Aris Jansons: Riga continued to profile itself as the EU’s expert on Central Asia

Aris Jansons: Riga continued to profile itself as the EU’s expert on Central Asia

An exclusive interview of the Senior editor of Pirmais Biznesa radio (First Business Radio) in Riga, Latvia  Aris Jansons

1.The fifth article of NATO membership provides that assault of one of the NATO member-states is observed as assault of all the members. To which extent is it able to assure the protection of your country’s sovereignty?


The war in Ukraine and the manipulations with the armed forces and armaments on the Baltic borders regretfully have shown an increasing trend of the hazard. It is logical that in such circumstances, the question of whether NATO can fulfill its tasks is more often asked not only at the pundits’ workshops, but also in the kitchens of ordinary citizens.


Yes, sometimes the presumption seems frightening that potential aggressors has doubts about the vitality of NATO 5th Article, which states that an attack on one of the member states will be considered an attack against all the rest. The commitment of each member state that an attack on one is an attack on all the member states collides with the mechanism of action of Western democracy. In case of aggression, national sovereignty can only be protected by force; however Europe does not want to experience the World War Three, while the forgers of aggressive plans have realized that if the Western democracies would not want to use force, they might go unpunished.


The use of hybridwar methods by the Russian side has been leading NATO into difficulty in defining what would be considered an attack against any of the member states. After the Warsaw Summit, the 72nd Article of the joint communique earned some criticism as it leaves the hybridwar at responsibility of each member of the alliance: "The primary duty to respond to hybrid threats or attacks rests with the country at risk." It is very likely that appearance of the “little green men” may not mean that the member states would automatically trigger the 5th Article and such a probability could prove fatal for the independent Latvian state. 


Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that in his opinion, trying to avoid the starting of NATO 5th Article was the most important goal of the Russian hybridwar. It is not easy to answer your question as even the former Secretary General of NATO has declined to specify how he defines the attack, which requires resort to the 5th Article. Rasmussen explained that the answer to this question would never be given as the deterrence component of the possible opponent lies precisely in the fact that it never knows at what point its action would cause the NATO military response. 


The safeguarding of national sovereignty is greatly enhanced by the conviction that the starting of the Alliance's 5th Article will be followed by real action. It is not for nothing that the NATO, although quite symbolically, has been stepping up its presence in Eastern Europe and strengthening our collective security. This is a signal sent to Moscow to know that if they would attack an NATO ally, they will breach the red line and they will have to face not only the relevant national army but the entire NATO Allied troops. Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine have echoed as a wake-up call for everyone, and NATO is trying to adapt to this new strategic situation.


2. Which is the line of Latvia regarding the idea to unite armed forces of Baltic states?


The changing world scenery suggests that the nearly 25-year-old Baltic defense model is out of date, and the three countries must get ready for the new security challenges. The current situation in the region is greatly affected by Russia with its new strategic steps that are different from those during the Cold War era. Baltic States take note of the Ukrainian events and agree that they must be prepared for a wide range of conflicts and military activities, which are added by hybridwar crimes. This means that the task of safeguarding the national sovereignty of the Baltic countries is be addressed jointly by developing common strategies and at the same time thinking independently and unconventionally.


A few years ago, the then President of Latvia Andris Berzins in an interview with the news agency BNS spoke about the idea of creation of a joint Baltic army, and even though it seemed interesting, it has been currently recognized as practically unenforceable. Deterrent factor was the fact that there is no such example in the world, where a number of independent states have united armed forces, though not necessarily it means that several states can not have their joint army in practice. So far, each of the Baltic countries has had different defense budgets, for example, Estonia was the only of the three countries, which has 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and no wonder that the Estonians looked reluctant to rush to build a unified army with countries which invest fewer resources in the armed forces. Latvia believes that in cooperative actions the armed forces of the Baltic states are already ahead of other NATO member states, so it is no longer talk of closer cooperation, but rather of integration. The Baltic states have long accounted for and maintained their common units, currently the BALDEFCOL - the Baltic Defence College, BALTRON – the joint Navy unit, BaltNet - the common air space control unit, and so on. Also the creation of the joint Baltic Headquarters has been a very deliberate and purposeful step forward, but it is unlikely that there will be a joint organization in the form of the Baltic states’ combined armed forces.


3. Which are the main achievements of the work of the NATO’s Cooperative  Cyber Defence Center?


NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE), based in Tallinn, Estonia, is an operationally independent international military organisation, set up in 2008 and funded as well as directed by voluntarily participating states. It focuses on research, development, training and education in both the technical and non-technical aspects of cyber defence. 


To my mind, NATO CCD COE plays a central role in cyber exercises. Called Locked Shields and organised annually, it involves almost 300 experts from 17 NATO and non-NATO states. This certainly contributes a lot to building trust and strengthening the cyber capabilities of individual states as well as NATO more broadly. NATO’s largest cyber defence exercise, Cyber Coalition 2016, wrapped up in Estonia on (2 December, 2016. The exercise featured a simulated cyber-attack, where participants worked together to identify the threat and mitigate the impact before it could spread across national systems.


Cyber Coalition makes use of the NATO Cyber Range, a platform for NATO exercises and training events located in Tartu, Estonia. 


NATO CCD COE has also hosted annual Cyber Conflict (CyCon) conference in Tallinn, bringing together over 450 experts from around the world to discuss the interconnected technical, legal, policy and strategic dimensions of cyber security, with a focus on the blurry but extremely important concept of “active cyber defence”. 


