Interview With Latvian Television

John J. Sullivan
Deputy Secretary of State
Riga, Latvia
February 22, 2018

QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Secretary of State before your visit the U.S. State Department issued a statement that the U.S. government has full confidence that Latvia will take the necessary steps to hold the integrity of Latvian financial and banking system. This comes after the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned the third largest bank in Latvia and also the head of our central bank has been detained. The confidence is good, but what does that say about Latvia’s reputation? Are we becoming the black sheep within the larger NATO family because of scandals like this?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, first let me say that how grateful I am to LTV for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about my trip here and how grateful I am for hospitality that’s been shown to me by Latvian people and Latvian government. I’ve met today with the President, the Foreign Minister and others. I’ve had very good conversations and I’m here to express on behalf of the U.S. Government and Department of State—our commitment to Latvia; to reaffirm to Latvia how important an ally Latvia is as a NATO ally, EU member. We affirm the U.S. commitment to our transatlantic relationship, but in particular, with Latvia as a bilateral partner of the U.S. The issues you’ve raised about anti-corruption and the financial system are concerns, but concerns we address as partners, as allies, as part as of our broader relationship. We have an outstanding relationship, deep and broad with the Latvian government and the Latvian people and we’re confident that working with Latvia. We will address these issues that Latvia, the Latvian government will address these issues for the good of the Latvian people and the nation’s security.

QUESTION: The Latvian Defense Ministry has had this interesting spin on story of the detention of the head of our Central Bank-- that Russia probably has, maybe had some operations in our region and this could be a part of smear campaign against Latvia. This is something the U.S. knows a lot about especially in the recent years. But at the same time blaming external enemies for our internal problems that could be something from the book of Vladimir Putin. So where do you stand in this? Are we too quickly pointing fingers at this moment of corruption investigation or there could be genuine concern for Russia’s involvement in Latvia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, first I would defer to the Latvian government about any actions involving corruption allegations with respect to any particular Latvian government official and I’m familiar with the detention that you referred to. I will say that the Latvian government, that Latvia, faces a threat from the East, from Russian aggression, as other NATO allies and European partners do in Eastern Europe. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that Russia is trying to upend the Western system

that’s developed in a post-Cold War era and Latvia is on the front lines. Now, whether any particular action is attributable to Russian interference or aggression I would have to defer to Latvia government, but we’re confident that the Latvian government can address the corruption and corruption issues, and strengthen its financial system, but they have to do so in an environment in which they do face threats and aggression from Russia seeking undermine Latvian independence and democratic values. So this is very difficult position that the Latvian government is in, but I’m here to reaffirm U.S. support for the Latvian government and our commitment to Latvia as a NATO ally and as a country that’s had a long-standing commitment, over a century, to Latvian independence. It’s important for us to reaffirm that this year as the centennial of Latvian independence, as we move toward November 18th, a significant date. And in connection with that centennial, I was pleased to announce earlier today that there will be a U.S.-Baltic Presidential Summit in Washington on April 3, where the presidents of the three Baltic countries will meet with President Trump in Washington on April 3 that will be preceded by a Foreign Ministers conference on March 5 and those two are just further examples of the close relationship between the U.S. and Latvia and the U.S. and the three Baltic republics.

QUESTION: If we go back to Russia’s possible meddling to destabilize the situation, the Mueller investigation has charged thirteen Russians regarding meddling in the U.S. election process. What kind of lessons is the U.S. drawing at the moment from this investigation and what could be the takeaway for countries like Latvia that will have an election coming this fall?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Certainly, well, it’s a really two-way street, we are investigating and we’re very concerned about Russian interference in the U.S. election in November 2016. We’re vigilant and we’re doing all we can to prepare for outcome of the U.S. mid-term congressional elections in November of this year. Likewise we’re working with partners and allies in Europe and elsewhere who are having elections. When I was in Ukraine yesterday and Ukraine is preparing for a presidential election next year and subsequent parliamentary elections later in the year. We want to support our allies with their elections, our democratic allies support them as they reaffirm their democratic traditions, hold democratic elections, we want to do all we can to support them. We share information, so that we are – it’s mutual support—they for us and us for them as we reaffirm our democratic heritage, hold elections in a face of aggression and show adversaries and competitors who seek undermine us that democracy is strong and united democracies, allied democracies, and allies are even stronger.

