The decision for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO is there and it has been reconfirmed at the top political level in the Alliance - NATO Deputy Secretary General
An exclusive interview with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană for the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency:
Text: Nataliia Pushkaruk
- Ukraine's leadership has repeatedly stated that it expects NATO to take steps to implement the NATO Bucharest Summit declaration that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and that the Membership Action Plan (MAP) will be the next step for Ukraine on its path to membership. What is currently the main obstacle to providing the MAP to Ukraine and are there time limits when a dialogue on MAP to Ukraine can be launched?
- The Open Door Policy is one of the most successful policies in the history of NATO. Many countries have joined the Alliance since the end of Communism. The open door policy is also in the Washington Treaty, so it is part of our constitution. Decisions of Bucharest Summit are there. They were taken by Allies and they stand.
I think that the most important political reconfirmation of the Open Door Policy and also the prospective of Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO were reconfirmed by NATO leaders at the Brussels summit just a few months ago. So this is something which is real.
Of course, in order to get to that point there is always a combination of factors: the status of reforms in the aspirant countries and political consensus on the other side. So there is not an automaticity to this issue per say but there is always an encouragement we make and I make personally to countries like Ukraine to continue to stay on the course of reforms, to continue to engage with NATO on as many fronts as possible. The Enhanced Opportunity Partner status is a massive positive step in the right direction. And I am looking to the way in which Georgia which has received this status a little bit earlier and has been using this is very important.
So the decision for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO is there. It has been reconfirmed at the top political level in the Alliance. I am encouraging our Ukrainian friends to stay the course and to continue to prepare through domestic reforms that are still needed for decisions down the road.
- What role does the Russian factor play for NATO in deciding on the MAP for Ukraine? How important for Alliance is the issue of Russia's dissatisfaction with the fact that Ukraine can become a member of NATO?
- The very essence of NATO and I would say also of the European Union, because we are two sides of the same coin, is that we exist (and NATO for 72 years already) just on the fundamental assumption that the period of spheres of influence in Europe is gone forever.
I mentioned open doors, I mentioned the successive waves of enlargement, the most recent one was just two years ago. It is a proof of this issue. This is not the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of a third party that is leading this effort but it's the fundamental principle that sovereign nations should be in the situation to choose their destiny according to the sovereign right to choose their direction. And if Ukraine chooses, and the people of Ukraine and the leadership of Ukraine are choosing to go towards the Western institutions this is something that we encourage and support.
It is not up to anybody else to dictate to its neighbors or to anyone else in Europe which is the destiny they choose. This is something which is the very essence of who we are and what we represent.
- What reforms does Ukraine need to implement in order to move closer to a positive decision by Allies on the MAP?
- I know that that the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for more specific description of these reforms in Vilnius. I also attended that very important conference virtually. I would say that when it comes to NATO of course we are more interested in the issues of national security institutions reform, command and control, interoperability in the Armed Forces, civilian control, political control, parliamentary oversight, intelligence sector reform, which is something that is very complex but also very important. But also there are broader things when it comes to fighting corruption, reforming the judiciary, making sure that the system functions in the rule of law, checks and balances - all these issues are not necessarily defense sector related but also because of the values we embrace.
That's why we encourage Ukraine to continue to use to the maximum possible extent the annual national program. I know that this coming December there will be a review together of that program and that is the best way to really see and engage in a number of issues.
I would also say that the adaptation of NATO to an ever-changing world is part of the DNA of this Alliance, that is why it is so successful. It has not always been easy, but we are always adapting to a changing world. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and our leaders agreed in the last summit that we had in Brussels to launch a massive transformation effort when it comes to NATO 2030, the next strategic concept. So I’m also encouraging aspirant countries like Ukraine to look of course to the membership part, which is of course of significant interest, but also to anticipate and work with us in the adaptation to a transformative processes which we are now undergoing - when it comes to resilience, when it comes to innovation and new technologies, when it comes to space and climate change, defense. There are lots of things that are happening as we speak. So I also encourage aspirant countries, and it is our desire to engage with you as much as possible, just to make sure that together we adjust to a world which is in flux, in massive transformation as we speak.
