Latvia: under constant threat by RussiaThe Baltic states, despite their joining Euro-Atlantic political and military structures since the 1990s, have been feeling the breath of Russia on their necks. The recent developments triggered by the Kremlin in Russia`s Near Abroad show that fear was not ungrounded. Dr. Nora Vanaga from National Defence Academy of Latvia shares her opinion how the Baltic states, including her native Latvia, prepares against Russian threat. 

 

Interviewer: Rusif Huseynov

 

Huseynov: The Baltic states have constantly felt threatened by Russia. The developments in Ukraine have demonstrated that their fear was not ungrounded. How does Latvian public react to this threat?

Vanaga: The share of people, who perceive Russia as a threat, had increased from usual 30-40% up to 60% by 2014. Since the Ukraine crisis, there has emerged a consensus within the society that defence should be allocated 2% of the GDP. Basically, there are two priorities for the people – a health care system and defence. 

By the decrease of Russia as a threat, the Ministry of Defence needs to keep Russia as a problem on its agenda, so that support for defence does not decrease. But overall, there are few problems with that because of Russia’s assertive foreign policies in the Middle East and also the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. 

 

NATO has recently been strengthening its eastern flank. How effective do you think this military aid will be for the Baltic states?

It has turned out very effective. The overall deterrence strategy in the Baltics consists of the two elements. First, extended deterrence done by the NATO allies – deployment of multinational battalions, presence of the American troops on rotational and “when necessary” principle, conduct of numerous military exercises, and investments in infrastructure that is necessary for supporting the host nation. Of course there is also enhanced NRF; the so-called VJTF also plays an important role, but there is great skepticism as to the effectiveness of these forces, namely the question of rapid deployment. Especially, regarding its land components, still there are numerous challenges. 

Second is the central deterrence that Baltic States do at the national level – procurements and building critical self-defence capabilities, increasing fighting manpower, strengthening the civilian defence system and working on regional early warning. 

 

Latvia is a home to a big Russian minority. How prone is this segment of the population to the Russian propaganda that oftentimes aims at undermining the very existence of some former Soviet countries, including Latvia?

Public opinion surveys reveal that the public in Latvia does recognize the potential perils of deterrence, while recognizing that deterrent measures and increased NATO presence in Latvia are needed.

One third of respondents hold views that Latvia and its NATO allies are in equal measure responsible for developing deterrence measures in Latvia. Also, 33% of them note that Latvia with its NATO allies can create sufficient deterrent measures to prevent Russia from military aggression against Latvia. 

Still there is a challenge: how can public opinion be shaped so that NATO efforts should not be perceived as provocative, because 50% of the respondents (both Latvian and Russian speakers) claim that NATO troops’ presence can provoke Russia? Although if we try to be impartial and consider the mere military balance that create in the region, these policies should not be perceived as provocative. 

 

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