Mircea Geoană: We are willing to go as far as the Republic of Moldova is willing to go in its relationship with NATO
NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoana, spoke in an interview for the National Press Agency AGERPRES about the enlargement of the North Atlantic Alliance and the relationship with partner countries, as well as about his agenda as NATO Deputy Secretary General, which has been extended until October 2024. He also voiced his readiness to work with whoever is appointed to the highest office of the organisation after Jens Stoltenberg’s nine years at the NATO helm.
AGERPRES: Your mandate as Deputy Secretary General of NATO was extended last week by one year, until October 2024. What is your official short-term agenda and what goals have you set for yourself to meet by the end of this new term in the leadership team of NATO?
Mircea Geoana: First of all, I am honoured by the fact that the Secretary General continues to place his trust in me and, of course, nothing changes in terms of day-to-day work. We work in a very close-knit, very professional, highly motivated team, and this opportunity that I have to work with Secretary General Stoltenberg is absolutely special. He is a formidable leader. You know that usually politicians avoid to say that they learnt from others, but I have to say that I learnt from Jens Stoltenberg.
Obviously, there is also the possibility that the allies will appoint a new Secretary General and the fact that I will be able to work with a new Secretary General, if this is going to be case and there will be a new Secretary General chosen by the allies, then this is also part of a transition process towards a new team. For now, it would have been unnatural for both NATO leaders to leave at the same time. So it is a decision that obviously honours me and I will work with the same ambition and energy as I have done so far.
AGERPRES: And what about your objectives?
Mircea Geoana: The objectives are related to the important moments we are living that we all know. It’s not a big secret. We have an important NATO summit to prepare in Vilnius. American allies invited us to a 75th anniversary summit next year in Washington.
The war in Ukraine continues, and there are security problems facing the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia, because of this ear, and also problems coming from the south.
I will also continue to lead the innovation and new technologies department of NATO, and to focus to cybersecurity, because while the war has returned to Europe, the competition for technological supremacy continues.
The rise of China is a topic that we obviously take very seriously.
NATO’s partnerships with the European Union, with many other countries, maybe with new partners, also mean a very full agenda and an alliance that is so happy to have welcomed Finland and soon Sweden as our new members.
AGERPRES: Given that the current mandate of Jens Stoltenberg expires on October 1st and he announced that he does not want a new terms, there is a good chance that you will collaborate for at least one year with a new NATO Secretary General. What is your opinion in relation to the names that are circulating for the head of NATO, including that of the current president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen?
Mircea Geoana: This is not our decision to make, it is the decision of the allies. So, the moment the allies will find a Secretary General who will meet the consensus of the 31, probably 32 allies, at that point, we will have a new Secretary General. Secretary General Stoltenberg did, as I said, a formidable job in leading NATO. It is perfectly comfortable, after 9 years, I think, of a very successful leadership, to make a transition to a new Secretary General. However, the moment and the person will be chosen by the allies and we are willing, ready, to work with whoever will be chosen and appointed by our allies.
AGERPRES: Has NATO become stronger with the accession of Finland, taking into account that Russia immediately announced that it would increase its military capabilities in the border regions? At the same time, does the blocking of Sweden’s accession by Turkey and Hungary represent a vulnerability for NATO?
Mircea Geoana: Finland and Sweden are two countries of great military capability, democratic, societal resilience and very competitive and innovative economies. So definitely their coming to the alliance is a plus for them and it is a big plus for us as well. The Russian Federation made a deep strategic miscalculation when it started the war against Ukraine, when it threatened Finland to stay away from NATO, for Finland is a proud and independent nation with a serious tradition of fighting for independence. Obviously, the effect of this threats was exactly the opposite.
So the Russian Federation will now take its countermeasures, if it has the resources to do so. But, I repeat, once Article 5 works for Sweden and Finland, the entire deterrent force of NATO also works in their favour. That is why it is historic news, good news.
We have a coherent eastern flank, from the Barents Sea, to the Baltic Sea, to the Black Sea, to the Mediterranean Sea, and we have two allies of great capability and credibility, because they are two countries that have been neutral for decades or centuries in the case of Sweden, countries with a very good international reputation, and when Russian propaganda says that NATO has a permanent expansion plan, they are very credible in saying that it was Russia’s aggressiveness that led them to come to NATO and not Russian propaganda.
AGERPRES: And the part about Sweden?
Mircea Geoana: The part about Sweden is a legitimate discussion between a candidate and the allied countries. The issue of terrorism is real. The Secretary General was personally involved in the success of inviting Sweden and Finland to Madrid and was also involved in the creation of this trilateral mechanism, now bilateral between Turkey and Sweden. Including at NATO two weeks ago we had a meeting again of this mechanism to solve the issues that exist bilaterally.
On 1 June Sweden will implement a legislative package that will respond to the obligations assumed in this memorandum with Turkey. Turkey will have parliamentary elections and will have a new parliament, so we are confident that in the coming period we will also be able to have Sweden as our 32nd NATO ally.
AGERPRES: Is the Vilnius Summit a realistic deadline for Sweden’s accession?
