Ras­mussen, ex-NATO sec­re­tary gen­eral, deep­ens in­volve­ment with Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­NER@KYIVPOST.COM

An­ders Fogh Ras­mussen, the for­mer NATO sec­re­tary gen­eral and Dan­ish prime min­is­ter, is tak­ing on an even larger role in Ukrainian af­fairs.

For more than a year, Ras­mussen has been a pri­vate ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko. This month, he also joins the su­per­vi­sory board of Vic­tor Pinchuk’s Yalta Euro­pean Strat­egy con­fer­ence, join­ing such lu­mi­nar­ies as ex-Pol­ish Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Kwas­niewski and ex-Swedish Prime Min­is­ter Carl Bildt.

Ras­mussen said he’s ex­cited about both of these paid roles for two of Ukraine’s premier oli­garchs, Poroshenko and Pinchuk, even though he hopes oli­garchs will not have com­mand­ing power over Ukraine’s fu­ture. “The very best way in which Ukraine can de­fend it­self is to re­form it­self into a sus­tain­able democ­racy, not ruled by oli­garchs but ruled by peo­ple,” Ras­mussen told the Kyiv Post in an in­ter­view ahead of his ar­rival in Ukraine for the 14th an­nual YES con­fer­ence on Sept. 14–16.

Yet Ras­mussen said he “didn’t he­si­tate to ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion to join the board” be­cause he’s been “work­ing with the Pinchuk Foun­da­tion and or­ga­niz­ers of the YES con­fer­ence for many years. It has be­come one of the big­gest se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions fo­rums.”

For the fourth time since Rus­sia il­le­gally seized the Crimean penin­sula by force in 2014, the YES fo­rum will take place in Kyiv’s Mys­tet­skyi

Ar­se­nal, yet Ras­mussen said he’s “look­ing for­ward to the day when the YES con­fer­ence can re­turn to Yalta.”

As far as his work for Poroshenko goes, Ras­mussen told the Kyiv Post that “we have de­cided to ex­tend our con­tract un­til the end of his mandate in 2019,” when the Ukrainian pres­i­dent is up for re-elec­tion along with par­lia­ment. He said that his work for Poroshenko is paid for by “pri­vate sources,” not the Ukrainian tax­payer, but he wouldn’t say from whom or how much.

“I’m not go­ing to go into detail about that. We have pri­vate fi­nanc­ing of the project,” Ras­mussen said.

“I’m in Ukraine on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and I travel to Western cap­i­tals in the Euro­pean Union as well as the United States,” he said. “My work is best de­scribed as a two-way street. On the one hand, I pro­mote Ukrainian in­ter­ests and ad­vance peo­ple’s knowl­edge in the West about what’s go­ing on in Ukraine. But on the other hand, I will also con­vey mes­sages to Pres­i­dent Poroshenko of what I’m hear­ing in Western cap­i­tals. So far, I think we have achieved quite a lot of pos­i­tive re­sults — in­clud­ing visa-free ac­cess to the Euro­pean Union, rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the free trade agree­ment with the EU and other is­sues. I hope we will be able to keep Ukraine high on the in­ter­na­tional agenda.”

Given his as­so­ci­a­tion with Poroshenko, Ras­mussen is un­sur­pris­ingly up­beat on the Ukrainian leader’s com­mit­ment to re­forms and fight­ing cor­rup­tion, a view not shared by most Ukraini­ans, ac­cord­ing to polls. “I have no doubt he is strongly com­mit­ted to nec­es­sary re­forms,” Ras­mussen said, while he al­lowed that “oc­ca­sion­ally I hear” that Ukraine’s re­forms have stalled.

“Very of­ten, it’s based on lack of knowl­edge,” Ras­mussen said of such crit­i­cism.

When told there have been no ma­jor crim­i­nal con­vic­tions for cor­rup­tion since 2014, when Poroshenko took of­fice, and that the courts and pros­e­cu­tors re­main dis­trusted and un­re­formed, Ras­mussen shot back: “That’s not true. There have been 12 con­vic­tions against top of­fi­cials from the in­for­ma­tion I got.” But he said he didn’t have the names or crimes of those found guilty.

He also said that “top of­fi­cials are start­ing to be in­ves­ti­gated,” on cor­rup­tion charges, in­clud­ing the ex-head of the State Fis­cal Ser­vice, Ro­man Nasirov, and he noted that sev­eral mem­bers of par­lia­ment have been stripped of their le­gal im­mu­nity to crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

He also praised the new cor­rup­tion-fight­ing in­sti­tu­tions — the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine and the Spe­cial An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice — for car­ry­ing out 264 in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing 3 bil­lion eu­ros.

“It’s not true that noth­ing is go­ing on and re­forms have been stalled,” he said. “Poroshenko took of­fice at a time that noth­ing had been done, noth­ing at all.”

Sanc­tions, weapons, aid

With re­spect to Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine, now in its fourth year at a cost of 10,000 lives and count­ing, Ras­mussen says that the Western ap­proach isn’t work­ing.