- You have already mentioned that president Zelenskyy had said that Ukraine wants a comprehensive list of reforms that will allow it to move to the next stage of integration with NATO. Does NATO really plan to give such a list of requirements for Ukraine on the road to the MAP?
- As I mentioned there is a national reform program when it comes to the Enhanced Opportunity Partner (EOP) status of Ukraine, which is I think the place where this conversation should take place. Of course there is a political discussion. We understand at the level of the head of state, like President Zelenskyy, that is a very important political issue. But also there is a practical, there is a pragmatic set of issues that we are doing together. And I think that is the place where on both sides we should look into this.
I would also encourage (and I know you already do it) to look what Georgia has been accomplishing, because they have been in the EOP status a little bit longer than Ukraine. So I think there is room there to identify the reforms and make sure that you deliver upon the reforms you are committed to.
- NATO recognized Ukraine as Enhanced Opportunity Partner. How this status already helps strengthen cooperation between Ukraine and NATO? Which of the benefits of EOP status are already being used in practice?
- I received this question many times and I say that it is substantive because this new status gives an aspirant country like Ukraine access to more NATO exercises. And we see already a positive impact of the new status on the exercises. I think we have 11 exercises that we are doing together including the most recent one - Sea Breeze, which was co-led by Ukraine and the US. We had 32 nations participating. That is a massive transformation.
There are also the issues of situational awareness, exchange of information, which is done more intimately, which is also very important. So I do believe that this status is bringing a lot. And I encourage our Ukrainian friends to fully benefit and fully use this very important instrument at our disposal.
- How do you assess the achieved interoperability between the armies of NATO member states and the Ukrainian Armed Forces?
- This is a work in progress. We have noticed a number of decisions which have been done recently. We salute the effort. I know this is an ongoing process. I also know from the experience of my own country that this transformation is not easy. It is also a culture of defense and national security, which is shifting. So we fully recognize the complexity of this transformation. But we say that there is absolutely no substitute for an organic transformation and this is something we encourage for Ukraine to continue on this path.
- How do you assess Ukraine's reforms in the military sphere? What further reforms does NATO expect to be implemented in Ukrainian Armed Forces?
- We mentioned quite a few times command and control, which is the 'bread and butter' of military organization. There are other things that we are discussing on a practical level.
Of course, intelligence sector reform is not military reform, but nonetheless it is national security reform. Again that is very important.
I mentioned something again which is transformative, its political oversight and civilian control. That is fundamental, that is how we work.
So there is the work in progress. We recognize the progress. Ukraine has done a lot of positive track record in this direction. But there is still a way to go and together we will be engaging on that road.
- According to Ukrainian authorities, after Russia recently sent tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border, it never withdrew its troops. How does NATO assess the current situation? Does NATO have an action plan to help Ukraine if Russia starts a new round of aggression against our country?
- We have been quite explicit and I think Allies showed immediate reaction and solidarity with Ukraine when the last build up took place a few months ago. We also salute the restraint in which Ukrainian leadership has responded to that. Because there is always a risk of provocation and this is part of the things that we should avoid together.
Of course, we are assessing the equipment and the hardware that the Russian military have left after that build up. And of course we are watching with great attention like always the current preparation for Zapad 2021, which is an important exercise done by Russia and Belarus. And that is why we are keeping like always attention to this issue.
I also know that after the recent build up Minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba has presented a number of propositions to NATO. They have been processed and as we speak we are working together with our Ukrainian partners to make sure that we step up our cooperation.
- Ukraine procured through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). How important is Ukraine's participation in the NSPA?
