in the June maneuvers Sabre Strike and other exercises.
— Last week in Europe came a tank brigade United States, January 12, Latvia and the United States signed a bilateral agreement on the status of American soldiers in our country. Not in a hurry if the outgoing US administration to make the case that the following can do?
— No, no, it’s the same tank brigade, which is expected to arrive in rotation in February, and it will arrive. The contract, which is signed, is a logical step to this is to legalize. In 2004 with the entry into NATO, we all signed an agreement on the status of the armed forces, and in accordance with it, each state has the right and now the duty to conclude a bilateral Treaty if it has armed forces of other States. We needed the contract, which specified how the administration, stay and more.
— Latvia is ready to adopt units of Canadians and other allies, who will arrive in the coming months?
We arranged their plans, subordinating them to the fulfilment of those tasks that are necessary to successfully take led by the canadian contingent. The biggest concern is infrastructure preparation. There is great support in the Cabinet of Ministers in connection with the budget increase. Most pleased that the canadian side is very flexible and understands that it will take some time until all will be ready, because the construction of the infrastructure will be finished by the middle of 2018. But for the most part functioning smoothly by the end of this year.
— NATO experts have concerns about what is posted in the Baltic States and Poland combat team battalions will not be able to repel a possible attack of the enemy, if they remain separate entities and will not be integrated into the structure under a single command. Do you plan to create it?
— From the beginning of Canada agreed that the unit will be fully integrated into the defence system of Latvia. It will be part of a Latvian brigade under the command of the brigade commander at the tactical level and in all tasks. Of course, there’s also a submission to its national leadership in matters related to political subordination, and, of course, subordinate to the NATO structures. As far as I know, in the same way go Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. From this point of view, about the tactical integration in General, there’s no doubt this is important so that we could ensure the tasks of defense.
— And tactical integration of troops in these four countries to act together?
— In principle, they now, in time of peace, have this ability. There is no anxiety that these contingents in the four countries, there will be no unified leadership.
— What is the unified guidance?
— A unified leadership is conducted through Poland, and reaches the headquarters of NATO.
— Russia in September, will hold military exercises “Zapad-2017”. Previous such exercises in 2013 was huge and they simulated an attack on the Baltic States and Poland. Evaluating data locationski maneuvers this year, analysts believe that Russia is preparing to occupy or Belarus or from its territory to attack the Baltic States. What is your prediction?
— There are different versions. But these teachings prove that a large force of habit, and Russia continues its aggressive policy. Of course, we are wary that the Russians increase mobility and very regularly use the territory of Belarus for their workouts at the borders of the Baltic States.
Defense Minister of Belarus in December, visited Latvia. Maybe Belarusians fear that the sovereignty of their States under threat, if you go to consult the country-a NATO member?
— Belarus trying to work on several fronts to protect themselves, and perhaps to a certain extent — their own state. On the one hand, the Belarusians claim that they are friends with Russia forever, with another start different visits to find nearest neighbors. Maybe, finally, understand that military escalation is not the best way to achieve the welfare of the Belarusian people.
— Two days after the visit of the Belarusian Minister held the Latvian-Russian consultations at the level of military experts. Why such a gesture?
I can’t comment, I have almost no information about the results of these consultations (ministries) and generally about their goals. But I want to return to what was said at the beginning: do we show fear? No! We need to talk, find out their opinions or suggestions. Of course, we came to the correct political positions in line with what Russia has done in connection with the occupation of the Ukraine and the aggression against Georgia. But we must not show that I am afraid that now are not talking.
— However, Lithuanians and Estonians refused such negotiations. Do not harm the readiness of Latvia to speak to the unity of NATO?
— I don’t think so broken the unity of NATO. The countries that joined NATO, not to live in a barrack. Domestic policy is a national responsibility, and certainly to such a great extent from Latvia nothing is broken negotiations with the Russian delegation.
I have no information whether it was civilian or military. But from my experience I can say that the Ministry of defence takes decisions to ensure the defense of our country.
— What will change in the NAF leadership style when you step into the position of commander* You said that your priority involving companies in the defense system of the state. This criticism of Grube, which it did, or self-criticism for what you yourself do not do?
Almost three questions. (Laughs). I’m in my style will not change anything. What was my style when I was in command of the militia, and under the command of the armed forces. And in any case do not want to compare myself to Lieutenant General Graube.
Regarding the involvement of companies is not a criticism, because we, together with the General Graube developed armed forces, but the situation is gradually developing. Four or five years ago we didn’t think about it, but now gradually come to greater engagement of society. Quite a lot of support is received after 2014. Without a broader involvement of society we can not raise the defense system to a level that is needed. It has more to do with the training of reservists with the debate about compulsory military service, against which I have a negative attitude because I understand that, as written, required. And if someone says there is a voluntary-mandatory, we invite the militia.
Ought to resume military training in high schools and in a variety of ways to motivate students to the introduction of military training in depth. Then the graduates would become officers, so, for example, to command the provincial militia, and, may be, and to enlist in the armed forces. And those members of society who don’t want to go in depth in the military sphere, can be a subsidiary of the militia, they will receive basic training, but can also be cooks, drivers, engineers, managers, etc.
Another section — we have very good cooperation with the local municipalities. More integrating them into the defense system, we will provide post-crisis response and implementation support functions. This is a new project, this is not a criticism of the previous administration. In the discussions it turns out, how can this be achieved most effectively by placing the little funds that we are now available.
— May affect the development plans of the NAF that the growth of the defence budget this year will be 24 million less than previously planned?
— Of course, we depend on the economic situation. But the decline in growth will not have such a huge impact, so we have suspended any plans. Produce some correction, but all required plans will be implemented.
— What were your feelings as a citizen of Latvia, observing how the MPs share of “quota” for the toilets, roofs, bodies for a million euros apiece?
I think I understand the deputies. They have committed themselves to the voters, and I would definitely not say that they are doing something dishonest. Perhaps from the point of view of balanced development of the state is to a greater extent was unacceptable for many voters, but we are also responsible because he chose the deputies. If we are unhappy, we have elections to say a clear “Yes” or “no”.
— You said that Latvians are inherent inferiority complex. As we get rid of him and become, as you said, a “strong positive”?
— This appeal from my recent experience. It’s a huge pain that Latvia has left several hundred thousand inhabitants. In trips around Latvia, I see not only empty the farm, but a half-empty small town. But I see another side — the people who stayed here, prove that you can develop commercial activities, to build production and, enlisting in the militia, to develop the ability to protect the Latvian government. I want to decrease the number of those who leave, and those who waits, and thinks that instead, someone will build the state and its welfare, and to multiply the positive that I see, I want people have the burning and the desire to Express yourself and to say that we have great people, and that our Latvian state is strong.