RIGA (Reuters) - A war of words between Russia and the West could degenerate into something worse, with “devastating” consequences, Latvia’s foreign minister said on Friday.
Latvia and its neighbors Estonia and Lithuania were all part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and are now members of the European Union. They are wary about Russia and have watched with alarm as ties have frayed over the Ukraine crisis.
The West says it has evidence that Moscow is supporting pro-Russian rebels with troops and weapons in eastern Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have been killed since last April.
Moscow’s repeated denials have not lessened tensions, with increased Russian military activity and exercises, including in the Baltic, only adding to Western concerns.
“I do hope that we all understand that any provocations, any deterioration of the situation, may lead to consequences that would be devastating to everyone, including, of course, to Russia,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told Reuters.
He said a peace plan thrashed out in Minsk last month appeared to be holding, but warned that a “worst case scenario”, the full resumption of hostilities, could not be ruled out.
“But in that case, we should understand that ... there will be grave economic consequences for those who instigate that,” he said, referring to European Union sanctions already imposed on Russia.
“I hope that the Russian leadership in Moscow fully understands that, and is not going to get into irresponsible adventures.”
Russia has portrayed the Ukraine conflict as a struggle against the West, which, it says, wants to reshape the world according to its own interests.
The two sides have regularly denounced each other, rekindling memories of the Cold War, with Russia bristling at what it sees as encroachment from the NATO military alliance, which includes the Baltic states.
Russia’s ambassador in Denmark said last weekend that Moscow could aim nuclear missiles at Danish warships if Denmark joins NATO’s missile defense system.
Rinkevics said such provocative language was dangerous.
“We should not underestimate rhetoric. Sometimes rhetoric can drive you into the spiral you would want to avoid,” he said.
Latvia holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and is due to host its Eastern Partnership Summit on May 21-22, with close Russian allies Belarus and Armenia expected to attend. Rinkevics said Moscow should not see this as a threat.
“I think that we have been very clear that Eastern Partnership or our work in Central Asia is not directed against anyone, including Russia,” Rinkevics said.
Reporting by Aija Krutaine and Katya Golubkova; editing by Daniel Dickson and Crispian Balmer