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Latvian President Promotes NATO Membership For Ukraine

Latvian President Valdis Zatlers
Latvian President Valdis Zatlers
On the sidelines of a visit to Ukraine on June 25-27, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers spoke with RFE/RL contributor Ludmyla Pylyp about the two countries' relations, Kyiv's prospects for European integration, and his own experiences as the only statesman to have participated in the cleanup of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

RFE/RL: What are the main objectives of your visit, and where do you see Ukraine's role in Europe?

President Valdis Zatlers: I regard this visit as Latvia's desire to share its experience, to give Ukraine any advice it may need so the country's journey to the EU and NATO is faster and better. I regard Ukraine as a great Eastern European state that has significant economic and human potential. Ukraine today is an export and transit country for energy. I think Ukraine will play an important role in Europe in the decades to come. It's only a question of time.

RFE/RL: How can Latvia help inform Ukrainian society about NATO?

Zatlers: I grew up during times when NATO had an enemy image. It used to be this way in Latvia as well. It was and still is the case in Ukraine. NATO is now an organization that has [grown in] vitality, its ability to function effectively during its 50 year history. Latvia has been a member of the alliance for four years. Today everyone in Latvia understands that NATO is not an aggressive force, that NATO offers a feeling of security. This was exactly one of the reasons for our joining it: Latvia is a small country that cannot protect itself and has only one choice, collective security. I know NATO personally, from the secretary-general's office in Brussels to the Latvian peacekeepers' base in Afghanistan. We understand what NATO is.... NATO today is an organization that protects the world. So we can actually deliver this philosophy of what NATO is and what it means to be a part of NATO.

RFE/RL: What factors can stimulate economic cooperation and increase trade relations between Latvia and Ukraine?

Zatlers: I think mutual investment will promote trade relations. We can already see that through the example of the activities of Latvian banks in Ukraine and Ukrainian banks in Latvia.

RFE/RL: You were among the liquidators who cleaned up after the Chornobyl nuclear accident and were awarded a medal for it. Will your visit to Chornobyl be the first in 22 years since the accident?

Zatlers: I actually went to Chornobyl two weeks after the catastrophe. I was drafted by the military on May 8 [1986] and came to a camp 30 kilometers from the power station on May 10. I was there for two months. My stay at Chornobyl was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. There were serious difficulties, and we had to overcome them in rather severe circumstances. But, in spite of that, I'm not an enemy of nuclear power stations, although it may seem logical to think otherwise as I've seen the catastrophe and its consequences and I know about the huge expenses needed to clean up these consequences. I support nuclear energy, provided it's safe. I'd also like to thank the Latvian state -- of which I am now the president -- for its care of the Latvians who took part in the cleanup of the disaster at Chornobyl.

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