Latvia is one of the three Baltic states with a "soviet" past, as well as Ukraine. Unlike our country, in its time Riga has held a series of highly unpopular reforms.
But the result is really worth it. Today, Latvia is a member of the European Union and NATO. The participation in the Alliance guarantees the protection of its borders against external aggression. And, as it was evidenced by recent events, this protection is really needed. We speak about the role of NATO in the life of Latvia, its defense capability, as well as about the lessons that Latvia retrieves from the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation in the interview with the Latvian Defence Attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Zigmunds Balodis.- As compared with 2012, the defense expenditures in Latvia (as of December 2015) has increased almost twice, amounting up to 1.4% of GDP. The main growth was in 2014-2015, when Russia occupied Crimea and began an undeclared war in the eastern part of Ukraine. NATO standards require 2%. Is it a significant number for Latvia?
- Defense expenditures are the first indicator, determining whether the state perceives seriously a threat to its own security and whether it cares about the welfare of its citizens. Latvia is committed to the security and protection of the country, and now - more than ever - it is important that the defense budget should reach 2% of GDP. I believe that the government decision to gradually increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2018 is very correct and timely. These 2% are not an end in itself or a certain mathematical dogma.
Firstly, it is a confirmation of determination and will of the nation, because we as a country are responsible for our own safety.
Our national defense is based on three principles, which together make up the so-called policy of containment. First of all, this is the ability to defend our nation by developing its own Armed Forces.
Secondly, it is the presence of certain allies and ability to support the host country. Thirdly, these are modern early warning systems and ensuring of the information exchange.
The priority of the defense sector is to strengthen the combat potential of the National Armed Forces. An equally important goal is to deter potential aggressors to prevent even the idea of invasion to one of the countries - members of NATO.
Thus, due to the interaction of the Alliance with the National Armed Forces, the intensity of military exercises in the region and the presence of allies have increased significantly.- Latvia joined NATO in 2004. The membership in this organization involves a certain specialization of the Armed Forces of the country - a member of the Alliance. What is the contribution of Latvia in NATO activities? What does your country get in return?
- At present, our country's Armed Forces are regular forces, the National Guard and the reserve of the National Armed Forces. The main task is to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. Regular troops are comprised of Infantry Brigade of the Land Forces, the Fleet of the Navy, air base of the Air Force, Training and Doctrine Command, Logistics Command, a Division of Special Operations and Headquarters Battalion. In order to ensure the rule of law in the National Armed Forces the military police acts on the rights of the investigative and operational entity.
The reserve of National Armed Forces are the citizens of Latvia, credited to the reserve military service. The composition and the subordination of the Armed Forces are asserted by the Defense Minister on the proposal of the Commander of the National Armed Forces.
The service in the National Guard is voluntary. National Guard Soldiers are not attracted to perform everyday tasks, but if necessary, they are ready to take part in resolving the crisis, or to defend their country with arms in their hands. They perform service tasks in their free time or in the course of trainings on the basis of the contract.
The reserve of the National Armed Forces consists of soldiers-retirees, who are not withdrawn from military registration, Latvian citizens - the men older than18 and able to go forth to military service, as well as Latvian citizens – the women who have reached 18 years of age and have expressed a desire to pass a special military training or have passed a special military training course or have completed training in the National Guard.
In total the regular Armed Forces of Latvia count about five thousand militaries, including more than one thousand officers. There are about 11 000 volunteers in the National Guard. The quality factor is put forward in the development of defense capabilities as a priority, so the quantity of force is secondary.
Another very important task of the National Armed Forces is the assistance to the civilian population in emergency or crisis situations, as well as during natural disasters.- Last year in Riga, the NATO Strategic Communication Center - NATO StratCom COE was inaugurated. Its creation was initiated by Latvia. Does it mean that the wars of the XXI century must be carried out and won primarily in the information space?
- The aim of the NATO Strategic Communication Centre is sharing of innovative experience, support and strengthening the capacity of the Strategic Communications of the Alliance. Its mission is to develop proposals and express its views on the improvement of communication and strategic implementation, the organization of research and, in general, improve the level of training.
The Center provides the necessary assistance in accordance with the priorities and objectives of NATO in this sector as well.
It order to be successful, the innovative thinking is required innovative as well as the ability to see a couple of steps forward and predict the development of the situation. If we look at the so-called "Islamic State", it is necessary to recognize how their methods work. The same can be said about other countries and regions, who use communication networks, media propaganda, cyber-attacks to affect their neighbors. This is probably the best way of waging war without shooting, without killing.
- Recently British broadcaster BBC showed a TV show «World War Three: Inside The War Room». According to the plot of the story, Russia invades Latvia and starts a nuclear war. And there are a lot of similar examples. Is the European society beginning to really be afraid of Russia? As far as the scenario described in the abovementioned show is concerned, is it really possible?
