Evidence of meeting #77 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was nato.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ojars Eriks Kalninš  Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)
Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
Peggy Mason  President, Rideau Institute on International Affairs

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Hon. Robert Nault (Kenora, Lib.)) Liberal Bob Nault

Colleagues, I want to bring this meeting to order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this is a briefing with the chair of the foreign affairs committee of the Latvian parliament.

Before us is the chair of the committee, Mr. Kalninš.

I'm going to ask the chair to introduce himself officially for the record, and then we're going to turn the floor over to him for some remarks and then go into questions.

Before I do that, again, for those who are following this, the foreign affairs committee here in Canada has been inviting our colleagues from foreign affairs committees in other countries to make presentations. It gives us an opportunity to better understand the issues other countries are dealing with that are priorities, and to let Canadians know how that's all evolving and how it relates to us as Canadians.

On behalf of the committee, I want to welcome you here. As I said, start with your full title and name, and then we're going to turn the floor over to you.

October 31st, 2017 / 11 a.m.

Ojars Eriks Kalninš Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

My name is Ojars Eriks Kalninš. I am a member of the Latvian parliament and chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Latvian parliament. I also head our delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where I am chairman of the political committee.

It is a great honour to be back in Canada. I had the pleasure of being here a year ago with our Speaker. In particular, it's a pleasure—perhaps almost a belated one—for me to be able to congratulate Canada on its 150th anniversary.

As you may know, Latvia will celebrate the 100th anniversary of our republic next year. It's a very big event, although when we look back at our history, unfortunately, for 50 of those 100 years, we were under foreign occupation. Yet, if we look back, I think we'll see that the last 27 years, since we restored independence in 1991, have been remarkably successful. People within the country are always unhappy. They always think things should be better, but I think that if we look at what we've achieved in the last 27 years since rejoining the world community, there's a great deal that we can be pleased with and proud of. It's very good to be back.

When I look at the last 27 years, I divide it into three periods. I served as ambassador in Washington, D.C. for Latvia, and during the 1990s, our basic preoccupation was returning to the world community, re-establishing our diplomatic ties, joining organizations like the United Nations, and basically making our presence known.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, we became actively a candidate country, and our two priorities were to join NATO and to join the European Union. Everything we did in terms of foreign policy and even domestic policy was geared towards fulfilling all the requirements to be part of those two organizations. In 2004, we achieved that, to the surprise of many, including Moscow and others who doubted our ability to move that quickly to join both organizations.

Basically, after 2004, our third phase was being an active member of both of those organizations, understanding what it required, how this would affect our policies, and how we could be a contributing, loyal member of both groups.

For the most part, it has been very successful, except that 10 years later—in 2014, I guess—there came the first big shock to our sense of security. That was the Russian illegal annexation of Ukraine and basically the Russian-supported invasion of eastern Ukraine in Donbass. I think it was the first time since the restoration of independence that people actually feared for their safety. Our older generation had lived through World War II. Many had lived to see the first Soviet occupation, then the Nazi German occupation, followed by another Soviet occupation. Many of us had hoped that would never return again after this restoration.

In 2014, there were many questions about how far Moscow would go, whether they would move into Ukraine, and whether they would go further, to Odessa. There was talk of Moldova, and to our consternation, for the media and for the analysts, the most popular thing to talk about was the Baltic states being next on the hit list.

We went through that year with a great deal of consternation, and for me, as a politician, the one question I got most often from voters was “Are we safe?” It was not “Will we be invaded?” but “Are we safe?” and “Will NATO come through? Will they really come to defend us?”

I would say that since 2014, that answer has been received loud and clear. Both the Wales and the Warsaw summits gave us exactly what we had anticipated, and perhaps even more, because what we needed was reassurance and deterrence, and both have been achieved by concrete actions that NATO took.

The reassurance was important for our population because I would say within a year or two after they saw what NATO was doing, people started to believe that perhaps article 5 was actually sacrosanct and that the rest of Europe and our NATO allies also here in North America would come through. The Warsaw summit accelerated that and brought us the enhanced forward presence, which brought Canada's presence into Latvia, which for us means a great deal. It goes way beyond just security, and that I'd like to talk about.

