Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Rouble crisis feeds EU hope of Russia pull-back

  • Latvia was spooked by Russia's annexation of Crimea last year (Photo: Holy Trinity Church of Pārdaugava)

Latvia, among the most hawkish states when it comes to dealing with Moscow, has said it would support a roll-back of sanctions if Russia withdraws from eastern Ukraine.

With the Russian economy near collapse due to low oil prices and the biting effect of the EU-US sanctions, Moscow is now signalling willingness to seek a solution with the EU, Latvian foreign minister Edgar Rinkecis said Wednesday (7 January) in Riga.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"Due to the economic situation, there is a kind of opening we can use. Depending on progress, we will see in March if we can roll back some of the sanctions," said Rinkecis, whose country has just assumed the six-month EU presidency.

"The conditions are clear: No Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, a full implementation of the Minsk agreement, including provisions on autonomy and Russian language," he said.

But if the situation deteriorates "we should use the sanctions instrument further", he added.

He confirmed there are talks among the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to organise a meeting for their leaders later this month in Astana, Kazakhstan.

However, French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel have indicated they will go only if there is something concrete to be agreed.

Latvian prime minister Laimdota Straujuma in a separate briefing said that "sanctions are a correct step" after Russia's annexation of Crimea and continued fighting in eastern Ukraine.

"But if there is progress, if there is implementation of the Minsk agreement, then we can discuss reviewing the sanctions," Straujuma said.

The prime minister, who took office a year ago, noted: "I would by lying if i said I was not worried last year, we were all extremely anxious about the annexation of Crimea."

Latvia, as well as the other two Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and 1945 and gained its independence in 1990.

Straujuma said the idea that Latvia could return to Russia is "unacceptable".

"I am delighted about the wise decision of my country and other Baltic states to join the EU and Nato. Nato is the guarantee of our security. I have discussed this with [German Chancellor] Merkel and US vice-president Biden and there is a unanimous agreement that Article 5 of Nato [defending militarily a Nato member under attack] will work."

Referring to the 26 percent of the Latvian population that is ethnically Russian, the prime minister said the "situation is peaceful and stable".

"I have met with local municipality leaders who are Russian, in the east of Latvia, and they did not voice any worries that there could be any anti-government or anti-Latvian movement there," Straujuma said.

She said her government conducted a survey among the Russian minority to see what their biggest concerns are and they were similar to the rest of the population - healthcare and social issues. Language and citizenship issues ranked only 10-12 on the priority list.

Fighter jets

For his part, defence minister Raimonds Vejonis noted that the air raids by Russian fighter jets - which multiplied at the end of last year - have so far not resumed.

"They are still in Christmas break mode," Vejonis said.

In the nine years before 2014, there were 50 cases of Russian jets flying close to the Latvian airspace. After the Ukraine conflict began last year, there were over 200 cases, the minister said.

He said the jets pose a risk because they do not turn on their transponders and air traffic control does not know who is flying.

As for military spending, Latvia plans to increase its budget from around one percent of GDP to two percent by 2020.

"We want to invest more in air defence, special forces, patriotic education in schools," Vejonis said.

He said Latvia would support an initiative by some eastern EU member states to count defence spending as investments which are not included in the national budget deficit.

"Especially when we have such a security situation and countries need to increase defence spending, it would be good if it was not calculated in the deficit," the minister said. But he admitted that "finance ministers see this differently".

Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem

Romania will move its embassy to Jerusalem, its prime minister has said, shattering the EU line on the Arab-Israeli conflict while the country holds the EU rotating presidency.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us