New NATO ambassador: serious defense spending increase needed

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Latvia's incoming ambassador to NATO said Thursday that the country needs to do more to prepare itself to repel possible Russian aggression.

Speaking to LTV via telephone on the day he is due to collect his credentials from President Raimonds Vejonis, Indulis Berzins was asked if Russia might invade.

"I would like to think that it is not possible," he replied. "The reality is that NATO is currently the world's most powerful alliance, and Russia's political leaders are unlikely to make such a suicidal move. But in order to ensure that that does not happen, we have to do everything to make this deterrence policy effective, so that things do not come to the next step - defense, or, God forbid, recovering of territory."

But substantially more spending is required to enable Latvia to fend off attack without relying entirely on massive support from its allies, he said.

"Latvia needs to do its homework, and the budget is one of the elements. It is highly important for us to meet this latest commitment to raising the [defense] budget to 2 percent [of GDP] by 2018.

"There must be a significant increase next year, otherwise we will not be able to keep this promise. Let's think realistically - it is two euros of 100 euros. Some believe that it is a large amount, but I think that it is not. This is what it takes to make Latvia a safe place in the world," Berzins said.

Asked if Latvia is arming itself fast enough given the geopolitical situation, Berzins said that the pace is insufficient. "I hope that the new budget, not only this but also in coming years, will be big enough to enable us to arm ourselves effectively enough. I mean not only quantity but also quality, which is needed to ensure a situation where any aggressor, and let me underscore any aggressor, realized that taking Latvia's territory would mean huge losses," Latvia's new ambassador to NATO said.

Berzins will take office as Latvian Ambassador to NATO on September 1, 2015, succeeding former foreign minister Maris Riekstins in the job.

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