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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  August 22, 2022 12:30am-1:01am BST

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welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. and this is riga, the capital of the small baltic state of latvia, which was liberated from moscow's rule some three decades ago, and which is now braced for a new era of confrontation with russia. vladimir putin's invasion of ukraine reminded latvians of the russian threat. it also stoked internal tensions — because a quarter of latvia's population is ethnic russian, and this country relies heavily on russian gas supplies. well, my guest today is latvia's prime minister, kristjanis karins. just how vulnerable is latvia?
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prime minister kristjanis karins, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. vladimir putin's invasion of ukraine happened six months ago. right now, here in latvia, has that war raised the level of fear to new heights? what the war has done has raised the level of mobilisation. so the first effect was the mobilisation from the grassroots, people rallying to the support of ukraine citizens, ordinary people coming together, asking, "what can we do to help ukraine?" and we've had a mass outpouring of... we have communities making camouflage nets, we have people providing medications, companies donating all sorts of vehicles, donating all sorts
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of humanitarian aid, blankets, you name it, that has been going on. people donating cash — and not very wealthy people, ordinary people. so we've had a massive mobilisation of society, because we here in latvia very well understand that the ukrainians are, in a sense, fighting our war. they are fighting against russian imperialism. right now, it happens to be in ukraine, it could just as well be anywhere else around russia's periphery. and that's precisely why i use the word "fear" — maybe fear and insecurity. because i'm mindful thatjust a month before the invasion, you said that, in your opinion, a war between russia and nato�*s was, quote, "unthinkable". have you had second thoughts about that? i still don't see that happening right now. remember, latvia — we have always been next to russia. we have been countering their military aggression in one form or another
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since the late 1400s — so that's about 600 years of experience. to rattle a latvian is rather difficult because it's nothing new. but what is new is that now, we are part of the eu, and part of the nato military alliance. we are not alone. yeah, i mean, you're ramping up defense spending. you currently have an army and national guard force of some 7,500 personnel. even if you ramp it up to 10—12,000, it'll look pretty small, given that the russian bear is right next door. you are incredibly dependent, are you not, on nato putting new forces onto your territory? first off, our total military forces are actually larger when you take in the national guard. but regardless of that, again, latvia is not alone. first of all, you have to look at all three baltic countries together, and then, you have to look
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at the baltic countries as part of the nato alliance. we have an enhanced forward presence of nato here for the past five years. and our nato partners, just as we are ramping up our defense spending and our capabilities, our nato partners are doing the same. so we are all interdependent upon one another, but we are investing, you know, pound for pound, the equivalent or more than most of our... but there's a bind here, isn't there? because the more you invite nato�*s forces to expand their presence here — and i believe that of all three baltic states, you now will have the largest deployment of nato forces on your territory — the more you do that, the more the russians talk of provocation. 2ajune, sergei lavrov, foreign minister, said, "the eu and nato�*s are gathering a coalition for war with the russian federation. we are going to look at this very carefully." does that russian language give you pause? look, russia is waging a war in ukraine. nato is not waging a war against anyone. the way to provoke russia —
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and this history shows that we've been arguing this for many, many years — weakness provokes russia. russia made a miscalculation that ukraine was easy, the ukraine was weak, and that provoked their military aggression, their war. the way to counter russia is through strength. we've learned this from many, many years of experience — the russians only respond to strength, they only respect strength. so we must, as democracies, as europe, as a whole, and as nato, not be afraid to be strong. so why haven't so many of your partners in the eu and nato not learned the same lesson that you've just described to me? france and germany, for example, italy, as well, spent less than 0.1% of their gdp on assistance to ukraine. you've spent close to 0.8—0.9%, you and estonia, right up there — france, germany, italy, nowhere. we've donated, what is today,
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more than a third of our military budget. it's extraordinary. and we're continuing. you've just sent howitzers, you've just sent military helicopters. yes. my point is exactly that — you are doing so much. partners like germany, france and italy, by the same standard, doing so little. well, someone has to lead in any situation. one can also lead by example, if not by sheer size of the economy. we in the baltics, we are leading by example. great britain is very active in this, the united states is very active, canada — other nato partners are ramping up. i would want them to ramp up more. let's turn this ramp this up a little bit and just ask how sustainable your commitment is. you are overseeing a very fragile economy right now. you've barely recovered in terms of gdp from the financial crash of 2008. you've since had covid, your inflation rate, according to last month's figures, is running at around
