Recalling Ukraine, Latvian Leader Warns On Putin

NEW YORK, USA -- Latvia’s president warned the West against trusting Moscow as a partner as Russia expands its role in Syria, pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s success in gaining control over parts of Ukraine while trying to intimidate and divide Europe.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis says West should be wary of Russia as partner in Syria.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Raimonds Vejonis expressed deep skepticism that the year-end deadline for fully implementing a peace accord for eastern Ukraine would be met and blamed Russia for continuing to foment instability.

“It’s very difficult to trust such a partner,” Mr. Vejonis said.

He described Moscow sending military jets in increasing numbers of sorties over Latvia and its Baltic neighbors in the past year while seeking to exert influence over some European Union members through economic ties in an effort to split the bloc.

“It becomes more and more difficult to have a common policy” to counter Moscow, he said, though he expressed confidence that the EU would keep up its sanctions against Russia if the Ukraine peace accord fails.

Moscow launched its first airstrikes Wednesday against what it said were Islamic State targets in Syria.

The strikes, however, apparently hit areas mostly dominated by moderate rebel factions or other opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s ally.

In Ukraine, Mr. Vejonis said he held little hope that Russia-backed separatists would give back to Kiev full control of the long stretch of border with Russia before Dec. 31, as called for under the agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

“It’s just impossible,” he said, citing the short time remaining.

For that to happen, the Minsk accord also requires that Kiev devolve greater autonomy to the rebel regions, and that the separatists hold fair local elections.

Each side has balked at certain elements of the plan, and has often pointed the finger at the other side in justifying delays.

Russia denies it has forces in Ukraine and says that it is Kiev that has been failing to implement the Minsk deal.

Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Putin said Moscow would carry out the agreement.

Late Tuesday, Ukrainian negotiators and the rebels took another step toward implementing the accord, by agreeing to withdraw small-caliber weapons from the front line.

Though Mr. Vejonis hailed a recent drop in violence in eastern Ukraine, he said he worried that the ebb in fighting—as well as Moscow’s Syria gambit—would deflect attention from the conflict.

“Russia tries to move [the focus] away from Ukraine,” he said.

“If all we see now is discussion about Syria and Russia, nobody will speak about Ukraine.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal