Prepare a swift response to Russia invading Ukraine, Latvia tells west

A swift reprisal package against Russia – including US troops and Patriot missiles stationed in the Baltics, the cutting off of Russia from the Swift banking payments system and reinstated sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – must be prepared now in case it invades Ukraine, the Latvian foreign minister has said.

The warning from Edgars Rinkēvičs comes as Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin prepare to hold talks about the growing tensions.

The US has said it would send reinforcements to Nato’s eastern flank in the event of an invasion, as well as imposing severe new economic measures against Russia.

With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops already gathered within striking distance of the borders, the situation is the worst it’s been since 2015, when Moscow staged a large-scale incursion into Ukraine, clandestinely sending tanks and artillery to encircle Ukrainian troops and compelling Kyiv to sign a peace agreement in Minsk that has since come close to collapse.

Rinkēvičs said he had already discussed the issue with the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, when Latvia hosted the Nato foreign ministers summit last week.

“Russia has to know that if you do something bad in Ukraine then the Nato and US presence in the eastern flank of the alliance will increase. If you do this, you will provoke a bigger presence than now”, he said.

“These decisions had to be made now through bilateral channels and the alliance so if Russia acts there can be a swift and broad response that does not take months or years.

“Work is already underway for a tough economic sanctions package, including the disconnection of Russia from the Swift banking system, sanctions on the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 and other economic sanctions. That package needs to be prepared so it can be applied reasonably quickly. We need to be able to target those who are helping Russia to get more revenues.

“In addition, there must be an increase in the Nato presence in the eastern and Black Sea flank. If there is military activity in Europe, and an aggressive stance by the Russian federation, we must be prepared to defend the territory of the alliance and to send a clear signal that this is a direct consequence of Russian activity.”

He added that Russia needed to be told Nato would not accept its red lines on countries such as Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to the alliance. “If the country in question is ready to join Nato, that is a sovereign Nato decision and there will be no third country meddling”, he said.

He also said, regardless of whether there was an invasion, it would be possible at the last minute to prevent the near-complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline going ahead, saying it was a matter for the EU energy ministers: “ … that is a decision for the European Union and this could be achieved. Some European nations have started procedures requiring the European Commission to check the applicability of EU law to Nord Stream. There is no straight easy answer.”

The pipeline, bypassing the existing route through Ukraine, would deprive Kyiv of badly needed transit revenues, and make Europe even more dependent on Russian gas at a time of rising prices and geopolitical tension.

“If Nato fails to protect its member states or its territories,” he warned, “then it will not just be a military and political failure but a complete mental collapse of the system of values that have been built since the end of world war two. It will mean the whole transatlantic community will be in complete disarray and the glue that keeps us together has failed”.

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