Аlexander Vinnikov, Head of NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine
We need to be ready to defend the populations of ally states
19.10.2016 16:00 185

The annexation of Crimea by Russia and armed aggression in Eastern Ukraine confirmed the view that a strong nation is not possible without a strong army. Since the hostilities began official Kyiv has stepped up its cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance.

Awareness of the danger from the country's eastern neighbor has changed the attitude of Ukrainians. While up to the events of 2014 most people were convinced that possible integration into Atlantic Treaty could have negative consequences for the country now, according to the latest public opinion polls, the majority of Ukrainians support bilateral relations and are not against Ukraine's future accession to NATO.

Ukrinform spoke with the head of the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine, Alexander Vinnikov, about the prospects for bilateral cooperation, assistance to Ukraine, the new challenges facing European security and NATO’s future cooperation with Russia,

- Mr. Vinnikov, at the Warsaw Summit in July of this year the Alliance approved a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine. What does it consist of? 

- At the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Heads of State and Government, which took place during the NATO Summit in Warsaw, there were two main outcomes – the first was a strong political statement of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The second – practical – deliverable was the adoption of the Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine.

The Package aims to consolidate and enhance NATO`s assistance to Ukraine in order to better provide for its own security and carry out the necessary reforms in the security and defence sector. The Package contains more than 40 tailored support measures in 13 key areas. It is a complex response to the complex evolving security environment in Ukraine.

- Can you give us more details about these measures.

- There are two key aspects of the Package that should be underlined. The first is NATO’s support to efforts undertaken by Ukraine to reform and modernize its security and defence sector. Here, we focus specifically on mainstreaming the key principle of civilian control and democratic oversight in the security and defence sector.

And the second crucial component of the Package is capacity-building and capability development. This includes our long-existing capacity-building programmes, such as the Professional Development Programme, Defense Education Enhancement Programme, Building Integrity, Retraining of service leavers, and other activities.

The Package also includes the 5 Trust Funds that were established 2 years ago at the Wales Summit. These cover logistics and standardization, cyber, medical rehabilitation, military career transition and C4.

A sixth Trust Fund on countering improvised explosive devices was also included in the Package. Another new area is hybrid warfare. Here, NATO and Ukraine agreed to establish a platform to exchange knowledge and lessons learned. An important area of hybrid warfare is strategic communications, and the NATO Information and Documentation Centre is leading work to enhance Ukraine’s capability in this area.

- You mentioned the Summit held in Wales, in which a range Trust Funds took part. Did Ukraine manage to get any help from them? 

- As I already mentioned, the Trust Funds that were established in Wales two years ago will continue their work as part of the Comprehensive Assistance Package. The key objectives of the Trust Funds are to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to provide for its own security, to enhance Ukraine’s national defence capabilities. These efforts have to be tightly linked with the overall reforms.

I will say a few words about progress in each of the Trust Funds. Starting with the logistics and standardization TF, which supports a number of specific capability development projects, like the creation of a model warehouse built in accordance with NATO standards. It also completed a major gap analysis, which is now serving as a guide for comprehensive reform of the logistics system for the defence forces.

Similarly, the C4 TF (which stands for command, control, communications and computers) is aimed at assisting Ukraine in the modernization of its C4 structures. Two projects are being implemented right now: secure tactical communications equipment (whereby NATO provides Ukraine with such equipment, which is much-needed in the current context). The second project is establishing a Regional Airspace Security Programme, which facilitates cross-border co-operation with NATO nations, to help prevent civilian air security incidents.

The Cyber Defence TF has seen significant progress recently. We have reached an agreement on certification of cyber equipment between the Security Service of Ukraine and Romania, the lead nation in this TF. This will facilitate and speed up the procurement process for cyber equipment to be provided to Ukraine. In addition, Ukrainian cyber experts have been receiving specialized training and have participated in international workshops on cyber defence. In March of this year the President of Ukraine signed a new cyber security strategy of Ukraine, and our advisers assisted in the development of this strategy.

Turning to the fourth TF, Medical rehabilitation for wounded soldiers, this fund focuses on two priorities. First is the treatment of individuals wounded in the ATO zone. In particular it includes prosthetics, which are very complex and costly. The second priority has been supporting Ukraine’s hospitals and medical centres to make the medical treatment system more capable and sustainable. And a few weeks ago, we were very happy to support through the TF the participation of four disabled ATO servicemen in a U.S. Marine marathon. We supported their trip to the United States to participate in this sporting event.

Let me conclude with a few words on the Military Career Transition TF. Here, we help the Ukrainian defence sector’s human resources management system to develop a sustainable model for career transition management. This Trust Fund builds on the activity we have been carrying out for over a decade in Ukraine, called the resettlement and retraining programme for released military personnel. (Through this programme, we have helped thousands of retiring servicemen and women adapt to civilian life by providing them with the skills they need in order to find meaningful employment, like English-language skills, IT skills, management, etc.)

This gives only a very brief snapshot of what our Trust Funds are doing – and I have not gone into detail on the activities of our other capacity-building programmes. I think the question now is not about adding more Trust Funds but rather about ensuring Ukraine’s capacity to absorb all the assistance that is being provided – both technical and advisory – in an efficient way.