He rec­om­mended three changes: tougher sanc­tions against Rus­sia, sup­ply­ing Ukraine with lethal de­fen­sive weapons, and pro­vid­ing greater eco­nomic as­sis­tance to Ukraine.

Greater eco­nomic aid will “demon­strate to the Rus­sians that the West is be­hind the re­form process,” Ras­mussen said. “One con­crete el­e­ment is to set the goal that we could adopt a cus­toms union be­tween Ukraine and the Euro­pean Union.”

While not spec­i­fy­ing the fi­nan­cial scale of the aid he would sup­port, he said all the money should come with con­di­tions on Ukraine’s lead­ers to en­sure that the funds get spent “to un­der­mine cor­rup­tion, pro­mote the pri­vate sec­tor and ef­fi­cient rule of law.”

EU, NATO re­sponse

Ras­mussen said he’s “very sat­is­fied” with EU pol­icy to­wards Ukraine in ap­prov­ing visa-free travel and the trade and po­lit­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment. But he’s trou­bled by com­ments from Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, who re­cently “stated that Ukraine is not re­ally a Euro­pean coun­try, and raised doubts about the fu­ture of Ukraine in the EU. Such state­ments are wor­ry­ing. They’re a big con­cern to me. By talk­ing that way, the EU will lose lever­age in pro­mot­ing Ukrainian re­forms.”

Ras­mussen said it’s better for ev­ery­one not to speak about Ukraine’s po­ten­tial mem­ber­ship of the EU and NATO, the mil­i­tary al­liance he led as sec­re­tary gen­eral from 2009–2014. In­stead, he said, Ukraine should fo­cus on “ful­fill­ing the nec­es­sary cri­te­ria for be­com­ing mem­bers of NATO and the EU in the fu­ture.”

Harsher rhetoric

Ukraine may not nec­es­sar­ily face count­less years of war ahead from Rus­sia, Ras­mussen said. While he hasn’t “seen any change” in Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s be­hav­ior and he ex­pects even harsher rhetoric from the Krem­lin dic­ta­tor ahead of the 2018 Rus­sian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, events can change quickly and un­pre­dictably.

“You never know. Be­fore 1991, if you had asked peo­ple in Europe: do they ex­pect Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia to be­come free and in­de­pen­dent states, mem­bers of NATO and the EU, many peo­ple would have an­swered no, no, no. Nev­er­the­less it hap­pened,” Ras­mussen said. The same could hap­pen for Ukraine if it “stays the course” and makes a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to a democ­racy.

If Ukraine “serves as a bril­liant ex­am­ple in Eastern Europe for how a democ­racy can flour­ish right at the doorstep of Rus­sia, that’s the very best way in which Ukraine can de­fend it­self,” Ras­mussen said. “That would be a real con­cern for the Krem­lin.”

De­fense re­forms

Be­cause of Rus­sia’s war, Ukraine is now spend­ing 5 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct — roughly $5 bil­lion in to­day’s econ­omy — on de­fense and se­cu­rity. Not all of it is be­ing spent well, with nu­mer­ous Ukraini­ans, in­clud­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Olek­sandr Danyliuk, and for­eign­ers such as NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg and ex-U.S. Deputy De­fense Sec­re­tary Michael Car­pen­ter, say­ing that more trans­parency and less cor­rup­tion is needed in the sec­tor.

“Let me stress that Ukraine’s de­fense sec­tor has done more re­forms than others, but much is still yet to be done,” Ras­mussen said. “This in­cludes en­sur­ing civil­ian con­trol over the mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing de­fense pro­cure­ment re­form, much along the lines of the non-mil­i­tary sec­tor.”

Ukraine’s mil­i­tary will see greater ef­fi­ciency through better pro­cure­ment. It also needs to im­prove train­ing and “ad­dress the short­fall in equip­ment,” Ras­mussen said.

‘Ukraine fa­tigue’

To keep Ukraine high on the in­ter­na­tional agenda and “to avoid Ukraine fa­tigue,” Ras­mussen said, Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship must “demon­strate a clear com­mit­ment to re­forms.”

“If they do, I am also con­vinced that the West and the United States will con­tinue their de­ter­mined sup­port of Ukraine. It’s also im­por­tant that the West is united and we do not see a split across the At­lantic, but that Washington and Brus­sels act to­gether to keep Ukraine high on the agenda.”

The Kyiv Post is a me­dia part­ner of the YES event which at­tracts pres­i­dents, prime min­is­ters, top busi­ness­peo­ple and mil­i­tary lead­ers. The speak­ers for this year haven’t been an­nounced yet, but in the past they have in­cluded Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton, Tony Blair, Richard Bran­son and dozens of others. Tra­di­tion­ally, Ukraine’s pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter speak and an­swer ques­tions on the open­ing day and they are ex­pected to do so this year as well.

For more in­for­ma­tion, go to: https://yes-ukraine.org/

An­ders Fogh Ras­mussen, the for­mer Dan­ish prime min­is­ter and NATO sec­re­tary gen­eral, is an ad­viser to Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and has joined the board of di­rec­tors of Vic­tor Pinchuk’s Yalta Euro­pean Strat­egy con­fer­ence. (AFP)

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