An exclusive interview of the Senior editor of Pirmais Biznesa radio (First Business Radio) in Riga, Latvia Aris Jansons.
What do you expect from the NATO Summit this year?
This will be NATO’s first full-fledged summit since the United States President Donald Trump’s inauguration. One year of the new American administration is ample time for the US foreign policy agencies to develop a coherent vision for the transatlantic security relationship. I suppose that an open and comprehensive exchange of ideas and conclusions about this vision should take place during the NATO summit.
Three new challenges have emerged in recent years: hybrid warfare, cyber security and strategic communication. Both these and the "old challenges" demand mutually reinforcing increases in the transatlantic commitment and a broader agenda involving all Euro-Atlantic stakeholders.
It is necessary to discuss whether NATO have sufficient instruments to protect its Member States in the situation of the Russian pressure on the European security order and the Trump administration’s focus on allied burden sharing. The summit must bring more clearness about growing practical burden sharing between Europe and the United States.
At recent NATO summits, several goals for improving the Alliance's work were set, but it can still not be said that the Alliance has already done everything because it is a set of processes. At the summit, we need to openly recognize our weaknesses and, as a result of our discussions, find the right tools to fill the gaps.
For instance, the main live issue for Latvia would be to ensure that Allied rotational forces in the Baltic states become permanent multinational forces already in the nearest future. This would definitely increase the sense of security for the Baltic people, but would not diminish the responsibility of the Baltic states themselves for the development of their armed forces.
Along with the increasing diversity of threat levels and attack assets, it is necessary to return to the discussion on the most effective policy of military deterrence in the Baltic Sea Region. An updated maritime strategy would complement the creation of the North Atlantic Command, the protection of the sea lines of communication between North America and Europe.
The gathering provides a prospect for further developing of the NATO-EU Joint Declaration. The summit discussions in a variety of formats on building practical ties that close gaps in regional security should involve non-NATO partners and representatives of the European Union.
NATO must continue to pursue its so-called deterrence policy. In order to implement joint and effective policy of military deterrence in the Baltic region, there is a need for a united military defense planning of all countries and the adherence of all military forces to one military command centre. It is impossible to effectively cooperate militarily if countries are only partially connected with the collective security organization.
Baltic states believe that the alliance’s response in nearly any conceivable crisis scenario in Northern Europe will benefit significantly from cooperation with NATO partners Sweden and Finland. The alliance should explore the possibility to expand relationships of this sort to a NATO context, which would bolster deterrence and benefit all parties. We expect that negotiations with these countries will be dealt with for maximum integration opportunities as it is impossible to maintain traditional neutrality in the context of modern threats and modern war technology.
How do you assess US President's proposal to transfer negotiations from Minsk to Astana?
As far as I may judge from the available information, the suggestion by the United States President Donald Trump to move negotiations on the Donbas from Minsk to another place is known from the statement of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at a press conference in New York following the meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The US President, like others following the situation in Ukraine, has had to admit that Minsk-1 has come to a standstill, reached a deadlock. President Trump has concluded that "we need Minsk-2." Trump's phrase about doing it "elsewhere" does not necessarily mean a call to hold these negoatiations in the capital of Kazakhstan.
President Nazarbayev had qualified for the role of the host of the Ukraine negotiations venue already in the initial phase of the process. During the first meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin in 2014, Nazarbayev proposed to hold meetings on the Donbas in Astana, however, it was Minsk that was selected on the initiative of the leaders of the Normandia Quartet countries (Germany, Russia, Ukraine, France), they asked the Belarusian president to host the participants of the meetings on settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.
President Nazarbayev would certainly like to activate Kazakhstan's peacekeeping efforts, which was already apparent with regard to Syria. Kazakhstan's leadership would like to strengthen its international role, for example, to express it in the settlement of Ukraine's conflict.
The doubts whether Minsk will manage to keep its role as a venue for the negotiations have expanded since recently. In the past 3-4 months, there has been a sort of campaign to discredit the Minsk agreements. The law on reintegration of Donbass and the Crimea, adopted by the Supreme Rada of Ukraine on 18 January, reportedly does not contain even mention about the Minsk agreements.
I can only agree with those who say that it is absolutely irrelevant whether the venue is Minsk or Astana as the content of the negotiations is concerned. The choice of Minsk has been appropriate due to relative neutrality of Belarus and convenient logistics, it is easier for all parties to get there than to, say, Astana.
I do not like placing emphasis on necessity to change the venue of negotiations as it might conceal or excite attempts to undermine the Minsk negotiation process, no matter by whom.
The venue for negotiations on the Donbass, because of the importance of this problem for the West, in itself is already becoming more significant for world geopolitics and increases the importance of the country that provides the negotiation venue. The highly pragmatic Central Asia's oldest ruler, of course, would like the talks to have place in Astana, and not in Minsk, so that the laurels of the peacekeeper would go to him.
Anyway, the return to the issue of the negotiating space once again demonstrates that the Minsk agreements are actually not working and the process needs to receive a fresh impetus. Could the unbiased United Nations peacekeepers who would not play on one side of the conflict promote peace in the Donbas?
Nothing but the intensification of endeavour in the direction of the cessation of hostilities, dialogue and compromise between the parties, including the representatives of the Donbas, will help, - either the transfer of talks to Astana, or elsewhere. All efforts must be made to keep the Minsk process going.
Is it possible to correct Moscow's position towards Kiev until March 2018?
The recent round of negotiations between the special envoys for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine of the United States and Russia, Kurt Volker and Vladislav Surkov, have appeared more successful than the previous one. At all events, Surkov has reportedly called the Dubai package much more acceptable.
Earlier Volker complained that Russia had not taken any steps to end the armed conflict in Donbass and Moscow had supported and offered not exactly what the United States and the West would like to see.
Russian officials and media actors have been constantly manipulating demonstrative concerns about the anticipated large-scale Ukrainian provocations in the Donbass, in the event that Moscow will make its position more flexible. The Russian state-controlled federal media are scaring with the prospect that Kiev would be keen to launch war or bombing of densely populated residential blocks to show the Russian voters that Putin is not as powerful as he is portrayed and unable to defend Russians from violence in Ukrainian separatist "people's republics".
Logic suggests that Moscow's task now is simply to delay the time until the presidential election. However, the news has just been made public that Russia's "eternal oppositioner", the founder of the Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, may replace presidential aide Vladislav Surkov as Russia's chief negotiator on Ukraine. One can guess whether this "leakage" has been intended mostly for the probe of public opinion at home - although it looks more like a bone dropped for the sake of blunting vigilance or calming the international community or specially targeted to Ukrainians. According to Yavlinsky himself, he had a conversation on the subject with President Putin last November. Yavlinsky is reportedly ready to seriously consider the option if it is raised again.
If Yavlinsky's name reappears in this particular topic and will be repeated then, it will mean that a minimal chance of normalization of relations between Russia and Ukraine is not being completely eliminated from the Kremlin's schedule.
Approximation, modification of positions on peacekeepers' functions and areas of responsibility could approximate at least some tangible first-step solution.
And it would sound even too optimistic if Surkov has been actually considering the latest American plan on the United Nations peacekeepers much more seriously not only playing for time.