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20% worse in food and energy. latvia is in no position to continue and sustain the sort of mobilisation that you've just described to me. i don't agree with that. our economy is continuing to grow. the central bank, the ministry of economy, have increased the projected gdp growth this year from 2.1 to 2.8%. we're actually growing faster based upon our exports, we have a fantastic economy, it's very diverse, it's able to... do you think the latvian people feel that right now? i mean, i've been out on the streets — people are talking about crazy rates of inflation in energy and food prices. right now, we are experiencing high prices in energy and food. throughout europe, we're experiencing this. 0ur relative rates of inflation are also higher. because because we're not such a wealthy nation, we spend a bigger proportion of our salaries on food and energy. but these prices are not
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going up because of our own internal disbalances. they're going up because of the war. and we're already seeing worldwide, the markets have adjusted to the price of oil — that's decreasing, so the petrol prices are going down. well, the biggest problem you've got is gas. and i would put it to you that your achilles' heel in all of this is your reliance on russian gas. let's start by perhaps you acknowledging that over years, your government and previous governments made a massive mistake in continuing the almost complete dependence on russian gas. well, looking back, yes. in 1997, the government at the time took a decision for a 20—year monopoly for gazprom in our country. and it was only in 2017 where we actually could start to rethink our energy policy. sure, but you've been in powerfor, what, the best part of four years — you've done nothing really to address that. not true — we have our biggest infrastructural asset in the energy field is an underground storage facility in latvia, which can hold about two years of our own supply. from 1997, that has been under the control of gazprom. my government now has taken
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a majority stake control, gazprom is completely out, we have a japanese company as a minority investor. we took over our main energy asset. last year, we were 90% russian gas—dependent. 2023, we will be 0% gas dependent. well, hang on, let me stop you there, you say by 2023 — something strange is happening with regard to gas in latvia, because at the very end ofjuly, gazprom announced that they were ceasing all supplies to a whole bunch of countries, including latvia. 0nly five days later, it was reliably reported here that latvia, once again, was indeed receiving russian gas. so are you weaning yourself completely off russian gas right now, or not? yes — the majority of our supplies are coming from a liquefied natural gas facility in lithuania.
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0ur companies, other traders are pumping gas from lithuania into latvia. but my question is quite simple — are you still taking in russian gas? there are traders who are taking in russian gas into the latvian underground storage facilities. the relative volumes to lithuanian gas are very small, and there is already a law in parliament that, as of january one, you will not be able to continue. yeah, but i'm not really interested injanuary one right now, i'm interested in the current situation. estonia, lithuania are not receiving russian gas — you are. many people here believe that's because you've done a deal to pay, for the moment, for russian gas in roubles, have you? no, we cannot. it would be violating all sanctions. as a matter of fact, one of the traders which is buying gas from russia — i don't know how they're doing it, maybe through an offshore... you don't know how they're doing it? surely you must know how they're doing it, you're the prime minister! an estonian company, an estonian company is also purchasing...
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but you are the prime minister. you oversee a government which is committed to maintaining sanctions on russia. you say you are going to stop using russian gas. but at the same time, you acknowledge that you're still receiving russian gas — how can this be? because the law is passed that we will not, and you cannot receive russian gas afterjanuary one. you currently cannot pay for any russian gas in roubles, and no company is doing that. we also have a financial sector which is making sure no rouble payments are being made. there are traders who are finding a different way through, apparently offshore companies that are still having some... and you haven't stopped them? we have not stopped them because the law says — and that's passed by parliament, not the government — the law says january one. there are other ways around this, aren't there? you could continue to take gas from hungary. hungary is, as it's made it clear, going to continue to receive energy supplies from russia. so that would, in effect, be taking gas from russia.
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you could also get your electricity from belarus, which again means you're probably getting electricity from russia. so, for all of your words about maintaining a strict sanctions regime, it seems you reserve the right in latvia to get around sanctions. no, you're misunderstanding me. first of all, from hungary, we physically cannot get gas supplies because we don't have the routes. we have a unified market from finland — finland, estonia, latvia, lithuania, and poland are now all united into it through interconnectors in one market. this market has historically been fully supplied by gas from russia. lithuania has one liquefied natural gas import terminal. estonia and finland are in the process of putting up a second terminal — and my country is in the process of also building an lng offshore facility that would pump gas directly into the underground storage facility in latvia.
