Exactly three years ago, Egils Levits assumed the powers of the country's president. Latvia is a parliamentary republic, but the post of the head of state is of great weight here. Levits' tenure fell on stormy years – the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the pandemic of Russian aggression. On the receiving end is Ukraine, but it also leads to tectonic shifts in all of Europe and the rest of the world. At the same time, the president of Latvia, on all platforms, proves himself as one of the most proactive and principled allies of Ukraine.
BOTH THE GOVERNMENT AND THE WHOLE SOCIETY HELP UKRAINE
- As a Ukrainian, I’d like to thank the president of Latvia for the multifaceted support his nation is providing to Ukraine.
- Yes, this help is self-evident for us Latvians as we understand the current situation well. We don’t need to be told anything separately about Russian imperialism, so our support is natural. Both the government and the whole society help Ukraine.
- Probably, it would be logical to start off with the topic of Ukrainian refugees.
- We have already registered more than 30,000 displaced from Ukraine. In Latvia, a special law on the support of Ukrainian refugees has been adopted, laying down special forms of support. In particular, financial assistance is provided for refugees, and it is similar to that received by citizens of Latvia. This includes both a one-time payment when a person has just arrived in the country and a regular monthly allowance, which is very similar to that offered to Latvian citizens if they have no income.
This law also provides that a separate work permit is not required – a person can start working immediately. At the same time, it should be taken into account that there is labor shortage in Latvia. Actually, the problem is not about unemployment, but about a lack of workers – it’s become more difficult for enterprises to find employees. So it’s not difficult for those willing and able to work to find themselves a job.
- How do you address housing issues?
- At the very start, after a person arrives in Latvia, during the first four months, the government helps with accommodation. This includes facilitating the fact that the residents of Latvia - private individuals - welcome migrants from Ukraine in their homes and receive partial compensation from the government. It’s so that they accept more people. There are also other topics in this regard... So this is one thing – refugees. It’s very important. But there is no less, and perhaps more important issue – providing defense assistance to Ukraine.
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE FEEL THE RUSSIAN THREAT BETTER
- Yes, and here, it seems, the numbers are really telling.
- Latvia has already provided defense aid in the amount of approximately EUR 250 million. This is about a third of our defense budget this year. If counted by the share to gross domestic product, among other nations, Latvia and Estonia provide Ukraine with the largest aid - approximately 0.8% of GDP. I should clarify that this is about defense assistance. Aid to refugees is counted separately. Also, large humanitarian aid is mainly provided by non-governmental organizations. But the largest amount of aid is defense assistance. In the list of military donors, Latvia, despite being a small nation, is at the top of the list in terms of its capabilities. [In absolute terms] the USA gave the most (25 billion), then there’s Great Britain (EUR 2.5 billion, Poland (1.8 billion), Germany (1.4 billion), Norway (0.5 billion), Latvia and Estonia (about EUR 250 million each).
- As you can see, the war is dragging on. At the same time, the Kremlin provokes energy, food, and other crises. Is the democratic world ready for this? Is there a long-term strategy to support Ukraine, which is repelling Russian aggression?
- Last week I participated in the NATO summit in Madrid. The war has been going on for four months already. And allies, democratic countries, understood that it would be a long-term war. This is also recognized in the documents adopted in Madrid, including the new NATO concept. It states that Russia is the main enemy of the Alliance. This is a really new concept, from which comes the understanding that Ukraine needs long-term help – primarily in the military sense, as well as in the economic one.
At the same time, there is an important question of public attitudes in Western nations, since the difficulties of the economic nature and those in the energy field have arisen or are just emerging,. This will be a certain challenge for the solidarity [of democracies] with Ukraine. A positive point is that the main political forces in the West understand that Ukraine will need long-term assistance, and at the same time they stand for solidarity. However, in every country, there are populist forces and in every country, they will deny the need to help Ukraine. But, fortunately, they are in the minority so they don’t determine their countries’ policies.
- To what extent is it possible to bring the positions of Eastern and so-called “Old” Europe closer together?
