12
March 2024
Past Event
A Baltic View of European Security with Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

A Baltic View of European Security with Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds

Past Event
Hudson Institute
March 12, 2024
 Latvian soldiers march during a military parade on Armed Forces Day 2023 in Vilnius. (Photo by Yauhen Yerchak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Caption
Latvian soldiers march during a military parade on Armed Forces Day 2023 in Vilnius. (Photo by Yauhen Yerchak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
12
March 2024
Past Event

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Speakers:
Andris Spruds
Andris Spruds

Minister of Defense, Latvia

matthew_boyse
Matthew Boyse

Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia

Listen to Event Audio

Latvia has long been one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s most vocal members in warning about the threat Vladimir Putin and Russian revanchism pose to the European security order and the West. President Edgars Rinkēvičs recently said that “Ukraine is not only fighting for us but fighting instead of us.” Riga has also been one of Ukraine’s most robust supporters since Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea, a strong advocate of sanctions against Moscow, and the leader of a coalition to provide drones to Ukraine.

Join Senior Fellow Matt Boyse for a discussion with Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds on developments in Latvia and elsewhere in the Baltics, the war in Ukraine, and key issues for NATO, including alliance enlargement, secretary general succession, and the upcoming seventy-fifth-anniversary summit in Washington.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Matt Boyse:

Okay. Welcome, Minister Spruds, to Hudson. Welcome to our in-person audience as well as our online audience. My name is Matt Boyse. I’m a senior fellow here at Hudson, covering mostly Central European issues. We’re so delighted to have you here, and apologize for the little bit of the delay. But you were on the Hill, and I must say that as much as we would’ve liked to start at 12:00 I’m much happier that you were on the Hill talking to congressmen and women than you were here, because that is really, really important at this time.

But I understand that the Minister has a little bit of time at the tail end, so we can actually spend about maybe not quite the full hour but close to the full hour together. So we just started a little bit later and we’ll end a little bit later.

So just a brief logistical note. We can start off with you, Mr. Minister, maybe offering five or 10 minutes of message, anything that you’d like to say to us, to the American people, to the online audience, et cetera. Messages either from your conversations here so far, your meetings, et cetera, or anything else that . . . Why you’re here visiting Washington on today, it is the 25th anniversary of the first real tranche in 1999 of new NATO member states. And of course you’re going to have your 20th anniversary later this month, so another big day in March.

But anyway, any messages we should have and all that, then we’ll have a bit of a conversation. Then we can turn it over to the audience for any questions and answers if that’s okay.

Andris Spruds:

Okay, excellent.

Matt Boyse:

Good, good, good. So anyway, the Minister is . . . I will dispense with a long introduction. He’s a think tanker, a scholar, an academic, then became a politician, and now is a minister of a very important Baltic country.

I must say that the title of your talk here is . . . One of the invitations that went out as The Baltic View on European Security. I must say, that was a typo. We understand that it’s A Baltic View on European Security, and so apologies to whatever other sort of Estonian or Lithuanian or perhaps Finnish or Swedish or any other Baltic country that might have noticed that typo there.

In any case, we’re so delighted to have you. I must say it’s always nice to have such a well-informed view from the Eastern flank of NATO, because you offer such interesting perspectives on European security issues. Your countries have been right on so many issues when other countries have been wrong, and I think many people should have been listening to you a lot earlier, which is one of the reasons we are where we are. But anyway, that’s now ancient history, but it remains valid today as well.

Your country is so outspoken on so many issues, it is so robust in its support for Ukraine, it is so clear. I must say, just in the last few weeks I ran into a number of comments by your president. Your president is very outspoken and very clear. It’s interesting, he pushed back on the Pope. “One must not capitulate in the face of evil, but fight and defeat it so that evil raises the white flag and capitulates.” He pushed back on Elon Musk who wondered why NATO exists after the Warsaw Pact was resolved. And he responded, “The reason NATO was founded, exists and will last is Russia and other enemies of the free world.”

Your president is on record, he responded to Dmitry Peskov a few days ago, who was commenting on the death of Andrei Navalny, by quoting Lermontov. “Goodbye unwashed Russia, country of slaves, country of masters. And you, blue uniforms, and who . . . their devoted people.” So he pushed back on Putin’s latest comments on nuclear war, commenting, “He wants to intimidate us and to continue his aggression against Ukraine and the free world. We must not yield to his blackmail, double down on our efforts to arm Ukraine, strengthen our own defenses and not allow him to draw any red lines.”

And finally on Dmitry Medvedev, who just a few days ago stood before that map of Europe, a redrawn map of Europe, he recalled the language from the Nuremberg Trial in 1946. “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is a supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Wow, your president is very clear and very forthright about some of these issues, so I’m sure you will have some interesting comments to make on this. I would also perhaps maybe start off by asking you . . . Well no, perhaps give you your opportunity to say something as we begin this conversation.

Andris Spruds:

Okay, dear Matt, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure. And you already said everything what I wanted to say.

