‘Immoral’ German relationship with Russia, China dividing Europe – Latvian minister

Latvian deputy prime minister and minister of defence Artis Pabriks: ‘How are you acting yourself when it comes to Lithuania, Russia, China? It’s immoral and hypocritical.’ Photograph: Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Germany’s “immoral and hypocritical” relationship with Russia and China has driven a wedge between western and eastern Europe, Latvia’s defence minister has said in comments that highlight cracks in the West’s unity.

Artis Pabriks told the Financial Times that western Europe’s “wishful thinking” about security was evident in its response to Russia amassing more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine.

In strongly worded remarks that lay bare the tensions within Nato over how to handle Russia, Mr Pabriks said Berlin had an “immoral inability” to allow howitzer guns once stationed in Germany to be shipped from Estonia to Ukraine to help its defence against a possible invasion.

German companies were also threatening to quit Lithuania in relation to its dispute with China over the de facto Taiwanese embassy in the Baltic country, even as Germany invoked “values” when seeking to punish Poland over its rule of law violations, he added.

“How are you acting yourself when it comes to Lithuania, Russia, China?” Mr Pabriks asked. “It’s immoral and hypocritical. It’s driving a division line between west and east in Europe.

“Germans forgot already that Americans were granting their security in the cold war. But they should [remember]. It’s their moral duty,” he added.

Nato is under pressure to respond not just to Russia’s sabre-rattling on Ukraine but its demands to rewind the alliance’s eastern Europe expansion and change the continent’s security set-up.

Eastern European countries have been dismayed by Berlin’s refusal to send lethal weapons to Ukraine and the lengthy delay Estonia is facing over the howitzers. Berlin has a say as the weapons were originally based in eastern Germany before being transferred first to Finland and then Estonia.

Mr Pabriks said: “If a person is walking in a dark alley and somebody is being beaten up and I’m saying ‘once you’re beaten up I’ll call an ambulance’, it’s not proper.”

He suggested that Russia would seek to use the Germans’ reticence to act. “They will try to exploit it,”he said.

‘We need deterrence’

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2004 became the only former Soviet states to join the EU and the Nato alliance. But they have complained of being ignored over the dangers of Moscow’s belligerence in Georgia in 2008 and in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.

Mr Pabriks said part of this was because western Europe was farther from Russia. “They’ve been living in peace for years. They think about gas, exports and co-operation. For us border countries, it’s different. For us it’s existential. Our past doesn’t give much chance of just trusting [Russia]. It would be death for us.”

Mr Pabriks added: “European security cannot be done without a German leading role. At this moment, when we’re looking at how they’re acting on European defence and Nato, the readiness of the Bundeswehr [German army] station case against China in relation to the Lithuania dispute. A European response to coercive measures is needed. It is a sign of European solidarity.”

Latvia on Thursday proposed an increase in its defence spending from Nato’s target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product to 2.5 per cent. Mr Pabriks said that despite this US troops were needed in the Baltics, echoing calls by Estonia’s prime minister. “We need deterrence now,” he added. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022