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Baltic worries

Interview :Jürgen Liminski / jrb
April 17, 2014

Former Latvian Economics Minister Krisjanis Karins approves of the move to increase NATO troops on the military alliance's eastern border. Baltic countries need to know they can rely on NATO, he tells Deutschlandfunk.

Krisjanis Karins Photo: AP Photo/Keystone, Lukas Lehmann
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Deutschlandfunk: Do the NATO plans offer you some comfort?

Krisjanis Karins: Yes, of course, but not only me and all others in Latvia but also people in Estonia and Lithuania. We have been waiting for a month - since the unrest in Crimea - that NATO increases its presence in our region.

NATO has exacerbated the situation with its announcement directly before the meeting of foreign ministers on Friday (18.01.2014). Isn't the timing of the announcement a bit unfortunate? Couldn't NATO member have waited a day, considering they had already been waiting months?

It's quite clear that Putin and Russia aim to move ahead regardless of what we in West will do. We can't provoke the Russians anymore. Up to now, everything we've done in the West doesn't appear to have deterred Putin.

You believe Moscow is unfazed. Many Russians live in the Baltic countries, including Latvia. The mere existence of these Russians could entice Moscow to arm separatists similar to what has happened in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and to stir unrest. Isn't the NATO announcement rather counterproductive?

No, on the contrary. What we outsiders need to understand is that Putin's government has frequently tried to create unrest in our country but so far hasn't succeeded. But what's important in our country and in the other Baltic countries is that people understand they can truly trust their European and NATO partners.

You feel safe as a NATO member. You say this presence - and in particular the increased presence - is a demonstration of trust. Should Ukraine become a NATO member?

What happens in Ukraine is a slightly different issue. It's been about a month since the revolution there. It wasn't a revolution against the Russians; it was a revolution against government corruption. But the Russian side is calling it a fascist revolution against Russian citizens. The problem with the leaders in the Kremlin, however, is that they don't want to accept Ukraine as a nation with its own people. They view Ukrainians as Slavs who are the same as the Russians but, of course, that's not the case. Whether Ukraine ever becomes a member of the European Union and NATO is a question for the future. The question today is whether Ukraine can remain an independent and undivided country and whether the Kremlin will allow that.

You were the economics minister of Latvia. Do you think economic sanctions could sway the Russians?

I don't believe that at all. The poverty of Russian people has never appeared to be a major concern of the government, not in the past and probably not in the future either. When the Russians have an adversary - and they say do with the fascists from the West, Europe and the United States - they need to fight - and when there's talk of their economy possibly collapsing, this is a sign they've made enemies and that there's a struggle for power. That's something many of us believed -or at least hoped - was over in Europe. But the struggle for power is still alive in the Kremlin, and, as far as I can see, the only thing that will stop it is the understanding that there could be a military response, not only an economic one.

Would you describe Russian politics at the moment as imperialistic?

Putin's politics are imperialistic, in my opinion. But he is actually trying to retain his own power because a major concern of the Kremlin is that a revolution like the one in Independence Square in Kyiv could also break out in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Don't forget, it was only a few years ago when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg for months to protest corruption in Russia - just like people did in Kyiv.

Putin and his government have introduced numerous laws that, for instance, have made it illegal to demonstrate on streets and to lead protests. Many leaders have left organizations, and many are in prison. The government is afraid of its own people - this is an authoritarian state, not a democratic one. In a democracy, when the government feels its people no longer believe in it, the government changes, as is the case in France. Hollande is trying to do things to satisfy citizens. In Russia, when people are unsatisfied, the answer is to show aggression against the opponent. Unfortunately, we in the West have become that opponent.

The interview with Krisjanis Karin was conducted by Jürgen Liminskifrom German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.Krisjanis Karin is the former economics minister of Latvia and is currently a member of the European Parliament.

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