Matt Boyse:

Oh really? I was just quoting your president. I mean, I’m reading this, I’m thinking, “Wow, he’s really very clear and outspoken.” Sorry.

Andris Spruds:

No, no. So I think we’re going to go immediately, almost, to a Q and A session. But anyway, of course, no, no, Matt, thank you so much for having me, and Hudson Institute also for having us here. So it’s always a pleasure, and it’s always a pleasure to come back to Washington DC. I spent in previous life, if I may say so, as a Fulbright Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University, so for half a year. So always Washington is dear to my heart. And of course now as a politician, as a Minister, it’s always . . . I am very grateful and very delighted and privileged to be back.

On the Baltic countries, and I think here I can speak as a . . . Or using the previous analogies of being a scholar, there was a saying that Estonia is more like a Nordic country, Lithuania is more like a Central European country. So Latvia is the only Baltic country. So we are representing the Baltic view to some extent. But again, so this is more on the subjective side. Yes.

I guess we can expand a lot. So what we see, what we experience, what is the Latvian position on this. I will try to be very concise so that we can go in Q and A session immediately. So we’re going to have a interactive discussion.

I think what we see, it’s really the fundamental shift of geopolitics. It’s a, in many ways, formative earthquake. We live in a fragile world in many states, we face a lot of tasks. Task of course, supporting Ukraine, being unified as a transatlantic alliance. Containing Russia, of course also strengthening and doing our own homework in the process. So of course there are a lot of tasks in these challenging times.

On NATO, again being concise, I think as you mentioned, 75 years of NATO’s alliance. It has been a successful alliance, one for all, all for one. I think we should not underestimate what we have achieved together, we should also not underestimate ourselves, how we reacted in a situation of crisis, in a situation of challenge. We’ve been unified by and large. We’ve been of course including very clearly also in strategic concept that we should define Russia as a threat. So in this case I would say the Zeitenwende or the change of mindset it has taken across the NATO alliance. Yes, of course there is always a diversity, there is always a discussion and domestic dynamics within alliance. But at the same time I think we should not also underestimate so far how we reacted to the existential threat of what Russia poses.

Yes, of course there are also practical things, what we have to accomplish, namely in the Vilnius Summit we agreed upon the regional plans. And of course regional plans, a new defense posture, it is important to implement that posture, that approach practically. And of course we are in the process of implementing it practically. The Washington summit will be an important, again, step forward, I think very symbolic.

But yes, 75 anniversary for NATO, but also 20th anniversary for the Baltic membership. And not only, back in 2004. And I think it has been one of the best things what have happened to the Baltic countries, but also to the eastern flank in general. So of course we feel this, the hand in hand and shoulder of our allies. And here of course we highly appreciate also what the United States has done, in being indispensable nation for us in the region. We perceive it and we continue. And also that’s why as we started, we’ve been on a hill to also of course to promote and to strengthen our strategic partnership, which is very important.

And of course also support for Ukraine is continuously important. It’s not just about Ukraine, Ukraine is not fighting for its freedom, it’s fighting for the European values, the transatlantic values. It’s fighting for credibility of transatlantic alliance, it’s fighting for rules-based international order. I mean, the global implications are extremely important what we see in Ukraine. So for two years, yes of course, challenging times, difficult times, we ask those questions. So how long we should also ready ourselves. But we can see that, yes, that it can take some time as well.

And of course here the unwavering support for Ukraine is extremely important. That’s why of course why we look closely what’s happening on the Hill as well, support for Ukraine. And of course so far US has been indispensable in this regard. But of course it’s a common and joint effort to provide support for Ukraine.

Also of course there are different kind of coalitions, and the Ramstein Coalition. And here again US leadership has been instrumental, and we have just established, a little bit looking from Latvian perspective, the Drone Coalition, so the different capability coalitions. So of course we’ll look for different formers, different framers, different ways how to support Ukraine. And this is important to reinvent support, and of course keep it and sustain it in a long-term perspective.

On Russia, I guess I can repeat myself that everything might change in Russia every 10 years, but nothing changes in 100 years. So it’s expansionist in many ways, be it Tsarist Russia, be it Soviet Russia, be it post-Soviet and Putin’s Russia. And it’s in many ways not just Putin’s Russia, it’s also Russia’s Putin. And what we see, that George Kennan is in many ways right, and his long letter could be just as relevant as it was back in 1940s, also now in 2020s.

So yes, and of course let’s not underestimate Russia. At the beginning it seemed to be that, I mean, the war can finish quickly. Russia has its ability also to adjust, but I think let’s also not overestimate Russia. So of course it has its also challenges, and I think the sanctions and also the common and unified approach is extremely important in this regard.

At the same time, yes, we should do our homework, and Latvia takes it very seriously. We have defense spending this year of approximately 3%. It depends how you calculate it, basically it’s approaching 3%. So we have a specific law of defense financing, so this year it’s 2.4%, next year 2.5% and by 2027 3%. But since on the top of this, we are adding additional expenses, like air defense system acquisition, so it means that really this year it’s pretty much approaching 3%.

