“Russia has to lose” in its war with Ukraine, and EU leaders should not make the mistake of pursuing “peace at any cost,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš said in an interview with POLITICO on Monday before the European Council summit.
Kariņš warned that even as the EU’s heads of state and government debate the details of a proposed embargo on Russian oil, they should focus first and foremost on the overarching goal of defeating Russian President Vladimir Putin — which Kariņš said was the only way to ensure that Russia might be deterred from future military aggression.
“It’s the challenge of Europe and actually the challenge of the world to persevere, and to keep the eye on the ball,” Kariņš said. “The main goal of ours has to be that Russia loses — and the other side of the coin is that Ukraine wins the war. Anything short of that means we have a very bad security situation in Europe.”
He continued: “The only way to get a lasting peace and security is by Russia losing, because anything else that Russia does not perceive as a loss means that it’s just a way-station. So maybe the conflict slows down now … it’s frozen, as many conflicts had been in the past … and then Russia would understand, ‘hey, this worked, land grab worked, nothing really happened,’ continue to rebuild its military and move forward, whether it’s in Ukraine, or Moldova, or Georgia or Kazakhstan or elsewhere. That is what will lead to long-term instability.”
Kariņš said that ultimately EU leaders should agree to sanction Russia’s entire energy sector but he hoped the European Council would at least achieve a tentative deal on oil at this week’s summit. He also called for any exception on oil shipped via pipeline to be granted only for the southern Druzhba pipe that connects to Hungary, which faces a “security of supply” risk, and that this exemption should also be for a limited period of time.
In the interview, Kariņš said that some of his fellow European Council leaders were mistakenly in favor of pursuing peace at any cost. Indeed, some EU countries had pushed for language in the summit conclusions calling for a cease-fire — a controversial step because it suggested that Ukraine may need to surrender territory to stop the fighting. No such language is expected to be approved.
“The difficulty is that some of my colleagues have a false belief … peace at any cost,” Kariņš said. “And peace at any cost is what we have done for 20 years with Putin. And peace at any cost means Putin wins. We end up losing. Now, in the self-interest of Germany, and France and Italy and everyone else, if we really want security in Europe, Russia has to lose, they finally have to realize they cannot operate in this way. And collectively, we have the ability to make that happen.”
Kariņš also objected to recent proposals by French President Emmanuel Macron and others who called for some kind of new European “community” that would strengthen the EU’s ties to Ukraine and other countries that hope to one day join the bloc. Kariņš said such a multilayered approach to membership was simply a disguise for delaying, or even rejecting, membership bids.
“I have not yet had a discussion with Emmanuel about this,” Kariņš said. “But at first glance, at first reading, I don’t think this is the way to go. We already have the Eastern Partnership. We have all kinds of ways to work with countries. But we really need to say then if we don’t want a country in the European Union. We should say that. Or if we do, then we should work with them to get them into the Union. And the architecture that Macron is proposing seems to allow for never answering that question, and we don’t think it’s the right way to go.”
Kariņš said that for leaders who now fear spiking inflation, especially energy and food prices, the most crucial solution was to push for Russia’s defeat in the war.
“The longer the conflict lasts, the more pressure on various politicians, from segments of society, will be to do things differently,” Kariņš said in the interview. “Prices are rising throughout Europe. They’re rising because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. But there will be many people in society throughout Europe who will forget this, and ask the government to do something about it. And so governments will be pressured into the ‘peace at any cost’ route. The danger is that if we go this route, we guarantee enormous difficulties in the future for all of us.”
He added, “I am strongly in the peace camp, in the sense that the only way to get peace is to ensure that Russia loses the war. That’s how you get to peace.”