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Conversations with Secretary Mark Esper: Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks

As a member of the European Union and a NATO member state, Latvia is on the frontline against Russian foreign aggression. To further the conversation on this issue, the McCain Institute seeks to convene experts to discuss related to the United States’ strategic security partnerships and how they address some of the most pressing challenges of our time – an increasingly aggressive Russian state, mounting international authoritarianism, the global plague of disinformation, great power competition, etc.

Watch the full video of Dr. Esper’s conversation with Defence Minister Pabriks below, and see excerpts from their discussion.

This is the fifth installment of the McCain Institute’s event series, “Conversations with Secretary Esper,” which convenes experts for conversations related to the future of NATO and how it positions itself to tackle some of the most presstaffsing challenges of our time – a rising China, increasing international authoritarianism, the global plague of disinformation and other global issues.

Minister Pabriks on how Latvia saw President Biden’s comments this week
“It is less important how we read what President Biden says, it’s more important how the Russians read that. This is why we here in the region close to Russia are used to reading Russian minds. And Russians frequently see the Western politicians and decisions as kind of weak…”

Minister Pabriks on Putin’s long-term plans
“Ukraine is not the only thing on the mind of the Kremlin at the moment, I think that the longer perspective Russian challenge to us at this stage is to disrupt in general the European-American Transatlantic relationship, to divide Europe, to weaken and disrupt NATO and of course to get much more influence in its neighborhood on the continent.”

Minister Pabriks on how to respond to Russian aggression
“We don’t need to blink whenever Russians are threatening us. If you are like a boxer and when you enter that space, you must accept that you might be hit. The opponent also knows that and will be much more careful. Nobody wants war, war is bad. But we must tell Putin that if you want war you will get it and we will move forward.”

Dr. Mark T. Esper became the 27th Secretary of Defense in July 2019 when he was confirmed 90-8 by the U.S. Senate. As Defense Secretary, Esper was responsible for ensuring the United States’ national security, protecting the American people at home and abroad, and advancing the country’s interests globally. In this capacity, he led one of the largest, most complex organizations in the world given its nearly 3 million service members and defense civilians, $740 billion annual budget, and trillions of dollars of weapons, equipment, and infrastructure located at 4,800 sites in over 160 countries. Esper’s broad scope of responsibilities ranged from organizing, manning, training and equipping the joint force, to the research and development of future weapons, concepts, and equipment; and from defense trade, diplomacy, and cybersecurity, to healthcare, hospitals, housing, and schools. During his tenure, Esper developed key relationships with senior officials throughout the Executive Branch, Members of Congress, major business and philanthropic leaders, and a wide range of international partners. Read his full bio here.

Minister Artis Pabriks is the current Minister for Defense and Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia. Previously, he held positions as the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, and was a member of the European Parliament.

He holds a degree in history from the University of Latvia (1992) and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Aarhus, Denmark (1996). After finishing his Ph.D., he became the first rector of the Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, a newly founded regional college located in Valmiera, Latvia. He has co-authored one book: Latvia: Challenge of Change (2001), which was subsequently re-published together with volumes on Lithuania and Estonia under the title: The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (2002).

Minister Pabriks joined politics as one of founding members of Tautas Partija (People’s Party) in 1998 and became a member of Saeima, the Latvian parliament in March 2004. He served as Foreign Minister from July 2004 to October 2007. He was one of founding members of the Party Society for Political Change in September 2008.

Pabriks was elected to the European Parliament at the European election in 2014. In 2015, news media reported that Pabriks was included in a Russian blacklist of prominent people from the European Union who are not allowed to enter the country.

In June 2018, Pabriks left the Unity party and joined the liberal movement Development/For!. He was nominated as the prime ministerial candidate of this electoral alliance and was elected member of the Saeima in the 2018 parliamentary election. Since January 2019, he has served as Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister in Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš’s cabinet.

Jan 21, 2022
12:00pm ET