On Wednesday night, Marist College hosted Latvia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Janis Mazeiks, to discuss the current situation in Eastern Europe regarding conflict with Russia, cybersecurity, and military expenditure. The audience was a mixture of professors, local residents, and a representative group from Marist’s Model UN club.
A seemingly humble and well-meaning man, Mazeiks started his presentation by saying, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re most likely on the menu.”
Following this, Mazeiks pursued speaking about the history of the Baltic region, including coming out of the Communist bloc with the fall of the USSR in 1991. He noted how there was a “dynamic shift” after the collapse, where countries in the area, such as Estonia, believed they were to come out of the repressive and failing regime of the Soviet Union into a golden age of sorts, filled with democratic advocacy, a focus on the arts, and peace for some time.
It may seem, however, that the age of peace is coming to an end.
Mazeiks notes that Russia had been invited to the G8 and G20 meetings, as well having been invited into the World Trade Organization. NATO was even working well with Russia for a time, and its size was growing.
That all changed, however, once Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in March 2014.
Remarking on the unrest within the Ukrainian government before the invasion, Mazeiks states how Russia took advantage of the political upheaval of their European neighbor, a concept most of the European Union hoped would stay in the past as they progressed towards a peaceful, all-inclusive, globalised society.
Latvian Ambassador Janis Mazeiks at the platform. Standing on his right is Marist Professor Juris Pupcenoks, also Latvian.
Mazeiks also discussed the concept of a “New Cold War.” While directly stating he didn’t believe the current situation hasn’t gotten to that level, he mentioned worrisome similarities from the Russians like larger military exercises, infiltration drones, and their intrusions into Latvian and Eastern European cyber-affairs.
In light of these recent ventures, Mazeiks informed the packed crowd that NATO and all countries within the organization are working towards spending 2 percent of their GDP on security. Latvia itself has plans to increase military spending by 40 percent because they “can’t cope with security concerns,” Mazeiks said. Due to Russia’s superior military, he said NATO needs to have multiple task forces in the area as soon as possible.
Despite the bleak situation, Mazeiks is optimistic that NATO, the US, and diplomatic ventures will help dial this conflict back, citing Article V of the Washington Treaty, which presents the principle of Collective Defense into the NATO institution.