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The Riga Conference 2021

The Riga Conference is a platform for dialogue on international security issues between leading global decision makers.

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Opening of the Riga Conference 2021

The Riga Conference is an annual event where international experts, academics, business representatives and journalists meet to discuss the issues concerning the transatlantic community. This year the Riga Conference was held on October 15-16 at the National Library of Latvia and online. The Conference is organised by the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LATO). Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Office in the Baltic States was among the main partners of this year's conference. 


Day 1 Program

13:00 – 14:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


14:00 – 14:40

Riga time (UTC+2)


Welcoming remarks by
Krišjānis Kariņš, Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia
Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia

Moderator: Edward Lucas, Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Q&A session

14:40 – 14:45

Riga time (UTC+2)

Special video address by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations

14:45 – 15:00

Riga time (UTC+2)

Remarks on 30 Years of Latvian UN Membership

H.E. Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia interviewed by Ina Strazdiņa, Latvian Public Broadcasting (video interview)

15:00 – 16:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


The last 10 years have come with achievements such as the stabilisation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy as key EU policies with their own legitimate policy goals and their own executives through the European External Action Service (EEAS). However, to reach such goals a unanimous decision has to be taken on behalf of all member states which can prove itself to be a difficult requirement and thus affect the public image of the EU globally. Furthermore, the end of 2020 came with a festive feeling for diplomats of the EEAS as the European diplomatic service celebrated its 10th anniversary marking it’s continues importance. Will member states be able to set their differences aside in order to reach global goals that the EEAS can implement? How has the European Union’s foreign policy evolved and what direction is it going in? What challenges and opportunities can be foreseen for EU’s foreign policy? The discussion will bring together individuals that have been at the forefront of EU foreign, security and defence policies.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission from 2014 to 2019

Dr Vaira Vīķe- Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia from 1999 to 2007

Marian Majer, the State Secretary (Deputy Minister) of Defence of the Slovak Republic

Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Moderator:  Daunis Auers, Prof of EU Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia

16:00 – 16:30

Riga time (UTC+2)


16:30 – 17:30

Riga time (UTC+2)


The European Green deal is primarily an initiative that holds puts sustainability and durability at the forefront of EU policies. Recent “Fit for 55” package sets out mechanisms through which EU’s climate and environmental goals are to be achieved. This is an ambitious and promising approach that will be visible in a variety of EU policies and finances. Furthermore, the Green Deal and the EU approach to its challenges will have numerous long-term consequences that can prove to be important as a global balancing mechanism. Implementing and delivering on certain initiatives may be costly in the shorter term but may define global power interactions as the issue and concerns associated with it grow in importance. It is crucial that as a global power the EU understands its significance from an economic, geopolitical and security perspective. The discussion aims at providing insight into the reach of the Green Deal and its effects on a global scale.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for An Economy that Works for People

David Moran, COP26 Regional Ambassador for Europe, Central Asia, Turkey and Iran

Nick Redman, Oxford Analytica’s Director of Analysis and the Editor in Chief of the Oxford Analytica

Moderator: Prof Alan Riley, Non- Resident Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council

17:30 – 18:00

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


NATO as a peace and security preserving alliance constantly adapts to different types of security challenges externally and internally. NATO is facing threats through a shifting geopolitical and technological landscape as regional; hybrid and cyber conflicts gain in importance. It is also facing new internal challenges in securing a harmonized stance on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law among its members. Technology and various recent developments in the sector must be constantly examined as these Research and Development initiatives, such as further improvement of Artificial Intelligence,  advance quickly. Collective defence, the principle at the very heart of NATO’s treaty remains the main advantage towards facing these threats. Through the many challenges endured by NATO, it has remained the cornerstone that unites NATO members towards a common vision. How do new threats emerge, both externally and internally? How does NATO is adapt to these challenges to continue safeguarding the freedom, common heritage and civilization of its members?

James Appathurai, Deputy Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO

Toms Rostoks, Associate Professor at the University of Latvia

18:00 – 19:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


The NATO 2030 Agenda was endorsed at the June Brussels summit and will provide the backbone for the 2022 Strategic Concept. The discussion will highlight the internal and external challenges implicit in the Agenda and what the Alliance will need to do for it to successfully move ahead in an increasingly polarised world. NATO will need to adapt to growing Great Power Competition and the Russian and Chinese challenge to the rules-based international order and ever more unpredictable transnational threats posed by terrorism, cyber-attacks, and climate change. NATO will also need to be transformed if the Alliance is to meet the challenges of emerging and disruptive technologies that are changing the very nature of peace, crisis, conflict, and future war. NATO Allies can simply no longer take it for granted that Allied fighting power enjoys a technological edge over adversaries. Therefore, this discussion will debate the relevance and sustainability of NATO in the 21st century as both a leader and provider of collective defence given the profound pressure being exerted by diverse security challenges across a complex European and global security landscape.

Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public Diplomacy

Erik Brattberg, Director of Europe Program, Carnegie Endowment for Peace

Amb Tomasz Szatkowski, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the North Atlantic Council

Moderator: Prof Julian Lindley-French, Chair & Founder of TAG – Geopolitics, Strategy and Innovation; Chairman of The Alphen Group

Special Address by Mārtiņš Staķis, the Mayor of Rīga


Sessions are held under the “Chatham House Rule”

21:00 – 22:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


Ukraine embarks on a difficult path with many obstacles as they strive for closer integration with the EU and other international and regional organizations while experiencing continued military aggression and intimidation from Russia. Concurrently, attempts to tackle the distressing socio-economic impacts of the pandemic have left society’s trust in the state administration’s reforms and performance undermined and debilitated due to its dissimilar and divergent methods in comparison with European and wider Western approaches towards integration processes. Nonetheless, reform improvement in public administration, anti-corruption, and the defence sector have been realised. Are these achievements sufficient for further integration in the Western institutions, are they sustainable in a long term? What have been the main challenges faced by Ukraine in recent years while undergoing the reform process? What are the Ukrainian expectations for NATO and the EU in terms of further support?

Arkady Moshes, Program Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Orysia Lutsevych, Head and Research Fellow, Ukraine Forum, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House

Moderator: Dmitri Teperik, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), Programme Director „Resilient Ukraine”

21:00 – 22:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


The 2020 anti-authoritarian protests brough profound change not only to the domestic situation in Belarus but to the regional security situation. Massive crackdown on the protest movement was accompanied by “hybrid” aggression against neighboring states. Despite their disagreements, the regimes in Minsk and Moscow now seem to be working in a tandem. The Western community needs to respond to these new challenges. One questions that arise is whether the EU is to reassess its strategy towards authoritarian regimes in its neighborhood. What instruments does it presently dispose of? The issue of sanctions against Lukashenka has been hotly debated, and some point to their inefficiency and the risks they may bear for Belarus’ independence. Are we on the eve of a Russian annexation or is the renewed “integration game” between Minsk and Moscow just more of the same? What are the lessons learned from 2020 and which steps should be taken next?

Elena Korosteleva, Professor of International Politics, Director of Global Europe Center, University of Kent

Pavel Slunkin, Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Dirk Schuebel, the Head of the EU Delegation to Belarus

Jakob Wöllenstein, Head of the Belarusian Office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

Franak Viačorka, Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs at the Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Office

Moderator: Dr Aliaksei Kazharski, Researcher, the Institute of European Studies and International Relations of the Comenius University, Lecturer at the Department of Security Studies of Charles University in Prague

21:00 – 22:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


Long-standing exceptional role of nuclear weapons has raised from inability to predict the escalation and costs of such collision. Distinction between conventional and nuclear deterrence has been blurred as Russia declares that nuclear weapons could be used in case of large scale conventional warfare. If conventional and nuclear deterrence tandem is reducing the threshold for potential usage of nuclear weapons – does it mean that a low-yield nuclear weapons could be used without proper nuclear response? Does this puts no first-use rule into the past? NATO nuclear policy of ambiguity contributes to deterring a growing range of non-nuclear threats. The discussion will demonstrate the relevance of credible deterrence and will highlight challenges and opportunities that we foresee in upcoming future.

Jānis Garisons, State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia

Gen (ret.) Philip M. Breedlove, Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO Allied Command Operations

Bertrand Le Meur, Head of the Directorate for Defence Strategy, Counter- Proliferation and Strategic Foresight at the Ministry for the Armed Forces the Republic of France

Moderator: Jessica Cox, Director of the Nuclear Policy Directorate at NATO Headquarters

Day 2 Program

08:30 – 09:00

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


In the fall of 2021, Germany is at the core of all EU and transatlantic partnership discussions as it expects the results of its national election. Angela Merkel has been the Federal Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and a new leader could lead swift change in directions for EU and NATO policies. What is the role of Germany as a European leader? What is the possible shape that future German leadership woill take depending on election results?

