Edgars rinkēvičs: the illegal annexation of Crimea made us remember the Soviet tanks

For several months, as Latvia belongs to those countries where NATO forces under the strategy of “containment” that is the answer that the European Union and particularly countries in the former Soviet sphere of influence klassificeret as a “provocation” by Russia. The Minister of foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars rinkēvičs speaks about the threat of “hybrid war” that Moscow is against the EU, but also on the need to maintain dialogue with Russia.

Público: Concerns what kind of experience today against Russia, the inhabitants of Latvia?

Edgars rinkēvičs: we Can talk about that people take great care, I wouldn’t call it panic or fear. The illegal annexation of Crimea reminded us of what happened with our own independence in 1940, when the three capitals are Soviet tanks, was organized about the elections and all of a sudden the Baltic States became part of the Soviet Union. There is a certain similarity with the Crimea: the arrival of Russian soldiers — for a long time Russia did not recognize that it was its troops and the referendum two weeks later. There was a feeling of deja vu, all felt a kind of caution. According to some, the probability of military provocation is very small. But a possible hybrid war, cyber attacks, propaganda campaigns carried out via television, Internet and social networks. The struggle for the minds of men continues. But we’re not the only one who encounters this problem. We understand that this hybrid war is an attribute of our daily lives, whether in the Baltic States or in France, and I suspect that we will have to see how it will suffer from and the elections in Germany.

— How does the presence of the traditional forces, like NATO, may prevent this type of hybrid war?

— Placement of a battalion has only one goal: preventing military provocations. Their probability is not large, but it is because of the presence of NATO in four countries. It also contains a clear signal to Russia about the inadmissibility of any war game. You must be prepared militarily, but also need to develop and implement a strategy to combat this type of hybrid threats. Centre of excellence NATO in the field of strategic communications in Riga does not only fight against Russian propaganda, but the propaganda of ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), for example. Examines methods of recruiting, which the terror group carries out in Europe, and its message, and how to resist it. Our community is adhering to shared values, is under attack from two very serious forces: one of them is a state structure, it is Russia that is trying to change the balance on the international level, and then there are extremist forces, before it was al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), and now ISIS.

— Can the alienation, to feel the so-called “non-citizens”, make them more vulnerable due to potential Russian manipulation?

When in 1991 we regained independence, we have lived a lot of people from different regions of the Soviet Union, which were sent to the Baltic States, trying to attempt a kind of “colonization”. Was made a mutual decision, according to which not automatically grant citizenship to all, regardless of whether people speak English and feel emotional attachment to the country or not. Then, a mechanism was established, which I’d say is accessible to all who want to be true citizens of Latvia and which includes a test of knowledge of language and a fairly simple test on the history of the country and the Constitution. In 1996 there were about 700 thousand of non-citizens, today they are 280 thousand. Non-citizens enjoy the same economic and social rights as citizens, the only difference is that they can’t vote or nominate for election, and to take certain diplomatic, military and police positions. We tried to encourage people to pass the citizenship test, but we can’t just grant citizenship, and then assume that these people are citizens, loyal to their country. One of the reasons why many decide not to become citizens, rather pragmatic and curious. As a Latvian citizen I can travel freely without a visa throughout the EU and many other countries except Russia. Non-citizens can move freely around the EU and also to travel to Russia, so for many, this kind of privilege is crucial not to pass the citizenship test. I don’t think this group is more vulnerable to Russian propaganda. She is so vulnerable, how vulnerable the Russian-speaking community. Latvians, for example, often watch Russian television and agree with Russia’s position, and Vice versa. There are many Russian-speakers who hate attitude to what Russia is doing. It is not a monolithic group, as they are sometimes, analysts or journalists, but conglomerate.

— Russia has a strategy for engagement of this population?

— The goal is much broader: they want to change our pattern of thinking. They automatically assume that most Russian-speakers feel emotional attachment to Russia. Offers three main ideas: the EU is in decline, the liberal society shows its failure; Russia — a stronghold of conservative thought; and all that you are EU or US, particularly the sanctions damage the economies of our own countries. And then there is a very specific message for all Russian speakers: Russia has a divine right to protect not only those who are Russian in origin, but those who speak Russian. I speak Russian, so, too, are under her protection — and have already decided that most likely will refuse him.

— As one of the EU countries bordering Russia, Latvia may be pragmatic reasons to completely break off relations with a neighbor of that magnitude?

— Our countries have divergent views about the story: the events of 1940 we believe occupation, Russia also said that it was an act of the free will of Latvians, we have friction on the question of the Russian-speaking community, disagreements about what happened in Ukraine. But, as in all countries, we maintain normal relations of cooperation between the border guards, we continue our regular consultations at the level of Ministers of foreign Affairs. I was in Moscow in 2015, our diplomats continue meetings. The relationship is not terminated, we consider a range of issues in normal mode. And we are also trying to defend the dialogue between NATO and Russia in order to reduce the degree of tension. I don’t think it would be wise to curtail this kind of political debate.