Structural flaws in the international political system contributed to the crisis in Ukraine, former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga said Friday at the Kennedy School of Government. Vike-Freiberga, who oversaw Latvia’s entrance into the European Union during her eight-year presidency, also discussed the future of Russia’s Baltic neighbors.
The political interests of individual nations sometimes prevail over international consensus, she said, leaving the international community “paralyzed” when facing emergent conflicts like Russian military actions in Ukraine.
Drawing on her personal experience in international politics, Vike-Freiberga pointed to the pressure faced by Ukraine and other countries that neighbor Russia as an example of the structural problems in international politics.
“I remember talking to the Ukrainian president, and he told me frankly that he had to run a balancing act between Russia and the West,” she said.
In the question-and-answer session that followed the talk, the discussion shifted to the implications of the crisis in Ukraine for both large and small countries. When asked by an audience member what Baltic states should do to prevent Russian encroachment, Vike-Freiberga said that countries like Latvia should “strengthen their economy, strengthen their legal system, and strengthen their political parties as functioning entities that are responsive as well as responsible.”
In an interview after the event, she added that she would like to see Latvia align itself with West. Unlike Ukraine, she said, “Latvia does not care what Russia is thinking about.”
After the event, several audience members praised Vike-Freiberga’s insights.
Rita Peters, a political science lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Boston and an associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, said that she agreed with many of Vike-Freiberga’s points, especially the conversation about small Baltic states and “how small states were always sacrificed for the large nation’s interests.”
Cambridge resident Daiga Lorena, who was born in Latvia when it was still part of Soviet Union, described Vike-Freiberga’s speech as “intellectually inspiring.”
“I think she is the best spokeswoman for Latvia,” Lorena said. “She is the best person to present Latvia in the international community. This speech is an example.”