Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevičs urged the US-led NATO alliance not to “overreact” to President Vladimir Putin. announcement That Russia will deploy Strategic nuclear weapons In Belarus, which shares borders with both Latvia – a NATO member – and Ukraine
“Let’s face it, Russian nuclear weapons are already deployed in Kaliningrad near our border, even before (Russia’s 2014 invasion of) Crimea began,” Rinkevichs told CBS News. “I would see it as some kind of bargaining chip. Something to blackmail our society with.”
He said he would not “overdramatize” the move, but called for additional sanctions against Belarus and Russia. Rinkevichs said that he does not consider Belarus a sovereign state, but rather a “part of the Russian military district.”
Putin said over the weekend that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus on fighter jets and the Iskander hypersonic missile, which has a range of about 300 miles.
Dominika Jarzicka/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Ringkiewicz expressed hope for an expanded NATO when the alliance meets in July. He said he wanted to see 32 members at the summit in Lithuania, signaling the approval of Finland and Sweden’s stalled bids as new NATO members.
Finland moved a step closer to NATO membership after Hungary’s parliament approved the country’s bid on Monday. Another member backing the bid, Turkey is expected to soon approve Finland, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would begin the process.
Sweden remains blocked as Turkey refuses to back its bid until the dispute between the two countries is resolved. Turkey accuses Sweden of harboring members of Kurdish militant groups that Ankara considers terrorists.
Rinkevichs said he hoped “the Allies could resolve outstanding issues so that Sweden would be able to participate as well.”
He also said that support for Ukraine, as it keeps Russia’s aggression at bay, has only strengthened in his country, and he argued that now is not the time for a peace deal. Peace talks will only allow Russia to “reorganize, get stronger and start over,” Rinkevich said.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned earlier this week that calls for a ceasefire in Ukraine could be part of a “control trap” backed by Russian allies.
For Russian conscripts trying to avoid being sent to the front lines by taking refuge in Latvia, Rinkevichs said Latvia’s door was closed. Latvia and other Baltic states have introduced a policy that prohibits refugees from entering the countries because they pose a security risk.
“They are not anti-war people. They are not anti-Putin people. They are not ready to stop the war,” he said, “and we are not ready to accept them as such.”
But civilians continue to cross into Latvia from Russia, Rinkevich noted.
In December, Latvia revoked the license of the exiled Russian television station TV Rain, deeming the outlet a national security threat. TV Rain came under fire after its reporters referred to Russian forces as “our military” and the network showed a map depicting the Crimean peninsula occupied by Ukraine as part of Russia.
Rinkevich called the Russian journalists’ comments “completely unacceptable,” but would not comment further on the pending TV Rain case.