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we have put the legislation in place that, as of january one, no company will be able to import any gas from russia, and we have the ability to oversee that that's implemented, because the underground storage facility is government—controlled. so we have full information on where the gas is coming from, which would shut off any supplies that would try to come from russia. 0k, well, let me stop you there. winter is coming. you say by january first, you will get no gas whatsoeverfrom russia, even by third—party sources. so, what's going to happen here in latvia? we currently have, according to known supplies underground and known contracts that have already been signed with gas coming from lithuania, we have enough gas for our own needs. are you sure? what if it's a really harsh winter? again, based upon historical usage, we have enough gas underground or under contract to be underground, coming through lithuania to last throughout the entire heating
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season. do you think that europe generally is prepared to accept the pain necessary to really inflict economic pain on russia, through energy supplies and a whole host of other sanctions, too? yes, and i think this is what's surprised many probably in europe, but i think especially in the kremlin — that the response from the west as a whole, europe, nato, has been surprisingly a united response. we have not drifted apart — if anything, we've actually pulled ourselves much more together. visas for russian citizens wanting to enter the eu. let me just be clear about your position — are you now, in latvia, giving no visas to russians, allowing no russians to enter latvia? since 2a february, we stopped issuing all tourist visas to russian citizens, and we only issue on
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an exceptional basis, i think what you call humanitarian visas. there are some who have received that permit, but the general rule is no visas. the german chancellor scholz says that's a fundamental mistake. he says, "this is not a war on the russian people. it is putin's war. it is important for us to understand there are a lot of people fleeing from russia because they fundamentally disagree with the russian regime." you really want to lock them out of getting a safe haven in latvia? once again, it's important to distinguish a tourist visa from a humanitarian visa. we are accepting, on an exceptional basis, russian citizens who are indeed fleeing the putin regime. we have, in latvia, we're actually hosting many news services, russian edition, including the bbc�*s, and many others — the former independent russian media, which is banned in moscow, is alive in latvia and reporting back into russia. so, of course, you always
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find a way to let that which would be termed a humanitarian issue — but this is a topic that we will be discussing in europe. we've not yet discussed it. the thing is, it's an extraordinarily sensitive topic here in latvia — not least because 25% or more of your population is self—identified as ethnic russian, speaks russian as their first language, not latvian. this matters enormously to that russian population. are you offering, for example, no future temporary resident visas for russians in latvia? because your community of ethnic russians wants to know whether you are now saying "no more temporary resident visas". again, we have a large ethnic russian community in latvia, most of whom are latvian citizens, and none of this applies to them at all. what we will be stopping, or reversing the policy of the temporary residency permits, which the country has
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granted over the years — every five years, if you have such a permit, it can come up for re—evaluation. and the default process has been, it's ok unless there is a problem. and we're now simply changing it to, the default is "no," unless there is an exceptional reason to say "yes". so when the russian government accuses latvia of treating ethnic russians, russian language speakers in this country as second—class citizens, they have most certainly got a point, doesn't they? no, i'm maybe not expressing myself clearly. the latvians who live in latvia are mostly latvian citizens. well, you say mostly — there are pretty much 200,000 latvian residents of russian or, let's say, soviet origin who have a passport which, on the cover of the passport, describes them as "aliens". there are fundamental rights these people do not enjoy, including the right to vote. what kind of democracy are you? this is actually the only right they don't have. and we have had an open door for 30 years for these people
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to naturalise and accept latvian nationality citizenship. so you're telling them that they have to take notjust a language, but a sort of ideology test before you are prepared to offer them full citizenship, even though they have lived here for many decades? the choice to become a citizen or a non—citizen is an individual choice. my government and all previous governments have held an open door. and our government is actually no different from other countries. every country has a barfor citizenship. no country allows, you know, without a basis, and the process in some countries is actually quite, quite difficult. but a self—confident democracy would surely not undertake
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some of the measures you have recently taken. that is, refusing any notion that russia should be an official language, that is telling high school students that they cannot use russian in high school, ensuring that all publicly—funded media does not use russian. these do not look like the actions of a confident, stable latvia. that may be your opinion, it certainly is not mine. latvia is a very confident nation, and all we have done is something that all of the european countries do as a default. if you grow up in sweden, you will learn swedish in school, you become integrated into society — keeping your own ethnic identity... but i'm talking about... it's an important integrator. in germany, everyone grows up and learns german in school. in latvia, we're moving simply because the same... symbols are important and they certainly interpreted in moscow. when you have 19—year—old kids being arrested because they waved a russian flag at a soviet war memorial on the day that russians celebrate liberation from the nazis, does that look like an open, tolerant, confident latvia?
