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Latvia’s foreign minister wants planes for Ukraine — and sees ‘momentum’

Riga is encouraging Western allies to train Ukrainian forces on advanced Western weapons and even send Western-made fighter planes as allies plot how to arm Kyiv for the long haul, Latvia’s foreign minister said Thursday. 

Speaking to POLITICO, Edgars Rinkēvičs insisted Ukraine’s partners were warming to the idea, which would have seemed unthinkable just three months ago.

“I do believe that there is momentum to do things that probably we couldn’t do a month or two months ago,” the minister told POLITICO.

Indeed, in recent days, countries like Germany have reversed prior opposition to sending Ukraine equipment that requires significant training, with Berlin announcing it would give Ukraine modern German tanks (most Ukrainian soldiers are trained on Soviet-era military equipment). Meanwhile, countries including the U.S., France and Canada, are also funneling heavier weaponry to Ukraine as the war enters a potentially more protracted phase.

Rinkēvičs said there is now an understanding that the West is “in a long-term situation.” 

Still, an escalation to significant shipments of even more advanced Western equipment — especially fighter jets — would mark a ramp-up in Western military support, which has already infuriated the Kremlin and drawn angry threats of retaliation from President Vladimir Putin.

Rinkēvičs argued that boosting support for Ukraine is necessary.

“To reequip, rearm Ukrainian army, to train Ukrainian soldiers to use Western-type equipment — be it planes, be it tanks, APCs [armored personnel carriers], artillery systems,” the Latvian minister said, is a “strategic goal, because we all understand that Ukraine also needs to have a strong army in the future under any kind of scenario.”

The shift in thinking, according to the longtime Latvian politician, comes as a result of both the release of images of atrocities against civilians and the fact that Kyiv’s partners “see that Ukraine is capable of defending itself.”

There is a “realization,” the minister added, that “we cannot actually rely on diplomatic efforts,” and that “in order to get a real negotiation, Ukraine must succeed.”

Ukraine’s supporters “must do more,” he said. And while acknowledging that Latvia cannot send planes or tanks, he said the country has already provided Ukraine with over €220 million in assistance 

The Latvian minister’s comments came a day after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called on allies to step up armament efforts in Ukraine, including by offering planes.

“The war in Ukraine is our war — it is everyone’s war because Ukraine’s victory is a strategic imperative for all of us,” Truss said in a speech. “Heavy weapons, tanks, aeroplanes — digging deep into our inventories, ramping up production. We need to do all of this.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has argued that these shipments have made the war a proxy battle between NATO and Russia.

Western officials reject the accusation. 

“There is no proxy war,” said Latvia’s Rinkēvičs. “Individual member states, of course, are providing the necessary equipment — we see that more and more are finding ways how to send tanks or artillery systems — and I think this is the right thing to do.” 

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