Defence Ministry: shooting down of Malaysian Boeing 777 proves Russia’s policy is a threat to Europe
«The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 is tragic proof of Latvia’s opinion that Russia’s policy in Ukraine creates real threats to safety and stability of the Euro Atlantic region,» – admits Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis.
«Uncontrolled distribution of military hardware of any kind poses a threat to Europe and the rest of the world,» – says the minister, expressing his deepest condolences in regard to the recent tragic air catastrophe in Ukraine.
Latvian Defence Minister emphasizes that this tragedy only serves as proof of Latvia’s opinion in the matter of expanding the presence of NATO forces in the Baltic Region.
Ever since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, Latvian National Armed Forces have been guarding the country’s borders especially carefully. NATO has also increased airspace patrolling measures in the region. On top of that, Latvia regularly exchanges information with its NATO partners and participates in military exercises, as reported by Defence Ministry.
Defence Ministry has performed an analysis of the possible effect the catastrophe could have on the region. The institution has also compiled a list of priorities worth developing. These proposals cover areas like increasing self-defence capabilities, improvement of battle-readiness of specific units and development of early-warning systems.
BNN had previously reported that there had been multiple incidents in Ventspils involving sailors who are part of the ‘Open Spirit 2014’ mine-hunting operation earlier this year. A Dutch sailor was seriously injured and was hospitalized in Ziemelkurzeme Regional Hospital after suffering a blunt force trauma to the head.
Dutch ambassador in Latvia Hendrik Gerrit Cornelis van den Dool notes that this particular incident is being investigated by the Military Police and State Police. He added that sides should not announce provocative assumptions until details of what actually happened are uncovered. ‘Neither I, nor Mr. Lembergs were present at the incident,» – said the diplomat.
«Many different incidents can occur in Ventspils. However, we should keep in mind that the city’s Mayor is responsible for its security,» – said the ambassador, noting the state of the 21-year-old Dutch sailor is serious.
In order to criticize the presence of NATO forces in Ventspils, Russian state media Russia Today uses some of the most colourful statements Aivars Lembergs has to offer on the situation. The article with the title ‘Peed in public, behave like occupiers’: Latvian mayor complains about NATO sailors’ RT condemned NATO in Latvia. The article also includes multiple citations of Lembergs opinion on the presence of foreign military forces in Ventspils.
RT cited the «outspoken critic of Latvian-NATO cooperation» and his opinion that NATO sailors «behaved like occupiers, who do not recognize Latvia’s sovereignty».
Aivars Lembergs’ friendly relations with Russia, including one of his latest statements that the only ones to benefit from the presence NATO soldiers in Latvia would be the prostitutes, was picked up by Russian media in the past as well.
As a result, Lembergs once said on Russian television: «We all know how Americans behaved in Japan, Iraq, Vietnam and many other corners of the world. Latvia has a treaty with USA that states that American soldiers are to be stand trial in USA for any offences they perform in Latvia. This is why I believe it is very dangerous to have foreign military forces present in Latvia,» – he said.
Lembergs’ opinion has not gone unnoticed in Latvia. Social networks are filled with a furious storm over this kind of opinion. High-rank Latvian officials express their thoughts on this as well. Former Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks condemned Lembergs’ statements on his Twitter page; rhetorically asking if anyone in Ventspils would like to follow the example set up by Donetsk – request independence and join Russia.
Latvia’s current Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis distances himself from the matter, referencing his previous decision not to dwell on such statements. In spite of this, he continues to receive angry comments from society. According to the people, such a position of a minister sounds more like «I don’t care» or «leave me alone».
Public figures express deep concern over the fact that Kremlin’s main television channel shows how the most popular politician of the Union of Greens and Farmers – Lembergs – openly says NATO is a threat to Europe and Russia. They add that Lembergs’ party For Latvia and Ventspils should be expelled from UGF.
Unity’s representative, MEP of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Inese Vaidere told BNN that Lembergs most recent statements came as a complete surprise for her. She believes such an attitude towards this matter is irresponsible. «NATO is the only guarantee of Latvia’s security at the moment. Mr Lembergs might not have noticed what is currently going on in Ukraine and what happened in Moldova and Georgia after Russia’s attempts to create the Eurasian Union or even restore the Soviet Union, hoping to include these countries in it,» – said Vaidere.
«It is unfathomable how the Union of Greens and Farmers could propose a person with such views as a possible candidate for the post of Prime Minister of Latvia. We can only imagine Latvia’s fate if he had become Prime Minister at some point,» – says MEP and Chairman of For Fatherland and Freedom/ LNNK party Roberts Zīle.
He believes UGF should decide whether they, as the political party responsible for Defence Ministry and Latvia’s ties to NATO, represent Latvia as a country tied to Western values or a country turned towards Kremlin’s Eurasian Union ideology.
«These two political vectors cannot meet. This is why we expect this political party to provide a clear opinion and make a political choice – either such statements are acceptable for them or they are not. If UGF remains silent, then there is a high probability that this party may form a coalition with Harmony Centre or any other pro-Kremlin party that may end up in the Saeima after the elections. This scenario is very dangerous, because it may lead to Latvia’s exit from NATO and notable increase of Russia’s influence,» – believes Zīle.