Members of the Presidium,
Mr Prime Minister,
Members of Parliament, my colleagues Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the morning of 24 February 2022, as the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, peace in Europe collapsed and the international order was dealt a heavy blow. War now rages in Europe. Unequivocal support for Ukraine up until its conclusive victory is a moral and political choice we had to make, considering it is the only way to achieve a lasting peace and strengthen our security.
Ukrainians who are now courageously fighting against Russia’s aggression, are experiencing hunger and freezing temperatures, they are being deported, and dying – both soldiers and civilians of an independent and free Ukraine. This is happening because most in Russian society believe it is possible to return to the era of imperialism and colonialism, as well as in their predestination and right to impunity.
“Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.” Those words by Dag Hammarskjöld, the former United Nations Secretary General, are still a reminder to the entire democratic world. For far too long, the democratic world has been overlooking that advice. This is a time when we can afford neither to lose focus nor, in the name of peace and quiet, deny our values and our principles. What we are doing is for our own sake and for the sake of all the free and democratic communities worldwide.
Regrettably, there are countries in the world and also in Europe that continue to ingratiate themselves with the aggressor – Russia – in the wake of its full-scale unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Such tactics are absurd and lack any moral grounding.
The Russian regime is no longer veiling its barbarity. Lawlessness, terror, violence and death in lockstep with chauvinistic imperialism is the Russian regime’s Molotov cocktail for the 21st century and the regime’s business card being handed out across the globe.
The regions of Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Kherson, just like Crimea and Sevastopol are internationally recognised territories of Ukraine. Latvia will never recognise the illegal annexation of those territories by Russia. Ukraine, like any other country, has a legitimate right to self-defence. Ukraine has the right to restore its territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders by military force.
We all want Ukraine achieving a rapid victory and to see Russia defeated; however, we must understand that the fighting will be ruthless and long-lasting. We must not slow slack off or allow ourselves to tire. We shall be steadfast in our support for Ukraine. At this point, is the first line of defence for Latvia and Europe as a whole.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a poignant reminder and wake up call to us all. If we want to protect a free, democratic world order based on international law in future, we must clearly stand up for those principles and rights. Those interests and values come at a hefty price, looking at it in the broadest sense.
We are calling on our allies and partners to provide every kind of support for Ukraine. We are calling on the great democratic powers to supply Ukraine with tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition. With everything that Ukraine needs. We are grateful to the United States and Germany for their responsible decision to send Abrams and Leopard tanks.
We are grateful to those who have made every effort to supply arms and equipment to the Ukrainian army. This is war and it is cruel and absorbs major resources. Help must continue to flow.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Almost every time as I present a foreign policy report to the Saeima, I have asserted that Latvia’s foreign policy interests remain unwaveringly clear. They are meant to safeguard the independence of Latvia as a state, strengthening its sovereignty and the welfare of its people. Those words have acquired a more acute meaning than ever before. And this is what we’re going do to pursue those interests.
We shall boost our defences and make every effort to have a lasting presence of our Allies in Latvia.
We shall provide Ukraine with all possible support – political, military, economic, legal, and also moral.
We shall work on further international isolation of Russia and Belarus through expanding our sanctions policy.
We shall strengthen cooperation with the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, and especially with partners in our region – Poland, the Baltic States, and Nordic countries.
We shall stand up for a strong European Union, since only an effective European Union is able to defend itself and help Ukraine.
We shall facilitate the economic transformation of our country by providing assistance to Latvian businesses as they seek to enter new export markets.
Esteemed members of the Saeima,
In 2022, due to the efforts of Latvia’s society, public institutions, local governments and non-governmental organisations, Latvia became one of the countries leading the world in the provision of considerable assistance to Ukraine. At present, Latvia’s support for Ukraine amounts to 410 million euros.
I would like to thank all Latvians who selflessly supported Ukraine last year, gave donations, and opened their homes to refugees. Not only are you helping Ukraine, you are also making our own country stronger. Thank you for the job you’ve been doing!
The Latvian Foreign Service will stand up for the European Union’s continued financial support for Ukraine, also helping to cover the daily financial needs of public administration functions. This year as well, Latvia will channel five million euros into reconstruction efforts in Chernihiv region, with special attention being paid to urgent priorities – rebuilding critical infrastructure and housing, and revitalising business and commerce.
Esteemed members of the Saeima,
Last year, Russia obliterated Europe’s existing security architecture. Russia’s war against Ukraine presents an alarmingly clear perspective of security questions that pose risks not only to the Baltic region, but also to the Euro-Atlantic space, and on a global scale.
Russia remains the most serious and direct threat to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Our response to Russia’s aggression is better preparedness and resilience, as well as robust deterrence and defence.
Belarus continues its hybrid activities at the border of our state. Alexander Lukashenko’s illegitimate regime is utilising illegal border crossing by third country nationals in pursuit of its goals. We shall continue exercising decisive action to ensure the security of the border of Latvia and that of the external border of NATO and the European Union while adhering to humanitarian considerations and offers of help to people who need it.