And again, so that we of course advocate and strongly encourage the member states, our allies to fulfill the commitment of spending 2%. Because of course this is demonstrating understanding of the world, what we face, understanding that we should invest. And it’s not just invest now but defense capability but also, of course, in defense industry. These things are very much interrelated. And at the same time of course it also shows that we are credible and we are fulfilling and following the commitment we have made. So that’s why of course for us it’s taken for granted and understandable, is that yes, 2% absolutely is a must. And we see the positive trend within NATO that this year almost 20 countries will be already reaching that 2% threshold.

And again, yes of course it’s not just about 2%, it’s the capability development in our country. It’s about also reintroducing conscription. And here we follow the Lithuanian and Estonian example as well. Yes, we reintroduced conscription after 2022, but we realize that also it’s just about quality, but also quantity makes quality as well, that we have to be ready and that the culture of preparedness and readiness is important. So yes, reintroducing conscription has been one of the important steps.

We very much understand that also the fulfilling the commitment of responsible host nation status is important. So hosting the battle group, which is being now upscaled to the level of brigade, with Canadian leadership but also with US presence. And we again, highly value it. So the US is certainly an indispensable nation for us. Strategic partnership is a very highly appreciated commitment of US, also to security and defense of the Baltic countries is absolutely very highly appreciated in Latvia.

So the American flag in Latvia and in both countries is a flag of indispensable nation, as also the provider of security. And course here we see that these relationships are extremely important and strategic.

I’ll finish here because again, we can expand and I can provide of course a lengthy discussion. But already I will be happy to hear also the questions and comments from your side.

Matt Boyse:

Yeah. And don’t forget . . . Thank you for that. Don’t forget, you’re towards the very top of the EU member states or NATO member states in terms of percentage for GDP that you’re devoting to Ukraine, too. It’s not just the 2% et cetera, or three or whatever, it’s also a percentage of GDP. You’re up there towards the top as well, so that’s quite a commitment.

Last week Sweden acceded to NATO, finally. And so I mean, you being . . . Sorry, you mentioned that Latvia is the only Baltic country, if Estonia is Nordic and Lithuania is Central European. So maybe I-

Andris Spruds:

That’s not me, it’s some scholar in the past, yes.

Matt Boyse:

If I could just push on that one a little bit.

Andris Spruds:

Yeah, please, please.

Matt Boyse:

Okay, with Sweden and Finland both now members of NATO, I mean, some people have used the term, “The Baltic Sea has become a NATO lake.” Now whether that is the right or a good phrase or not is a different question, but the point is that phrase is out there. How does the Baltic Sea per se look from Riga right now, in terms of, okay, now you have the Russian fleet, such as it is, in St. Petersburg. How is it operating in the Black Sea? How should we understand . . . You’ve got the Kaliningrad Oblast and you’ve got . . . But the water itself is now surrounded pretty much almost exclusively by NATO member states. What is happening in the Black Sea proper from a defense standpoint?

Andris Spruds:

Baltic Sea.

Matt Boyse:

Yeah. Oh, did I say Black Sea?

Andris Spruds:

Yeah.

Matt Boyse:

Sorry, I’m working on a Black Sea paper. The Baltic Sea. I meant the Baltic Sea, I’ve got Black Sea on my mind.

Andris Spruds:

No, no. First of all I think we are very happy and I think we are absolutely welcoming Sweden and Finland joining NATO. I think it’s extremely important for the region. And of course I would say it once more underlines that NATO is appealing, NATO is attractive so that countries are willing to join. Sweden, which has been for 200 years a neutral country, decided that yes, now it’s time actually to join the alliance.

And I think that shows something, it says something, because after 2014 there was a discussion. So what about also the Finnish and Swedish membership to NATO? But then it was not on the table. Now after 2022, so there is understanding that actually being part of NATO, it is a provider of security. And it also once more sort of underlines the importance of NATO and actually being perceived also as an important collective defense alliance for the countries which have been for a long time cultivating and practicing their neutrality.

So this is sort of the more general observation also, actually, which attests to the strengths of a collective defense organization such as NATO in this case, of course. Yes, on Sweden and Finland joining, absolutely I think that we are first of all also grateful. I can immediately say that Sweden has already announced that it will be sending troops to Latvia so that there will be battalion-size battle group presence of Sweden in Latvia. But at the same time it’s not just about the battle group or the battalion in Latvia, it’s also about of course making the whole region, the Baltic Sea, safer. So I would say now Baltic Sea is safer for all countries involved.

We speak about, of course, increased interoperability. We speak about convergence of interest and approaches. We speak of course about the supplies and enablers which are extremely important when the region is being viewed as coherent and comprehensive region. So absolutely. So I think it makes Baltic Sea much safer and stronger, all NATO countries which are now present there.

