baltic delegation

Lawmakers from Baltics: Washington needs to ‘wake up’ and fund Ukraine, Israel’s fights

Latvian MP offers NATO help on U.S. southern border, wonders if ‘we need a second Pearl Harbor’ for Congress to approve aid


Lithuanian MP Dovile Sakaliene and Latvian MP Rihards Kols in the Knesset on Wednesday, March 1st, 2024

With aid to Israel and Ukraine still held up on the Hill, some in the Baltic states — NATO members bordering on Russia — have watched the proceedings in recent weeks with great concern.

Latvian MP Rihards Kols, chairman of his parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the conservative National Alliance party, called on the West to stop “drawing red lines limiting ourselves” concerning aid for Ukraine, pointing out that at the beginning of the war, leaders thought Russia would not tolerate the West sending various kinds of weapons – such as tanks – and then eventually sent them anyway, helping Ukraine without negative repercussions for the rest of the West.

In fact, Kols argued, it is not when the West aids democracies that Russia is provoked: “Nothing provokes authoritarian regimes more than the hesitance of free people.” 

The lawmaker was part of a delegation of 10 lawmakers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that visited Israel this week with the pro-Israel group ELNET: European Leadership Network to learn from Israel’s knowledge and experience in the wake of the Russian threat, two years after the invasion of Ukraine. ELNET gathered the group, along with two concurrent delegations of lawmakers from France and Germany, for lunch at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on Wednesday, where two of them implored the U.S. to support Israel and Ukraine’s fights.

MP Dovile Sakaliene, Lithuania’s shadow defense minister and a member of the Social Democratic Party, said that “the M.O. of Hamas and Russia is the same: Rape, kidnapping and genocide.” 

Kols lamented “pointless discussions going on for weeks” in Washington.

“To my American colleagues,” he said. “I know you have challenges. Migration is a challenge.”

Kols noted that Belarus has used “targeted migration,” flying in refugees from Syria and Afghanistan and busing them to the borders of Baltic and other European states, and called it “a different way of waging war on democracies, using our values against us.”

However, Kols said, if the U.S. needs help on its southern border, it can ask for it: “It’s not only your border; it’s a NATO border. If there’s a need we’ll send soldiers.

“But do not play with the destiny of the Ukrainian people,” Kols implored, and asked: “Do we need a second Pearl Harbor to wake up? I hope not.” 

Baltic states, Kols said, have taken a leading role in pushing back against tyranny, including their departure from a forum meant to deepen cooperation between Eastern Europe and China, in light of Beijing’s authoritarianism and partnership and Russia, and Lithuania daring to call Taiwan by its name. The move sparked a backlash from Beijing.

Sakaliene and Kols emphasized the problem of “hybrid threats,” especially through cyberattacks and disinformation, coming from Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and beyond.

“Democracies have to come together to establish traffic rules” for the cyber and information spaces, Kols said.

Kols also called for the West to use the full force of its sanctions against terrorist groups: “I haven’t heard a call for sanctions against everyone working with Hamas.

“If there were secondary sanctions, it would target Qatar, a U.S. ally,” he noted.

Sakaliene said “if the U.S. says it doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, and Hamas are terrorists, then why do they demand that Israel negotiate, when Israel’s only demand is to release the hostages?”

Kols opened his remarks by saying that democracy has declined worldwide for the past 18 years.

“This should be the [priority] for democracies,” Kols said. “Democracies are losing. The rules-based international order is essential.”

Both lawmakers emphasized in their remarks the need for democracies to unite against threats from authoritarians.

The time for ambiguity is over,” Sakaliene, who said she is the granddaughter of political prisoners, declared. “Decision-making needs to be based on values…There is only one message: Working together against totalitarian regimes. We have to stick together. Choose a team: The axis of evil or do we preserve our way of life?”

Kols tied together the wars in which Israel and Ukraine are fighting in separate remarks to Jewish Insider, saying that they are part of “the broader struggle between democracy and totalitarianism.”

“It is imperative for the free world not to falter in this battle,” he said, noting that “progressive circles, particularly in the West…adopt a misguided objectivity, often equating Israel’s defensive actions with the aggressions of its adversaries… inadvertently align[ing] themselves with the proponents of the ‘axis of evil,'” meaning Iran, Russia and North Korea, among others.

Kols said he was struck by the mobilization of much of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora following Oct. 7, which “underscores the collective strength and unity of purpose that is essential in countering external threats.”

More concretely, Kols said that “Israel’s focus on robust air defense systems serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a strong defensive posture to safeguard national sovereignty and security in the face of evolving challenges.”

Kols said that Israel can learn from the war in Ukraine that “attacks on democratic institutions…and social cohesion can be as detrimental to a nation’s security as conventional military aggression,” and to “prioritize the defense of democratic institutions.”  

The event in Jerusalem took place a day after ELNET took the delegation to visit Sderot, to hear about the Oct. 7 battle in the city’s police station, and to one of the sites of the Hamas massacre, Kfar Aza. After lunch, they met with Rachel Goldberg-Polin and Jon Polin, the parents of Hersh Goldberg-Polin who was wounded and taken hostage by Hamas from the Nova Festival.

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