QUESTION: If we speak more broadly about U.S. and Russian relations, it could be argued that the U.S. administration has sent mixed signals regarding this, but recently it seems that both sides are increasingly more confrontational and less co-operational. Would you agree with this statement and how would you characterize current relationship now and in near future?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, I’m willing to believe that Russian and U.S. relations are there where they should be, right at a fairly low point, and Secretary Tillerson has said that. Our approach to Russia is we want to work with Russia in areas where we can, in areas we have mutual interests, and in places where we see mutual cooperation can be beneficial. Syria is an example. Our common fight against terrorist threats, seeking to work with Russia to pursue a maximum pressure campaign against the DPRK, but there are other areas. Ukraine, for example, where we need to stand up to Russian aggression, the Russian incursion, Russian-led incursion into Eastern Ukraine, it’s annexation of Crimea, we’re objecting; we cannot allow that to stand. We and our allies will stand strongly against that. We – the U.S. is firmly for continuing to impose sanctions on Russia until it complies with the Minsk Accords, reverses its annexation of Crimea. We will stand against Russian aggression, but we will also work with Russia in areas where we can and hope to improve this relationship. For example, we are continuing to work with Russia on arms control. The U.S. and Russia are in compliance with the New START treaty, on strategic nuclear weapons, we’re seeking to talk to the Russians to get them back in compliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty, the INF treaty. So there are a lot of areas where we continue to work with Russia to try to make progress, but we don’t underestimate the challenge that Russia presents and in those areas where there is Russian aggression, we will stand out and up against it with our allies.

QUESTION: You just mentioned several major issues and it seems that increasingly, at least the media is painting a bleak picture that the whole international order is increasingly volatile and dangerous. So would you agree that we’re living in a less safe world at the moment than we were some years ago and what can we do about it? What are the main challenges in your opinion?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, certainly there are major security threats to those members of the NATO Alliance, for example, to the U.S. and Latvia, for example. On the other hand, looking back in our history during the last century in a post-war era, post WWII era, there always have been security threats and we’ve met them by working with our allies, particularly with our NATO allies. We did so in prevailing in a cold war, continued to do so and meeting the threats to us now whether it’s Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, a threat posed by radical ideologies—DAESH, Al-Qaeda, we, with our allies, will prevail as we have in the past, so there are significant security threats and we’ll meet them by working with our allies.

QUESTION: When we look at EU and U.S. relations, we know that in Europe there are concerns about this “America First” policy, but at the same time the EU is facing real troubles like Brexit, diverging foreign policy lines within the Visegrád group of countries, and other challenges. What does a more or less united Europe mean for U.S. and what do we need to do to improve this situation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, certainly there are significant developments in the EU in the last several years, to a certain extent the U.S. is not directly involved in talks, for example, between the UK and EU on the so-called Brexit, but what we urge is that both sides work together cooperatively and what I think is in everyone’s interest is the outcome of the Brexit talks need to be a strong UK and a strong EU. The U.S. wants to work with both, the UK is an extremely important NATO ally and the EU are NATO allies; and again I come back to the theme of importance of our alliance, whether it’s the Article 5 commitment of the North Atlantic Treaty or the commitment to extended deterrence for a European partners and allies in Asia and around the world. As the U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis said, the U.S. is a strong and powerful country, principally because we have allies. What we have achieved in protection is because we’ve worked cooperatively with our allies in support of them and they in support of us and that’s the most important thing.