Western Europe needs Latvia's Russia insight: parliamentarian

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The countries of Western Europe are looking to Latvia for leadership and insight on how to deal with Russia, the head of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Ojārs Eriks Kalniņš told the Neatkariga newspaper Wednesday.

"Levels of awareness vary a great deal and depend largely on proximity to Russia. Eastern European countries understand what happens in Russia much better... further away there is less information and less understanding," Kalniņš said.

"Countries such as Portugal or Italy are interested in Russia mainly in relation to their economic interests. Politically, they partly rely on us for our expertise... they listen to us, because they understand that we have experience and knowledge," he explained, stressing that Latvia's current role holding the rotating EU Presidency gives even greater weight to the country's thoughts on Russia.  

It is important to explain why this matters not only for us but also for the whole of Europe," said Kalniņš, a former Latvian ambassador to the United States and head of the Latvian Institute.

Kalniņš , who has occasionally been mentioned in media circles as a possible presidential contender owing to the cross-party respect he has earned in Saeima, also downplayed current interest in President Andris Berzins' every utterance concerning Russia.

"Presidents in the Baltic states generally have a secondary role [in foreign affairs] because we have prime ministers and governments to determine national policy. Perhaps the Lithuanian President has a bit more power, but our emphasis is in the prime minister and foreign minister," Kalniņš said.

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