We must reduce Latvia’s vulnerability by increasing our contributions to defence. Latvia will continue investing in the development of its military capabilities and infrastructure in order to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, and gives thanks to its Allies for their presence in Latvia.
In the early days of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the Allied decisions were taken on the strengthening of security in the eastern flank of NATO. Let me thank our Allies in NATO who have in addition deployed their forces here, in Latvia.
At the NATO Madrid Summit, a political agreement was achieved concerning NATO defence to be built upon the principle denying the chance of aggression from the very first minute or first meter of territory. NATO’s Summit to be held in Vilnius this coming July will be a major milestone, at which we will jointly assess progress in achieving those objectives. A strong Ukraine and a strong NATO which works in a positive synergy with the European Union will form a solid foundation for Europe’s future security architecture.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Latvia and Europe are as strong as its citizens. Therefore, Latvia will work and support the further strengthening of the European Union’s resilience, effectiveness and influence.
It is in Latvia’s interests to strengthen the European Union’s economic independence by building a sustainable energy policy, implementing the policy of climate neutrality, strengthening the Single Market, developing further digitalisation and connectivity, making an effective use of the recovery instrument, and enhancing the network of free trade agreements.
This year, the European Union should continue working on alternative routes for its natural gas supply and establish a natural gas market with stable and affordable pricing.
Latvia’s interests also lie in stability, security and sustainability in the regions located near the European Union. In that way, Latvia’s foreign policy will focus on promoting cooperation with, and providing assistance to countries in those regions, primarily through the use of the European Neighbourhood Instrument.
We have proved that we can not only protect our national borders but also our information environment. Disinformation is one of the instruments of aggression wielded by the Russian government. Its propaganda tools have no place in Latvia and in Europe either.
In the contemporary world, history has become one of the main tools to influence democratic values and geopolitical behaviour. An important process accompanying Russia’s military invasion involves attempts to explain its objectives on the basis of a distorted and false understanding of history.
Latvia, Europe as a whole, and world peace are threatened not so much by information operations rolled out by Russia, it is rather the distorted reality in Russia itself – we see threats emerging from historical revisionism in both the current invasion of Ukraine and earlier, in the occupation of Crimea, the incursion into Georgia, and other contemporary conflicts.
Therefore, Latvia will make every effort also in future so that decision making in the international environment would be based on truth and justice when it comes to both the evaluation of current developments and the understanding of historical causes of their formation.
We responded resolutely and, at the same time, in a lawful manner, to the wave of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation that accompanied the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the European Union as well, we shall advocate the possibility of countering manipulation of information and interference in our democratic processes by third countries.
Freedom of speech is not to be questioned and relegated to the background. We shall not emulate our authoritarian neighbours whose governments have adopted censorship and information control as part of the method they favour. For Latvia, freedom of speech, media independence, an open, free, global and safe internet is a prerequisite for societal resilience, especially under the present-day circumstances. The work of independent media undermines support for the war of aggression within Russian society, as well as helping sustain hope for democratic development in our neighbouring country.
Esteemed members of Parliament,
With the changing security environment, closer regional cooperation is not just the matter of political choice. It has evolved into an absolute necessity. Answers and solutions to our threats and challenges lie only in a coordinated action by the region’s countries.
This year, Latvia will preside at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and will coordinate the Baltic-Nordic format of cooperation. This year also sees the launch of the active phase of Latvia’s lobby campaign in its candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The priorities of Latvia’s presidency of the Council of Europe will focus on the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, especially through advancing the authority of the European Court of Human Rights and effective enforcement of its judgments in Member States. Another priority is promotion of freedom of expression, safety of journalists, and the digital agenda of the Council of Europe, and support for the reform process in the Council of Europe.
Our economic growth, strengthening resilience and defence can be implemented more effectively in close interaction with the region’s countries – the Baltic States, Nordic countries, and the United Kingdom.
This year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken over from its Lithuanian colleagues the coordination of the Baltic-Nordic cooperation. In 2023, we shall put the issues critical for our common security under the spotlight while advancing cooperation between the Baltic States and Nordic countries, also known as NB8 cooperation.
The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will open up new opportunities for regional cooperation, and no doubt, it sends a positive message to the region and the Alliance. At the same time, we see the need to coordinate, at the regional level, concerted action for further international isolation of Russia, an increase in sanctions, and advancing the issue of Russia’s accountability for its crimes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Latvia is running as a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the period of 2026–2027. A well-founded question arises: does it make sense for Latvia to take part in the 2025 election if the United Nations is at a stalemate and unable to respond to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine?
The international system is still rooted in the sovereignty and equality of states, non-interference in internal affairs, the territorial integrity of states, peaceful resolution of disputes, and international law. All those principles are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The international order is inseverably linked to the UN’s effectiveness and vice versa.
Any efforts to strengthen the rules-based order currently in effect and to protect the principles of human rights and democracy are making the UN stronger, and they bring us closer to the situation when the UN’s limitations will be overcome and its internal potential unlocked.
