Rasmussen: Sanctions Against Russia should be Extended to 12 months

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen
  • By defencematters

Sanctions against Russia should be extended for at least 12 months, so that Russia would not have the opportunity to utilise the discussion within the EU in its favour.

NATO’s policies towards Russia in the past were the correct ones, as the West had a historical responsibility to form a free and peaceful Europe. Russia does not want this, which is why the alliance must accept this and adapt to these dramatic changes in the security situation, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview with LETA and Defence Matters. He is confident that sanctions against Russia should be extended for at least 12 months, so that Russia would not have the opportunity to utilise the discussion within the EU in its favour every six months. Rasmussen explains that if Donald Trump is elected the next president of the United States, the security and stability of the West would be under threat, as Trump has already called into question NATO credibility and the unity of the alliance.

 Can you compare NATO when you were leading it and now?

I would say that February 2014 represents quite a dramatic shift in NATO’s allies. Until February 2014 we considered Russia a partner, we had a lot of cooperation activities ongoing with Russia, but on February 2014 they attacked Ukraine and later they illegally annexed Crimea into the Russian Federation. So we realised that our vision on the partnership was not shared by the Russian leadership, so Russia changed from being a strategic partner to becoming a strategic challenge. After that we had to strengthen our territorial defence, increase defence investments and obviously it was a new direction for NATO.

Maybe we should have deployed soldiers from other NATO countries to the Baltic much earlier and without such a big fuss?

I think we should also take in account that in 1997 we adopted a NATO - Russia founding act in which we stated that in the current and foreseeable security environment NATO would conduct territorial defence rather by reinforcements than by basing of substantial combat forces. That is the wording. That is why we did not. When the three Baltic States and the other Eastern European members joined NATO in 2004 it was clear that we would not deploy substantial combat forces to the east. We are now in a new situation because Russia’s aggressive behaviour has created a new security environment. In the founding act we spoke about the current and foreseeable security environment but that has dramatically changed. So we should also change our stance on that. This is the reason why it makes sense that NATO has decided to increase the presence in the east. I think we did it at the right time and it sends a very clear signal to Russia that they should not even think about attacking one of the Baltic states or any other NATO ally because that would mean an invocation of article 5.

Isn’t the process too slow?

Well, as a politician I would very much like an even quicker implementation of the decisions but we also have to realise that when we are speaking about the military, it takes some time. In Wales in 2014 we established a Spearhead force that could be activated immediately, in Warsaw we expanded it and I think it is fully operational, at least from the beginning of 2017. So, I think we did the right thing at the right time.

How far is Russian president Vladimir Putin ready to go?

I think he has a big master plan. I think his master plan is to restore Russian greatness in the territories covered by the former Soviet Union. And to that end he needs to keep his neighbours weak and dependent on the Kremlin. And he wants to prevent them seeking integration with NATO and the European Union. And that is why this goes far beyond Ukraine. It is also about Transnistria and Moldova, it is about South Ossetia in Georgia, it is about Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Because these simmering or frozen conflicts of Russia’s near neighbourhood serve his purpose of keeping the neighbours weak, dependent from Russia and he prevents them seeking real integration or membership of the EU and NATO.

Could he go further than that? I do not think an open attack of the three Baltic states, for instance, is an imminent threat thanks to Baltic states’ membership of NATO, they are protected. He might try some hybrid warfare where he could stir up some dissatisfaction in the Russian speaking communities through disinformation and propaganda campaigns, he could send in small green men as we saw in Crimea etc.

Do you think those Russian speaking communities are where the Baltic are the most vulnerable?

I think the bottom line is that even the Russian speaking communities in the Baltic states would not like to join Russia. They would choose to stay in the Western oriented Baltic states. But, of course, many of them are watching Russian television and Russian television today is propaganda like in the Soviet times. So we have to counter that propaganda to prevent such hybrid attacks in the future.

Maybe Putin is not the worst alternative for the West, he can guarantee at least some stability in nuclear Russia?

I could easily think of Russians who could be worse than Putin. I fully agree that he is an asset in the way that his provocations have actually convinced all the Europeans that they should invest more in their defence. But apart from that I would not consider him an asset. I have followed Mr Putin since 2002 when I became prime minister of Denmark. At that time it was a very pro-Western Putin. Since then, in particular since 2005, he has grown more hostile against the West. Which I strongly regret as I too believe that the right way forward would be strategic partnership between Russia and NATO. But that is not the way he sees it and I strongly regret that. Today I consider him more a liability than an asset.

Could the possible election of Trump really be dangerous for the stability and security of the Western world?

Yes, absolutely. Because he has raised doubts about the credibility of NATO’s collective defence. He has indicated that he would make American commitment to defending allies dependent on their economy and economic contributions to NATO. I am afraid that would tempt Mr Putin to test the resolve of NATO if Mr Trump were to be elected president. Which I do not think he will but if he might then he would undermine the credibility of NATO.

I would expect a more tough minded approach towards Russia if Clinton is elected president and I think we need that.

You are an advisor to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Do you agree that the conflict in Ukraine could be another unending story, another decades long frozen conflict?

I do not think the Russians want to solve these problems. And now we see that Mr Putin has the ambition to keep these conflicts simmering or frozen. On the one hand, I would not expect Russia to try to integrate more Ukrainian land into Russia as we have seen in Crimea because that would be much too expensive for Russia. He has achieved his goal just by supporting the Ukrainian separatists in the east. I do believe that the West should be tougher on Russia in that respect. For instance, I think we should strengthen sanctions, the European Union should extend sanctions for at least twelve months instead of the current six months. That would also harmonise sanction regimes between the EU and United States. Actually, in the long term, I think we should make sanctions open-ended so that we could send a very clear signal to Russia that it could be lifted if Russia changes its behaviour. So, we should strengthen sanctions and, secondly, if Russia continues to destabilise Eastern Ukraine, I also think we should consider delivery of weapons to Ukraine. Defensive weapons so that the Ukrainian army improves its capability to defend itself.

Is it possible that EU countries are not perfectly united when we speak about sanctions?

That is also a problem. And that is why sanctions should be extended for at least twelve months because now we have a discussion every six months and we also see that Russia tries to exploit that situation every six months. So it only serves the purpose to create additional instability, which is why we should either make them open-ended or at least extend them for 12 months.

Was NATO’s policy towards Russia during the last decade correct, wasn’t really such a shift in Moscow’s agenda predictable?

I think it was correct. After the end of the Cold War we had what I would call an obligation to try and create a new Europe, a whole Europe free and in peace. I think we did the right thing. We did it with open eyes, we knew that Russia could easily go back to a more assertive attitude. Unfortunately they did. But I think we did the right thing by trying to integrate Russia in our defence structures. But they did not want this, so we have to realise that and adapt to this dramatically changed security situation in Europe.