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Europe

Latvia's foreign minister: 'Ukraine needs assistance now'

Edgars Rinkevics told DW at the Munich Security Conference he fully supports a diplomatic solution in Ukraine. But if this fails, he doesn't rule out delivering weapons at some point in the future.

DW: German Chancellor Angela Merkel just said no to supplying arms to Ukraine. Do you share that opinion?

Edgars Rinkevics: I do agree that there is only one solution, which is a political and diplomatic solution. We all have to understand that when the fighting is over there is going to be a discussion. However, I have to say we cannot rule out a change of strategy. If we see that the talks that are currently ongoing between the Ukraine and Russia, with the very active participation of Germany and France, fail, there is going to be the big question of what is next. We cannot actually have a situation where separatists backed by Russian troops and military equipment move anywhere they want.

I would not rule out the supply of weapons at some point in time. It is definitely not going to be decided at the level of the European Union. We don't do those things. It is a decision of individual member states. We all see the ongoing debate in the United States - but it is also a decision for those countries that have the means, that see it as an appropriate new element of strategy.

As foreign minister of Latvia, would you say that Ukraine should receive arms now?

First, I would see how the current political discussions are going. I understand that there is going to be a continuation of discussions tomorrow. I also want to underline that I wouldn't rule out, that at some point, this could be the right decision.

There is, however, another very, very important issue that we have to take into account: economic and financial assistance to the Ukraine. We, of course, are very concentrated on the fighting in Donbas and all the attempts to stop it and to implement the Minsk Agreement. Still, the situation of Ukraine's economy, financial stability and energy has to be addressed. I believe that when it comes to those issues, Ukraine also needs assistance now.

Speaking of money, Ukraine needs more than $10 billion, probably $15 billion. But the international community has been very reluctant to give that money at once. Why?

One of the reasons, of course, is the uncertainty of the conflict in Ukraine and the current political situation. Also, I think that the international community wants to see a clear reform plan. It's not just unconditional money. It is money that should support not very popular but very needed reforms of the country's economy and social structure.

Is Europe disappointed how Ukraine is dealing with reforms? Is Ukraine failing on that promise?

I think we cannot blame Ukraine on failing. What we want to see is more active reports by government addressing some challenges when it comes to economic reforms. They are trying to do their best in a very difficult situation, and if you look at the last year - the elections of the president, the elections of the parliament, local elections, the war that the Ukraine currently is in, very deep contradictions within society and some officials - those are very difficult and challenging times.

I do hope that the Ukrainian government and public at large understand that if they really want to have their country seen as prosperous and stable in the medium or long-term perspective there is no other way than to push for reforms. So I couldn't blame anyone at this time. But I definitely think we expect Ukraine to make more of an effort when it comes to economic and social reforms.

The European Union is going to discuss the question of sanctions in the coming days. What is your opinion? Will there be more sanctions?

I do believe on Monday during the Foreign Affairs Council there is going to be a decision by ministers to include Russian and also some separatists' names on the so-called visa ban and assets freeze list. I also believe that we are going to reiterate the need for the external action service and European Commission to prepare options for so-called economic sanctions. But I believe those are going to be discussed later, most probably at the level of heads of state and government.

At the same time, I believe that we have to prepare if we see that war is ongoing and if we see that diplomatic efforts do not produce the desirable results. And, of course, we also have to speak about further economic sanctions. That's what the EU can agree and should agree on in case of a deterioration of the situation.

But we want to see the Normandy format to succeed. We want to see the Minsk Agreement - or an updated Minsk Agreement - to be worked out and, this time, implemented. We have seen so many declarations but they have not been supported much.

How divided is Europe on the issue? Do you expect any problems on the part of Greece, for example?

I do hope that at the end of the day we are going to stay united. We have had some difficult discussions in the past, but I believe we can actually agree on conclusions. We can agree on a way forward. It is going to be difficult. It is going to be tough. But I do hope that if a situation really does not improve, that Europe is going to stay united and those who are sometimes voicing their concerns should understand that it's European security at stake. Ukraine is actually quite a litmus test for Ukrainian and also European stability.

In the end, what is your feeling after the conference in Munich? Where do we stand? Are we on the brink of an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine or did the Merkel and Hollande's trip to Moscow help push us away from that situation?

The situation is so volatile that I am open to any scenario.

How would you describe the situation at the moment?

At the moment we see that the talks are ongoing. Saturday, Sunday, maybe Monday, are days of opportunity. We usually talk about a military solution of delivering arms to Ukraine, but we far less speak about the military solution from the Russian point of view: Just take territory, keep it and take as much as you can. Such kind of thinking cannot prevail in Moscow. The Russian government and the Russian president also need to understand that such an all-out war could most probably damage not only the Russian economy and Russian security. At the end of the day, it may influence Russia's future in a very, very negative way.

Edgars Rinkevics is Latvia's foreign minister.

The interview was conducted by Roman Goncharenko.

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