H.E. Christian Heldt, German Ambassador to Latvia

Ina Strazdiņa, Latvian Public Broadcasting

09:00 – 10:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


Decades have passed since one can consider issues of security at a regional or global level as straight forward melee combat. The number of battle-fronts a country must consider keeps increasing on a regular basis. The most recent tool to be used and targeted is the digital footprint left by any transaction, message or activity in our digital age: data. Unidentifiable resources are invested into gathering as much data as possible to be used for a variety of questionable purposes. How should we reconcile the opportunities and the vulnerabilities that stem with holistic digitalisation? How far should we go to govern the internet, the hardware and the software that enables an unparalleled level of innovation but also the threat of the rise of surveillance capitalism and openings for other national security threats?

Aura Salla, Public Policy Director, Head of EU Affairs at Facebook

Andrejs Vasiljevs, Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Tilde, Board Member of the Big Data Value Association

Līga Raita Rozentāle, Senior Director of European Cybersecurity Policy, Microsoft

Michael Bociurkiw, Global Affairs Analyst

Josef Schroefl, Deputy Director of the COI Strategy and Defense, European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Online)

Moderator: Jānis Sārts, Director, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence

10:00 – 10:30

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


At both, the state and the international levels, the importance of intelligence cannot be stressed enough. Financial intelligence as a key indicator and collaborator to traditional human intelligence is rarely discussed. In recent years, the grip on money laundering attempts has been tightened and thus the associated threat of terrorism financing has also been put in the spotlight. This raises numerous questions on the importance of financial intelligence and its influence on international security. Furthermore, Latvia has invested in rebuilding its reputation after numerous money laundering scandals and after years of work is now one of the runners to host the new EU anti-money laundering authority (AMLA). To what extent does financial intelligence contribute to international security?

Ilze Znotiņa, Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Latvia

Pauls Raudseps, journalist, Chairman of the board at Cits Medijs

10:30 – 11:30

Riga time (UTC+2)


The Baltic States constitute a model of regional cooperation, which is able to combine and balance individual interests with regional, European and Transatlantic ones. The discussion will examine the different priorities that each country has individually and the challenges that are common to all three Baltic States and how they should be approached. Furthermore, the discussion will examine the current stability of the Baltic democracies and compare their approach to challenges such as growing disinformation from external actors.  The impact that crises such as the Covid-19 Pandemic and the current situation on the Belarussian border will also be looked at from a pan-Baltic perspective.

Rihards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Saeima, Latvia

Žygimantas Pavilionis, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas, Lithuania

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, Estonia

Moderator: Prof Žaneta Ozoliņa, Chairwoman of the Board of the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation

11:30 – 12:00

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


The Finnish defence system is going through a broad reconstruction process. The plan includes large spectrum improvement of their military capacity to protect their state against conventional military attacks, as well as to strengthen information, cyber and societal resilience. Finland is increasingly involved in strengthening regional security, as well as is committed to cooperation with NATO. The role of Finland is only increasing in discussion on strengthening European defence and security policies. What issues related to further EU integration on defence and security matters should be watched closely? What are the latest developments in 5G technologies and other digitalisation aspects that will influence defensive decision making over the next few years?

Antti Kaikkonen, Minister of Defence of Finland

12:00 – 13:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


Today the Western democracies live in a gray zone, a time between peace and war, where malign activities such as cyber-attacks, disinformation, propaganda campaigns and intelligence operations are designed to achieve long-term objectives without triggering direct escalation. With intensifying international political, economic and military competition, state and non-state adversaries are using plenty of unconventional warfare elements to undermine liberal governments. This gray zone warfare is becoming more innovative and hostile. Belarus hijacking of Ryanair plane and the migrant crisis at the Eastern flank is a clear attack on democracies and signals that the lines between peace and wartime have become increasingly blurred. While the world is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, hostile adversaries will continue to further exploit states’ vulnerabilities. Are we doomed for failure when the other side is not playing by the same rules? Or is there an efficient way how democracies can identify and counter gray zone warfare elements? With growing range of indirect and non-military warfare elements aimed to disrupt the society, there is an increasing necessity for states to enhance societal preparedness through resilience instruments. Is societal resilience the new civilian equivalent for combat-ready and equipped armed forces and as such a deterrent in itself? The discussion will examine the best practices how democracies can effectively counter malicious activities in the gray zone through ensuring better deterrence and resilience.

