Former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Latvian Defence Minister Discuss Russian Aggression in Ukraine

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WASHINGTON, DC – In response to the looming threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine, the McCain Institute at Arizona State University (ASU) hosted Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks for a discussion with John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow and former U.S. Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper as part of its Conversations with Secretary Esper event series.

Defence Minister Pabriks and Secretary Esper discussed the threat of Russian aggression against its neighboring countries, member unity within NATO, and the President’s comments on Ukraine this week.

“As the immediate threat of Russian aggression in Ukraine once again looms large, Minister Pabriks is the perfect guest to enlighten and guide us on these matters” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. “The minister is a champion of the U.S.-Latvian partnership, he is someone that I enjoyed getting to know during my time as Secretary of Defense and is someone that I found to be a strong advocate for NATO.”

Secretary Esper touched on the importance of unity in the face of Russian aggression, “…other factors that are critical here in dealing with the Russians and the Soviets before them is American leadership and NATO unity.” He also discussed his own experience facing down Putin in Europe, “I was proud that in 2020 we had the largest deployment of U.S. forces to Europe since the 1980s I believe, I thought it was great in terms of assuring our allies and deterring the Russians.”

Excerpts from Latvian Defence Minister Pabriks’ comments:

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.”

This event 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 pressing challenges of our time – a rising China, increasing international authoritarianism, the global plague of disinformation and other global issues.

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University
Inspired by Senator John S. McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute for International Leadership is fighting to secure democracy and alliances, defend human rights, protect the vulnerable and advance character-driven leadership, both at home and around the world.

About Arizona State University
Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American research university, creating an institution that is committed to access, excellence and impact. ASU measures itself by those it includes, not by those it excludes. As the prototype for a New American University, ASU pursues research that contributes to the public good, and ASU assumes major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that surround it.

Publish Date
January 21, 2022
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