Latvia steps up military presence in the east, says Defense Minister

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In response to the Russian activity in the Baltic Sea, Latvia has deployed professional units in Vidzeme and Latgale, whereas Sweden has stepped up its army presence in Gotland, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told Latvian Television on January 17.

"If we look not only from Sweden but also from a Baltic security point of view, if anyone wants to isolate the Baltic States from the other NATO member states, then taking Gotland is practically one of the first steps. Sweden understands that if there is a conflict or insecurity in the Baltic Sea region, Gotland could be considered to be one of the first objectives.

"Before that, Sweden's military presence in Gotland was abnormally small, because the assessment of the threat from the West ten years ago was not consistent with what we thought, for example. And right now, certainly because of Russia's aggressive policies, there is a growing threat in general across the European region. It's obvious, and here, of course, Sweden, like us, is not going to take any additional risks", Pabriks said.

He said out that cooperation in recent years, particularly in terms of communication and common understanding with Sweden and Finland is very good.

“At our last meeting in France, where all the European defense ministers had gathered, I also had a bilateral, long conversation with the Swedish Minister. I have also invited him to Latvia in the near future because we are planning to deepen cooperation between Latvia and Sweden in a military sense. As far as possible, given that Sweden is not a NATO member. But since we are neighbouring countries, we must also look at the security of the Baltic Sea together. Similarly, Finland – we regularly exchange information,” the Minister said.

The Minister of Defense said that Latvia also takes note of its geography and places professional forces in strategically important places.

"For the past three, four years, we've taken serious steps in a similar direction, given, of course, our geography. [..] We will have professional forces deployed now, both near Gulbene and in Latgale, which we did not have before. Our artillery units will also be deployed here, they are there already. This is what has changed because we did not have a professional independent unit in Vidzeme or Latgale.

'Without this military aspect, it certainly helps regional development and recruitment. In addition, before Christmas, we also adopted a decision on military training, particularly in the third brigade region, and other Latvian brigades also participate. This was more related to the tension on the Russian-Belarusian border, but it is also very in line with the overall geopolitical situation at this moment. If we are speaking in comparison - Sweden, Gotland - then in our case one of the following steps, as I said, is the direction of Gulbene and the direction of Lūznava, where professional units have been placed,"Pabriks said.

Pabriks also talked about the fact that Russian aggression is bringing Sweden and Finland closer to the decision to join NATO.

"Finland and Sweden responded very strongly to the aggressive Russian ultimatum by saying that they would not be the countries that would allow someone else to act on their sovereignty. That is, if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO, it could happen very quickly for them, because they are in principle NATO members, unlike Ukraine or Georgia, for example. I think here, to some extent, Russian propaganda 'oversalted this propaganda soup' because it simply challenged these two countries. It is clear that if Russia continues this aggressive policy, the possibility of Finland and Sweden entering NATO is increasing," said Pabriks.

He said that it was apparent that Russia has increased its military capabilities in the Baltic Sea in recent months, particularly in Kaliningrad.

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