A Latvian MP has travelled to Ukraine to fight as a volunteer against invading Russian forces in Ukraine, his party confirmed Tuesday, in what’s believed to be an unprecedented move by a foreign politician in the conflict.
Juris Jurašs, a deputy in Latvia’s Parliament representing the centre-right New Conservatives party, was pictured alongside a Ukrainian soldier in a photo circulated on Twitter on Tuesday, which claimed the politician had come to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion as part of a newly formed legion of foreign volunteers.
A spokesperson for Latvia’s New Conservatives, part of the country’s ruling coalition government, confirmed to VICE World News that the claims were true.
The party’s leader, Latvian Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns, told VICE World News that he supported Jurašs’s endeavours.
“He saw this possibility to join the Ukrainian armed forces and [thought] he can give more to Ukraine and Latvia if he joins,” he said. “I respect his decision.”
The Ukrainian news site Lviv Portal also reported on Jurašs’s arrival. The site quoted Ihor Vasyunyk, the head of a volunteer territorial defence unit in Lviv, western Ukraine, as saying that Jurašs understood that “in this war Ukraine is protecting not only itself but the whole world.”
“He is eager to fight. With such friends – Ukraine will win,” said Vasyunyk.
Experts tracking the movement of foreign volunteers to Ukraine said the involvement of a serving politician was hugely significant, and an indication of how international attitudes towards the conflict had shifted in the wake of Russia’s brutal invasion last month.
“To my knowledge this is the first foreign MP to fight,” said Kacper Rękawek, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism.
“It is a remarkable development.”
He said while small numbers of foreign fighters had travelled to the conflict from the Baltic states since the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the movement of these volunteers had typically been kept as low profile as possible by their governments.
“In the past, many countries in this region would be denying this, so they don’t antagonise their standing in this part of the world, given how close Russia is. You would not advertise this,” he said.
“The fact … this is now beamed internationally, and they aren’t hiding it? That is huge. That shows you just how much the reality has changed.”
Jurašs is breaking no laws by joining the fight, after the Latvian parliament unanimously passed a law last week allowing its citizens to volunteer in the conflict. Juris Rancanis, chairman of the parliamentary commission which drafted the law, said that those who fought were doing so “to defend Ukraine's independence and our common security.”
People in Latvia – a former Soviet state which became a member of NATO and the European Union in 2004 – have strongly opposed the Russian invasion. That’s due both to concern for the suffering of Ukrainians, and the fear, shared by many countries in Moscow’s former sphere of influence, that if Ukraine falls, they could eventually follow.
According to Latvian media reports, Jurašs is a 46-year-old lawyer and father of two, who is also the current chair of the Latvian parliament’s legal committee.
Bordāns, the leader of the New Conservatives, told VICE World News that Jurašs had a high degree of integrity and operational experience as a former police officer. He is a graduate of the Latvian Police Academy, and previously held a senior role in a government anti-corruption bureau.
He said it wasn’t clear yet whether Jurašs would stand down from his role as an MP during his deployment in Ukraine, but that he had still participated in a parliamentary meeting via Zoom on Tuesday morning.
Bordāns said that while his party had lost a core member of its team, “from the other side, I hope that this war will soon end, that Russia will be defeated, and that Mr Jurašs will soon be back with his new experience.”
In the week since Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for international volunteers to join a foreign battalion fighting the Russian invasion, about 20,000 people from 52 countries have signed up, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Sunday night.