For us, both NATO and the EU symbolize what I'd say our national strategy is all about, and that is, we believe in multilateralism. We learned, prior to World War II, that small countries cannot survive alone or in isolation. You have to be part of larger groups, but also it's larger groups, organizations that can solve global problems. What we've learned more and more is that many of the problems our countries face today are global, and while we have to deal with them locally, we can deal with them much better if we work together as groups.

I'd say that if we feel fairly secure about NATO today, that NATO has delivered, then our greater concern is the European Union.

I have just one more word on NATO. I was there at a military base, Adazi, in the springtime when we formally opened this enhanced forward presence battalion under Canada's leadership. I remember standing there, and I had three reactions, looking at soldiers from six other countries—Spain, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Canada, Italy.... I saw them marching and my first reaction was a great sense of pride that people from all over Europe and North America were in Latvia to help us, to protect us. It was a great feeling, knowing our history and what we went through.

My second reaction, when I looked at these soldiers, was that I hoped they would never have to fire a bullet. I hoped that their presence alone would be enough to deter any future conflict. I'm pretty confident that's working. I think the signal has been very clear.

If, in 2014, anyone doubted whether NATO would come to the defence of a few Latvians in case there was some kind of a cross-border incursion, I think now, knowing that there are several thousand troops from six countries—and I think next year two more countries will join. Between the three Baltic states and Poland, there are 22 NATO countries that have either sent troops or provided their planes for Baltic air policing. I think the signal is clear that any attempt to attack a Baltic state is an attack on NATO and all the NATO countries. I think this is what has worked as a deterrent. That was my third feeling, that this was a case where an organization like NATO has come through and our friends and allies have come through.

We do have greater concerns about Europe. Latvia is very committed to the European Union. Again, if NATO provides the hard security, then it's the EU that provides the soft security, the diplomacy. We look at the combination of the two as complementary. Where NATO can do one job, the EU has to do another.

I think a clear example of that is the reaction to the Russian incursion in Ukraine, because while NATO is protecting our countries from that spreading any further, it's the European Union, together with other countries, that enacted the sanctions. That would be much more difficult, to have sanctions and try to prevent Russia from going further, if these 27 or so additional countries, such as Canada, had to each negotiate separately. But through the EU we were able to have a joint voice, and this continues. It's not always easy to get 28 EU countries to agree on something, and that's the long-term challenge, but I believe it's possible on big issues, and we face a lot of bigger issues that are collective issues.

We face internal challenges. Radicalism and extremism have risen within many of the EU countries, separatism or at least anti-EU feelings. While some of these tendencies are genuine, there are always voices in a country that see things differently.

I think the evidence is fairly clear that one country that's very interested in seeing a weakening, if not a collapse, of the European Union is Russia. If Russia is not a direct military threat at the moment to our countries for the reasons I mentioned such as NATO, I think they are using a large number of other methods to try to undermine democracy because, if you look at Mr. Putin and his motivation, I think the greatest thing that he fears is not a military invasion, but an invasion of democratic spirit in Russia. If Russia ever witnessed true democracy, clearly Mr. Putin would no longer be where he is today. So it's the spread of democracy and this unity of the European Union that they see as a threat, and now they've used all the weapons that are available. Today we talk about hybrid warfare, cyberwarfare. It's not new. In Latvia, we've experienced this hybrid warfare for the last 27 years.

If I were a strategist in Moscow, my goal, let's say, in the Baltic states, would not be to invade and occupy these three countries. My goal would be to have them as members of NATO and the EU but have their governments totally under the control of Moscow. Then you have countries within this alliance. I think that's been their goal all along, but it hasn't succeeded in taking over the governments from the inside.

We see information warfare, cyberwarfare. This continues, and that's why I'm very proud of Latvia and very thankful to Canada for being a strong supporter of the NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence in Riga. I think that's been one of our biggest success stories. It's drawing experts from around the world, and not always NATO countries. This is the leading edge, along with cybersecurity, of what we all have to deal with. It's something we're very pleased about. I know that Canada was one of our early supporters. You provided, a few years ago, I think it was a $1 million, to each of the centres of excellence in the Baltic states, and that meant a great deal to us.