The NATO-accredited knowledge hub, think-tank and training facility with a diverse group of international experts in cyber security with military, government and industry backgrounds focuses on interdisciplinary applied research and development, as well as consultations, trainings and exercises in the field of cyber security and they are doing quite well. Contrary to the popular belief, the CCD COE is not responsible for NATO’s cyber security. However, its publications, conference and exercises do have a significant effect on NATO’s growing cyber capability.


4. How does bilateral military cooperation of Latvia with the countries of Central Asia region develop?


Latvia successfully advanced relations with Central Asia by taking advantage of its presidency of the European Union (EU) Council in 2015, by fostering bilateral ties. Then in 2016, Latvia continued to provide pragmatic assistance in such areas as education, training, legal reform, local governance, and civil society. Although Central Asia did not feature highly in Latvia’s foreign policy agenda, Riga continued to profile itself as the EU’s expert on Central Asia and was taking on aspects of EU development assistance and interest in the region. Riga has to admit that despite the obvious economic benefits, Central Asia is a fragile region and can easily drift into political turmoil, negatively impacting Latvia’s economic interests. Thus, it is in Latvia’s interest to protect the region’s security and stability. 


Latvia has forged cooperation with Central Asia through its involvement in the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan. US continues to withdraw its military from Afghanistan, reducing Central Asia’s importance as the gateway to Afghanistan in America’s strategic calculus.


Since 2003 Latvia has participated in the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan. Additionally, Latvia strongly supports the EU’s ‘soft security’ measures in Central Asia through the border management programmes.  Latvia continues to support the NATO-implemented policies, by participating in the NATO training operation “Resolute Support” in Afghanistan and ensuring readiness of its forces both within the NRF and the VJTF. 


Following the Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, changes in the volatile international security environment have intensified, including changes in the functioning of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). In its turn, those bilateral contacts between Latvia and the Central Asian countries, which resulted from the NRC's annual plans and schedules (including discussion of the security situation in Central Asia) have been weakened or even stopped.


In recent years, an active participation of Latvia in providing of freight cargo to support ISAF mission in Afghanistan gave a new impetus to relations with Central Asian countries, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as significant points on the cargo route. Currently, Latvia with its military personnel is taking part in NATO's advisory, training and support mission “Resolute Support” in Afghanistan. In addition to this mission, in 2015-17, Latvia also participates in the financing of international partners in the joint fund to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.


For Latvia, the increasing radical world perception among religious Central Asia youth, especially in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, might result relevant. The development dynamics of this region presents additional security risks for Latvia, as it tries to be as visible in the region as possible; it also opens up opportunities to create an additional substance for co-operation with this region that is so very important for Latvia’s foreign policy. 


In the security sector, Latvia has continued to raise awareness and encouraged international community to invest in security in Afghanistan and Central Asia. To that end, at a conference in Tallinn in May, 2016, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics pointed out that attempts by ISIL/Daesh to influence the region was concern for Central Asia, and called for engaging with Central Asian countries as partners in joint efforts to ensure security in Afghanistan. 


5.  Which is the core of energy security assurance for Your country?


Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been improving electricity inter-connections and the synchronization of electric energy systems with European electric energy networks. While Estonia and Lithuania have intensively paid great attention to energy independence issue, Latvia’s national policy aiming at energy security has for a long time remained uncertain and hesitant, and was marked by efforts to build an energy policy in partnership with Russia.


Latvia, with its energy sectors intrinsically linked to Russia for sources and routes, still faces high vulnerability and risks remaining an “energy island”. In Latvia’s case, the most serious situation is in the gas market with Russia’s (Gazprom) controlled “Latvijas Gāze” (Latvian Gas) as the sole gas supplier to Latvia. An amendment to the Energy Law providing for the commercial opening of the gas market in April 2017, and the unbundling (detaching from exclusive Russian control) of the Latvian Gas natural gas utility has been intended as a step forward safeguarding Latvia’s energy security. However, Latvia’s Ministry of Economy backed down, despite previously supporting a more liberal commercial arrangement, and agreed to establish a subsidiary company (a daughter company), instead of an entirely new separate (a sister company) company, which in effect complies with the wish of the Latvian Gas. This unfortunate outcome weakens country’s future energy security.


For meeting the its total energy demand, Latvia has currently 53 per cent of local resources available. Renewables provide for about 37 per cent of energy consumption in Latvia. The primary energy production is dominated by biomass and hydropower. Though, further increasing renewables in Latvia may not be sustainable if solar and wind are not playing a bigger role. Renewables reduce dependency on foreign energy suppliers and mitigate GHG emissions. Nevertheless, developing them further from the currently high level could be costly and the cost-effectiveness of the policy tools used to reach renewables targets should be carefully assessed. 


Hydropower constitutes the current core of Latvia’s energy sector. Hydropower plants of the Daugava cascade with 1,535 MW form the largest summary installed generation capacity in Latvia. In my country large hydropwer plants have multiple functions, for instance, they produce electricity with low variable costs (about 30 per cent of the Latvian average yearly demand) and they ensure a large percentage of the Latvian generation coming from renewable sources.


Base load generation capacity technically available in Latvia can meet all the Latvian electric energy demand even in the peak of the winter season, which can reach up to 1,300 – 1,350 MW. However, the market based electricity price formation drivers prevent high efficient natural gas cogeneration plants of Latvia to be used more intensively than it was done in previous years because of their significant variable costs of energy production.


The task to increase Latvia’s energy self-sufficiency and sustainability is quite significant one and closely connected to the country’s security. Signing of the Energy Security of Supply declaration between the Baltic states in January 2015, thus stimulating the regional cooperation, marks uniting efforts to ensure power security, an underlying goal for our countries. Work has also been started to fully integrate the Baltic electricity grid with the European grid. As of early 2017, electricity markets of the Baltic states are successfully integrated in the Nordic trading system, connected with Poland. 






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