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EU must act with one voice on confiscation of Russian assets / Article

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Indra Sprance: Another attack on Ukraine and its capital ended a few hours ago. Ukrainian air defenses have shot down dozens of drones. How did you feel during these six hours of air alert?

Edgars Rinkevichs : This was not my first air raid in kyiv. Last year, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I I was there at the same time when Russia launched its large-scale attack on the night of February 23-24. After that, during my visit in May – last year and this year – there was also an air alert.

Latvia has already supported the Chernihiv region with five million euros. How and to what extent could this support continue?

Our Saeima is currently considering next year’s budget. An additional five million euros are also included. In my opinion, what we are doing is correct, because as a small country we focus on one region, on one area. There you can also appreciate what has actually been done: a women’s support center, modular houses, as well as building material support so people can repair their damaged homes.

Next year, of course, the government will have to decide how to distribute the money within a specific plan, but as my colleagues at the Foreign Office have informed me, this support will continue as the schools.

We also talked a little yesterday with the head of the military administration of the Chernihiv region about their priorities – there is also a children’s hospital there, there is energy infrastructure there. By the time the Saeima makes the final decision that this money will be included in the budget, it will then be possible to distribute it more precisely with Ukrainian colleagues.

Yesterday and today you continue to meet with senior Ukrainian officials. What other needs does Ukraine have, what are the areas where Latvia could still get involved and help?

Problems at European level. Like the EU’s macroeconomic aid amounting to 50 billion euros. As a member of the European Union, Latvia has its own voice and its own opportunity to express itself.

I myself spoke last week with both the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Vice-President, Valdis Dombrovskis. Yes, it’s not that simple, there are both political and some bureaucratic problems. This must be a unanimous decision of the Member States.

The second thing, of course, is to start negotiations on joining the European Union. Ukraine has the status of a candidate country, but it is now important to begin the formal process of negotiations. And then also technical assistance.

In the area of ​​bilateral relations, there is undoubtedly reconstruction. In Chernihiv. I received a lot of thanks. Likewise, military aid, specific issues affecting international support, the tribunal (for international war crimes).

The Prime Minister of Ukraine and I discussed the currently permitted, but not confiscated, transfer of Russian financial resources to Ukraine. Latvia supports this approach. But the problem is that to achieve this, a joint decision by the European Union is needed. I don’t see much appetite for that at the moment. To be honest, I don’t see it.

Does Latvia have this appetite?

Latvia did it. Latvia sees this appetite within the framework of the joint decision of the European Union.

Within the framework of the common decision, but within the country, we not have fully implemented these measures.

I currently do not see any EU member state that has taken such a decision individually. There was Estonia who said – we will do it, but… When you talk to lawyers, when you talk to colleagues from ministries – I remember it well from my previous work, so a lot of things come up against the fact that it was not confiscated, it was punished. And this is sanctioned by the decision of the European Union and not of Latvia.

So, in fact, to divert these funds, the legally correct way, in order to avoid unexpected legal proceedings, not in Latvian courts, but in European courts, and the most correct, as I heard from experts , would be to follow this common EU path. It is then already a unified decision, which can be defended as a single decision within the framework of a very clearly predictable legal procedure within the European Union.

Ukraine is eagerly awaiting the official invitation to begin accession negotiations with the European Union. How do you see it – Could Ukraine receive it in December?

I can only say one thing. I spoke about this with our Prime Minister, who represents Latvia in the European Council. I know we will do everything to get there. I anticipate some drama, but I really hope this decision comes to fruition.

I also know that there will be very serious discussions on the EU’s enlargement policy in the Balkans. Progress is also expected in this area. I would say that it is in the EU’s interest to send a clear signal about opening negotiations with Ukraine, without forgetting Moldova.

It is also a clear signal that some countries in the Western Balkans have long met the criteria and that they too must make progress, sending a political message that this region is not forgotten either.

You know, I don’t want to end this interview on such a pessimistic note, but if we don’t want a third unpleasant surprise – as happened in Ukraine in 2022, as is happening now in the Middle East in October 2023 – so if we cannot react in the Balkans, I cannot exclude that something very serious will happen in this region.

We have received 101 alerts from our European partners in the Balkans. We have received this warning from the Balkans, we have not shown our interest enough as a European Union and there could be problems that will affect us too. The same migration, the same instability. We must therefore also think about what this region can offer.

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