I would be careful about the Baltic Sea as a NATO lake, exactly because what you mentioned. Yes, now we say, sometimes we mention the word it’s a NATO lake. I would be careful because of of course Kaliningrad Oblast, and also the St. Petersburg or Leningrad Oblast is still there. Of course we see the ships and also the planes flying or being present in the Baltic Sea permanently. So that’s why of course it also keeps it, in a sense, mobilized. Well Russia is still present there, aggressor countries still present there in the Baltic Sea.

But of course also ways they’re strengthening the alliance within the Baltic sea. Also of course it once more is a reminder of the strengths and a reminder of the common policies. Reminder also of course that we can do many things even more efficiently together.

And it’s also, of course you can look from both perspectives. Kaliningrad region on the one hand is present in the Baltic Sea region, in the region which is now pretty much the NATO region. But the same time of course it also makes the Kaliningrad region also vulnerable in many ways. So we can look from both perspectives. We are discussing Suwałki Gap, that all the Baltic countries are somehow connected to the mainland of NATO just through Suwałki Gap. But you can look also from opposite side. I mean, that also Kaliningrad region is, well, a separate region and Russia I think should be also very careful what it does in the Baltic Sea region.

Matt Boyse:

So their activities on the water or in the region have not changed that much in your perspective, despite these more recent developments, aside from, for example, withdrawing a lot of assets and sending them towards Ukraine, for example.

Andris Spruds:

Yeah, you’re absolutely right on both. Of course I mean, there is a decreased presence because absolutely the Russian troops have in a sense, of course, in Ukraine, in its full scale aggression in Ukraine. But the same time of course, I mean, there’s still military assets in the Baltic Sea, including in Kaliningrad Oblast.

Matt Boyse:

Not too long ago the Lithuanians published a kind of an intelligence assessment, at least the one that was released that’s unclassified, that we were able to read about, talked about their assessment of where Russia is right now. They had things like Russia was able to continue for another two more years in Ukraine. It had its defense industrial basis on war footing, that they’re not abandoning its goals, et cetera, of a long-term focus on the Baltic Sea, et cetera. And then the Estonians also not that long ago had published a similar assessment that Russia is busy with Ukraine, but it has three to four years to prepare for a war or some sort of a test with NATO.

Does Latvia . . . You may still be working on your assessment, but do you have anything that you can say publicly that might comment on those assessments as well from your perspective?

Andris Spruds:

Well I think that they are assessments which are based on a specific political detail. And as I mentioned previously, let’s of course not underestimate Russia’s ability to adjust as well. And we’ve seen that there is element of adjustment has taken place. But let’s also of course not overestimate, and I think Russia has its challenges as well. And I mean, the sanctions and the strict policies by the West certainly have an impact on Russia.

And I mean, again, look . . . Well some military turmoil, which we have seen in Russia as well, just shows that domestically not everything is perfect under the surface as well. Let’s be realistic on this one.

On years, yes of course we can calculate different years and different scenarios. But what I always say, and I will repeat it, we should be ready for any kind of scenarios, not after three, five or eight years. We should be ready for those scenarios today, even we have to be ready yesterday. But still it’s today, it’s basically all the time we should prepare ourselves for different kind of scenarios. So it’s not that we calculate when Russia exactly might regain something.

We very much hope and we will do everything that actually it will never regain its strengths, because I mean, that it loses the war. It should be strategically defeated in Ukraine for different reasons. And of course what we already discussed previously, that the strategic defeat actually must be imposed already or inflicted in Ukraine. But at the same time, well of course if we take different kind of adjustments we might calculate different scenarios, but we should be ready for them today.

And again, let’s face it, we are facing some hybrid warfare right now. It’s not just that sort of it’s somewhere in the future or it will be happening tomorrow, it’s what we see, what we experience in terms of the disinformation, in terms of the hybrid attacks, in cyber attacks, against critical infrastructure incidents in the Baltic Sea. The disinformation of course, I mean, these things, the weaponization of legal immigration. So that’s what we see on everyday basis in many ways.

So we should be ready right now to different kind of attacks, hybrid attacks, hybrid activities today. And also of course in terms of military, there is no specific timeline which we should set. Like look, this, only then some threat will appear. We have to face it immediately.

Matt Boyse:

No, you’re facing it every day in one way or another. You have a very large Russian, in fact the largest Russian-speaking population of the Baltic States, correct? And they’re presumably a target of Russian disinformation and attempts, perhaps, even to weaponize them in your own country. Are you seeing that as well in addition to the other cyber attacks and all the weaponization of migrants and that sort of thing? Are you seeing anything with regard to your own Russian-speaking population?

Andris Spruds:

Well Russia is using different kind of means, different kind of tools to manipulate, to influence. Of course also, as I said, using disinformation propaganda. So this is certainly part of the Russian toolbox. At the same time I would also not overestimate or not over-exaggerate also how efficient it is.

You said Russian-speaking minority, I would reprioritize it Russian-speaking minorities, so in plural. Because there is a spectrum of different ethnic Russians, Russians by background in Latvia. And if you see also the public opinion polls, absolutely the dominant majority of Russian-speaking population or ethnic Russians is ethnic Russian background, they are loyal and patriotic. So there is no, again, scope for the influencing and sort of manipulating.

Yes, of course these attempts, they remain there. So of course there is a willingness somehow to manipulate. But I would also say that there are some limited scope of also manipulation what can be achieved, because also the Russian-speaking minority of course is much more appreciative to live in democratic free societies then to live under authoritarian, aggressive, imperialistic dictatorship.

Matt Boyse:

Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned the Suwałki Gap. As we listen to the Russian information space and some of the voices coming out of there we sort of . . . And some of it’s actually quite aggressive. I mean, as it’s probing in all sorts of different countries, do you see that at all as a potential flashpoint going forward? Or of course Russia’s busy right now, but how does it look from a Latvian perspective, Suwałki Gap being that corridor . . . Some people call it the Suwałki Corridor between Belarus and Kaliningrad Oblast, connecting Poland and Lithuania.

That’s not that-that far away from Latvia too, and I would imagine you would also think about it too every so often as a potential, I don’t know, area for Russia to probe at a time when nobody’s paying attention.

Andris Spruds:

Well yes, Eastern flank of course has its challenges. And we are in the front line with aggressor country, and this should be certainly taken into account. At the same time of course, I mean, there are different scenarios and also there is a specific planning for those different scenarios. I would not overestimate or over-exaggerate importance of one particular flashpoint, as you mentioned.

Yes, of course we realize what should and could be done, and of course we also address those issues. But I think I should also remind ourselves that there is no . . . The Baltic Countries and frontline, it’s like something outside of NATO. So attack against one NATO country means attack against all NATO countries. So we are not that someone is less secure and someone is more secure. So we are all NATO, and I would be very careful to suggest somehow to distinguish and take out the Baltic Countries saying look, I mean, we are in the frontline. Another 27 or 28 countries are somewhere far away.

Once more, I mean, we are all NATO. It’s external EU and NATO border, so it means also that of course it’s the general NATO flashpoint in a sense. And of course NATO certainly takes into account different kind of scenarios and different kind of planning, which should be of course also specifically correlated with those challenges.

Matt Boyse:

Between Friday and Sunday the Russians will be voting.

Andris Spruds:

Voting?

Matt Boyse:

Yes. In elections, in the elections in quotation marks. You can sort of look at . . . And of course we know what the outcome is going to be, the question is just what the number is going to be. Is it going to be higher than it was last time or what? Pick a number, I know we can take a bet, see what the number is. But . . .

Andris Spruds:

You know, previously there was a saying like 77%, 70% participation, 70% support. So this time I guess there might be some adjustment, I don’t know, 65% of participation, 80% of support. So I’m just now speculating. So . . .

Matt Boyse:

Yeah, that is an interesting question. So what will it be? Will it be a bit more than it was last time, 77, or will it be a little bit . . . Whatever. The point is, do you expect any different behavior from Putin after he’s now democratically, in quotation marks, confirmed? Because he no longer has to worry about an election, et cetera, an election in quotation marks of course too. Any-

Andris Spruds:

Short response is, no. No, no, no, no I don’t expect-

Matt Boyse:

No, nothing. In other words no mobilization now perhaps that . . . Which hasn’t really happened in certain parts of the population, but rather only in others. But maybe now that this is behind him, when someone sat behind him, maybe he will feel emboldened to draft other parts of the population that he might not wish to have done so before the election. That sort of thing or anything else? Any-

Andris Spruds:

Well, I think the hidden mobilization has taken place already actually for two years. So we’ve seen the mobilization number using different tools and different instruments. So I would not see that there would be some kind of radical change. I mean, the basic thrust, the basic direction is very clear. So of course Putin has put a high stake on fighting this war, unfortunately. Of course the absolute neglect for human life is how Russia approaches it, how Putin approaches it. And this is exactly what we have to face, tragically, unfortunately, brutally. And of course the human loss, what we experience in Ukraine, I don’t think there’s any changes or neglect for a human life. Outside of Russia, of course, neglect for a human life and human dignity also within Russia.

So of course the question is how far, how sustainable it is within Russia, because we’ve seen some of those international interventions. And of course the last one also in Afghanistan back in the 1980s, so it undermined the whole empire as well. So that’s why of course those foreign adventures and foreign imperialistic ambitions in practice sometimes might face also challenges for domestic reasons, for domestic also the stability. But yes.

So what we see, as I mentioned previously, it’s Putin’s Russia. Yes, in many ways it’s a Putin decision making. Putin started the war, and of course it’s a very narrow circle, it seems, which makes decisions. But at the same time it’s also Russia’s Putin. So Putin reflects in many ways its DNA, which is a part of Russian identity, the imperialistic ambition is very strong and powerful. And I remember that back, I mean it was in . . . And we sometimes discussed while mobilization doesn’t touch up on Moscow and St. Petersburg and everything is sort of okay.