- NSPA and NCIA (NATO Communications and Information Agency) (the other big agency that NATO has) - they are probably the best in the world in what they do and they are superb organizations. They are also multilateral organizations that reflect the composition of the Alliance. So the are things that can be done with NSPA, some other things that are done bilaterally. And I know that many Allies bilaterally are supporting Ukraine in many ways. So I think that finding a right balance between what Ukraine does with our specialized agencies and what they do bilaterally it is something that is for Ukraine to decide.
And by the way NSPA is not only about the acquisition of equipment. It is also about logistics and coordination. And I again salute the way in which Ukraine has helped. We helped each other during the pandemic. I am also looking to the way in which Ukraine and its strategic airlift capacity has been useful in evacuation in the Kabul airport. Just the other day 87 people of various nationalities including Afghan friends have been evacuated with the help of Ukraine. So what I am saying is that it is not just one deal. It is just a logic of cooperation, the intimacy of working together. And this is something that is building up.
- In what NATO-led military exercises will be able to take part Ukrainian soldiers this or next year?
- This is again a part of our annual review of what we do. I know there will be a Table-Top exercise on resilience in September. I encourage Ukraine, and I know there is an attempt at the national level to organize strategy and an interagency mechanism for resilience. That is also a topic of great importance for NATO. And I know that one of my colleagues, the Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel will be here for the Table-Top exercise. So I think we are on a very good path in doing even more in that direction.
- Does NATO plan to enhance its presence in the Black Sea?
- I am coming from Romania, which is a Black Sea country. Together with Bulgaria and Turkey, we have the same keen interest in the Black Sea and also the Azov Sea security.
The Black Sea region is of prominent importance for NATO. I mentioned the last summit and the declaration of the last summit. Black Sea is prominent. Why? Because Russia has been using the illegal occupation of Crimea basically not only to project power but also to take illegal control not only of the land but also some portions of the sea. But it is also a power projection to the Middle East, to the Levant, to the Mediterranean. This is why a combination of factors make the Black Sea very important for NATO. We are doing a lot. I remember visiting together with the Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council Kyiv and Odessa before the pandemic. There is lots of NATO and Allied maritime presence in the Black Sea. I think that more than 6 months per year we have ongoing presence. There was also a recent mission of the UK, of the Netherlands. Air policing is very active. As we speak, air policing is done by our British friends and before augmented by our German friends. Before it was Spain and Canadians, Italians.
That is a lot of activity that we do in the Black Sea. Speaking of exercises we had this massive exercise in the first part of the year – exercise Steadfast Defender 2021. This was probably one of the most important exercises in the last 20 years that we have been doing. What we are doing for the sub region of the Black Sea and the whole Euro-Atlantic space is showing that we are looking organically 360 degree to the security of the Alliance. And the Black Sea will continue to figure prominently on our agenda down the road.
- You came to Kyiv to take part at the first summit of Crimea Platform. What does NATO think about this initiative of Ukraine?
- I congratulate Ukrainian leadership for this initiative. It is important for the international community and for likeminded democratic nations to continue to keep this topic very high on the international agenda. All Allies, NATO, the EU, around the world said very explicitly that we will never recognize this illegal and immoral annexation. But I believe that this initiative will also bring a structured mechanism on the political, practical and expert levels. I believe that is something very important. I am heartened to see the important level of international participation: heads of states, prime ministers, ministers, the EU and NATO. So I think that this is an initiative that is not only an important event by itself (that is why we are here), but I also think this will be a very useful instrument to keep this topic very high on the agenda of international community and also to use all diplomatic means to influence the conversation around Crimea.
- Do you think this initiative is enough for deoccupation of Crimea?
- This is a very important initiative by Ukraine, which has received very positive response from the international community and the Euro-Atlantic community. This is something that is useful, and has to be used. This kind of constant attention and pressure on Russia is something that needs to continue. We have all an interest in making sure that this very aggressive stance of Russia continues to be a true red line for the political West. This is something that we can never accept - aggressive territorial changes in Europe - and this is why Ukraine has in all of us true friends for the long run.