As I mentioned, Latvia is very grateful to have Canadian troops there, if for no other reason than it will improve our hockey skills. I think the ice-skating rink is being completed at the military base, although I recall when, I think it was the World Hockey Championships were in Riga, and Canada beat us 11-1. However, at the last Olympics, I think we frightened Canada for two periods because we were leading 1-0 going into the third. That may have put Latvia on the map even before you sent the troops there.

The troops have been very welcome. They've been greeted by the people. They're very well received, and we appreciate their presence, but for me as a diplomat and a politician, I see beyond just the military presence.

We're very happy that we were able to be the first EU country to ratify CETA. We want to see Canada even more engaged in Europe, because we look at history, and you're a European country. The Americans were once, too. I think sometimes they tend to forget that. Also, in terms of NATO, in the past when they talked about the transatlantic alliance, all the focus was on the U.S. I think now Canada has again demonstrated that it has a strong interest in Europe. When I gave a speech in our parliament for the ratification of CETA, one of the things I pointed out was that Canada has defended Europe in two world wars. You've been there for over 100 years, so what you're doing now is nothing new.

We want to see other ties grow, trade ties between Latvia, between Europe and Canada. We want to buy more Bombardier planes. We want more investment. We want to invest here, and I think there's a growing interest, I hope in Canada about Latvia, but in Latvia definitely about Canada. I think in the long term this is a win-win situation for us.

Just to finish, because I'm very eager to answer your questions, when I look back at the whole idea of multilateralism, I'm reminded that we in a small country like Latvia have our domestic regional issues. This month we're debating our budget for next year, a budget in which we will formally achieve 2% of GDP for defence, but we are faced with the same global problems that everyone else is: terrorism, uncontrolled migration, extremism. While we can deal with these as a country, we realize that the real solutions can only come collectively, if the EU, NATO, even the UN, can work together. That's why it's a pleasure to have deepened our relationship with Canada and to work with you.

Again, thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to be here, and thank you for your great interest in and support for our country.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Colleagues, we're here for a good 40 minutes of questions, so we have quite a bit of time.

Mr. Aboultaif will start, and we'll go from there to Mr. Levitt.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Thank you very much for all this information and very good insight. I listened to you express your concerns over Europe. Geographically, you sit in the northeast part of it by the Baltic, together with Lithuania and Estonia. I know that western Europeans have their own problems, their own issues with Russia and with the rest of the world. I'd like to know how much you think the Baltic states matter to the rest of Europe.

11:20 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

I think it's interesting, when you look at the EU and NATO, that 22 countries are in both organizations. There are a few in just one or the other. The issue of the north and the south has come up a lot lately, but I think we've realized in the last couple of years that we have to share concerns. Yes, when it comes to our region and Russia and the security threat, it's important that Italy and Spain and Portugal recognize it. At the same time, however, when Italy receives tens of thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, they turn to us and ask for help. It becomes a debate, especially in some parts of Europe, about whether we have an obligation.

Latvia accepted its obligation; we agreed to accept about 750 migrants, I think. We don't have experience, we don't have the infrastructure, but we agreed to do it. In the last two years, we have already processed about 300. Most of them don't stay. They end up going to Germany, to Sweden, to countries that are perhaps wealthier and can offer more in benefits.

We have some people in politics in Latvia who ask why we are we doing this and say that it's not our problem. What I try to point out, in the case of Italy, is that the Prime Minister of Italy who agrees to send planes and troops to Latvia is the same prime minister who is asking us whether we can help out with handling some of the refugees.

Even though they're two different organizations, then, the issues are the same. We do a lot in the north to remind our southern neighbours about concerns. We're very strong supporters of the eastern partnership in the European Union—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia. We try to draw in our southern neighbours, and at the same time they try to engage us more in the problems of northern Africa, the Middle East, and the Sahel.

It will always be an uphill struggle, because everyone has regional concerns at stake, but I'm generally pleased. I think there's a recognition that we have to help each other because we're in this boat together.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Thank you.

I also was happy to hear that since 1991 your economies are doing remarkably better. I think it is a very important element for your country to continue to defend itself and have the strength needed, moving forward into the future.

Which are your best ties in western Europe? With which countries do you do best economically?

