Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The number of NATO troops in Latvia increased by tenfold in recent years. Latvian politicians from ruling parties aren’t tired of frightening voters with “Russian aggression” and speaking about the threats of the Kremlin’s “hybrid war” and about “little green men” on the territory of Latvia. The former head of the department of strategic planning of the General Staff of National Armed Forces of Latvia and chief adviser to the chief of police of Riga Raimonds Rublovskis described to “rubaltic.ru” whether these threats are real, whether the probability of a war between Russia and NATO on the territory of the Baltic region is large, and what will happen to Latvia if there is a military conflict.
Mr. Rublovsky, four years ago you said that 150 American soldiers are enough to defend Latvia. Today the NATO multinational battle group in Latvia is much larger. According to your forecasts, are there the grounds to speak about the further accumulation of forces?
“I will immediately stress: it’s not about the American military contingent specifically, but about NATO troops. And for marking their presence it is quite enough. The second thing that I would like to immediately stress: when we speak about Latvia, it must be kept in mind that for NATO three Baltic countries are a single territory.
Specifically, today one battalion multinational group (1400 servicemen) is deployed on the territory of Latvia and is headed by Canada on a rotational basis. These forces equipped with light weapons don’t represent any danger to Russia, taking into account the ratio in the region. It for sure doesn’t make sense to further increase their quantity.
This is a rather political gesture than a military one. In addition, the NATO battalion group doesn’t have any heavy offensive or missile armaments.
The air space of the Baltic States is defended on this same rotational basis by four to eight planes from the countries of the North Atlantic alliance and are based at the Lithuanian Zoknyay airfield and the Ämari Estonian air base.”
What figures can be attributed to Latvia’s own armed forces?
“According to the state defence concept, the National Armed forces of Latvia is 6,500 military personnel on a permanent basis, 8,000 Land Guards (a Latvian voluntary armed organisation that is a part of the National Armed Forces of the Republic of Latvia), and 3,000 reservists.”
What is your attitude towards the statements of Latvian politicians about the presence of NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic countries as long as the “threat from Russia” remains? Will Latvia become more secure if permanent NATO bases are created on its territory?
“Firstly, the construction of facilities, infrastructure, and supply are a part of the contract with the Latvian government that places military personnel of the Alliance on its territory. The rotational basis also doesn’t give the grounds to consider the battalion group in Ādaži as the foundations in the habitual understanding of the word. This is more likely a NATO military facility.
Secondly, making decisions about the existence of bases in Latvia isn’t within the competence of the Latvian politicians; resolutions of this sort are the prerogative of allies and the US in particular.
Concerning the hypothetical existence of military bases, if the event of a real military conflict with Russia these bases will be destroyed during the very first minutes.
Moreover, as things now are in our country, our country is a hostage of any clashes between Russia and NATO. The proximity of the borders of the Eastern neighbour will in any case turn into trouble for Latvia. The Latvian army won’t be able to fight. The question is will one big crater remain from our country or will we have more luck – I will repeat, it’s not for us to decide.
If to speak about Latvian politicians and their constant rhetoric about ‘threats from Russia’, for many of them it is a question of survival, their ‘daily bread’. There are things obvious.
To principally avoid dialogue with Moscow doesn’t mean to be a patriot of your country: nine times out of ten aggressive rhetoric is the only way to achieve momentary benefits.”
Does the notorious “Russian threat” exist? Considering that in the states of Eastern Europe and the Baltics neighbouring Russia there are tens of thousands of troops of the US and NATO supported by heavy arms and aviation?
“The reality is such that each of the parties see hostile activity and a threat to their safety in their rival. The events of the Ossetian-Georgian conflict of 2008, the current events in Ukraine – for some it is the departure of Crimea, and for others it is its annexation. All of the parties have their unmovable reasons to blame or justify.
Latvia is too small and dependent on the paradigm of geopolitical quarrelling between large players, and it has the experience of involuntary participation in such merrymakings. Taking into account the already chosen course, the country can’t but be worried about the events in the world.
Another matter is when politicians manoeuvre to the edge of speculation concerning any issue, only intensifying the general escalation of tension. This concerns Latvia first of all.
Does great Russia need the territory of Latvia from the point of view of economic-political or military interests? Unambiguously – no. In the 21st century it is impossible to defend the borders of your country via someone else’s forests, fields, and small rivers. While the means of firing weapons allow to strike a blow to the neighbour almost immediately.
It is necessary to be pragmatic. The world constantly changes. Europe is much more concerned about the problem of refugees than about friendship with the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.
The leaders of Hungary and the Czech Republic can very easily take a pro-Russia position despite the fact that they remember history: there is both 1956 and 1968. There are many examples.
But Latvia’s position is boring, monotonous, harmful, and constantly on the verge of hysterics.
Conversations about the Molotov-Ribbentrop act are heard on TV at any excuse, and even without one. More than one generation has died since 1940, and we continue to talk about occupation.
Hence the disunity in society, which, in the key of our conversation, doesn’t at all promote the strategic interests of Latvia at all.
