NATO – Russia Confrontation could Escalate, says Latvian State Secretary
- By defencematters
Latvian Defense Ministry State Secretary Jānis Garisons stated in an interview to Latvian News agency LETA and DefenceMatters that the lessening of the confrontation between Russia and NATO will be dependent on Russia’s domestic political processes with the situation not expected to get any better.
Taking into account the experience gained during the international operation in Afghanistan, no NATO member is currently prepared to launch a ground operation in the east against the Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh) terrorist organization, Latvian Defense Ministry State Secretary Jānis Garisons stated in an interview to Latvian News agency LETA and DefenceMatters. He pointed out that the situation can change if ISIS is successful in more directly threatening NATO member states. Furthermore Garisons points out that the lessening of the confrontation between Russia and NATO will be dependent on Russia’s domestic political processes, however, current analysis shows that an improvement of the situation is not expected in the coming year, and is more likely to deteriorate.
Are the recent terror attacks in Paris not the last straw for the Western coalition to begin land operations against ISIS?
Of course it is hard to counter this group and their supporters with only air strikes. That is why the participants of the U.S. led coalition are training the local security forces in Iraq. I believe that, taking into account the experience gained in Afghanistan and all of the resources which have been spent, no NATO member is prepared to begin a new ground operation in Syria or Iraq. According to theory, 15 years at least are needed to stabilize a country after conflict, as well as transfer power to local authorities. I believe that nobody has enough money at the moment to begin a new and extensive ground operation, which is why the only possibility at the moment is to train local security forces, so that they are capable of fighting ISIS. Of course the situation can change if Daesh is able to gain more control and become successful in threatening NATO member states directly. It is also very important what kind of politicians come into power in the West in the next several years.
What else, from a military perspective, must the coalition do to vanquish ISIS?
We must improve the professionalism of local security forces and make sure they are adequately equipped. Allied support in their training would also improve the personal morale of the local security forces. At the same time, it is also important for the coalition to aim their air strikes directly at ISIS gravitation points – their command, critical infrastructure, weapons and munitions storage units, training camps and other objects crucial to the organization’s battle capabilities. From an economic standpoint, we must evaluate whether everything has been done to restrict ISIS source of income, including the sale of oil on the black market, as this is the group’s main source of income, which can be seen as considerable.
Has the downing of a Russian jet in Turkey threatened the expansion of the coalition against ISIS?
The coalition against ISIS cannot be used as an excuse to threaten the sovereignty of any NATO member.
This incident is another reminder to Russia that it must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations – in this case it is Turkey. Turkey had every right to protect its territory, with NATO members also unanimously expressing their support and solidarity to Turkey in this matter. The information and facts available to NATO on this incident show that Russian military aircraft have indeed penetrated Turkish airspace.
In regard to the coalition against ISIS, this is a matter for Russia itself – how much is it prepared to be involved and how it treats its partners, and whether Russia truly has the same objectives as NATO members.
When will the Latvian Defense Ministry submit precise proposals to the government regarding the participation of Latvian soldiers in the coalition against ISIS?
We have already found partners with whom we could join up and become involved in the coalition – the Danish armed forces. Taking into account the geo-political situation in the Baltics, Latvia, of course, will not be able to make as large a military contribution as it did several years ago in Iraq. This means that a unit of approximately 10 military instructors from Latvia would be located in Iraq and help to train this country’s armed forces. Latvian soldiers would not participate in battle operations. At the moment, the only matter which still needs to be solved is the legal status of Latvian soldiers, which is necessary so that they can be ensured the proper protection. Each country has a bilateral agreement signed with Iraq. With the help of the Foreign Ministry, we have requested the Iraqi government to deal with this matter. As soon as the Iraqi government answers our questions and all of the formalities are solved, we will move forward with the process of approving the necessary mandate by the government and parliament.
Is participation in the coalition in Iraq the only international operation where Latvian soldiers will participate in the near future?
We will continue to participate in the operations we are currently participating in. At the moment, Latvia is participating in the EU operation Atalanta, which is aimed at countering pirates at sea, the Resolute Support training mission in Afghanistan, as well as the EU’s military operations against people trafficking and illegal trade in the Mediterranean Sea region – EunavforMed.