Dr Artis Pabriks, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence of the Republic of Latvia

James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, United Kingdom

Ian Brzezinski, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council

Moderator: Elisabeth Braw, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Member of the U.K. National Preparedness Commission, columnist at the Foreign Policy

13:00 – 14:30

Riga time (UTC+2)

Lunch time

14:30 – 15:30

Riga time (UTC+2)


Strategic competition over the future of the international order between the US and China is a key geopolitical issue. China’s political leadership is strongly committed to make its country the world’s leading economic, technological, and military power by 2035. US foreign policy under Joe Biden has largely continued the approach of the Trump’s administration towards China and is determined to thwart China’s continuous rise. Is such an approach sufficient to balance Chinese claims? Will US succeed in receiving support from its main allies in Europe? Are there any other peaceful alternatives for a balance with China?

Dr Sarah Kirchberger, Head of the Center for Asia-Pacific Strategy & Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University

Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Dr Andrew A. Michta, Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany

Prof Roberta Haar, Research Director, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University College Maastricht

Henry Hand, Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Moderator: Stuart Lau, EU-China Correspondent for Politico Europe

15:30 – 16:00

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


The last year and a half have turned the world towards a new normal which includes technology as part of the daily lives of all generations. This shift in daily routines has come as a necessity which allows for the continuation of work and education in all sectors. However, the use of social media as a poorly controlled source of public information and one of the main communication channels amongst peers opens the door to the spread of malevolent information. The pandemic and information on it based on facts  and figures is at a daily battlefield with organised disinformation campaigns. What are the latest tools and techniques associated with the fight against disinformation? What are the threats that disinformation may pose if it is left uncontrolled?

Michael Bociurkiw, Global Affairs Analyst

Elīna Lange-Ionatamišvili, Senior Expert, NATO StratCom COE

16:00 – 17:00

Riga time (UTC+2)


Since the change in leadership, after the withdrawal of US troops in August 2021, numerous opinion leaders have dedicated extensive critic towards the handling of the situation. However, not much discourse has been dedicated towards discussing the possible implications that the recent developments may have in the future. There are certainly many decisions that will be influenced by all the lessons learned from this decade’s long intervention, Iraq is just one. To reshape NATO as the most significant international alliance issues of capacity, training, logistics and coherence must be addressed. What are the future scenarios that can be envisioned for the alliance?

Michael McKinley, Non-Resident Senior Adviser, Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kate Clark, Co-Director and Senior Analyst Afghanistan Analysts Network

John Manza, Assistant Secretary General for Operations, NATO

Dr. Ellinor Zeino, Director Regional Programme Southwest Asia at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Moderator: Vygaudas Ušackas, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Former Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation and Afghanistan

17:00 – 17:30

Riga time (UTC+2)

Coffee Break Interview:


As one of the leading players in international affairs China is often at the forefront of any discussion on a global scale. However, what makes China a special case for analysis is their strive for leadership on numerous fronts. China’s increasing presence can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity as global players face ongoing challenges such as climate change and many others. What is the global presence of China and how should it be analysed?

Marc Lanteigne, Associate Professor at the Arctic University of Norway
Uģis Lībietis, Latvian Public Broadcasting

17:30 – 18:30

Riga time (UTC+2)


The international system has faced structural changes recently. The dynamics of this and last year have demonstrated an acceleration and deepening of the processes. Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia has played a crucial role in challenging the Western world through all its available means in its neighbourhood and globally. It continues military aggression and intimidation in Ukraine and supports hostile Belarussian tactics towards EU countries. The Kremlin brokered an end to the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and sent peacekeepers to promote its influence. Globally, it uses arms sales and military engagements to build ties with countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Moscow has been engaged in dialogue with the Taliban for years while the West fails. Russian fossil fuel exports to the EU provide additional leverage. Is the West ready to react and what policies should the West implement? Should Western policies towards the Putin regime be revisited?

Prof Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director, Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University-Higher School of Economics

Kate Hansen Bundt, Secretary General of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee

Martin Kragh, Deputy Director of the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies, Senior Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs

James Lamond, Director of the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Chairman of the Kyiv Security Forum, Prime Minister of Ukraine (2014-16)

Moderator: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian Politician

Concluding remarks by H.E. Edgars Rinkēvičs, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Latvia

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