11:20 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

Our natural allies are our Nordic neighbours. I always try to point out that if we had not been invaded in 1940, if we had remained independent, we would be no different from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. In fact, prior to World War II, we had a much bigger economy than Finland or Norway. They were relatively poor countries compared to Latvia or Estonia. We have 50 years of catching up to do, but culturally and politically, we're very close.

One of our best venues for this co-operation is the Nordic-Baltic Eight. We meet at all levels. Our presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, and foreign affairs committee chairs meet every six months in one of the eight countries. We just compare notes. We work together.

I remember in 1991 when we restored independence and joined the UN, we did not have an ambassador yet at the UN, and I was in Washington. I was deputy chief of mission for our embassy. Our ambassador also had to go to the UN. The first week of being members, we had to vote on dozens of issues and we had no idea, so the Nordics immediately formed a working group. Every week, they got together and briefed the Baltic states on how they were looking at these issues, and it helped us a lot. Now, we make our own decisions.

I see this co-operation across the board. There are a lot of different formats of Nordic-Baltic co-operation, plus we share the Baltic Sea environmental concerns. Even though Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO, they probably—especially Sweden—are more actively supportive of NATO than maybe some NATO countries are. They're fully engaged. This fall, Sweden had military exercises in the Baltics, which included many of our countries.

So that's very close, but there's also a natural co-operation with the eastern European countries, although the politics sometimes differ there. I've noticed that, for example, Italy has become a very close friend. Then again, right now everybody's lobbying us to get the EU medical agency that's leaving London. About 20 countries are trying to get this huge agency. Suddenly, we're gaining a lot of friends from everybody who wants us to vote for them. I'd say the Nordics—the old Hanseatic League—is, for us, our natural regional alliance.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you.

Mr. Levitt, please.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for being here.

I want to focus on NATO a bit, given your active role on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. As part of our NATO commitments, about 450 Canadian Forces members are deployed in Latvia as part of Operation Reassurance, working with their Latvian hosts and five fellow NATO allies as part of battle group Latvia. The purpose of this deployment is to reinforce NATO's collective defence and demonstrate the strength of our solidarity with our NATO allies. What value does the Canadian contribution provide, and how important do you think this deployment is to NATO's overall mandate in the region?

11:25 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

As I said at the beginning, the important thing is it's a reminder to Europe that Canada is a part of NATO. You're there, physically, and maybe in the past it wasn't always noticed. Knowing how expensive that is, and what a commitment that is from your country and your people, I think it's highly valued throughout Europe, not just in the Baltic states.

We feel lucky in Latvia because we have Canada...for all kinds of reasons. Any Latvian who ever flies in here from above Canada will notice, apart from the mountains, that Canada looks like Latvia. Fifty per cent of our country is forest, and even the climate is the same.

It's very important, also, that it's this collective defence, and it shows that it's not just the European countries that are on the border that have an interest in trying to protect Europe. It's coming across the Atlantic. In the last year at least, with the presidential election in the U.S., there were some concerns raised about the future U.S. commitment, and that's made Canada even more important in Europe.

Oddly enough, some of the concern over what I'll openly call the almost chaos that we see in Washington on policy issues has forced Europe to pull together to realize that it can't always totally rely on the United States. It's also shown that a country like Canada is even more important to work with, because we share a lot of cultural ties and affinities. You speak a European language—although English is also a European language—so I think it's been very important, and we're very glad to see you there.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

Thank you.

Latvia obviously has a large Russian population, at around 25% of the total population. What are the tensions inherent in this? With NATO's deployment near the Russian border, how is that playing out on a larger scale?

11:25 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

In Latvia, we've never had ethnic tensions because, at least since the Soviet rule, we've always had a sizeable Russian population. I always say that there's not a problem between the Latvian people and the Russian people. The problem is between politicians in Moscow. It's policy that threatens us.

If you look at the population of Russians in Latvia today, those who were born in the last 27 years are European Russians. They were born in an EU country, at least since 2004, and they know full well what the advantages are of being in the EU. Those who have become citizens can travel; they gain all the benefits.

Even since 2014, with what happened in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, we have always had questions from our western allies about whether there could be an uprising amongst Russians. We have no indications of that.

