Ukraine has received Western weapons with permission to hit Russia. An interview with Latvia's Foreign Minister

Thursday, 2 May 2024 — , European Pravda

Baiba Braže, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and former NATO Assistant Secretary General, has chosen Ukraine for her first bilateral visit.

She is the first official to have publicly acknowledged, in this interview, that Ukraine has received Western weapons with permission to hit Russia. She insists that strikes on Russia are legitimate. And that ultimately, the Russian army "must stop in Russia".


"Not everything is said aloud, and better that it's not said aloud in certain times"

Let me check whether we’re on the same page after the long-awaited US decision to provide security assistance to Ukraine. In your view, does it mean that our weapons problem has been solved?

First, Ukraine needs not only weapons, but also political support and political unity from not only the EU and NATO, but also the wider world. You also need political parties’ unity inside Ukraine for the same aims – for the victory, to project it internationally.

Weapons are one element in the overall enabling of victory for Ukraine.

But I don't know what is "enough" for that.

We don't expect that this part of weapon provision is sufficient. Other countries in Europe and around the world also need to provide weapons, money, implement sanctions.

Indeed, what we get from our partners is not enough to win the war. What could be a game-changer on the battlefield?

As the Canadian author and philosopher Margaret MacMillan has written about wars, when starting a war there is always the expectation of a short, victorious war. That almost never happens.

So the move to the long war means entirely different tactics, strategies. Attrition, resilience, the ability to continue and to believe in victory and to have inner and outer strength for that play a role.

And that's why I'm also here: to show Latvian support for Ukraine.

Ukraine is not alone. And it's not just about the military fight itself.

Is time on Ukraine’s side or Russia’s?

I don't think time plays for Russia.

Ukraine is getting military support, and also political, legal, sanction support. All of these certainly play for Ukraine's victory.

But the road for this is very painful. It costs lives. It costs health, and environmental damage. It costs Ukraine more than anything else. It's horrible.

I'm afraid that our partners might think that if time is on Ukraine’s side, then everything can be kept as it is. My vision is that something has to change. Maybe we can get support for striking Russian territory?

I fully agree. Ukraine needs not only air defence or munitions, Ukraine needs the deep precision strikes capability…

On Russian territory?

Also on the Russian territory from where Russia is attacking Ukraine. Because that's covered by international law: you can strike not only Ukraine's sovereign territory, but also those places from where Russia is attacking.

Ukraine needs long-range weapons.

Ukraine needs integrated air missile defence that involves air-to-air capabilities.

That is what is being provided not only by the US package, but also by other partners, like F-16s, pilots’ training, long-range drones, ATACMS, and so on and so forth.

That sort of capability is coming to Ukraine. Some of it has arrived already.

And again: Ukraine is allowed to use it all under international law. If Russia is attacking Ukraine, Ukraine has a right to strike them back.

At the moment, our partners tend to lay down the condition that Western weapons are not to be used outside Ukrainian territory. Do you see that changing?

It could change.

And there are already countries that have provided those weapons without conditions to Ukraine.

Not everything is said aloud, and better that it's not said aloud in certain times, but that there is effect on the battlefield.

So indeed there are various choices, whether saying things aloud or just doing the right thing.

"A big change is taking place in NATO"

Regarding air defence, we lack both launching facilities and rockets. Is there a way to change that by patrolling our skies with F-16s or F-35s flown by European pilots?

I don't think those decisions have been made in such a way that European pilots would be flying in Ukrainian skies.

I haven't seen anything like that.

The F-16 decisions, training of Ukraine's pilots, provision of air defence launchers – and I mean various types of air defence: short-range, medium-range – those decisions have been made. And there are more air defence capabilities available.

Ukraine, the Allies, the NATO SecGen and other officials are working with some countries to provide more air defence, because it's not only about Kyiv, it's also about Kharkiv, it's about Odesa, other big cities in Ukraine.

But there is no one magical weapon. It's a combination of capabilities.

Is it feasible for our partners to "close the sky" over Ukraine in the medium term?

I haven't seen any national or any sort of joint decision on sending troops or pilots in a direct way into Ukraine.

Discussions take place all the time, but again, we only can talk when the decisions are made.

Will Russia stop in Ukraine?

Well, Russia has to stop in Russia.