We are also planning on continuing our cooperation in Liberia with the Michigan National Guard, where Latvian soldiers are participating in the training of local officers. The operation was suspended due to the Ebola-virus outbreak in Liberia, but the situation has normalized and several Latvian soldiers could return to the country next year.
We recently read in the press comments made by the commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe, regarding Russia’s capability of an assault in the Baltics. How large are Russia’s abilities to block the Baltics with the aim of preventing the arrival of NATO forces?
The Commander of the United States Army Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, previously did indeed state that Russian capacities in the Kaliningrad region and the so-called Suwalki corridor in Poland may hinder the defense of the Baltic states. The ability for Russia and Belarus to quickly block this corridor is nothing new to the Latvian Defense Ministry. We began speaking about this problem three years ago, based on the scenarios played out by Russia and Belarus during their joint military maneuvers. That is why we have been very active on speaking about the necessity to increase the allied presence in the Baltics. Only through the presence of allied forces in the region can we prevent from such a scenario taking place. I do not deny that NATO is thinking of ways to ensure the superiority of air and naval forces over Russia in the region.
If Russia is concentrating large forces in its western districts, shouldn’t the alliance be sending a large number of soldiers to the Baltics?
This of course does not mean that we now have to act on the basis of ‘one on one’. We need for NATO forces deployed to the Baltics to have military importance. At the same time, we ourselves need to ensure the adequate support and infrastructure to accommodate our allies here.
How long might the confrontation between Russia and NATO continue, taking into account that Russia and the West have been drawn nearer to one another in fighting terrorism after the recent acts of terror?
I believe that overall, everything is dependent on the internal political processes in Russia. From analyzing Russia’s internal political processes, one can conclude that an improvement of the situation cannot be expected, as least in the medium term – within three to five years. However, we also fear that the situation could actually deteriorate even further.
We are worried about Russia’s behaviour the past several years – when Russia has not succeeded in one military campaign, it begins another. With this I mean Ukraine and Syria. Despite Russian efforts in Syria, I am afraid to say they will not have much success. This does not mean that after Syria the Baltics will be next, but this is how Russia is attempting to maintain internal political peace. Russia, of course, has other directions, other than the Baltics where it can expand its politics. Russia’s actions are very unpredictable, thus, what action Russia will take in two years time is dependent on the internal political processes. Thus, it cannot be denied that with the deterioration of the economic situation, there will be greater need to use force.
NATO forces are of course much superior to the Russian army, however, Russia has made considerable investments in developing its armed forces the past years.
I do not agree to the claim that the armed forces of the West are weaker than Russia’s armed forces. Overall, Europe’s armed forces are much greater than Russia’s army. The strategy which is put into practice is very important – that is why many in the West are speaking about a policy of deterrence. This means that Baltics and the alliance must to do everything possible to show Russia that an invasion of the Baltics would be very, very costly. Let us pray that such a war will not take place, however, I am completely convinced that we will be capable of resisting.
Much has been talked about the so-called hybrid-warfare model of ‘’green soldiers’’ being sent into Latvia, but should we not speak about resisting other possible future war scenarios which Russia might launch against other NATO members?
The hybrid-war model which Russia is implementing in the Crimea and the east of Ukraine is nothing new. The so-called ‘’green soldiers’’ were nothing other than special-forces soldiers. To fight against such soldiers, only political will is necessary. If foreign special-forces soldiers are in territory of Latvia, we are legally permitted to use military methods to wipe them out. The alliance must of course, analyze other possible future conflict models and how to counter them. However, I believe Russia’s hybrid-war methods in Eastern Ukraine was a failure, thus I do not believe that it will use this exact model in another country again.
After the annexation of Crimea, has the Defense Ministry started to consider allowing members of the Home Guard keep their weapons at home? Is this process moving forward?
After an assessment of the situation, an official command can already be made for Home Guardsmen to keep their weapons at home. We have decided that by 2018, we will create 18 rapid response sub-units, and these Home Guardsmen will be able to store their individual equipment at home, including weapons and night vision equipment.
Before this, these units will be trained to avoid any incidents.
How could the Home Guard be more involved in supporting the eastern borders, which is currently seeing an influx of immigrants?
The armed forces already have plans drawn up how they can support Interior Ministry institutions like the State Border Guard. For example, the Home Guard’s 2 Region has exercises planned with the State Border Guard. At the same time, the Defense Ministry has offered to ensure border guard with some equipment they might be lacking, like, for example, off-road vehicles.