Specifically, concerning dual-use missile launchers in Poland and Romania the answer is simple. In such a scenario, in the event that US deploys a new military base in Poland (‘Fort Trump’), Russia will simply re-aim its high-precision weapons. And proceeding from the interests of the national security, Russia will behave correctly.”
From your point of view, what nevertheless is the probability of conventional war?
“I am sure that it is very small. We aren’t looking at the region that we ought to be looking at. The latest Russian developments in the sphere of weapons today make it impossible for the enemy to put threats into practice.
I.e., the probability of war exists, but the probability that the US and NATO will win it are insignificant. It’s not Latvia or Europe that can disappear, but the world.
China is a completely different matter. I am confident that China is today the main rival that undermines the economic, political, and military power of the US. I think that the general vector of the US and Europe’s policy will be aimed at China and the Middle East.
By the way, the other day the former commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces in Europa Ben Hodges at a ‘snow meeting’ in the Lithuanian Trakai spoke about China even more directly (America prepares for war with China).
Concerning hybrid war – information war, in particular – alas, in line with the latest technologies it will only gain steam.”
The military expenses of Latvia in 2018 reached 2% of GDP, the US President Donald Trump demands that NATO member countries raise them to 4%. Just how reasonable is this?
“Latvia is a small country with a mass of unresolved social problems.
What really irritates me is the squeals of our right-wing politicians, absolutely incompetent in the military sphere, about ‘Russian threats’, trying to run ahead of the proverbial train.
Hence the general result: the more we curry favour, the less they reckon with our opinion.”
As the former head of the department of strategic planning of the the General Staff of the National Armed Forces of Latvia, as someone who was involved in the analytical work of the Alliance for many years, please answer: do the highest echelons of NATO indeed believe in the Russian threat?
“It’s mixed. There is force of inertia of thinking, there is also direct dependence on the political doctrine. If to generalise, the mentality of Brits and Americans will differ from the general system of values of Europeans in general, which in no small measure are aided by the proximity of borders and parallels in history.
Military personnel are people too. Geopolitical trends embrace everyone – after all, there was a time when Russia was considered not just as a military partner, but nearly as a potential member of NATO.”
You have lots of experience in teaching. Can you draw a line under the general opinion of your audience: is the modern youth afraid of threats from Russia? Does they justify, from their point of view, the presence of NATO in Latvia?
“Once again, it is mixed. We were all natives of the USSR once, we had certain general values. Since then already two new generations with a new set of values have grown.
The presence of Latvia in the EU and NATO, with the opportunity to travel and discover the world, is the standard and not a wonder. If to reformulate your question, having denoted the population of Latvia in general, regularity is obvious: in Latgale, which geographically neighbours Russia and Belarus, where people have relatives on that side of border, people want good relations with neighbours. In richer regions the attitude towards membership in the Alliance will for certain be different.
There is also division of people into citizens and non-citizens, where the answer obviously lies on the surface.
If to take the youth and to raise the question more widely, no just about the membership of Latvia in NATO, but about the desire of the younger generation to protect their motherland, the mass departure of youth abroad for the purpose of searching for decent work and further prospects also speaks against the strategic domestic policy of Latvia.
The set of new values is such today, and this is fair: if the motherland doesn’t think about young people, then the youth and the authorities have different judgments of patriotism.”
From time to time Latvian politicians start conversations about obligatory military service. What do you think about this?
“My answer will be a continuation of the aforesaid: besides huge financial expenses, taking unprepared and unmotivated guys for conscription service in the 21st century, at the end of the process we will receive not an army, but unorganised education absolutely inept in combat.
Let’s call a spade a spade — cannon fodder.”
Your roots are in Latgale. Can you comment on the movie of the BBC about the beginning of the Third world war, which, according to the creators of the movie, will begin in Daugavpils?
“The provocation is based on a postulate about the allegedly ‘red’ region. The brightly pronounced international structure, history, and spirit of the region speak about the spiritual richness of Latgale people, and nothing else.
I don’t know more peaceful people. Such movies, unfortunately, are indeed a component of this same information war.”
In October of last year elections took place in Latvia. You took part in the elections from the “Harmony” list as the Minister of Defence. Can you briefly outline your vision of the defense capability of Latvia?
“There are three points in all. Firstly — serious work in the sphere of cybersecurity. The world develops on new technologies, we shouldn’t lag behind.
Secondly — forces of special purpose. Besides joint military operations as a part of NATO, they can be involved in the fight against terrorism.
Thirdly — the use of the armed forces together with the police, which will vastly increase its effectiveness.
After all, today we buy old, written-off equipment, we blow millions on scrap metal, on nothing. A mess, incompetence — all of this is a cancer tumour that grew in armed forces of Latvia.
The refusal of the current coalition to cooperate with ‘Harmony’ – a party that received nearly a quarter of mandates at elections, which involved a person who has US citizenship (the ‘New Era’ party leader Krišjānis Kariņš, to who the president suggested to form a government) and has a superficial understanding of the Latvian reality besides disrespect for voters – is another jump on a familiar rake. And, certainly, a new round of kindling Russophobia.”
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