Rinkēvičs: 'Third country' might be behind NATO-blocking demonstrations

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said January 25 that controversial demonstrations in Sweden that have caused an eleventh-hour delay to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland might have a "third country" behind them.

It has been widely reported that a copy of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, was burned at a recent demonstration in Stockholm, prompting outrage by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Though Turkey is famously a secular state, its population is majority Muslim. 

Speaking after talks with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Rinkēvičs suggested investigations needed to establish who was responsible for the demonstrations and what were their motivations.

"There are obviously attempts to delay the membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO, absolutely unacceptable incidents. The burning of the Koran or the Bible, or any religious hatred, hate speech or discrimination against any religious or social groups is absolutely unacceptable and should be condemned in any democratic society and should also be punished in line with the law," Rinkēvičs said.

"Probably we should dig deeper. Maybe later on we will find out who is behind these incidents. Are they just individuals, or maybe there are third countries that are acting against the expansion of NATO? Time will tell."

The clear implication of his words is that the controversy may have been manufactured by Russia – though he avoided mentioning that country by name.

"In this situation we have to respect Turkey's legitimate demands... we have to be aware of its past and history. However,as war is raging in Europe, when virtually all NATO countries are under threat, the faster accession of Sweden and Finland is not only in the interests of our region but also in the interests of the whole alliance," Rinkēvičs said.

"I hope that our Baltic friends will not be impeded from NATO membership and it will happen as soon as possible... diplomacy takes time and patience but the result I hope will be positive."

Haavisto briefly alluded to the controversy, saying:

"All unnecessary delays to our NATO membership are increasing all kinds of security risks, both for Sweden and Finland, and those who are making provocations which Minister Rinkēvičs mentioned are actually playing with the security of Finland and Sweden."

Haavisto said he had bee in close contact with Turkish officials and hoped to secure ratification for NATO membership from both Turkey and the other remaining NATO country that needs to ratify, Hungary, in the run-up to the NATO Summit due to take place in Vilnius in July. 

"We are in the hands of those two countries that have not yet ratified," said Haavisto.

On the issue of whether Finland will send soe of its Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Haavisto stressed that a 400 million euro package of military assistance anounced on Monday did not include tanks, but that it was open to sending Leopards "if there is a common package" with German backing.

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Following the meeting between the Foreign Ministers, Haavisto went on to a meeting with President Egils Levits.

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