Latvian president Egils Levits says Belarus should no longer be considered an independent nation and must now be considered part of Russia.
In an exclusive interview with Global News at his residence in the Latvian capital of Riga, Levits discussed the war in Ukraine and its implications on the wider region.
The small Baltic state of Latvia, sandwiched between Lithuania, Belarus, Russia and Estonia, is a NATO member, as well as a member of the European Union.
In his statements on Russia’s closest ally, Levits refused to call Belarus by its current name, referring to it instead as Belorussia, its name under Soviet rule.
He said the country, which is acting as a springboard for Russian troops invading Ukraine, must now be considered an extension of the Kremlin and should be subject to the same sanctions.
“Belorussia has ceased to exist as an independent country. We should see Belorussia politically as part of Russia,” Levits says.
'No immediate threat' of war in Latvia
Since 2017, Latvia has played host to a battle group of 1,500 NATO troops as fears mounted over a potential Russian invasion, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The NATO troops are led by a group of 540 Canadians and are deployed at Camp Adazi, just outside the Latvian capital of Riga.
While he says there is “no immediate threat” of war in Latvia right now, he says the war has implications for not only Europe, but the entire world.
He says the NATO summit in June in Madrid, Spain, should adopt “a new security conception,” as it was designed to deter war with Russia — but that war is now a reality.
“The aggression against Ukraine is, at the same time, aggression against Europe, against NATO, against the Western world, against democracy and all democracies in the world are concerned about that,” he says.
However, this does not mean a fast track to NATO membership for Ukraine. Levits says this will be possible in the “medium term” but is “not on the agenda now.”
As for Ukraine’s potential inclusion in the European Union, after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday submitted an official request for ‘immediate’ membership under a special fast-track procedure, Levits says this should be urgently approved.
“It would be a political act of the European Union to show that Ukrainians belong to Europe and that Europe needs Ukraine.
“Concerning bureaucratic procedures, I know Ukraine is not now formally ready to be a full member state of the European Union, but all the bureaucratic procedures should be in this situation put away.”
This would also show that the EU is a political union as well as an economic one, he says.
'Everybody who disagrees with Putin is called a Nazi'
In the meantime, NATO states are providing military and economic support to Ukraine, he says, and will continue to impose sanctions.
Levits defended the length of time it took for many European countries to issue those sanctions, saying decisions take “some days at least” and that some countries had to change “long-standing politics” in order to issue them.
Referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempted justification for his invasion of Ukraine, to “denazify” the country, Levits says these statements were misinformation — a tactic Putin is now known for.
“Putin and Russian officials are lying and the whole world knows that,” he says.
“In the Russian political terminology, Nazis are all things which are not liked by Russia, by Putin. Everybody who disagrees with Putin’s view is called a Nazi. It’s ridiculous.”
Levits is himself of partly Jewish heritage.
Putin is 'a rational person'
He disbelieves Putin’s threats of a nuclear war if the West intervenes because he’s “not suicidal.”
“He is a rational person, within his ideological terms. But it’s a cost-benefits calculation.”
Lastly, Levits thanked Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the troops stationed in Riga, saying it’s “very important for Latvian security and for the security of the whole northern European region.”
“The transatlantic links between Europe and Canada are very, very important for us Europeans and I think also for Canadians. Together we have the basis for the Western value system and we should defend our values.”
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