Latvia fm embraces Finland, Sweden's NATO plans

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Latvia fm embraces Finland, Sweden's NATO plans

Latvia's foreign minister has embraced Finland and Sweden's plans to join the alliance.

In a Friday interview with the Financial Times, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said his country approves of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, noting that their addition to the US-led military bloc will turn the Baltic Sea into a NATO sea.

Rinkevics expressed his eagerness to ratify the membership applications of the two Nordic countries, along with his counterparts in Estonia and Lithuania. All three told the Times they would benefit from Finland and Sweden's military strength, particularly Finland's US fighter jet fleet.

However, despite his unmitigated support for the accession of Russia's northern neighbors to NATO, Rinkevics is hoping for more NATO troops in his country. The transformation of the Baltic Sea into a NATO asset does not change our demands for NATO increase in the Baltic region, the FM said, adding that there are still issues to be addressed and that the current security situation requires bolder plans by the alliance. While NATO sent 1,000 additional troops to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from European member states earlier this year, the countries demanded more, calling for brigades of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers and an air defense upgrade that would allow them to shoot down Russian planes.

The Baltics claimed before Moscow's attack on Ukraine that they were concerned about Russia potentially invading their region via the Suwalki gap, the comparatively short 65 km border between Poland and Lithuania, sandwiched between Belarus and Russia's Kaliningrad region. All three nations are increasing their defense spending to 2.5% of GDP, which is well above the NATO requirement of 2%.

Russia warned on Thursday that Finland joining the bloc would pose a direct threat and require a response from Moscow after the country announced that it plans to apply for membership with an eye toward submitting a formal application as soon as next Monday. Finland shares an 833 mile 1,340 kilometer land border with Russia.

Sweden is expected to make its formal request to join NATO next week, though some factions of the government are more enthusiastic than others about the prospect.