Defense Minister: West mistakenly judged Russia by its own standards

Speaking on a trip to the United States on Wednesday, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis gave a stark assessment of current relations between Russia and the West. 

Participating in a discussion on the security situation in the Baltic region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., Vejonis said that the West made a huge mistake by judging Russia by its own standards.

Latvia has learned several valuable lessons from its own history, he said.

''First and foremost, democratic values are not only important in ensuring individual freedom, but also safeguard our national independence,'' he said.

Vejonis said that the West had incorrectly estimated Russia's behavior and attitude towards other countries.

''This is the largest mistake that we in the West have made - that we have judged Russia by our standards. Despite the fact that Russia's words frequently contradicted its actions, we continue to believe that positive change is possible in Russia. We were wrong.

"We did not wish to see that Russia continued to develop based on its own ideology, and that its economy is completely dependent on the sale of resources, especially energy. That is why the Russian regime needs to demonstrate military victories, which we have seen the past several years,'' Vejonis said.

He said that Russia's aggression in Ukraine is a clear sign on its desire to change Europe's borders, and that this is the second time that Russia has used force against the territory of a former member of the Soviet Union.

Vejonis emphasized that Russia has become a long-term problem, as no change is expected in its domestic politics, nor its behavior on the international arena ''even if the Ukraine conflict becomes a frozen one''.

''So with regard to Russia, I see two huge challenges. First of all, how to develop our deterrence capabilities, so that there is no doubt that we intend to fulfill our international security commitments. Second of all, how to develop and maintain a long-term policy towards Russia.

"We have understood that there are methods that can deter Russia - our own capability and resolve to stand against those threatening us, as well as the presence of allies, especially the U.S. in the Baltics. Having an understanding of Russian thinking and behavior is also important. Only by putting together all these components will we be able to deter Russian aggression in our region,'' the Latvian defense minister concluded.

Vejonis' trip to the US continues until April 24.

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