Rasa Juknevičienė: “The en­tire coun­try joins NATO, not just the De­fense or For­eign Min­istries”

“The en­tire coun­try joins NATO, not just the De­fense or For­eign Min­istries”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Yuriy La­payev

Pres­i­dent of the NATO PA on the im­por­tance of con­sti­tu­tional changes in Ukraine, the prospects that the Al­liance will ex­pand again, and var­i­ous ways to re­solve the con­flict be­tween Hungary and Ukraine

Dur­ing her re­cent visit to Ukraine, Pres­i­dent of the NATO Par­lia­men­tary As­sem­bly (PA), Rasa Juknevičienė spoke to The Ukrainian Week about the im­por­tance of con­sti­tu­tional changes in Ukraine, the prospects that the Al­liance will ex­pand again, and var­i­ous ways to re­solve the con­flict be­tween Hungary and Ukraine.

What are the Par­lia­men­tary As­sem­bly’s pri­or­i­ties?

— I be­came pres­i­dent of this As­sem­bly not that long ago and it turns out that my term will not be that long. But I have been a mem­ber since 1999, which is nearly 20 years, with a small break when I be­came Min­is­ter of De­fense be­cause mem­bers of Gov­ern­ment can­not be­long to the Par­lia­men­tary As­sem­bly. So I have a good idea of the role this As­sem­bly plays. Right now my pri­or­i­ties are two and they are equally im­por­tant to me. One is Euroat­lantic ties, a is­sue I would never have thought just a few years ago that we would have to re­turn to — to talk about how much Amer­ica there is in Europe or whether Amer­ica needs Europe or not. I’m sched­uled to visit the US in Novem­ber, where I plan to meet my col­leagues in the Congress. Of course, we’d like to see more of them in the PA be­cause they work very con­struc­tively and have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the leg­is­la­ture. The sec­ond pri­or­ity is the ques­tion of Ukraine and Ge­or­gia. We must keep work­ing with these coun­tries, as they are our part­ners, es­pe­cially in the East. For me, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Latvia, this is very im­por­tant. As ear­lier, we are try­ing to do as much as pos­si­ble for coun­tries like Ukraine and Ge­or­gia, who want to join us in the Euro­pean Union and in NATO. That’s why I vis­ited Ukraine af­ter I was in Moldova, and next I plan to go to Ge­or­gia. At the same time, as pres­i­dent, I can’t let slip other is­sues, such as re­la­tions with the Balkan coun­tries. And so I also just re­cently vis­ited Mon­tene­gro, which has joined the Al­liance, and Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina.

How much sense does it make to change Ukraine’s Con­sti­tu­tion to specif­i­cally men­tion a Euroat­lantic ori­en­ta­tion, as Pres­i­dent Poroshenko has sug­gested?

— I’m very much in fa­vor of this. The minute Ukraini­ans elected a new Verkhovna Rada, new del­e­ga­tions came to the As­sem­bly. We had sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to talk with them about what’s most im­por­tant to Ukraine to­day: to choose its path. As I un­der­stand it, this is path is Euro­pean, ori­ented to­wards the EU and to­wards mem­ber­ship in NATO. That makes it very im­por­tant that this cur­rent Rada do this, so that there won’t an op­por­tu­nity to walk away from this path, which we’ve seen more than once in the past. Ukraine first ap­plied to NATO, then Yanukovych said that the coun­try sup­pos­edly doesn’t want this. We weren’t where, in fact, it was go­ing. The one thing that can help here is leg­is­la­tion.

In this sense, it’s very good that you passed the new law on na­tional se­cu­rity. We were in the same sit­u­a­tion in Lithua­nia in 1996. At that point we unan­i­mously voted in fa­vor of a new law on na­tional se­cu­rity that specif­i­cally stated that Euroat­lantic in­te­gra­tion and mem­ber­ship in NATO and the EU were all part of our na­tional se­cu­rity. Prior to that we passed a con­sti­tu­tional act as an at­tach­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion that specif­i­cally for­bade join­ing any kind of post-soviet union. To­gether with the law on na­tional se­cu­rity, this act we now call the “lit­tle Con­sti­tu­tion” be­cause to change it, it will need a con­sti­tu­tional ma­jor­ity of voices in the leg­is­la­ture.

What po­lit­i­cal fac­tors do you see to­day as work­ing in fa­vor of Ukraine join­ing NATO?

