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Latvian FM: Substantial NATO Presence Needed in Baltics

  • VOA News

FILE - Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics

FILE - Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics

Latvia's foreign minister says NATO needs to increase its presence in the Baltic region, given Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and continued support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Edgars Rinkēvičs told VOA's Russian service that the Western military alliance's decisions and measures in support of collective defense and European security have been "absolutely adequate." But he said he would like to see NATO take steps toward strengthening its deterrence policy at its summit in Warsaw in early July.

Specifically, Rinkēvičs said, he wants to see "a long-term and substantial NATO presence in the Baltics"; much closer cooperation "with non-NATO partners — Sweden and Finland — on many fields"; and a switch "from the current policies, like air policing, to full-scale air defense policies by NATO.”

The Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — were annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II and regained their independence after the Soviet collapse in 1991. Each of the three countries has ethnic Russian minorities.

“I don’t want to speak in terms of threats," Rinkēvičs said. "I would say that we should look at the situation as it develops. It is very challenging, very complex and actually includes many elements."

He noted that there had been some "very aggressive rhetoric" from Russia. "We have heard, especially since 2014, talk about the so-called Russian world and the need to protect Russian culture. ... Almost everyone who speaks Russian should be eligible for some kind of protection."

Rinkēvičs said Russia's military modernization, deployment of advanced weaponry, the increase of snap exercises along the borders and other military activities are very serious challenges to the security of Latvia and the other Baltic states.

The Obama administration announced this month that in response to Russia's "aggressive posture," it wanted to quadruple spending on U.S. troops and training in Europe and substantially increase the amount of weaponry and other military equipment deployed in NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, for his part, said the alliance would increase its “forward presence” in Eastern Europe to send a "clear signal" to any would-be aggressor.