Latvian defence minister visits Turkish drone factory

Latvia’s Minister of Defence Artis Pabriks paid a visit to a production centre for Turkey’s armed drones near Ankara, Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar said in a Twitter post on Monday.

Pabriks visited the centre, which is owned by Baykar, and met with company representatives that included its chief executive Haluk Bayraktar. After his visit, Pabriks praised the work of the Turkish defence industry and their contribution to NATO.

“Turkish industry, research and development have the highest world standards, and being allies in NATO we value it very highly. I wish you all success!” Pabriks wrote on Twitter.

Pabriks’ visit has prompted speculation that Latvia may be the next NATO and European Union (EU) member state to purchase drones from Turkey, following Poland, which acquired the drones on May 24 after concluding a deal in Istanbul between its president Andrej Duda and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a Twitter exchange with another user, Pabriks was asked when Latvia would be acquiring its own Bayraktar drones. Pabriks simply responded “Hopefully soon enough.”

There has been no official announcement from Latvia that is preparing to purchase armed drones from Turkey but following his visit to the Baykar centre, Pabriks wrote on Facebook that it was in Latvia’s national interest to deepen defence cooperation with Turkey. He added that it was especially significant because of what he says is Latvia’s current focus on drone technology.

“It is in the interests of Latvia to promote constructive cooperation on mutually important issues with Turkey and its military industry. Turkey is our partner in NATO and I am sure that our joint cooperation will help strengthen Latvian defense capabilities as well as our local military industry,” Pabriks wrote on Facebook.

“Drones are the area we are currently paying attention to and will continue to pay very much attention. Drone systems create many additional options for Latvia, and it allows to really increase our combat abilities.”

Located along the Baltic Sea, Latvia has expressed unease at the military power of its largest neighbour Russia, especially following its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia has reacted negatively to Turkey’s drone exports to its adversaries in the past, notably Ukraine. Amidst heightened tensions in the Donbas and near Crimea last March, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticised Turkey’s drone sales to Ukraine as encouraging “militaristic sentiments.”

Turkey’s armed drones have made a name for themselves through their triumphs over Russian equipment operated by clients and proxies in recent years. Poland and Ukraine both cite the successes of Turkish drones in Syria, Libya and last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh as factors when considering whether or not to acquire their own.

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