It's not about being stopped in Ukraine. Russia has to be pushed out of Ukraine.

There are discussions about whether Putin might even dare to attack NATO countries.

Currently, there is no direct military threat by Russia to any NATO countries.

Hypothetically, everything is possible. That's why it's important to prepare, to make sure that not only plans are there, but also the capabilities, the defence spending, the force structure, adjustments, exercises are there.

And a big change is also taking place in NATO as we speak.

Although NATO's approach changed in 2014 after Russia attacked Ukraine for the first time. What we saw was not only the capability but also the intent to use armed forces in an overt and covert way.

So NATO changed its military strategy from out-of-area operations back to the collective defence of territories and people.

So that's why there are new NATO military strategies, that's why the deterrence and defence concept in the Euro-Atlantic area, these regional plans, defence plans. And that is with one very clear intention: to deter and ensure that no misunderstanding on Russia’s part takes place.

We used to see that Russia normally starts with hybrid attacks. And I think that is much more realistic.

The security services, I think, in all the Baltic states are aware of various signals, various efforts; cyberattacks have been taking place. The information war has not stopped really since 2014 and even before.

Attacks on people, dissidents, opponents, intimidation, corruption – those are all active measures that were part of the USSR's toolkit, and now they're part of Russia's.

What is important is that people are aware of this, that there is the ability to recognise it, prevent it, to ensure that it's known and unmasked.

In Latvia, are you expecting anything to happen on 9 May, Victory Day?

It's still a while away. So we will see.

What I’m certain of is that we will be celebrating Europe Day on that day.

We celebrate the end of WWII on 8 May, like the rest of Europe. And Russia for years has been trying to present that it's 9 May, while 9 May is Europe Day – that's the day when EU foundations were laid.

It’s part of Russia’s efforts to undermine trust in institutions.

Despite the fact that we have grown so fast since joining the EU and NATO, that we are safe, secure and very prosperous compared to where we were, Russia says that everything is bad, that people shouldn't trust the government and the parliamentary parties.

So there are a lot of campaigns going on in Latvia, and not necessarily about Ukraine or NATO. But it's very much about internal debates and trying to enlarge the gaps between various groups.

"Some countries don't have their own Patriots, but they have money"

Let me finish up with Latvian support for Ukraine. I really appreciate your decision to pledge 0.25% of your GDP annually to Ukrainian defence. What would you focus on? We know that you're leading the drone coalition.

Our military colleagues and defence colleagues are in close touch with the Ukrainian Armed Forces to be sure that they are aligned on what Ukraine needs. So it's a sort of dynamic alignment.

It's not only FPV drones, the cheapest version, but also more advanced medium-range drones and other different types that are needed.

We’re finding those items or equipment to put on them, purchasing that if necessary, producing  and designing new ones – all of that is happening together with our Ukrainian partners. There is also now the drone coalition fund, where countries have pledged money to enable those drones to be provided.

As I said, Ukraine needs those capabilities not only for reconnaissance or individual attacks, but actually to be able to also do long-range and medium-range proactive defence.

The initial commitment was for one million drones by mid-2025. But if it's just a cheap type of drone, that is one thing, while actually it's about more advanced things. So we'll see whether it's one million or a different number, but it will depend on what Ukraine needs, and then together we’ll adjust to those needs and provide it.

Yes, we will spend 0.25% on military support to Ukraine. All the Baltic states have committed to that. We have also asked other countries, and there are others who will do that.

Some countries who don't have their own Patriots or other equipment, they can have money for buying some ammunition or launchers or missiles, or other things.

It's practical work that is being done to ensure that not only this year but also next year, Ukraine has support – if Russia is not beaten earlier – that Ukraine has both military and political support.

Thank you for such great support for Ukraine. We will definitely win.

We will win. That support is throughout society in Latvia – for the rehabilitation of soldiers, for the return of Ukrainian children, for the return of prisoners.

We provide an enormous amount of support to the energy sector: generators, transformers, switching stations, and even a locomotive for the city of Haivoron to enable it to function. That locomotive is a sort of self-sufficient power station, providing electricity for the whole city.

We help Ukraine on an everyday basis, and it's genuine. The whole country is supporting Ukraine.

Sergiy Sydorenko, 

Video by Volodymyr Oliinyk

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