Yes, there are a few extreme voices, but they have no popular support. Yes, many of the Russians in Latvia watch Russian television and follow Russian news, but they also know what living conditions were like in eastern Ukraine, even before Russia came in. There's no comparison to Latvia. Even the poorest sections of Latvia are still vastly different.

We don't feel any threat there. We know that there's always the Russian pretense that could be used to say, “Well, we have to defend our countrymen,” but it's not plausible to anyone who knows the situation there.

Our parliament has 100 members. The largest party is a so-called pro-Russia party. These are Russian citizens from Latvia. There are many Latvians. It's a social democratic party. They're the furthest left party in Latvia. They're in parliament. They haven't been in government. The mayor of Riga is a Latvian-born Russian. He's very popular. Even Latvians vote for him. So they're part of the political process.

Probably the only reason that the pro-Russia party has never gotten into government is that there are two positions that they refuse to change. One is that they have never recognized officially that the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, because Moscow doesn't recognize that. The other is that they have always tried to insist that Russian should be made the second state language of Latvia. For us that's a sacred issue. We're a small country, with a population of under two million. The Latvian language is one of the reasons we wanted an independent country, to preserve that. We don't discriminate against other languages. You could speak Russian, English, whatever you want in Latvia, but as a state language, it has to remain.

If they were ever to change these two policies, there could be a switch in attitude. They haven't been openly aggressive, but even in cases like Ukraine, they will not condemn Russia. What they will say is that Ukraine is a very corrupt country and that it caused these problems, or they'll say that NATO or the U.S. forced Russia to intervene. Otherwise, no, we don't see tensions.

I'm a Latvian who was born in Europe after the war. I was a refugee. I was born in a refugee camp in Munich, but I grew up in the United States. I learned that in Latvia, even under Soviet rule, we never had ethnic gangs. We never had Russian and Latvian gangs. It just never divided up that way. Finally, one-third of all marriages in Latvia are mixed marriages, Russians and Latvians, so love conquers all.

11:25 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

And on that we shall conclude. Thank you.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

We'll keep that in mind as we carry on here.

Ms. Laverdière, you have the floor.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank you very much for this presentation, which was really very interesting. I paid close attention to long parts of it, including the part on multilateralism. We share your conviction that we have to bring a collective approach to bear on the major issues we are facing. I believe in this completely. Finally, as I listened to you speak, I was telling myself that Latvia is really very similar to us. I have not had the opportunity to travel there, but this gave me a desire to do so at some point.

I will digress for a moment to urge you to send us a few of your well-trained hockey players. We will be very pleased to welcome them. Our Montreal team could really use some help.

As you may know, all parties worked closely with people like Mr. Bill Browder, in order to adopt a Magnitski law which allows us to apply targeted sanctions. Of course this caused some very negative reactions in Russia. Since your country is much closer to Russia than we are, I would like to know if you have any advice to give us concerning our relationship with that country, and what we could do to try to improve the situation. Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

Thank you. In our region, from the people who are familiar with dealing with Russia the usual response is that you have to have a firm hand. You have to show that you believe in your convictions and will stand up for them, because history has shown in recent years that Russia will back off.

I recall that when we were candidates for NATO in the 1990s, the biggest objection we got, even from well-meaning people in the U.S. and elsewhere, was that Russia would object, that they couldn't tolerate it. Our response was that the reason they were objecting was that they were hoping they could stop you from letting us join. Some people thought that if the Baltics joined, it would launch World War III. It's just the opposite; that's what prevents it.

We saw in that case that Russia did back off. I think you have to be firm on principles here.

As to sanctions, nobody likes to use sanctions, because they're not intended to punish but are intended to coerce the other side to change their policies. I think even though it hasn't totally worked with Ukraine, it's the only weapon we have: nobody is going to actually invade to try to solve this militarily.

Concerning the Magnitsky Act, I'm meeting with Bill Browder later today. This issue has come up in Latvia before. Part of the reason it wasn't addressed a few years ago is that we have a large Russian community. While we take a strong stand on Ukraine and Crimea, there's always the problem of trying to find a balance. We have trade with Russia—80% of our rail and port business comes through Russia. We want normal relations, but we will take a stand on principle when they're violating somebody's territorial integrity.