But I remember in 2012 when Putin was reelected. Which time, I don’t know which is the number of, I think the third time. So then in Moscow and St. Petersburg he didn’t receive 50% of support. But then in 2014 after annexation of Crimea and basically invasion of Ukraine, then in 2014 the highest support, the public opinion support, was exactly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But that’s why on the one hand you might be sort of supporting some democratic, you can say the voting rights, et cetera, et cetera. But I think imperialistic identity is also part of the history and legacy.

Matt Boyse:

Yeah, well maybe those are the sorts of demographics that should be sent to die for Russia then, because they’ve been left relatively unscathed with most of the burden being born by ethnic minorities across the country. But that’s a different question.

Maybe just one last . . . I mean actually I’ve got two potential questions, but we can turn it over to conversation. But I wanted to ask you, the 75th anniversary of NATO will be coming up in a few months, and the summit will be here in Washington. Any thoughts from a Latvian perspective about what might happen there, including whether the next Secretary General might be your Foreign Minister who I gather has thrown his hat in the ring, along with of course a number of others? It would be great if there were to be a Secretary General from the eastern flank of NATO. You understand Russia better than most. I think it’s high time for a Secretary General to come from one of the new member states, whether it be a Romanian or whether it be an Estonian or whether it be a Latvian, whatever. But any thoughts on, number one, the summit in Washington in a few months, as well as whether a Latvian might become the next Secretary General?

Andris Spruds:

Of course we would be happy to see a Latvian as the next Secretary General. But of course, as you said, so the important part is that the next Secretary General is transatlanticist, that he sees the unity of transatlantic alliance as absolutely the top priority, that he’s able of course to be efficient in also keeping the whole alliance unified in those challenging times.

I think that Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General was very successful, and of course we can also appreciate also how he took the leadership role in this regard. Absolutely. So yes, of course we’d be happy to see the Secretary General from the eastern flank with 2%, perhaps also the female Secretary General. So there are of course options. But once more, I think—

But of course at the same time, as I said, sort of transatlantic unified approaches, and 2% also encouragement, all countries should fulfill the commitment of 2%. I think these are the important elements, important priorities, what we also would see and expect from the next Secretary General.

As for the NATO summit, yes, it’s a very symbolic one. I mean, 25th anniversary of the first enlargement of NATO, and of course 20 anniversary of Baltic countries and also a number of countries joining as well back in 2004. And of course then 75th anniversary. So I think it’s a symbolic one. So the symbolism of the summit is important there. So when I think once more, the unity and efficiency and readiness to respond to those crises, I think that’s what should and could be underlined.

There are also practical steps like, again, implementability or executability of regional plans, but that we move forward also with specific elements in this regard. Yes, of course there are some discussions that we should strengthen up air defenses, and we can also have the common joint development also in this regard. Yes, practical steps also with regard to Ukrainian membership or being closer to NATO alliance as well. Of course it was on the plate back in Vilnius, but of course it also will be discussed in the Washington Summit, the NATO-Ukraine Council as well.

But also, again, those practical steps, how we can help Ukrainians all the time to sustain reform and make it even more efficient in terms of their military, and not only. But that’s why, yes, I think there are a number of symbolic and practical steps and endeavors and tasks, of what then could be achieved in Washington Summit in coming months. And of course further discussions.

Matt Boyse:

Yes, a big event, a big event. Maybe we should stop for now and then . . . You have a few more minutes you said. You’re very generous with your time, appreciate you staying a little bit longer. So why don’t we just . . . You, sir.

Jonathan Landay:

Hi, I’m Jonathan Landay, I’m with Reuters. Going back to the question about how was Russia responding to the addition of Sweden and Finland, Russia has nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad. And back in 2022, then . . . Well, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who is still very close to Putin, warned that if they did join that Russia would have to take steps to restore the nuclear balance in the Balkans. I’m sorry, in the Baltic. So I’m wondering, is that a concern of yours? Have you seen any hint or suggestions from Russia that they will in fact increase the deployment of nuclear weapons on the eastern flank?

Andris Spruds:

Well of course the concern for all NATO countries is a imperialistic, aggressive Russia. But at the same time the focus is absolutely what we should, could do. And of course we should not look what the blackmail of Russia is. Unfortunately, some of the promises or some of the commitments that Russia has made, that means they’ve been violated. So that’s of course the most important, is how we focus ourselves on our homeworks and how we strengthen the alliance.

And here once more, I think that . . . Not think, I’m absolutely convinced and happy that Sweden and Finland has joined. It once more also underlines that also those countries cannot be somehow blackmailed, that they realize importance of being part of the most successful alliance. And they made this step. And certainly of course the Baltic Sea region is, as we discussed with Matt, is safer right now.

And of course some manifestations by Dmitry Medvedev, I think it’s even difficult to comment. So I would not go into and not spend much time I think on this. But I guess once more it’s what we do, and not focused or overfocused on unfortunately the partner or neighbor, in this case already the aggressor country, which has absolutely violated the international norms.

