Ukraine and NATO have started discussions and dialogue on membership action plan. From your previous experience, how many years will it take Ukraine to meet all the requirements and to actually apply for the membership?
“The most important thing for Ukraine is to focus on reforms, to modernize it’s defense and security institutions to meet NATO standards and to fight corruption. That is important regardless of the membership issue because that will strengthen Ukraine and that will strengthen the interoperability meaning the ability of the Ukrainian and the NATO forces to work together. President Poroshenko raised the issue of membership action plan, alliance took note of that but we hadn’t any in-depth discussions about an issue. The important thing is that Ukraine has the tools it needs to move closer to NATO with, as we call that, the substantial “Comprehensive Assistance Package”, which was agreed a year ago, which covers a wide range areas where we can do much more together and I think the important thing is to focus on the actions of how we can strengthen Ukraine’s defense and security institutions, help you forces modernize and that’s the main focus now.”
How do you think, will it be possible to apply for this membership in three years?
“I am not speculate at all about the timelines. Of course it’s up to Ukraine to decide what Ukraine wants. My message has been and is that the question of membership is going to be decided by 29 allies and Ukraine. No one else has the right to interfere into that process. And again the reform, modernizing, fighting corruption, meeting NATO standards – that’s important thing, that should be the main focus, because that’s important and beneficial for both NATO and Ukraine regardless of the membership issue.”
Relations between NATO and Russia: what does Alliance expect from Moscow and what concessions can it do itself?
“NATO’s approach to Moscow and to Russia is based on what you call “dual track approach” – that’s about strong defense, collective defense, credible deterrence, but at the same time political dialogue, because Russia is our neighbor, Russia has to stay, Russia will not disappear. And therefore it is important to be able to talk to Russia especially when tensions an high and it’s important to talk, for instance to address issues like the Minsk agreements, the implementation. That’s the political dialogue. But also to address issues, what we call, transparency, risk reduction – there’s a lot of military activity, exercises going on along the borders and we have to prevent incidents and accidents from happening because they can spoil autocontrol and create dangerous situations. All these require dialogue with Russia, but dialogue is not a sign of weakness, dialogue is a sign of strength – we speak to our neighbor.”
Speaking of this political dialogue – today the press secretary of Russian President Dmitry Peskov said that giving a membership action plan to Ukraine won’t contribute to the security in Europe. How do you react to such a statement?
“It’s for Ukraine to decide it’s own path. That’s a sovereign right of any nation and no one has the right to re-establish the system of spheres of influence in Europe where the nations try to decide on what neighbors do or can or cannot do. And the membership issues are going to be decided by the allies and Ukraine, no one else.”
Also there is a great concern of the Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense that there are threats due to the Russian-Belarussian exercises that will take place in September. How does Alliance evaluate such risks?
“We will monitor the “Zapad” exercises closely. All nations have the right to exercises their forces, but this is important that it is done in a way which is predictable and in accordance with the international obligations, like for instance something called the Vienna document, which is an agreement where nations, including Russia, have agreed to transparency in national observation of big military exercises. And we call Russia to respect the Vienna document which helps to provide transparency and predictability related to military exercises. NATO doesn’t see any immediate military threat against the NATO ally countries, but of course what we have seen is responsive of aggressive actions against Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea and destabilizing Eastern Ukraine and we call Russia to withdraw all it’s forces from Eastern Ukraine. There are thousands of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine and they should be withdrawn and Russia should use all it’s influence on the militants to make sure that Minsk agreements are fully implemented.”
And the last very brief question: you’ve been here in 2015. What has changed in Ukraine?
“What I’ve seen is even stronger commitment to reform, stronger commitment to fight against terrorism – I welcome that but at the same time I recognize that there’s a long way to go. And I also welcome that we now see some improvement in your economy, this is demanded to make economic and social progress when you are suffering the kind of aggression which Russia is suffering. Therefore I am impressed by Ukraine for a progress you are making in very difficult times.”
Thank you for being with us, with 112. Thank you!