— I might sur­prise you, but I would say Putin. Un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple have died and con­sid­er­able losses con­tinue to this day. But who was able to change the sit­u­a­tion in Ukrainian society the most? The Krem­lin. Its at­tack on Ukraine, the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, and what’s go­ing on in the east­ern part of the coun­try to this day, where Rus­sia has ef­fec­tively oc­cu­pied this re­gion — all these events led to ma­jor up­heaval in Ukraine. Most peo­ple un­der­stood who was who, which hadn’t been the case be­fore. For the Al­liance, the main thing is that the peo­ple want to join. If this will isn’t there, no one will take them in without their wishes. This

is a demo­cratic state and NATO is a demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion. The fact that we see nearly half of Ukraini­ans want­ing mem­ber­ship is hav­ing a se­ri­ous im­pact on politi­cians in the Al­liance who are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Re­forms are also im­por­tant, of course. Some peo­ple seem to think, oh, so we re­formed out Armed Forces, se­cu­rity bu­reau and other se­cu­rity bod­ies and that’s enough. This is clearly part of the cri­te­ria for join­ing NATO, but the en­tire coun­try joins NATO, not just the De­fense and For­eign Min­istries. Is­sues around cor­rup­tion, the econ­omy, and the way the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem works also have to be re­solved. Without this, mem­ber­ship is im­pos­si­ble. If you have a ready army but lack a demo­cratic sys­tem that func­tions prop­erly so that peo­ple can come to power from elec­tion to elec­tion in a demo­cratic man­ner, noth­ing will hap­pen. Time is cur­rently in your fa­vor. Ukraine only sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship a few years ago. Lithua­nia joined NATO 11 years af­ter it first ap­plied. My ad­vice would be this: worry less about whether you will be ac­cepted or not and when. Do ev­ery­thing that is nec­es­sary, as though you al­ready had the Mem­ber­ship Ac­tion Plan. Work so that, when the day comes, ev­ery­one will see that you are com­pletely pre­pared. Like Fin­land and Swe­den. They aren’t mem­bers of NATO. Of course, some­one can point out that the sit­u­a­tion is very dif­fer­ent there and it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to com­pare Swe­den to Ukraine. But I de­lib­er­ately chose this ex­am­ple. To­day their stan­dards are such that in some cases they are higher than what the Al­liance re­quires. And so if these coun­tries ap­ply, they will be ac­cepted lit­er­ally the next day, be­cause they are ready and are al­ready very ac­tive in NATO’s mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Putin helped them un­der­stand this.

In March, NATO rec­og­nized Ukraine as an as­pi­rant coun­try. How has this af­fected po­lit­i­cal di­a­log?

— Clearly, the ac­cep­tance of a coun­try into NATO is pri­mar­ily a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion. Coun­try leg­is­la­tures ac­tively in­flu­ence this process, which is why ev­ery mem­ber has to rat­ify the agree­ment. This means the role of par­lia­ments is too high. I would say, quite frankly, that not all NATO mem­bers see mem­ber­ship for Ukraine and Ge­or­gia the same. This de­pends a lot on the po­lit­i­cal forces in a given par­lia­ment. To change this sit­u­a­tion re­quires se­ri­ous ef­fort. In­deed, your lat­est del­e­ga­tion has worked very well, as I can com­pare it to pre­vi­ous del­e­ga­tions. For in­stance, you were able to get an agree­ment to hold a NATO PA ses­sion in Kyiv in 2020, which will bring to­gether del­e­gates from all mem­ber coun­tries, in­clud­ing those with as­so­ci­ated sta­tus. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple will get to­gether who are re­spon­si­ble for se­cu­rity in Europe and North Amer­ica. This is a key event. The very fact that your del­e­ga­tion was able to per­suade oth­ers to hold the ses­sion in Ukraine speaks a lot, be­cause some were say­ing that it wasn’t worth an­noy­ing Rus­sia, that it was pre­ma­ture and could give out the wrong mes­sage — that Ukraine will soon be­come a mem­ber. How­ever, when we held such a ses­sion in Lithua­nia in 2001 with the NATO PA, we also weren’t a mem­ber, but three years later, we joined. I’m not say­ing that the same will nec­es­sar­ily hap­pen with Ukraine, but there’s no rea­son not to think in that di­rec­tion as this is one of the steps for­ward. The leg­is­la­ture, the Gov­ern­ment, NGOs and the peo­ple them­selves are all re­spon­si­ble for get­ting Ukraine into NATO. Above all, the state it­self. It’s time to re­ject the idea that re­forms need to be done for the sake of the Al­liance and not first of all for your coun­try.

