21 September 2018, Conference "100 Years of Baltic Republics: Statehood and National Cultures in the Globalising World" at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.
Remarks by H.E. Kārlis Eihenbaums, Ambassador of Latvia to Canada:
First of all, my thanks to those who have made this event happen. It is to my deep regret I cannot be here myself. Thank you to the President of the Latvian National Federation in Canada, Mr Andris Ķesteris, for delivering my greetings.
The last time I was in this historic building of the mighty University of Toronto in August, when I had great meetings and discussions here. Thank you to professor Andres Kasekamp, whom I know very well from my excellent 5 years in Tallinn, and to professor Aurel Braun, whom I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting at the well-known Riga Conference a year ago.
We talked about Canada, the Baltics, and the challenges we are all facing. Many of our particular security concerns are shared with the wider world.
Secondly, I know that your conference is about statehood, culture, and as an Ambassador of Latvia I would like to use this opportunity to mention a few aspects.
With the Canadian deployment to Latvia and the ongoing presence in Ukraine, Canada is helping countries like my own deal with new threats and dangers aimed at the heart of western values, rule of law, and democratic governments.
In Warsaw in 2016, NATO leaders gave the signal to put our guards up more visibly, so that no one, in their right mind, could be tempted to test what the Alliance is made of.
As a result, many NATO countries deployed their troops in Latvia and the surrounding region. I would call this “solidarity in action”.
Latvia is a home away from home for many Canadian and allied troops. The mainstream of Latvia’s society full-heartedly welcomes them with open arms.
Canada’s deployment directly supports Latvia and our neighbours, Estonia and Lithuania. It also benefits others who are clustered along the shores of the Baltic Sea, like Poland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and our non-NATO partners, Sweden and Finland.
It was so important that all NATO countries stepped up; 2/3 from 29 are present in the region, responding in this critical moment for maintaining our law-based world order.
This move keeps NATO strong when NATO will have to arm itself with new approaches as it prepares to “face off” against new kinds of opponents — opponents that recognise that the information space is a prime target; opponents that are ready to fight “dirty”, no holds barred.
It is concerning because what happens in that space of traditional media outlets and social media can not only change the map, but also shape political landscapes and alter election results.
Perceived weakness is almost as bad as real weakness. Those who perceive weakness are tempted to exploit it.
And this is undoubtedly true in times when there are conscious attempts to shift the position of the goalposts, and sow tension.
Latvia will pull its weight.
We are not taking Canadian or any other Allies’ generosity for granted. We are doing our part. We have already reached two percent of GDP on defence spending.
Russia’s aggressive posture is part of how we came to such a pass. Still, we want to one day come out on the other side with Russia realising that it gained nothing from playing the bully, for putting sanctions on our products.
We want Russia to realise that a good neighbour is as important as a far-away friend, and sometimes even more important.
Ultimately, Russia should realise that the liberty of its people and the openness of its society is a useful thing to have.
Meanwhile, we are stuck trying to live with Russia’s dangerous bullying, hybrid warfare, and other tactics. The country’s partners use chemical weapons, and it also makes casual assertions about using nuclear weapons. It’s a disturbing pattern of behaviour.
We face a combination of older games, and the newer games in the information space where state-controlled media are impacting how people understand the news, sowing doubts and muddling the truth so much that even well-educated people become disoriented.
We have seen how effective Russia’s information war has been to promote a certain narrative, which is anti-globalisation, anti-NATO, and so on.
How worried should we be that this propaganda war can start to take hold in places like Canada if we are not vigilant?
Russia Today (now re-branded as RT) or certain so-called “local experts” are just a few examples of a propaganda vehicle already embedded in Canada. Russia is and will be trying to promote the message — stay away from their “legitimate” historical spheres of interest, emphasizing the concept that an uncertainty flows from the ways in which the society in not perfectly integrated.
Russia is asserting that ethnic Russians living in Latvia and the other Baltic States are divided from the rest of the population and that Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians have a pro-western bias.
The Kremlin will ensure that the state-sponsored media conveys the sense that Canadians and Canada are getting involved and entangled in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that it would be better if they concentrated on hockey and that’s it.
This is the kind of thing you can already see from articles appearing even in serious Canadian media outlets. So, RT/Russia Today, Sputnik and their puppets are specifically targeting Canadians and working to undermine their determination, interest, and commitment with regard to NATO and with regard to supporting the battlegroup in Latvia.
We must show that Article V is real and to be reckoned with, and that it truly means “all for one and one for all”. We want potential adversaries to know that the battlegroup represents a set of forces with depth and dimension.
We can all be targeted and this is one of the aims — to make us worried and to cause us to live in fear if they can, because that would alter our behaviour, in a manner conducive to appeasement and passivity.
Your Prime Minister, with his extended delegation during his visit to Latvia in July, showed full commitment to continue the work started in the summits in Wales and particularly in Warsaw. We look forward to strengthening those decisions.
Together we are united in our resolve to protect Alliance territories and prevent conflict.
We welcome Canada’s contribution to Euro-Atlantic defence and feel good that Latvia is the host country for the Canadian-led NATO battlegroup.
From Latvia’s perspective, the trans-Atlantic bond is intrinsic to European defence. There is no substitute for this bond and Canada’s presence in Latvia is strengthening that bond and strengthening the peace in our peace-loving Baltic Sea region.