Latvian President Andris Berzins announced during the GA debate that Latvia will assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU during early 2015

“As we enter a crucial session of the UN General Assembly”, Latvian President Andris Berzins remarked, “we will define our post-2015 direction.” At the same time, “our way ahead must be based on the triangle of security, development, and human rights. If one of these elements is not advanced, then the other two will fail,” the President stated

In his speech before the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25, although his statement covered a wide variety of global concerns, this article will focus on Latvia’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Russia’s role in the crisis, and the way forward as Latvia assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Unionduring the first half of 2015. Here is what the Latvian President had to say in his own words:

“This year, we commemorated the grim anniversaries of the First and Second World wars. Both wars began in Europe, but quickly spread throughout the world destroying the lives of countless millions. The League of Nations and the United Nations were built on the ashes of these wars. “

“Today, again,” said President Berzins, “global security and peace is challenged by forces willing to rewrite the history and the rules of the international order. The aggression of Russia against Ukraine has defied the basic principles of the United Nations, uprooting the very foundation of the international system. “

What does this really mean? According to Latvian President Berzins, “It has grabbed a part of a sovereign European country using previously unseen tactics of warfare and immense propaganda against its neighbor. It enabled the tragic shooting down of a civilian airplane. It has shown that agreements and commitment do not matter, and it wantonly ignores and manipulates international opinion. These actions can only be qualified as a threat to global peace and security.”

“The world, including the UN General Assembly, has supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” said President Berzins. “The illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia is condemned and will not be recognized by the international community. Russia has a vital role in security and stability in Europe and
should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

President Berzins also said, “Latvia hopes that the cease-fire agreed on the 5th of September will be implemented in a genuine and sustainable manner. Latvia calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its armed forces from Ukrainian territory and to stop sending weapons and mercenaries to the terrorist groups. We call upon Russia to return to respect its international commitments and uphold international law.”

In looking back at the history of the Baltic States. Latvian President Andris Berzins stated: “75 years ago, the decay of the international system already proved fatal for the Baltic States. Two totalitarian regimes – those of Hitler and of Stalin – divided Europe and we lost our freedom for 50 long years.”

In addition, as the Latvian President said, “25 years ago, more than 2 million people joined hands and formed a human chain across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic Way clearly illustrated the people’s demand for freedom and restoration of their statehood. The Baltic people made their choice. The Ukrainian people have the same right to choose their own democratic path, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”

Shown here with UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the right is Andris Berzins, President of the Republic of Latvia, at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Shown here with UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the right is Andris Berzins, President of the Republic of Latvia, at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Latvian President also made it clear that “Latvia supports the complementarity of efforts among inter-national organizations at a global and regional level to use all instruments at their disposal: to prevent the emergence of a “frozen conflict” in the Eastern regions of Ukraine, to help and support Ukraine, to uphold international instruments, agreements, commitments, and demand their fulfilment by all parties, including Russia; to maintain unity, and to reject attempts to divide Ukraine by reviving spheres of influence and to establish hidden support to terrorists as a new norm of Europe. “

To the Latvian President, “there is no alternative to an international order, based on the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights, that would provide the basis for long-lasting peace and security.” The post-2015 agenda must be consistent with all human rights, and Latvia according to the President, “will continue to promote them globally as an aspiring member of the Human Rights Council for the term 2015-2017.”

Of importance, too, “is the resolution of protracted conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh” said the Latvian President He believes these issues should remain high on the international agenda.

Concerning the reform of the Security Council, the Latvian President stated that “the limited ability of the UN Security Council to address the urgent situations in Syria and Ukraine in a timely manner underlines the need to move forward with the reform of the Council.” He also added “Latvia supports expansion of the Security Council in both categories of membership. At the same time, the French initiative, aimed at restricting the use of the veto, merits our joint attention.”

During the general debate, Latvian President Berzins also spoke about the protection of journalists. The President said: “Latvia is concerned about the safety of journalists during political unrest and conflicts. All imprisoned journalists must be released.” He added “free media and access to information, including online, are essential components of any democracy.”

Pictured here is UN Secretary-General on the left with the Latvian President, Andris Berzins, at the residence of the President in Riga, Latvia during last year’s visit of the Secretary-General to the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Pictured here is UN Secretary-General on the left with the Latvian President, Andris Berzins, at the residence of the President in Riga, Latvia during last year’s visit of the Secretary-General to the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

In his closing statement during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Latvian President Andris Berzins commented: “For the first half of 2015, Latvia will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Europe needs the world as much as the world needs Europe. That is why the Latvian Presidency will focus on strengthening the European Union’s involvement globally. We will actively work to promote Europe’s cooperation with its neighbors and with the countries of Central Asia.”

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Ann Charles
Ann Charles is UN Bureau Chief of “Baltic Review” based in New York City. She covers diplomatic activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the world body’s work in human rights, education, culture, the environment, and tourism, among other global concerns.