Latvian and Lithuanian leaders urge western unity to defeat Russia in Ukraine

The prime ministers of Latvia and Lithuania have urged fellow Europeans to look past the cost of living crises and higher energy prices to ensure Russia loses the war in Ukraine.

Latvia’s Krišjānis Kariņš and Lithuania’s Ingrida Šimonytė told the FT’s Global Boardroom conference on Wednesday that it was becoming harder to keep the west united on sanctions but that Russian president Vladimir Putin had to be stopped before he turned his sights on other countries.

“Our goal must be for Putin to lose the war. If it’s going to take some time, it’s worth it. It’s worth paying the cost in terms of energy. In the west, we pay with our wallets. The Ukrainians are paying with their lives,” said Kariņš.

Šimonytė added: “There is still some level of wishful thinking among some of our colleagues who would like to think there is an easier solution. We should not fool ourselves.”

The three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are suffering more than most with inflation rates. They have highest levels in the eurozone, ranging from 20 per cent in Estonia in May to 16 per cent in Latvia.

But the Baltic leaders, who have already cut themselves off voluntarily from Russian gas, are also the fiercest advocates in the EU for upping sanctions further and helping Ukraine with more weapons.

Šimonytė said other European countries had become “hooked” on cheap Russian gas with Putin now using the “leverage to blackmail them”.

But Kariņš argued that the surge in inflation was entirely due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, and not the sanctions imposed by western governments. “We should have a very clear focus and not lose this emphasis on whose guilt it is. The only way to stop it is for Ukraine to win the war,” he said.

He stressed that he did not see unity among western countries as the biggest issue. “It could potentially become more difficult to keep this unity of purpose. Right now, I don’t see it as an issue,” he added.

The Baltic countries are on the frontline between the EU and Nato, and Russia. All three are pressing for a big increase in foreign troops in their countries at the Nato summit at the end of this month. They won the backing of German chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, who committed to a “robust combat brigade” — meaning 3,000-5,000 troops — led by Germany in Lithuania, up from the current battalion level of about 1,000.

Both Latvia’s and Lithuania’s prime ministers used the joint interview to take aim at those pressing Ukraine to make concessions or those like French president Emmanuel Macron arguing that Putin should not be humiliated.

“I find it puzzling sometimes where quite many politicians are thinking about [saving] the face of Putin, as if he had one. There is no sense of speaking about the dignity of people who are humiliating the dignity of the Ukrainian nation every day,” said Šimonytė.

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