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2019.11.04 12:00

Nordic and Baltic countries face similar threats from Russia and China – interview

Vytautas Budzinauskas, BNS2019.11.04 12:00

The Nordic and Baltic countries have possibilities to expand their cooperation in security and defence, but the initiative should come from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a Swedish lawmaker heading the Nordic Council says.

Hans Wallmark, the president of the Nordic Council, insists that threats emanating from both Russia and China need equally close attention.

In an interview with BNS, given during the Nordic Council's session in Stockholm last week, the Swedish politicians also said the Astravyets nuclear power plant in Belarus, one of the biggest concerns for Lithuania, was not on the political agenda of Nordic countries.

Mr. Wallmark, what is your opinion on the current collaboration between the Nordic and the Baltic states? Where could or should this cooperation be improved, strengthened?

I think that Nordefco [Nordic Defense Cooperation] is, for example, a very good way of deepening cooperation between the Nordic countries and the three Baltic states. So the question is how we can deepen cooperation even more, especially defence, and it can be everything, from common exercises to procurement and also sharing intelligence, how we perceive the world around us. But I think, generally, both in Sweden and in the Nordic Council, most of us are in favour of deepening cooperation between the Nordic and the Baltic states.

Is it possible that the Nordic countries, including non NATO members - Sweden and Finland - contribute more to the Baltic states security?

It can absolutely be something up for discussion. As I understand, we have not received any kind of proposals yet from the three Baltic republics. I think it is very important that any kind of good ideas of doing things together – it is better if they come from the Baltic states. But I think that Sweden should be very open if we have a proposal of different exercises or be part of different arrangement. [...]

In your speech today [on Wednesday], you mentioned two possible threats – Russia from the military and China from the economic standpoint. Do those threats concern both the Nordic and the Baltic regions?

Absolutely. And to Europe, and to the Western world. We meet them in different areas and in different shapes but they are current. It is so obvious for us here in the Baltic Sea area that we have the military threat. [...] We are strong supporters of the sanctions regime to the Russian Federation.

And here we speak nearly with the same tongue, but I think that we can see differences on the China policy between the Baltic states and the Nordics, especially with Sweden. I think we are more reluctant, we also talk more about the People's Republic of China as a potential problem on security. They are a little different and they are also working on different ways, but spreading their narrative, using disinformation, propaganda.

You are speaking now as chairman of the Conservative group inside the Nordic Council, aren't you?

And the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Moderate party in Sweden. But I think that we in the Nordic Council are starting to talk more about the threats from China already next year. Next year, Iceland is going to take the presidency in the Nordic Council. And I know they have quite a vital discussion now in Iceland about China and you can see a rapid change there of the view on China. So I have high hopes that the Icelandic presidency is going also to focus on the Chinese issue.

We have also talked – we have not decided yet – to have some kind of a seminar about different China strategies and different approaches to China that we can now see in the Nordic countries. And my suggestion is that we also should invite the Baltic states to participate in that seminar – we can see that we have a little different approach towards China between the three Baltics and the five Nordics.

Let us talk about the question raised particularly by Lithuania. How could Lithuania make its voice heard concerning the Astravyets power plant? Is this also a problem for the Nordics, or just for Lithuania?

When I meet colleagues from Lithuania, this is always the number one issue, but I wouldn't say this is – at least not yet – on the Nordic table. And I think one of the reasons is that we don't really see how the electricity from Belarus is going to end up in our grids, in the Nordic countries.

And I know that, in Lithuania, you've had discussions about not allowing any kind of [unsafe – BNS] nuclear power in your grid. So I must say, I totally recognize that the politicians and the government in Lithuania are really making opinion on this, but it is pretty much a non-issue yet in the Nordic countries.

During the session, their focus was on dialogue with the youth about fighting climate change. Do you think that Greta Thunberg's decision to turn down the Nordic Council's environmental prize will somehow impede this dialogue?

No. Absolutely not. I mean, it was a clear message from Greta Thunberg, we should respect that, she expressed her gratitude to the Nordic Council that she had received the prize, but she said “No, thank you” for her reasons. So I think this shows that we have lots of engaged youth [...].

It is very important that we search for different solutions. Maybe Greta Thunberg and I do not agree on exactly what the solutions are, but it is important that we search for solutions and that we also try to act [...]. And this is also a question for the electorate that is electing the parliaments and, in the long way, the governments.

Is it possible that, in the future, there will appear a new format of cooperation in Europe? For instance, two years ago in Brussels the NB6 format (Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the three Baltic states) invited for the first time the Irish and Dutch counterparts.

This is really one of the areas in which I personally have invested a lot of political time. I think it is important that we now start speaking about new formats, not as competitors to already established formats, like the European Union, the Nordic Council or NATO.

But I think that we in northern Europe, and also as a result of Brexit, [...] maybe try to form another format. That could be the NB8+, for example, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.