I think after this visit, now that Canada has passed this law, some of my colleagues in parliament may want to raise this again. I'm therefore going to talk to Bill Browder today. We'll look at the details, and I suspect I will raise this issue in my committee in the coming month to see whether we could address it again and see that this is useful.

Will Russia react to it? Probably it will, but it was interesting, with the sanctions on Ukraine, that there were reverse sanctions in the case of Latvia, but we noticed that they were very selective. Two Latvian exports to Russia that were not touched were alcohol and sardines, or what we call šprotes—our Latvian sardines—because they're too popular in Russia, so they weren't sanctioned. Also, most of the rail traffic wasn't sanctioned.

Russia, then, can be selective. It may be a symbolic response, but I think you have to stand firm on it, because again, it's not to punish and not because people hate Russia, but because they're behaving badly. If they want to rejoin the world community, there are certain civilized rules that we all need to abide by, and we need to remind them of that.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

You spoke of the challenges Europe is facing, cyberattacks particularly, but also the issues that are internal to Europe. I am referring here to social challenges involving increasingly extreme groups. Of course there are also other challenges like Brexit.

In your opinion, how can you face these numerous challenges?

11:40 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

I was very encouraged this year by the French election and also by the German election. Although an extreme party did get in, at least Angela Merkel is still there. Even in the Netherlands it seems like some of the extreme parties that everyone feared would suddenly get into prominence have subsided, and we're hoping that this trend toward moderation will continue elsewhere.

We don't have a problem with extremism in Latvia. In that sense, we're a very moderate country, but we do fear this kind of populism. Even in the U.K., one of the reasons for Brexit was this fear of immigration, of uncontrolled immigration. I think one way we have to battle this is by doing a better job on this information warfare and on dealing with our social media space because so much disinformation is being spread that way, even about the migration. Two years ago when there were thousands of African refugees coming into Europe, there were rumours spread about mass rapes and other actions that were later proven to be totally false.

I think when we talk about strategic communications and dealing with information warfare, we can't banish lies. We can only defeat them. We can't censor information, but we have to do a better job of educating our own public. I think that's one of our challenges. Russia Today is everywhere, but does everyone know what Russia Today is? It calls itself RT. Some people confuse it with ET, Entertainment Tonight, since it does such a good job in having local announcers and so on. I think part of the challenge on these issues to fight populism is to educate people that extreme solutions really don't solve anything, that people have to be more critical in their analysis of the information they're getting, and that reasonable responses are the only way to go because extremism is not going to solve anything. All that extremism on one side does is just accelerate it on the other side.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you, Madame Laverdière.

Mr. Saini, please.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Welcome again, Mr. Kalninš. I also want to thank you personally for your hospitality when we were in Latvia.

One of the things that we saw on that eastern European trip was the effect of the propaganda mechanism of certain countries, especially when, in many of those countries, the media was owned by certain actors. There's the opportunity of economic information propaganda. There's the linkage of the Orthodox churches and the Russian Orthodox church also.

We had the opportunity to be at StratCom, and we had a briefing there. We were shown fake news, commercials, Facebook posts, Twitter accounts, and things like that.

With regard to having Canada there and being warned that, obviously, there would be a deluge of messaging that would be negative, how has the local population reacted to that? What is the Latvian government doing specifically to counteract that kind of messaging that's coming through, especially because it's a small country and there are certain media companies that are aligned to certain groups, not only in Latvia, but in that region? How do you counter that?

11:40 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

I'm one of the few Latvians who doesn't speak Russian, but most Latvians understand and speak Russian, and they can also watch Russian television. In a way, they're used to this; they've seen anti-Latvian propaganda in the Russian media for the last 26 years. In a sense, then, they're more sophisticated about this and know how to counter it.

I think the area in which we have to work is in doing a better job of communicating to the Russian-speaking population. It's the older generation. The younger generation of Russians speak English, and they speak French. They're more cosmopolitan. It's the former Soviets, the older folks who chose not to become citizens, who just speak Russian. They read and hear this propaganda and believe it, except that they're not in a position to act on it.

We also have to work with the political parties. Even our left-wing party, Harmony Centre, is aware of it. They acknowledge it, and we have to work with them to get this information out.