Taking into account the current geo-political circumstances, has the Defense Ministry taken special interest in verifying the loyalty to the state of Home Guardsmen and soldiers?
There have been some separate incidents, like, for example, last year when a soldier was discharged after information surfaced doubting his loyalty to the state. Overall, the situation can be seen as good, as all professional soldiers need a certain clearance level for access to classified information, thus security services carefully verify them. However, it cannot be ruled out that in time persons can change their views and beliefs. About one soldier per month is discharged after losing his or her access to classified information, but the reasons for this vary.
Members of the Home Guard do not need access to classified information, but the recent increase in interest in joining the Home Guard is creating new challenges, thus security services and commanders are closely following along to make sure persons with opposite objectives do not join the armed services. We are looking at ways to verify persons wishing to join the Home Guard, so that such persons are not able to join.
It is no secret that the aim of unfriendly nations is to use informative methods to undermine national morale and distrust in their country. These disinformation campaigns are aimed at the whole public, and soldiers are no exception. That is why we carefully look after the psychological security of our soldiers and pay great attention to explaining the current geo-political situation to them.
I would also like to emphasize that despite ethnicities and political beliefs, soldiers have a huge bond with one another, as on the battlefield their lives are dependent on one another.
One of the Defense Ministry’s budget priorities is the adequate accommodation and support of allies. How ready is Latvia to host a wider force of allies at the moment?
In March of 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, we were successfully able to host a U.S. company within several days. This showed that our system of hosting allies is overall on a good level. This system had been introduced and practiced previously during international military exercises.
Latvia’s weak point at the moment is that we are not able to offer wide-ranging military exercises for our foreign allies. The National Armed Forces lacks the infrastructure – starting from barracks and ending with training grounds. Any foreign unit arriving here expects us to host them at an adequate level, and there are minimum requirements which need to be met.
At the moment, the Defense Ministry is working on developing this infrastructure. Latvia has joint projects with the United States, which has committed to invest approximately EUR 20 million into the Ādaži and Lielvarde bases. At Lielvarde, for example, we need to construct a fire station, but at Ādaži we have to construct barracks and build proper garages, where we cannot only hold our own military transport equipment, but also allied equipment.
In the near future, we plan on completing work on plans for the construction of the largest military training grounds in the Baltics – an expansion of the Ādaži training grounds. At the same time, we currently do not have a training ground to improve our battle capabilities in populated areas, and we do this training in Lithuania. This is especially important when more and more people are joining the Home Guard. If there is an increase in the allied presence, the matter of having adequate training grounds will become especially important.
What is the current situation with Latvia’s ports, roads, rail lines and stations?
I do not believe we have major problems in this area. All three of Latvia’s largest ports have experience in receiving military equipment. The Defense Ministry has good cooperation with Latvian Railways and a ramp at Garkalne Rail Station has been renewed, which is the closest loading and unloading point of military equipment to the Ādaži base.
Then the hosting capacity of allied forces has reached the highest level?
Despite our lack of barracks, foreign soldiers can be accommodated in adequate tents, and this is nothing out of the ordinary. Latvia has already expressed that the most optimal version would be the ability to host a battalion. At the moment, we are working on what was agreed during the Wales Summit. U.S. forces, including tanks, have been deployed on a rotational basis at the Ādaži base, while U.S. helicopters are currently stationed at the Lielvarde base.
British soldiers are planning to arrive in Latvia next year, while German and Danish soldiers trained in Latvia this year on a rotational basis.
Taking into account all of the above, I wish to emphasize that a necessary decision must be made regarding long-term solutions to the hosting of allied forces, which could be made during next year’s NATO Summit in Warsaw.
You recently mentioned in a conference that work continues on recruiting staff for the Home Guard’s cyber-defense unit, but in order to strengthen the security of information technology in the defense sector, a military CERT (Information Technology Security Incident Response Institution) unit is being put together. Can you tell us something more about these units?
Such units as part of the national defense system are nothing new. It is also no secret that the cyber space, as part of the national defense system, has become just as important as the defense of land, air and sea. Thus, special units have been set-up with the aim of protecting the defense sector from cyber attacks on other threats in the cyber space, while at the same time attempting to identify possible threats and where they come from.