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What’s next for Russia?

Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga addressed the Northeastern community on Thursday afternoon.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga

In a lec­ture at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Thursday after­noon, former Lat­vian Pres­i­dent Vaira Vike-​​​​Freiberga com­pared Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to Peter the Great, the 17th cen­tury czar who acquired ter­ri­tory in Latvia, Fin­land, and Estonia.

I hope the pop­u­larity the Russian pres­i­dent enjoys today would end soon and Russia could develop a dif­ferent con­cept of who it is without having to threaten the rest of the world,” said Vike-​​Freiberga, who served as pres­i­dent of Latvia from 1999 to 2007. “I wish them luck because I think Russian people would be better for it.”

Vike-​​​​Freiberga is cur­rently the pres­i­dent and founding member of the Club of Madrid, an inde­pen­dent non­profit orga­ni­za­tion cre­ated to pro­mote democ­racy and change in the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity. She fled Latvia when she was 6, before the country was invaded by the USSR, and then spent four years in refugee camps in Ger­many. She repa­tri­ated in 1998, and was elected Pres­i­dent of the Republic of Latvia just one year later. During her tenure as pres­i­dent, she suc­cess­fully advanced the for­eign policy inter­ests of her country, guiding its entry into the Euro­pean Union and raising the nation’s world­wide recog­ni­tion through her work at the United Nations.

Her lec­ture at North­eastern marked the first of sev­eral speaking engage­ments in Boston in which she planned to dis­cuss the future of Europe and the prospect of building peace and secu­rity in the pacific.

On Thursday, Vike-​​Freiberga addressed some 200 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff who filled the Fenway Center for Northeastern’s inau­gural Global Leaders Forum. The new series is spon­sored by the university’s Center for Inter­na­tional Affairs and World Cul­tures, which aims to advance inter­dis­ci­pli­nary schol­ar­ship, pro­grams of study, and transna­tional linkages.

Vike-Freiberga’s campus visit was the result of her long­standing friend­ship with Anthony Jones, a member of the board of the direc­tors of the Club of Madrid and an asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology at North­eastern who extended the invi­ta­tion. Her lecture—titled “Where is Russia going after Georgia and Ukraine?”—focused pri­marily on Russia’s his­tory and con­cluded with her pro­nounce­ment that Russia faces a “bleak” future.

Russia shares a border with Latvia, a small country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Vike-Freiberga’s pes­simistic view of its future derives in part from her assess­ment of the Russo-​​Ukrainian con­flict. In March, Russia annexed the Crimean Penin­sula, which had been inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized as part of Ukraine.

I don’t think a country can be seen as legit­i­mate by the rest of the world based on how many other coun­tries it can oppress,” Vike-​​Freiberga said. “I don’t believe such a country is able to develop and respond to the chal­lenges of the modern world,” she added, pointing in par­tic­ular to ter­rorism, cli­mate change, and global pandemics.

In the Q-​​and-​​A, one stu­dent asked Vike-​​Freiberga for her take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has beheaded four West­erners in the past six weeks, including a British aid worker whose death was made public on Friday in a video released by the ter­rorist orga­ni­za­tion. “They are a fanat­ical group that has no his­tor­ical nor polit­ical reality but to use mil­i­tary force,” she said. “They have no real future except the one imposed by mil­i­tary force.”

A stu­dent who grew up in Georgia, which is located in between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, wanted to know how an ordi­nary cit­izen like her­self could effect pos­i­tive change. “The best med­i­cine for the future of any country is to estab­lish a society that is just and inclu­sive, that does not tol­erate dis­crim­i­na­tion or oppres­sion,” she said.

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