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Latvia Keeps Careful Eye Trained On Russia

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Latvia Keeps Careful Eye Trained On Russia

Europe

Latvia Keeps Careful Eye Trained On Russia

Latvia Keeps Careful Eye Trained On Russia

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Robert Siegel speaks with Edgars Rinkevics, foreign minister of Latvia, on his visit to Washington, D.C. Rinkevics is in town to to discuss Russia and security cooperation with the U.S.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Edgars Rinkevics is the foreign minister of Latvia. His country now holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Minister Rinkevics, thank you very much for joining us today.

EDGARS RINKEVICS: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: You recently met with the Russians and you talked about Ukraine. In hindsight, given what's happened over the past month - meetings with the Russians and then a defensive in Eastern Ukraine - were the Russians misleading you earlier this month, as to their intentions?

RINKEVICS: No. I didn't have a sense that there is going to be kind of rapid progress. At the same time, I believe that my visit was needed for two reasons. First of all, we must talk. And definitely I had to raise also some security issues. In the Baltic Sea region we had Russian planes flying with switched-off transponders, endangering (unintelligible). So while there is a crisis, diplomacy needs to be applied and we have to have political dialogue.

SIEGEL: At this moment, do you see the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine trying to connect territory they control in the east of the Crimean Peninsula? Is that what you understand to be happening on the ground in Ukraine?

RINKEVICS: That is one of the scenarios I wouldn't rule out because what we saw last Saturday, the leader of the separatists announcing that he's going to attack Mariupol and then also to take the city, and after a couple of hours, he actually denounced his own words. That scenario, I think, still is a very realistic one. At the same time, in that case of course it means that the fighting in Ukraine will increase, and our situation will get to the level which I will define as all-out war.

SIEGEL: Yes. As Latvian foreign minister, have you heard any assurance from the Russians that, however much they may back pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, have they assured you in any way that there's absolutely no question of similar policies in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, which are NATO members?

RINKEVICS: Well, we talked with my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about the meaning of a so-called Russian world. That's the new concept that everyone who speaks Russian or is Russian or likes Russian culture...

SIEGEL: They're part of a Russian world.

RINKEVICS: ...Could be protected if terrorists trouble.

SIEGEL: That would include about a quarter of your population.

RINKEVICS: I think that would include also some population here in the United States, as well.

SIEGEL: Do you think Brooklyn is endangered by that statement?

RINKEVICS: Well, I think that everyone should take this a little bit ironically, but also a little bit seriously. But I've got the assurance that, Foreign Minister Lavrov speaking, Russian world is meant to be only the kind of language and cultural space. And I would say that yes, we are concerned about this concept and we are concerned that if we are not able currently to stop the advance in Ukraine, there can a worse appetite, not necessarily towards Baltic states, NATO members, but towards other countries of Eastern partnership - Moldova, Kazakhstan. And the rhetoric that we are hearing from Moscow are of course very, very alarming.

SIEGEL: Are you absolutely confident that if Russia took actions in Latvia comparable to what they're doing in Ukraine, that NATO would come to the defense of Latvia's government?

RINKEVICS: We are confident that our NATO allies understand the situation and that NATO would come to the defense of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland or any other country under the threat. If that doesn't happen, I think that everyone at NATO and every member state do understand that this time, NATO is simply dead.

SIEGEL: Mr. Rinkevics, thank you very much for talking with us today.

RINKEVICS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Edgars Rinkevics is foreign minister of Latvia. Latvia holds the presidency of the European Union right now.

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