Last year, on February 24, Rinkēvičs was in Kyiv and heard the first explosions first-hand. "There were no emotions left at that point, we needed to first understand what to do," said the Minister.
He said that at first, many didn't believe the warnings about the attack. When possible dates of the invasion were first known, the Foreign Ministry invited Latvians to leave Ukraine and not to go there. Many on social media thought that "it was just a scare", said the Minister.
After recommending all citizens to leave Ukraine, Rinkēvičs himself departed for Kyiv, where a solidarity trip had been planned with all Baltic ministers. The Lithuanian Foreign Minister did not even manage to reach Kyiv but RInkēvičs had to leave when the attack started. Before that, he had seen the evacuation of the Latvian Embassy in Kyiv.
"War, aggression, and military devices unfortunately are an inevitable component of humankind, even though we would like all to live as one and live in peace and happiness," said Rinkēvičs.
He also recalled that the Baltic states had warned about the Russian aggression routinely. "Of course, we can now say – yes, we were right. But we can also regret that we couldn't manage to change the attitudes of superpowers like the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France," said Rinkēvičs, adding that now the events have mobilized the western countries and that the USA has been an invaluable support.
For now, there is one enemy to the western countries. Asked whether he would say it is a war of Putin or a war of Russia, Rinkēvičs said:
"Of course, it is the Russian war! Russian society has fundamental issues, and we must perceive this war similarly to the Nazi Germany in WWII. It is a war of Russia. And when they realize that it cannot be won, maybe there will be a 'ļightbulb moment' in Russian society. When? Will it? I don't know. But it is a Russian war, led by Russian leader, Putin."
Rinkēvičs said he disagreed with the claims that someone has lost their mind in Russia. According to the Minister, the strategy is clear, and one must understand how the Russian elite sees the world, which is vastly different than "in Washington, Berlin, or Rome."
"When the war began, many thought –there might be a coup, or mass protest, and some liberal forces will win. It didn't happen. I think the Russian elite is consolidated. [..]
"But Russian history is full of paradox. After Stalin's death, nobody expected liberalization from Khruschev, all thought him to be a fool, but he did quite a lot. When there is a change of power in Russia – what state the country will be in, what conclusions will be made by the next leader, is hard to say."
Latvian historical experience has shown what can happen without active opposition. "Stalin's Soviet Union or Putin's Russia – nothing good can come out of that. That's why Zelenskyy and his government is acting, knowing that it is better to fight this evil than to die in Siberia," said Rinkēvičs.
Voice at UN
On February 24, 2023, in New York, Rinkēvičs delivered a statement on behalf of the Baltic States and Nordic countries at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on “Maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine”.
“A year has passed since Russia started its brutal, unjustified and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, aided by Belarus. It is a clear violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. We admire the bravery and persistence of Ukrainians in the fight for their freedom and independence. We pay respect to all Ukrainian people who have died defending their homeland. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine has trampled international norms and rules-based order,” Rinkēvičs told the UN.
“We will never accept Russia’s illegal annexations of Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. We call on the Russian Federation to abide by the International Court of Justice Order of 16 March 2022 to immediately suspend its military operations launched in Ukraine on 24 February 2022,” Edgars Rinkēvičs said.
The Minister noted that Russia cynically disregarded its permanent membership duties and hampers the UN Security Council’s ability to implement its mandate, saying:
“Russia started this war. Russia can and must end it immediately by withdrawing its troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. To make it happen, we must provide all the necessary means to Ukraine. Under the UN Charter, Ukraine has every right to self-defence. The Nordic countries and the Baltic States have been determined to enhance Ukraine’s military capabilities and to provide all required support.”
“Unable to defeat Ukraine in the battlefield, Russia terrorizes Ukraine’s civilian population. Mass killings, rapes and torture in Bucha and Izium, and illegal deportation of children are only some of the most horrifying atrocity crimes of the Russian armed forces. We condemn in the strongest terms deliberate attacks by Russia on civilians, critical infrastructure and civilian objects in Ukraine. To alleviate the suffering and facilitate reconstruction, we provide economic, political, humanitarian, financial and legal assistance to Ukraine and its people,” said the Latvian Foreign Minister at the meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Today, the General Assembly reconfirmed international support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We urge the UN Security Council to uphold the UN Charter, which forms the basis for just and lasting peace in Ukraine. We welcome President Zelenskyy’s ten-point peace formula. We strongly support his vision of peace that rests on international law and the principles of the UN Charter. We shall stand by Ukraine as long as necessary,” Edgars Rinkēvičs said at the conclusion of his speech.