Putin will likely hit NATO in the Baltic if he wins in Ukraine, EU VP warns – POLITICO
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to step up his military ambitions and challenge NATO in the Baltic Sea countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia unless he is stopped in Ukraine, warned European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis in an interview with POLITICO.
The trade commissioner, who grew up in the Soviet Union and draws on his experience as a former Latvian prime minister, says the EU must take the Russian threat seriously, after years of hesitation from Brussels to Moscow .
“If we don’t support Ukraine, it won’t stop in Ukraine. It is clear that Putin is now in some kind of aggressive war mood and unfortunately this aggression is likely to continue in other countries,” he said.
When asked if he was particularly worried about Moldova, he identified the Baltic countries as a concern. “If you look at the escalation of aggressive Russian rhetoric and even statements that Russia supports Belarusian interests to gain access to the Baltic Sea, and the growing anti-Baltic rhetoric – well in Ukraine, that has also started with growing anti-Ukrainian rhetoric.”
The prediction that the Baltics could be next in Putin’s sights after the invasion of Ukraine reflects the level of concern in some European Commission quarters over Putin’s next move. Dombrovskis has long warned of the threat posed by the Russian president.
While accepting that Russia’s nuclear threat was serious, Dombrovskis cautioned against appeasement of the Russian leader.
“The question is: to what extent do we give in to this blackmail because it can be used all the time against everything? Putin will continue his wars of aggression, he will always use this blackmail,” he said. “These are lessons that should have been learned before. Appeasement of the abuser does not work, and the abuser must be stopped by all means.
Dombrovskis was also skeptical of diplomatic overtures to Putin. “The question is whether they bring tangible results in terms of stopping the war, or at least providing a ceasefire or humanitarian corridors. Currently, none of these have unfortunately materialized. French President Emmanuel Macron has played a leading role in raising awareness of Putin across Europe, with the Russian president also addressing European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in recent days.
The former Latvian Prime Minister stressed that new sanctions against Russia could come in a few days.
“Nothing should be ruled out,” Dombrovsksis said, including in the energy sector. “We should do more, because this aggression unfortunately doesn’t stop, so we should see a way – in a sense – to stop Putin’s ability to fund this war.”
Although Dombrovskis takes a hard line, it is far from certain that Europe would be able to crack down on Russian energy, as Germany is strongly opposed to such a move.
The measures under discussion fall within the domain of crypto-assets; measures to expand the list of banks cut off from the SWIFT payment system; and the removal of Russia’s most favored nation status at the World Trade Organization.
Dombrovskis also wanted to extend the import bans already agreed for Belarus to Russia to avoid a loophole around the embargo.
On the possibility of targeting Russian oil and gas, Dombrovskis said an assessment by the European Commission was underway, but he stressed that “nothing should be ruled out”. Amid a spike in oil prices following speculation that the United States may ban Russian oil, the Commission said “doing something about oil may be a little less disruptive than doing something about the gas”.
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