Mircea Geoana: It would be a very important moment from a political and symbolic point of view, but we have to say that we are thinking about Romania’s campaign to join NATO. I remember, I was a young ambassador in Washington and I was running after our accession. It took many years, basically in a year from being invited to become a member is very, very compressed anyway. It would be ideal to have Sweden as a member of NATO by the Vilnius Summit.
AGERPRES: The NATO Secretary General spoke before the foreign ministers’ meeting about increasing the budget of the Partnership for Peace programme, in order to organise more support activities for partner countries such as the Republic of Moldova, which are under threat from Moscow. How soon do you think the initiative could be realised and what would it mean for the Republic of Moldova?
Mircea Geoana: No, no. We are well beyond the Partnership for Peace stage in our relations with our partners. The Republic of Moldova has been a partner with us for several decades and, obviously, the awakening to the sad reality that Russia is a very aggressive country that uses military force against its neighbours made them come up with even more ambitious proposals in the already existing partnership with NATO and the European Union.
That is why this package of defence and resilience capabilities that the Republic of Moldova has presented to us as an organisation, to the allied states bilaterally, to the European Union as an organisation, to the EU Member States bilaterally and to the joint NATO-EU patronage for the Republic of Moldova is on our agenda, and even our foreign ministers have stressed the need for additional, practical, financial and political support for the Republic of Moldova and other partners under increasing pressure from the Russian Federation. We are willing to go as far as the Republic of Moldova is willing to go in its relationship with us.
AGERPRES: A new meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission was held at the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers after six years, although, at least after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there has been close coordination with the Ukrainian side. What was new about the meeting in this format, given Ukraine’s acute needs?
Mircea Geoana: It is good that we managed to have a new meeting of this political format between NATO and Ukraine. Minister Kuleba’s presence was as always welcome and useful. In a way, the foreign ministers reviewed what we could have as decisions at the Vilnius summit, including the political and practical relationship between NATO and Ukraine.
Therefore, in itself, the fact that we have managed to have this political instrument activated at the level of foreign ministers after a few years’ break is very good. We hope to have with us President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy at the Vilnius Summit in a NATO-Ukraine Commission format at the level of a leader, and obviously, in itself, this is a way of structuring the political, military, humanitarian, economic, macroeconomic support that we are all giving to Ukraine at this time.
AGERPRES: Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that he would deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, and a foreign minister noted Tuesday that the timing of the move, in July, coincides with the NATO summit in Vilnius. Do you think Putin is using this announcement as a means of discouraging NATO from taking further consolidation measures at the Vilnius Summit?
Mircea Geoana: We condemn this irresponsible rhetoric of the Kremlin leadership, which, even before the beginning of the war it has unleashed against Ukraine, has used nuclear rhetoric in the most unprofessional and irresponsible way. A nuclear superpower such as the Russian Federation, as the Russian Federation remains, also has a responsibility to use such rhetoric with great restraint.
On the other hand, signals of intentions, at least in the area of tactical nuclear weapons, were given by the amendment of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus a year ago. We don’t see at this point, we have no indication of a change in the nuclear military reality of the Russian Federation, any more than NATO – we haven’t changed our posture, we haven’t increased our alertness, we are a nuclear superpower, as an Alliance, but we are dealing with this situation extremely responsibly.
That is why we condemn this rhetoric which is irresponsible and cynical. It rather has the effect of trying to discourage public opinion and the ability of Ukraine and the democratic West to continue to support Ukraine, it is rather an instrument of hybrid warfare and of influencing public opinion in the civilised world. That is why we are convinced that regardless of this rhetoric from Moscow, our support for Ukraine will continue. Ukraine will continue even more vigorously to defend its independence, and NATO unity is unshakeable.
AGERPRES: Romania is continuing its efforts with the allied countries to upgrade the battlegroup on its territory to brigade level, but a decision will probably not be made in this regard before the Vilnius summit. What does the final decision depend on in such a situation and when can we expect more clarity on the prospects for such a change?
Mircea Geoana: The decision was made in Madrid, at the previous summit. We are now in the implementation stage of these decisions. There is planning at the level of the eight battlegroups for military exercises up to brigade level, which is in full swing. Some of them are taking place this year, others are scheduled by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Therefore, with regard to Romania, we welcome the way in which France is taking on this responsibility as a framework nation and Romania is making a special effort as a host nation. We see this in other battlegroups as well.
It is very, very important that beyond the quantitative dimension, we also look at the qualitative dimension, of readiness in the multi-domain area, and the specific situation of the Black Sea puts particular emphasis on capabilities that reflect the particular situation that the Black Sea represents from an allied point of view.
There are other capabilities that Romania also hosts bilaterally with the United States. I will be visiting the Multinational Brigade South East in Craiova on Friday. General Petrescu and the leadership of the Romanian Ministry of Defence have plans to increase the overall combat readiness, deterrence and defence capabilities of the Romanian Armed Forces and I am absolutely convinced that the Madrid decisions will be fully implemented.
AGERPRES / (RO – editor: Mariana Ionescu, EN – editors: Cristina Zaharia, Simona Iacob)