Rasmussen, ex-NATO secretary general, deepens involvement with Ukraine
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.”
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.”
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.
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)