How might the dis­pute be­tween Ukraine and Hungary be re­solved, given that it af­fects di­a­log with NATO?

— I was among the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans — and we were the ma­jor­ity — who signed the let­ter to Hungary’s leg­is­la­ture. In it, we said that we had dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing why is­sues be­tween two coun­tries were be­ing used as in­stru­ment to pre­vent Ukraine from join­ing the Al­liance and to block ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Ukrainian side. As far as I know, many del­e­ga­tions in the PA also don’t sup­port Hungary’s block­ing of con­tacts at the min­is­te­rial and pres­i­den­tial lev­els. This is def­i­nitely not nor­mal. Of course, the Hun­gar­i­ans can have their own views on lan­guage, and Ukraini­ans theirs. But these kinds of is­sues should be raised at the in­ter­gov­ern­ment level, which is how other coun­tries have han­dled such sit­u­a­tions, for in­stance, Poland. Poland also has mi­nori­ties that live in Ukraine and there are some is­sues, but they re­solve them at the bi­lat­eral level. We at the NATO PA will try to me­di­ate so that the Ukrainian and Hun­gar­ian del­e­ga­tions can get to­gether at the next ses­sion in Hal­i­fax in Canada. Your del­e­ga­tion wants to ini­ti­ate such a meet­ing. The sit­u­a­tion some­what re­sem­bles the sit­u­a­tion with Mace­do­nia, which has long been ready to ac­cede, but Greece kept ve­to­ing a de­ci­sion.

What is your strate­gic view of the prospects for a fu­ture ex­pan­sion of NATO?

— If Mace­do­nia man­ages to re­solve the is­sue of its name, it won’t have any prob­lems ac­ced­ing to NATO. Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina is also an ap­pli­cant coun­try. How­ever, some dis­putes have come up be­tween the Serbs, Croats and Bos­ni­acs, and opin­ion is di­vided. I also think that NATO will be pleased to ac­cept Fin­land and Swe­den, if this de­ci­sion were to come up. Af­ter the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, five Swedish par­ties have changed their plat­forms and added the in­ten­tion to join the Al­liance. That’s quite the break­through in the think­ing of a peo­ple that has main­tained neu­tral­ity for 200 years. A sim­i­lar process has taken place in Fin­land. Also re­call, for in­stance, that Ge­or­gia is no less ready, in terms of meet­ing all the cri­te­ria, than Mon­tene­gro, but, of course, Rus­sia has ar­ranged ter­ri­to­rial ob­sta­cles. Still, I think this de­pends largely on the po­lit­i­cal will on both sides, mean­ing Ge­or­gia and NATO. The prob­lem is re­solv­able. We al­ready have an ex­am­ple of such a sit­u­a­tion in the Al­liance: Western Ger­many be­longed, while East­ern Ger­many was part of the War­saw Pact. So if Ge­or­gia it­self were to show a more imag­i­na­tive ap­proach to re­solv­ing its sit­u­a­tion, it could be next. And, of course, there’s Ukraine. You are the new­est as­pi­rant and so, of course, it’s go­ing to take time. Demo­cratic elec­tions have to be held, and it’s im­por­tant that there’s no re­gres­sion. That’s why many in the Al­liance could be think­ing, let’s see who they pick, be­cause some­one could come who turns around and says that Ukraine doesn’t need NATO. Politi­cians are dis­cussing this, watch­ing the sit­u­a­tion evolve, wait­ing. Mainly this means changes to the Con­sti­tu­tion: will they hap­pen or won’t they? They’re wait­ing for the out­come of the elec­tions to see who comes to power: will we see sim­i­lar dec­la­ra­tions and work on the nec­es­sary changes? It’s not about left or right par­ties. For the EU, it’s com­pletely clear that re­forms need to keep go­ing in or­der to join the Union. The same is true for NATO. If Ukraine moves away from this course, more prob­lems will come up. To wrap things up, I’d like to just say one thing: I’m in Ukraine to thank you. We are grate­ful to the peo­ple who are main­tain­ing the coun­try’s de­fense on the east­ern front. You are pro­tect­ing u. Not ev­ery­one in the Euro­pean Union and NATO seems to un­der­stand this. But I feel this very strongly and want to ex­press thanks on be­half of my­self per­son­ally and the Lithua­nian peo­ple.

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