The collective will and efforts of the democratic world should be aimed at the strengthening of the UN instead of denying, leaving or sharply criticising the organisation, while forgetting that solutions are in the hands of the states themselves.
That is why Latvia’s candidacy for non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council acquires a totally new meaning, and loses none. Latvia’s membership of this body will make it possible to protect a rules-based international system and democratic values, help like-minded countries, as well as enabling us to highlight issues of current importance for the security of Latvia and the Baltic region.
It is vital not only to condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine in all possible international formats but also work to ensure that Russia be called to account for its crimes and flagrant violations of international law.
Latvia supports and actively contributes to the efforts to establish an ad hoc special tribunal that would be competent to investigate and adjudicate Russia’s crime of aggression. At the same time, the currently established mechanisms cannot exercise jurisdiction over crimes of aggression. Therefore, as early as on 6 April last year, Latvia submitted a declaration to the UN’s International Court of Justice requesting leave to intervene as a third party in the case of Ukraine v. Russian Federation. This was the first time in Latvia’s history that Latvia exercised its rights set out in the Statute of the International Court of Justice. The establishment of an ad hoc special tribunal is no easy matter; nevertheless, broad political support is a clear signal to Russia that impunity will not be tolerated.
Under the influence of the pandemic and the war unleashed by Russia, Latvia’s businesses had to change their supply chains both in the obtaining of raw materials and in export geographies, and refocus on other markets. Latvia’s foreign service has been tasked to provide support for the diversification of trade. One of the most powerful instruments is the network of the European Union’s free trade agreements, which facilitates the access of companies to third country markets. Taking this into account, the Foreign Service will continue supporting businesses in capturing new markets with the focus on Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Latin America this year.
Latvia must capitalise on the opportunities offered by the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The sectors currently prioritised in export promotion are those with high value added – biomedicine, smart materials, information and communication technologies, construction, and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. As far as the mobilisation of investments is concerned, the main focus will be placed on investors from OECD countries, attracting investments to knowledge-intensive sectors.
While Russia continues its war in Ukraine and has occupied its territories, Latvia maintains a firm position concerning a continued policy of strong sanctions against Russia. The European Union has already taken measures towards greater harmonisation concerning compliance with sanctions and responsibility for violating them. The ways in which sanctions are enforced differ in individual European Union Member States, including due to lack of experience or lack of preparation in a particular administrative system. Therefore, it is essential to work on the implementation of a unified practice preventing the circumvention of sanctions.
Latvia was more prepared for the administration of sanctions than a number of other countries, since we had done our homework in the past years. Latvia is working on an even more nuanced system of sanctions administration, with the enforcement of current sanctions being unprecedented in its scale.
Compliance with sanctions calls for a determined stand – not to support the aggressor state economically, not to get involved in the circumvention of sanctions. This is first and foremost an individual responsibility of each of us – to be aware that any small-mindedness and trickery in circumventing sanctions can come at a high price not only personally but also on the global scale.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a vast diaspora, which holds a great potential for us. Along with language, culture and traditions, more active support should be given to the enterprising members of the diaspora who can bring tangible contributions to Latvia’s national economy. This is clearly dictated by both the geopolitical situation and the consequent upheavals we are witnessing in the global economy.
We have already identified highly accomplished professionals from among the Latvian diaspora working for international organisations and companies. They have clearly expressed readiness to contribute their knowledge and experience to the development of the country. In the near future, all preconditions must be created to build close cooperation between the state and those professionals thus ensuring the attraction of talents and knowledge transfer.
As we are looking to the future, young people have an increasingly bigger role to play in keeping the link of the diaspora with Latvia. Regrettably, under globalisation, youth are the most subject to assimilation; therefore, we are setting youth work, support for youth projects and the promotion of the self-organisation of youth as one of the top priorities in the diaspora policy.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The results achieved by Latvia’s Foreign Service and its performance is largely based on its people – diplomats. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine has left a significant impact on the workload and affected the quality of the delivery of functions. Therefore, this is the first time in the history of these foreign policy debates at the Saeima that I am urging members of the Saeima, in their discussions on the state budget for 2023, to support the priorities requested by the Latvian Foreign Service, in particular, staff capacity-building.
We are grateful to the Cabinet for their understanding and support, but the final say lies with the Saeima.
Two hundred years ago on this very day, January the 26th, the Latvian state was internationally recognised de jure. This could not have been possible without the resolute determination of the founders of our country and their belief in the new state of Latvia.
The mission of our generation is to preserve Latvia’s statehood in international affairs. Through joint efforts, we shall succeed.
On the 102nd anniversary of the international de jure recognition of the Republic of Latvia, I wish to thank Latvian diplomats and staff of the Foreign Service, the members of the Saeima, my colleagues in the Cabinet and our international partners for our cooperation up till now.
Let me thank everyone who is strengthening the Republic of Latvia with their work. Let us stand strong and united for Latvia! Glory to Ukraine! Long live Latvia!
Thank you for your attention!