Matt Boyse:

Well it’s also interesting how after Finland first put in its application, the Russian reaction, including Putin’s reaction, was really very, very ambivalent. It was sort of a meh kind of response, not very much . . . Which demonstrated how bogus the whole NATO argument was in the whole Russian narrative, because until then everyone was saying, “Well this was all happening because of NATO membership,” et cetera, for the NATO issue for Ukraine, in fact. And then Finland submits its application, and then the reaction from Russia is, “Eh.” And then of course that’s changed over time, it’s gotten much sharper over time. But that initial reaction was very telling.

You, ma’am, in the white. Yeah.

Lauren Guillaume:

Hi, thank you so much for being here. My name is Lauren Guillaume, I work with Razom for Ukraine. And I wanted to ask, given the current debate and delay of the supplemental in Congress right now, if you may, could you share with us what your message would be to Congress and perhaps any sentiments that you observed today, and/or your reaction to the delay of the supplemental right now? Thank you.

Andris Spruds:

Thank you so much. Of course it is a very important question and issue. And the western countries, Europe, United States, the support has been important and sizable so far. And of course it is absolutely instrumental also, this unwavering support for Ukraine is absolutely instrumental for Ukraine to win this war.

And that’s why of course, I mean, for us it’s no question that we should continue unwavering support, that we’ll look for different ways. Of course it also means that we should do our homework as well. It’s of course we have our own stocks at the same time to deepen, expand and to look also how we can sustain an effort, a financial one, military one. And of course in this case the wish is that it should be adopted as soon as possible.

That of course United States has been indispensable and has taken a leadership role. And once more, for instance, Ramstein format, it’s led by United States. And in this regard of course, I mean, we can just encourage that basically Ukraine is fighting of course for its freedom, but also it’s fighting for the values of the democratic community. It’s fighting for international rules-based orders. So of course, I mean, in this case it’s very important to support Ukraine.

Matt Boyse:

You, sir, in the back.

Alejandro Sanchez:

Thank you, Mr. Minister. Alejandro Sanchez, I’m an analyst for different places in DC. I understand that Latvia reintroduced conscription last year. It’s voluntary . . . mandatory, I’m sorry, for men and voluntary for women, and I think around 11 or 12 women applied. As Ukraine has shown that . . . In Ukraine you have women who are combat medics, snipers, drone operators. So as Latvia prepares for the worst case scenario, what is the role of female military personnel? Thank you.

Andris Spruds:

Thank you so much. First of all about reintroducing conscription. Yes, we believe that reintroducing conscription is very important. That it is exactly about engaging, involving the whole society, developing the culture and the skill and the will of preparedness as well for different kind of scenarios. Yes, at the moment also we have a incremental, gradual way how we conscript young people, young males. In this case, last year it’s for 300, this year it’s 600. Next year it’s 1000, and we will be having 4,000 in 2028. So on annual basis.

So far it has been actually very much voluntarily, but we start to also do with already selection through mandatory mechanisms. And absolutely it’s about, of course, providing skills and knowledge to the young soldiers being within army, but also creating a strategic soldiers’ reserves.

But there are two elements to it, of course it should be as qualitative as possible. So in this case we realize that also to create the whole infrastructure of integrating the soldiers, also creating the necessary base for really sustaining the infrastructure for reserve soldiers, you need also a bit of time and a bit of preparatory work to be done. So that’s why we do it gradually.

On the female part, we are very proud of our female soldiers. Actually Latvia, if you look professional service, one of the highest in the NATO countries. Around 20% of our professional soldiers are female soldiers. And I mean, once more we are proud and happy exactly about the female presence and contribution to our military strengths. And yes, the discussion has been there with regard to conscription, as well as that we should reintroduce for both genders in this case. But we started with male, but I think this discussion is open and will be open.

And of course this also has a regional dimension. We see similar discussions in other regional partners, be it in Finland, be it in Estonia. So certainly this is not off the table, but we start step by step as well, even though I guess realizing importance and urgency of the whole move forward. But same time we start with male conscription, but the discussion will be certainly open also for female conscription as well in the coming years.

Matt Boyse:

Ma’am?

Speaker 6:

Welcome back to Washington, Minister. Going off of the funding question, there’s been reports with former President Donald Trump in terms of his views of funding the war in Ukraine. How worried is Latvia about the US elections in November, and are you taking steps to prepare in the event that the executive branch decides to make different moves with funding?

Andris Spruds:

Once more, I mean, the funding unified approach is extremely important. So we believe that unified approach must be there. That the US absolutely have been a leading country as well to mobilizing this unified and also the supplies support for Ukraine. That’s why of course we expect that it will be continued. And of course we wish that it’s also, and we very much hope, it will be continued in very unwavering and steady way.

Yes, of course we also realize that it is a domestic dynamics and also election context, but once more I would express my hope that, well, this unwavering support will be continued regardless of administration, regardless of the change and transition of administrations.

Matt Boyse:

Okay. Sir?

Chris Orr:

Oh, good afternoon. [Latvian 00:46:35], hope I pronounced that correctly. I’m Chris Orr, formerly Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive, now a publisher with a Patreon page, the D’Orr-senal of Democracy, you can see what I did there. And last but not least a proud Hudson Institute donor.