- From the onset of the [full-scale] war, it was the countries of Eastern and Central Europe - Poland, the Baltic nations, Romania – that took the initiative to help Ukraine, which is currently getting assistance from all across Europe… Why so? The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are located closer to the existing source of threat. Therefore, they better understand the problem of Ukraine than the countries of Western Europe, which are geographically farther from Russia... I think that we succeeded in convincing these more western countries, "Old Europe", that Russia is a threat to everyone, not just Eastern Europe. It’s a threat to all NATO allies. An example of such awareness is the decision of the Madrid summit, which I have already mentioned. We discuss the same issues on other platforms – for example, within the "Bucharest Nine". Recently (June 10 - ed.) a meeting in this format took place in Bucharest. This is all about the leadership role assumed by the nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
A NEW COURT SHOULD BE SET UP TO CONSIDER THE GENOCIDE OF UKRAINIANS CASE
- This is a question for you as an acclaimed lawyer. Have you read the report "Independent legal analysis of the Russian Federation's violation of the Convention on Genocide in Ukraine and the obligation to prevent it"? How would you rate this research?
- I can provide a legal and political assessment: there is evidence that Russia is indeed committing genocide in Ukraine. Also, the parliaments of all the Baltic nations have decided that genocide is currently taking place in Ukraine. Canada made a similar decision. Perhaps Poland and some other countries will make the same one. Regarding legal aspects, there is an International Court of Justice (the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague, - ed.). However, in a procedural sense, consideration of this issue is beyond its jurisdiction. Currently, a complaint has been filed by Kyiv: Ukraine accuses Russia of committing genocide, while accusing Ukraine of committing it in Donbas. And this is a violation of the Genocide Convention.
- So it’s a "mirror accusation" by the real perpetrator of the genocide, which is one of the genocide "markers," right?
- Right. This claim is currently being considered by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The first hearings were held early March. This is a legal assessment and it’s important from the point of view of jurisprudence – it was decided that Russia shall stop committing genocide. Of course, Russia doesn’t take this into account. But it is important that there is already such a resolution. It was a temporary ruling, and we’ll have to wait a few more months until the final ruling is handed down... Regarding the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, no international court can accept it for consideration at the moment. Perhaps, on the initiative of Ukraine, a new court will be set up to consider the case. After all, we have precedents regarding Yugoslavia and Rwanda, when new courts were created. I support this. And I spoke about it in Madrid, too. This opinion, this initiative needs to be developed so that a group of countries is formed that will deal with the issue. Because, unfortunately, the case won’t make it through the UN Security Council (where Russia has the right of veto).
REFORM REQUIRES AN INSTRUMENT - PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
- At the final meeting of the spring session of the Saeima (parliament of Latvia - ed.) and in anticipation of parliamentary elections coming this fall, you delivered an interesting speech – on the need for reforms in the Republic of Latvia. Could you single out a few of its main theses for Ukrainians?
- For Ukraine... In order to effectively implement reforms in the country, the government must have a sharp, clear tool to this end. And this tool is public administration. Therefore, it would be logical to conclude that, first of all, public administration is needed, which will deal with the implementation of reforms. In Latvia, a lot has already been done in this sense. Our public administration functions satisfactorily. But reforms never stop. They must be continued by addressing new tasks. This is an ongoing process.
For example, in the 1990s, when we did not yet have a well-functioning public administration in Latvia, there was such a position as "Minister for Public Administration Reform." Accordingly, his task was to reform public administration itself. Perhaps such an official would be relevant for Ukraine as well. That is, this person would not be engaged in all reforms in the entire society, but only in the development of this tool – the reform of public administration. All of this, of course, involves training of public officials, the correct arrangement of the institutional organization of the state, the eradication of corruption, and everything else so that public administration works more efficiently. One of my proposals is to create a state council that would be an independent body and provide its conclusions about the laws – whether the adopted legislation corresponds to permanent (long-term - ed.) policies. All this can improve the legislative process and the activity of public administration.
Oleg Kudrin, Riga
Photos by author