- Prior to the Warsaw Summit it was announced that the Alliance will develop a certain system of checks which would force Russia to forget about aggression in relation to other countries. Please explain this in more detail.

- At the Warsaw Summit we took key decisions to enhance the forward presence of NATO forces in the Eastern part of the Alliance. Beginning in early 2017, we will have four robust, multinational battalions that are going to be established in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis. The framework nations leading these battalions will be Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the U.S., respectively.

This enhanced forward presence was designed to demonstrate Allied solidarity so that any potential aggressor faces the prospect of encountering forces from a variety of Allied countries, not just the state that the aggressor might be thinking of attacking.

However, steps taken at the Warsaw Summit should not be considered in isolation. They should be seen as part of a larger package of measures which goes back to decisions made at our previous Summit in Wales.

At Wales, we decided to triple the size of our NATO Response Force. It now features 40,000 troops with a so-called Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or spearhead force, at its core. It consists of 5,000 troops and is deployable within two to three days.

Also in Wales we decided to established 8 new small headquarters in the eastern part of the Alliance to facilitate training and reinforcements. We also decided to increase a number of our exercises on land, in the sea and in the air, and to speed up our decision-making process.

Taken together, we believe these measures strike the right balance between boosting our forward presence and enhancing our ability to reinforce. I should also emphasise that these measures are purely defensive in character and are in line with our international commitments.

- Please tell us which NATO operations Ukraine is taking part in, both now and in the future.

- Ukraine is one of NATO’s closest partners. It has contributed to most NATO operations, including in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Mediterranean and others. It has also contributed to NATO’s Response Force.

Our forces have worked together in practice, and they have also trained together. Training together enhances our interoperability even further, and this has clear benefits for both Ukraine and NATO. These exercises are also a good opportunity for Ukrainian armed forces to modernize and apply NATO concepts, doctrine and standards.

This year, Ukraine will participate in NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture 2016. This is a unique opportunity for Ukraine’s military to plan and conduct NATO Response Force operations. Their participation can confirm or validate that the ongoing reform processes in education, training, command and control, logistics and standardization within the Armed Forces of Ukraine are on the right path in terms of adopting NATO standards and best practices.

We believe that this experience validated the ongoing reform processes that are underway in Ukraine’s security and defence sector. Some of them I mentioned: logistics, standardization, education, training and command and control. Of course all of these reforms are done with a view to implement NATO standards and principles. And they have been highlighted by the President of Ukraine as the country’s key objective in its co-operation with NATO. He has signed the Strategic Defence Bulletin, which sets 2020 as a target date by which to implement these reforms and achieve full interoperability of the armed forces with NATO.

Here I would like to add one point – often when we speak about NATO standards in Ukraine, people think these are standards of equipment, weapons, uniforms and so on. And that meeting these technical requirements is the only thing that stands between Ukraine and NATO membership. But NATO standards are not only technical standards. They are also about standards of democracy, rule of law, good governance, they are about values like human rights and fundamental freedoms. So they require fundamental changes in the way that institutions act and interact, real changes in mindsets.

- Mr. Alexander, tell us in greater detail about the air defense system in Europe. 

- At the Warsaw Summit the Alliance committed to continue to deliver on key capabilities, including Ballistic Missile Defence. This missile defence system is designed to counter threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles. At the Summit, we declared initial operational capability of the NATO ballistic missile defence system, which means that the U.S. ships based in Spain, the radar in Turkey, and the interceptor site in Romania are now able to work together under NATO command and control. Other NATO Allies are also participating in this initiative. Germany is providing a missile defence command center. The United Kingdom is investing in ground-based radar. Denmark and the Netherlands are upgrading their frigates with new radars. I think it is important to underline that the system we are building is entirely defensive in nature. It is designed to shield against attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area and therefore represents no threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent capabilities.

We do not know what challenges we may face in a future, but NATO’s67-year history has taught us to be prepared. And we will do whatever it takes to defend our citizens – over 1 billion of them – against any threats. 

- Since you have already started talking about Russia, how does the Alliance see its future cooperation with this country? 

- Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and its continued support for armed militants in eastern Ukraine have shaken the peaceful order in Europe.

At the Warsaw Summit Allies reaffirmed that there can be no return to business as usual with Russia until Russia returns to respecting its obligations under international law. Of course Allies also expressed their steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

So this means that the Alliance’s practical co-operation with Russia, both civilian and military, remains suspended, while our channels for political dialogue remain open. This political dialogue takes place at the level of ambassadors and above and was demonstrated by the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council right after the Summit in Warsaw.  And we are ready to further continue this dialogue as decided by Allies in Warsaw.

We do not believe that there is a contradiction between strong defence and dialogue. I think that talking to Russia is in our interest because we can clearly communicate our positions, including on what is happening in and around Ukraine and also to reduce the potential for accidents.

Given the increased military activity in and around Europe, it is even more critical to agree on military risk reduction and transparency measures with Russia. This is why Allies are committed to modernizing the OSCE Vienna Document, and we call on Russia to do the same. But all of this does not mean that our policy on Russia has changed. It has not.

Yulia Znachko, Kyiv

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