- One of the leading TV companies in Europe - BBC - has created a product which has caused a wide resonance in the political environment, the media and the public, including Latvian ones. The director Gabriel Range in this film used the method with which he had already shot other movies. This is a genre that can be classified as a documentary drama.
The shots of staged debates in the command center are interspersed with archival footage, reviving the discussions of military experts and strategists. The film does not reflect the real situation, but the possible scenarios are played out, those that may occur in the collision between the two powers, and Latvia, and not just the part of it, is place in the spotlights.
Since Latvian society is dominated by concerns about the further development of the current crisis, Latvian Television as a public broadcaster decided that the issues of national security should be aired. So it is important to show this film to Latvian public. Spectators will estimate what they saw, because everyone is entitled to their own truth and justice.
Films such as "World War Three: Inside The War Room" are also valuable because they help the political elite to realize the possible scenarios and, consequently, act in order to prevent them. In its turn, the rest of the audience is invited to reflection and evaluation. BBC film is a simulation of a potential development of the situation.- 217 kilometers of common border with the Russian Federation is the fact that is likely to cause anxiety among Latvians. In addition, Latvia is home to many ethnic Russian, pro-Russian sentiments are strong (at least the media in Moscow say it). The policy of "protection of compatriots abroad" was the reason for the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Are there similar risks for Latvia?
- If in 2012 the strategic communication seemed mysterious, but now it turns to be a reality. Experience shows that the so-called "hybrid warfare" in the Donbas is always accompanied by informational and psychological attacks. Information operations, used to provide information superiority, acquire the new shapes, depending on the characteristics of the military-political situation.
NATO Center of Excellence, which was founded in Riga, has to deal with things that are currently very important for all NATO members. Small countries must move quickly and need the support of other countries. We are not against anyone, we just want to save our democratic values for which our ancestors fought.
It is clear that any aggression against Latvia will immediately involve Russia in the war with NATO. It is also clear that Russia does not want it. The events in Ukraine show that Russia is prepared to use military force to achieve its political goals. In this regard, the unpredictability and uncertainty in our region has increased.- In your opinion, what kind of scenario of the development of events in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is now the most likely? Especially given the current political crisis in the Ukrainian state?
- The developments in the conflict depend not only on external and internal factors, such as the progress of multilateral negotiations in the framework of the Minsk agreements, the development of internal processes in Ukraine, etc.
In the face of uncertainty - which is one of characteristic features of hybrid war - it is not only difficult to define and classify what is happening, but it's also hard to understand and predict the future.
It is worth noting what gives hope: the reforms, despite the fact that it is rather difficult, but they are held; modernizing the army, and the fact that the potential support of the aggressor by the third parties is not in its favor.- What lessons can be learnt by Latvia (and all the Baltic states) from the situation in which Ukraine is stuck at the moment?
- Events in Ukraine are worrying for the 21st century, as the nuclear power - in violation of various international treaties - openly interferes in the internal affairs of the country nationally close to it. Now it is clear that the international laws and regulations are incomplete. We require clear and unequivocal decisions in a situation in which we have to work. There are many problems in the process of decision-making and their implementation.
The situation in Ukraine has taught us that nothing is guaranteed forever and, in particular, peace and security. Unfortunately, on your example, we learn that the issues of our own security, the ability to protect the country and our values should be in the focus of attention.
In my view, greater consolidation of society is required. There are three essential things for human beings: faith, prosperity and security.
We should be fair, clear and open in telling people about the decisions taken and their rationale. Any - even unpopular decisions / reforms - can be understood and accepted positively, if people know what is being done and why.- What is interesting for Latvia in the cooperation with Ukraine in the defense field? What can the militaries of both countries teach each other?
- Latvia has supported and continues to support cooperation with Ukraine – both of international and of bilateral nature. Last year, there were several contacts and meetings at the highest level, including several working meetings.
- In 2015 soldiers of the National Armed Forces of Latvia took part in a tactical exercise "Rapid Trident-2015", held at the International Center for Peacemaking and Safety of the Army Academy named after Hetman Sagaydachnyj in the Lviv region.
They not only improved methods of action of the units while participating in operations, but also promoted a sense of military brotherhood, mutual respect and mutual assistance among the soldiers from different countries during the multinational operations.
The Latvian government supported the decision to invest in the creation of the NATO Trust Fund for Ukraine for the development of the military leadership, communications and computer equipment.
The Latvian government has also supported covering the costs of treatment of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.
More than 10 events are planned in the sphere of bilateral defense cooperation for 2016, including the Summit, participation in tactical exercises, as well as funding the trainings in the Baltic Defense College.Interviewed by Darina Plotnikova
Translated by Maria Kryzhanovska