Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said he has little hope of a diplomatic solution to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine “until we see the clear defeat of Russia.”
“We have seen that negotiations and peace agreements with Russia simply do not work,” Rinkevics said. “Russia has no need for them. If Russia feels it is losing Ukraine and that the regime of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is losing the confidence of global public opinion and of Russian public opinion, then I think they will sit down at the negotiating table.”
The international community should support negotiations if Moscow and Kyiv agree to pursue them, Rinkevics told Current Time in an exclusive interview.
“But at the same time, if an agreement is signed that is a half measure and does not include some sort of strict control over its implementation, then I no longer have any illusions the Russian Federation would abide by it,” he added.
In recent weeks, following a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region that left Russian forces reeling and prompted the Kremlin to implement a military mobilization,
Russia has launched a wave of missile and drone attacks targeting Ukraine’s civilian population and infrastructure, particularly its electrical grid.
“I think Russia’s tactics have changed from direct military confrontation to a tactic that we know and remember from the time of fascist Germany,” he said. “I mean, in principle, the genocide of the Ukrainian people. And, by the way, I think that also does not facilitate any diplomatic efforts.”
Rinkevics, 49, has served as his country’s top diplomat since 2011.
Tough Asylum Policy
Rinkevics also defended his country’s tough policy against granting refuge to Russians fleeing mobilization, saying that opposition to mobilization is not the same as opposition to the war.
“There is a big difference,” he said.
“Before September 21 when the ‘partial’ mobilization was announced, these people – most of them -- were supporting Putin’s actions and did not speak out against them,” Rinkevics told Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
He said his government’s monitoring of social-media posts from Russians currently in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan shows that many of the émigrés continue to support the war and to parrot the Kremlin’s unfounded claims that the Kyiv government is controlled by Nazis and that Russia had to intervene to prevent a supposedly imminent attack by Ukraine and NATO.
“I think we need to tell them clearly that, if you are against the war, against mobilization, if you think that what is being done now is unacceptable, then you must come out against the Russian government,” Rinkevics said. “And I am not convinced by arguments that things are so oppressive there that no one can take to the streets.”
“Tens of thousands of Russians are leaving now, according to our figures, and the question must be asked -- why should we accept them?” he added. “This is also a matter of our own security. We can’t be sure who is coming to us.”
Latvia’s policy, Rinkevics said, is to shelter those Russians who genuinely face persecution in Russia, including over their opposition to the war.
“If an individual is clear about what country [the Ukrainian Black Sea region of] Crimea belongs to, about what is happening now in Ukraine, about their opinions of the Russian government, then that is one thing,” he said. “But if an individual is just running away from mobilization or is living here and spreading the propaganda of the Putin regime, then that is something else entirely.”
Rinkevics said the massive military invasion by Russia on February 24 was significantly different even from Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine beginning in early 2014.
Since the February invasion, “this is not the war of just one person,” Rinkevics said. “It is an undertaking that has been endorsed by Russian society. Even the Russian Orthodox Church has approved it. In this case, if you want to live in Europe, you have to make a choice.”