Our problem with the media is not so much that there's always Russian propaganda in the Latvian media. It's the fact that many of the media are owned by wealthy people who have political interests. That, however, is local politics. They may support one party over another. We have an ongoing struggle with transparency in media ownership.

Interestingly enough, now social media is overshadowing it more and more, even in Latvia, whether it's through Facebook or Twitter, or we have our own form of Facebook in Latvian. Many people are dealing with it, but it is here that we have to counter it, because you can deal with the traditional media and expose lies and misinformation, but it's a lot tougher with the stuff that goes viral. So far we haven't had a problem. I think in that sense people in Latvia have a pretty good idea of what is Russian propaganda and accept that.

Just on a European level, one thing I'm very pleased about is that, apart from the NATO centre of excellence, StratCom, we had the presidency of the EU in 2015, and one thing we introduced—and Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign policy there, accepted it—was that they establish a centre for strategic communications. It's the East StratCom Task Force. They're starting to work on this, and it's providing more and more information through Facebook about false news, about disinformation. They're doing it on that level.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

The second question I have has come up through your remarks. It is about the EU. I want to discuss something that the foreign minister, Rinkevics, who was at a conference this year in Riga, mentioned. It is something that is very interesting to me. He said that NATO and EU membership should be complementary.

We have a certain situation right now in Europe in which you have four countries, as you know—parts of the Visegrad group—that are tilting rightward. You have Serbia, which wants to join the EU but wants to maintain military neutrality and does not want to join NATO. You have three other countries—Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia—that want to join the EU. You have Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus that don't want to join the EU.

You mentioned that right now there are 22 countries that have NATO and EU joint membership. When you look at the totality of the continent itself, what do you think the future will hold? It seems to me that if you look at the aspirations of European countries, most of them wanted to join the EU, and I think Russia was not so concerned as long as they didn't join NATO. Somehow now they have joined the EU and now some of them want to join NATO. I think Montenegro is the last country, per se, that is going to join NATO.

How do you see the continent going forward when you have a disparity between some countries that want the economic union and the advantages of the economic union, but don't necessarily want the military options also, especially Serbia specifically, because they've said they want the economic benefits but want to maintain military neutrality?

How are you going to reconcile all of those factors to make sure that the “near abroad” especially, which were affected by Russia, will still maintain the ability to aspire to what they want to achieve?

11:45 a.m.

Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saiema)

Ojars Eriks Kalninš

Here I agree with the foreign minister that they need to be complementary, such that each one fills a different role. I think Finland and Sweden are good examples of the way this can work well. Both are EU members but not NATO members, and yet there's very good co-operation. I think we have to be flexible. We have to allow for both.

Definitely, when it come to the Eastern Partnership countries or the Balkan countries, you can't force them into a mould. One thing we're pushing with the eastern partnership is this differentiation: working with each country and providing them as much support as they want. Belarus doesn't want to join the EU yet, but they want to maintain contacts; they want to be in touch with us. Georgia would love to join both, but it looks as though NATO is out of the question for a while. Even with Serbia, anything that would bring Serbia closer to the EU I think is in our interests, and maybe NATO isn't necessary for them in the future.

As far as I can see, further NATO expansion for the time being doesn't look like a reality. If you talk to the Swedes, if it were just up to the politicians, they would join. The public hasn't totally come around, although the polls show that it's moving in that direction. Maybe it isn't necessary, however, because it could be looked upon as a provocation to Russia.

I remember, over the Ukraine issue, that it always angered me when people said that Russia moved in on Ukraine because they were going to join NATO. That was nonsense. That wasn't the issue. It was the EU, but it wasn't NATO. I don't think anyone in NATO is looking at Ukraine in the near future as a possibility, long-term, perhaps, if a lot changes.

We're among the countries pushing for greater EU-NATO co-operation. We have to work out where we can co-operate. StratCom is a good example, in which co-operation works very well.

In terms of military purchases, perhaps Europe needs to work together. We're looking at more combined joint purchases. It's not easy. Even in the Baltic states it's been a 20-year project to try to get the three Baltic states to buy equipment together. I think it can work, and you don't have to be a NATO member to do it.

I think both organizations have to coexist, but their functions have to be clearly defined as to which does what, and they have to co-operate at the top level and also at lower levels.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you.

Mr. Sidhu, please.