Minister Spruds, thank you for your time. I have a two-part question for you regarding the capabilities of the Latvian Armed Forces. First of all, what current capabilities does your Air Force bring the table? I ask that from perspective speaking myself as a former US Air Force officer. And second of all, what is the capabilities of your special operations forces? Thank you, [Latvian 00:47:09].

Andris Spruds:

Okay, thank you so much. I mean, it’s not public information. No, of course. Actually we are proud of our special forces. I’m not going too much into the detail, but yes, I think they are very skillful and we’re very proud of the efficiency of our special operation forces.

As for the Air Force capabilities, yes, we don’t have any fighter jets, but at the same time we develop our Air Force in a couple of parts. Of course we have the Black Hawks, what we have together acquisition with the United States. And of course we cooperate here also very efficiently with Michigan National Guards, just visited Michigan National Guards as well. And we are very appreciative and grateful for this partnership with Michigan National Guards. So the Black Hawk, the cooperation goes on.

Of course we also realize now that it’s important for us to advance and develop our drone capability. So that’s why Latvia, as I said, initiated, and together with UK we are leading the Drone Coalition. Of course idea is to support as much as possible Ukrainians, and we specifically of course supply or will be supplying also with drones what Ukrainians need.

But at the same time we also realize that it is very important to develop our own capabilities in terms of different kind of, of course, drone capabilities. And it’s not just about drone capabilities, but also counter drone capabilities. Of course, it’s also electronic warfare, so we should look at more comprehensively as well.

Last but not least, I mean, if you can integrate, yes, we absolutely take seriously air defenses. Of course, we have our short-range air defenses, but now the acquisition of medium-range air defenses have just been accomplished. We have the IRIS-T acquisitions, of course it will take some time. But certainly the air defenses are being perceived as instrumental for securing other military assets, civilian assets, civilian infrastructure, but of course also the human lives. So that’s why, yes, if you look more widely, absolutely a lot of air defense or Air Force as such, or protecting of our skies is perceived to be an important task where we also have to contribute to the NATO security at large.

Matt Boyse:

Do we have time for one more? How are you doing on time? ’Cause I know you have other-

Andris Spruds:

For one more, certainly.

Matt Boyse:

One more question.

Andris Spruds:

For one, absolutely. It was a pleasure.

Matt Boyse:

You, sir?

Speaker 8:

Thank you very much, Minister, for being here. My question is about the accession of Sweden and Finland. In this country I think there’s perhaps a little bit of a danger of complacency. They look at the wonderful blue map across the eastern flank and they say, “Well, we solved that problem. All is good.” This is an election year, so there’ll be some triumphalism feelings about how things are going in Europe.

I’d just like to ask you from a different perspective, given the lengthy history of Finland and Sweden being neutral, and now suddenly both of shifting to NATO, what does that tell you about the level of apprehension and perhaps even danger that exists in the minds of Europeans in Europe right now? I think the American public needs to have a kind of a wake-up call. So do you agree with that? Are we underestimating the level of peril that exists in Europe right now?

Andris Spruds:

I think absolutely there is no time for complacency. There is certainly time for urgency. That yes, I mean, we are dealing with aggressor country just in our neighborhood, which exactly has started the aggression against neighboring countries. So that’s why of course the countries in the frontline, close to proximity of that aggressive country realizes that. And of course that’s why exactly the Finland and Sweden have joined.

Finland and Sweden bring to the table, of course, I think quite a efficient capabilities. And Finland has really, in terms of the strategic reserves, the soldier training I think is really very efficient. And so it’s very sizable. If you look also, Sweden also has quite a number of very advanced capabilities, including the Air Force. And here we see that additional strengthening the regional capabilities and cooperation, integration is very important. It was already integration and cooperation among the countries, including with Sweden and Finland. It has already some history, so we just didn’t start right now or starts right now. I mean, of course in the region we’ve been cooperating already for some time with Sweden and Finland.

But yes, of course the Finland and Sweden joining shows that understanding that to be neutral, that’s not in a sense the best choice. That now is a choice when we are unified, that we are part of the collecting defense alliance. I think it once more attests to the strengths and sustainability actually of the alliance that these two countries have chosen.

But of course it takes some time also to change the mindsets, to realize what is this existentialism, the existential threat of Russia in a long term for the neighboring countries, but not only for the whole Euro-Atlantic or transatlantic community. And I think it should be reminded all the time, that yes, this is expansionist Russia, what we are facing. Most likely we are facing it for a lengthy period, for a long time. Countries have made very relevant, very responsible choices joining, actually underlining the importance of being part of the unified approach. So of course there is no time for complacency and time for somehow taking it lightly. Yes, absolutely.

Matt Boyse:

Shall we leave it at that now, so it lets you go to your next meeting?

Andris Spruds:

Thank you so much.

Matt Boyse:

Thank you very much, honor to have you visit us.

Andris Spruds:

Yeah, thank you.

Matt Boyse:

Thank you very much.

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