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VOA Interview: Latvia’s Defense Minister Offers Support to Ukraine for ‘As Long as it Takes’

Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds speaks with VOA in March 2024, during a visit to Washington.
Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds speaks with VOA in March 2024, during a visit to Washington.

Latvia is among the top European contributors of military assistance to Ukraine relative to the size of its economy.

Together with Ukraine and Great Britain, the country launched a military "drone coalition" to supply drones to Ukraine and cooperate on technology.

Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds spoke with VOA last week during his visit to Washington to meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He emphasized the importance of continuous support for Ukraine in the war against Russian aggression.

"Ukrainians are fighting for our freedom, independence and sovereignty," Spruds told VOA.

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: After French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement last week about possibly sending troops to Ukraine, the Latvian Ministry of Defense noted that Latvia does not exclude that scenario. What would be the conditions for that?

Andris Spruds, Latvian defense minister: There are different initiatives, and we appreciate the high level of the French initiative. They are also looking for different solutions on how to sustain continuous support for Ukraine.

Latvia's position is that we support countries deciding individually how they provide support, for instance, by sending troops. At the same time, if we speak about sending troops jointly, a collective decision by NATO is instrumental and very important.

VOA: Ukraine and Latvia agreed to create a drone coalition during your visit to Kyiv. What are the strategic goals that this coalition brings to the battlefield?

Spruds: The drones are very important for Ukraine. They are now part of the warfare. ... The major goal is to support Ukraine, to supply Ukraine with necessary equipment, and drones are part of this. It is also about developing our own industry — the drone industry and military industry — to have the capacity to supply Ukraine.

VOA: More voices in the West are talking about a stalemate on the front in Ukraine and the possibility of Ukraine negotiating with Russia, or even waving the white flag. As a minister of a NATO country, how do you respond to those voices?

Spruds: Well, my response is very clear. First of all, the flag must be yellow and blue. Ukraine is fighting for its freedom. The Ukrainians have said — and strongly expressed — that Ukraine will fight until it wins the war and liberates its territories. For us, the Western nations — all the members of the alliance — it is important to support Ukraine as long as it takes and with all necessary means.

It's Ukraine’s decision what kind of peace agreement there will be when all the territories will be liberated. Russia must suffer strategic defeat in Ukraine.

VOA: Latvia reintroduced military conscription. As a NATO member state for 20 years now, do you fear Russia’s direct military confrontation?

Spruds: We are doing a lot for our military capabilities. And of course, it will be a permanent job to strengthen our defense capabilities.

We are already now in a hybrid warfare [with Russia]. There are the cyberattacks, the weaponization of illegal immigration, disinformation campaigns and incidents against critical infrastructure. We are basically in conflict with Russia right now in more conceptual terms. But of course, we should also be ready for military threats. Russia is a threat, and all those scenarios should be taken into account.

VOA: You noted that Ukraine after Vilnius will be moving to NATO membership. How optimistic are you about that ahead of the Washington, D.C., summit?

Spruds: The Baltic countries, including, Latvia, strongly support Ukraine as a member of NATO. But of course, as was declared during the Vilnius [summit] — when the conditions allow and when allies agree.

Now, it's important to have a consensus to support Ukraine as long as it takes with all necessary means. In this case, it's all for one, one for all, in supporting Ukraine. Certainly, Ukraine must be in the EU and also NATO in the future.

VOA: Some experts called last Tuesday’s drone attack inside Russia an embarrassing day for Russian President Vladimir Putin. While many Western leaders hesitate to give Ukraine long-range missiles, what do you think of Ukraine getting these capabilities to reach deeper Russian territories?

Spruds: Ukraine should be given all necessary rights and means to defend itself. Ukraine can respond by defending its country, including by active defense. That's why Latvia is very clear: Ukraine should be given all necessary means to protect itself with all the necessary ways against Russia's aggression. [The drone attack] has been an embarrassment for Russia, and I think it will have quite a number of such embarrassments in the future. So, let's not also overestimate the Russian strength. I think Russia has a lot of weaknesses.