Interview with H.E. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Latvia to Ukraine Juris Poikāns for UA: Ukraine Analytica
What Is, In Your Opinion, The Main Indicator Of The Level And Success In Bilateral Relations?
Latvia and Ukraine are traditional partners and friends in various fields. We do not have any open difficult issues or historical disagreements. This makes our relationship free of any prejudice and allows us to constantly build additional bridges of common understanding. It is equally important that both our countries are sparing no efforts in searching for new ways of enlarging and deepening our ties. How to measure the level and success in bilateral relations? There is no clear methodology but I would measure them by whether we have succeeded in making our traditional ties even deeper and stronger. In the field of political co-operation, it should be noted that the President of Latvia R.Vējonis paid one of his first foreign trips to Ukraine in October 2015. The then Prime Minister of Ukraine A.Yatsenuk visited Riga in November 2015. During this visit the prime ministers of two states unveiled a monument to the famous Ukrainian writer T.Shevchenko. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia E.Rinkevičs took part in the annual Kyiv Security Forum in April 2016. These facts show the deep level of engagement on a political level. In the international arena, Latvia has constantly expressed its unequivocal support for the restoration of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by condemning the illegal annexation of the Crimea. In addition, the Government of Latvia supports the efforts of the Ukrainian Government in finding a peaceful settlement for the conflict in the East of Ukraine. We are traditional supporters of Ukraine’s European integration efforts, and view this choice of Ukraine as its natural choice supported by the society. We want to see the introduction of a visa free regime for short time travels to the Schengen zone as soon as possible.
In the field of economic ties, a gradual increase in our mutual trade in 2016 sends a strong signal regarding the recovery of the economic situation in Ukraine. Our brands such as “Olainfarm”, “Grindex”, “Dzintars”, “Latvijas balzāms” are well known beyond Latvian borders and have earned the reputation of quality among Ukrainian customers. The largest enterprise of the Baltic States in the field of telecommunications “Lattelecom” is developing a strategy on connecting our countries closer together. Moreover, we should not forget that the national carrier “Air Baltic” has been offering flight services between the two capitals for more than twenty years.
In addition, this year we have witnessed the development of co-operation in other fields as well. The minister of agriculture of Latvia has just attended the exhibition Agro 2016 in the framework of which he met his Ukrainian counterpart. The ministers of transportation met in the margins of the Conference in Leipzig. Exchanges in the realms of culture and education were also visible. For example, a modern art exhibition of the Nordic – Baltic countries was high on Kyiv’s cultural agenda for two months from March to May.
In Which Spheres Is Cooperation between Ukraine and Latvia the Most Meaningful?
We have no impediments for developing our relations. Obviously, political ties are and will remain important. We are expecting a visit of the President of Ukraine to Latvia in 2017. The tradition of meetings between three Baltic prime ministers and Ukraine will be continued. Economic ties due to traditional contacts will be high on the agenda as well. Agriculture including forestry and fishing resources caught the attention of the governments. In the field of transportation, the development of the corridor between North and South, the Baltic and the Black Seas, provides an opportunity for new transport arteries. Two latest educational exhibitions in Kyiv attracted the interests of various are currently making one of the biggest groups of foreign students in Latvia. Our contacts in the military field are strong and solid. Exchanges of experience between the militaries of two states take place on a regular basis. Culture remains a uniting bridge between the two nations through participation in different cultural festivals, concerts and exhibitions. It should also be stressed that our physicians have helped participants of ATO to recover in our hospitals and receive medical assistance.
How Much Do Latvian Membership In The EU And Ukrainian European Aspirations Influence Their Bilateral Relations?
It makes our co-operation and mutual understanding even closer. We have experience that has been accumulated during the accession process to the EU, which might be of interest to Ukraine. By signing the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, Ukraine will need to undertake huge efforts in reforming its legislation and implementing it. Latvia can be there to support. We have so far implemented different projects in the field of agriculture, decentralization and the fight against corruption. A special expert from the Ministry of Agriculture is working currently in Kyiv to advise the Minister on the projects of mutual interest.
Not being a member of the EU, Ukraine, however, is a part of the larger European process. Thus issues such as migration crisis or the British vote on the EU are equally important for both states, which make it essential to look for possible solutions.
What Are The Main Challenges In The Embassy Work?
When you have an active and busy agenda in such type of relations, which exist between Latvia and Ukraine, you usually face two problems – capacities and time. Latvia’s diplomatic missions are usually relatively small and that demands additional efforts in meeting all set targets. During summer season, for example, we witness a steep increase in visa applications, which puts additional pressure on our consular section. You will always want to achieve more but it is important to define realistic aims and goals.
When Countries Traditionally Have Very Close And Warm Relations – Is It A Challenge Or A Benefit For The Ambassador?
It is more of a benefit. When you have a positive agenda, it allows you to work in a positive direction as well. However, any previous Ambassador usually sets high standards, which you want to achieve and even surpass. That makes your work a bit harder and challenging but you always know that there is a reward in feeling that you have been able to build another stone in the traditionally friendly ties between Latvia and Ukraine