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and when you say you're going to "tear down every soviet war memorial", what kind of symbolic message does that send? i think it sends a very clear message. we have relics of the soviet occupation throughout my country. many have been taken down over the years, there are some still remaining. the parliament took a decision that they will all be removed by the end of the fall. this is an inevitable process, and it's happening throughout the entire region. and you could say, it's one of the last visual, symbolic gestures of getting rid of the last vestiges of occupation. remember... i'm just mindful that we sit here in the context of the ukraine war, and of many state—funded commentators in russia saying that the government there, putin needs to expand his war to defend russian speakers, ethnic russians in the wider russian sphere of influence. as they put it, it comes back to provocation
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and whether you fear the consequences of your actions. again, our government and our society as a whole is doing nothing extraordinary. we simply want to live in peace on our own terms, not dictated by a former imperialistic master. the fact that the russian government currently is in expansionist, imperialistic mode, you could say, a very dangerous sort of nationalism and chauvinism is simply a fact. my acknowledging that or doing something does not change that. my neighbour is doing what they're doing regardless of what we're doing here. so we've decided, and i think it's a very rational decision, to get on with our lives, to develop our economy, to make our society the place where we all want to live. and our doors are wide open to people of all ethnicities. there's zero discrimination on that level. if anything, you know, sometimes latvian speakers complain that to get a job, why would they have to know
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russian in latvia to get a job? i notice you're trying to change that — but i want a final thought, and it's about the future, the endgame. you've said to me that latvia can sustain its commitment to helping ukraine. but what is the endgame here? macron says, "this war must not end with putin and russia humiliated." there's talk in some quarters of the inevitability of territorial compromise. do you, as prime minister of latvia, see that inevitability of territorial compromise? or do you think it has to end in total victory for ukraine? it has to end for an acknowledged defeat on the part of russia. and this is important for all of europe, for european security, you could say, actually for world security. because what is at stake is, is it permissible that a country, regardless of where, can, for territorially expansionary purposes,
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invade, subjugate, rape, pillage — do everything terrible in the name of some crazy ideology, which actually many of us thought died with the second world war? so, unlike macron, your message is "no compromise"? no — macron�*s message, he's evolved over time. he said that quite early in the war. i haven't spoken to him in the past month. i think he's probably also on a somewhat different page. last time all of us spoke, we were all very united that ukraine had to win and russia had to lose. and the definition of what is a win — i don't think it's up to us outside of ukraine to decide. i think it's up to zelensky, the ukrainian government, and the ukrainian people to decide. but what has to be clear that russia understands that military adventurism does not pay. it will not pay, it's not paying in ukraine,
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and certainly not outside of ukraine. prime minister karins, i'm very grateful to you for joining me on hardtalk. thank you. hello there. for many, this weekend shaped up to be a tale of two halves. the north of england on saturday was cloudy, grey and wet with a couple of inches of rain falling. but on sunday, just take a look at leeds, just shy of 13 hours of sunshine here. i suspect there's going to be more rain in the forecast, however, today, with this area of low pressure and the fronts pushing in from the west. now, some of that rain
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is going to push its way steadily eastwards. so, some heavy rain clearing to showers. the best of the drier weather through monday is likely to be across scotland. so we start off, then, with heavy rain moving out of northern ireland through the irish sea into the north—west of england and parts of wales. but you can see central and southern england is quite showery in nature, so not everywhere will see some wetter weather. there'll be some heavier bursts. the best of the drier, sunny weather looks likely potentially to be in scotland. not quite as warm here, though, 1a to 20 degrees the high. we mightjust see 25 degrees ahead of that rain before it arrives in parts of lincolnshire and east anglia. now, as we move into tuesday, this area of low pressure will continue to enhance some showers in the far north—west, and down to the south—west, we've got this little weather front which will bring some showery outbreaks of rain across south—west england and wales. just how far north that's going to be, well, we'll need to keep an eye on that, but we start to tap into some pretty warm, humid air with that south—westerly flow and temperatures in east anglia
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and the south—east likely to peak at 27 celsius. that's 80 fahrenheit. it stays warm and humid in the south and east. at same time, close to that low pressure, we'll see more wetter weather, sharper showers developing out to the west. so first thing on wednesday morning, a very humid feel, 18 degrees. and so, despite it being quite cloudy to begin with, it will be largely fine and dry with that south—westerly flow. as the rain eases away, the temperatures are likely to peak at highs of 27 celsius by the middle of wednesday afternoon. moving out of wednesday into thursday, that weather front is going to continue to sink south and east. there'll be no significant rain on it, unfortunately. and so, that does mean that thursday on the whole will be largely fine and dry. potential for some thundery rain first thing in the south—east and then into the weekend, drier but noticeably fresher.
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welcome to newsday. reporting live from singapore, i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines. singapore says it'll end its ban on sex between men, but has made it a lot more difficult to legalise same—sex marriage. i believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most singaporeans will now accept. russia investigates a blast which killed the daughter of an ideological ally of president putin, saying the attack was pre—meditated. growing concern over a wave of killings targetting hindus in india—administered kashmir. and the bbc gains rare access to the american and south koreanjoint operations centre


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