Speaking at the German Marshall Fund of the United States on February 25, 2016, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs discussed the “perfect storm” of crises currently facing the transatlantic partnership. Detailing the challenges facing the Baltic region, Europe, and the transatlantic partnership, Rinkēvičs unpacked numerous economic, security, and political factors. GMF president Karen Donfried moderated this conversation, the latest in GMF’s Transatlantic Talks series.
Rinkēvičs began by underscoring the issues facing Europe today. He pointed to the challenges in Europe’s East, namely Russia’s efforts to prevent political and economic reform in Ukraine by establishing a frozen conflict in the country’s eastern provinces. Moreover, he argued that Russia’s ultimate goal is to deny Ukraine the opportunity to integrate with the European Union. While he acknowledged the “European response to the Ukraine crisis has been remarkably united,” he stressed that renewing sanctions on Russia in June will require even greater unity.
In order to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, Rinkēvičs argued that financial and political support for the Ukrainian government should be increased. Although the current government has not yet made certain reforms, he suggested that support for Ukraine should be tied to conditions that accelerate the reform process. He reminded those in attendance that the international community cannot tolerate Russia’s violation of international law by challenging Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Rinkēvičs welcomed the actions NATO has undertaken to reassure Latvia and its Central and Eastern European allies, and added that credible deterrence requires an increased long-term presence of allied troops. He noted that Latvia will increase defense spending to meet its commitments to the NATO alliance, and stressed that further cooperation within the Nordic and Baltic States region, as well as with western partners, is necessary to ensure regional stability.
Speaking about the refugee crisis, Rinkēvičs expressed concern that “outspoken” politicians are hindering action by the European Union, and that north-south and east-west political divides have been exacerbated by the crisis. Rinkēvičs noted that the EU “must find the right balanced approach to protecting European solidarity” to secure its borders and it must accept a certain number of political asylum seekers. Continuing, he stressed that the disintegration of the Schengen Zone—the guarantee of the free movement of people and goods—would have considerable economic costs for the European Union.
When considering what steps the United States can specifically take to support its EU partners, Rinkēvičs indicated that he supported US-led efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Syria and the negotiation of the TTIP trade agreement. He argued that the U.S. should take a strong stance against Britain exiting the European Union and invest more resources in countering Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe. He concluded his remarks stressing that if current European security and political issues are not resolved quickly they will have immediate consequences for U.S. interests.