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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“NATO must draw conclusions”

Deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Miroslav LAJCAK on the variety of approaches of the Euro-Atlantic community to the situation in Ukraine
21 May, 2014 - 18:16

In his speech at the GLOBSEC 2014 Global Security Forum, which took place in Bratislava from May 14 to 16, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic Miroslav Lajcak stressed that the Ukrainian crisis significantly changed the security situation in the region. That is why it is no coincidence this topic became the main priority of the forum. Unfortunately, the previously announced speech of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk did not take place due to domestic political reasons. And the speech of the First Deputy Foreign Minister Natalia Halibarenko looked more like improvisation. This created a contrast against the background of the previously held panel discussion with the participation of four prime ministers and three foreign minister of the Visegrad Group (The Day wrote about it). Perhaps, the First Deputy Foreign Minister should have taken into account what senior officials of the Central European countries said about the Ukrainian crisis.

After the discussion of the Visegrad Group prime ministers, it became evident for many – there is no solidarity on the Ukrainian issue. For example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not mention at all that Russia’s aggression is the reason of the crisis, while this was emphasized by his Polish colleague Donald Tusk. Why is it so, because it seemed that Ukraine’s neighbors, who used to be a part of the former socialist camp, should be unanimous in this? The Day started the conversation with Lajcak with this question [the interview was recorded on May 15. – Author].

“We do not have a unanimous view. This is explained by the fact that each one of us has a specific situation. But there is solidarity, which the Visegrad Group (V4) demonstrated actively and quickly. V4 prime ministers have made several statements about Ukraine. We, foreign ministers, visited Ukraine, Kyiv, and Donetsk in February after the new government was created. And it would be rather strange for prime ministers to say the same thing. But after all, just as the EU and NATO, we have adopted a document that demonstrates a common understanding of the situation.”

But when it comes to sanctions against Russia, the difference is obvious. We know that Prime Minister Robert Fico opposed sanctions.

“The important point here is what all 28 EU member states agreed upon. Yes, there are different points of view. All four members of the Visegrad Group are more unprotected, because they are on the eastern border of the EU and NATO. Therefore, sanctions are more painful for us. Slovakia and Hungary are almost completely dependent on Russia’s gas and oil. And for Poland, for example, the situation is different. We want to be sure that everyone is ready to share the burden and feel the pain of sanctions. We do not want to be a stick someone else uses to hit Russia on the head, we do not want to be used.

“As of today, the EU applied two stages of sanctions, and now the discussions about the third stage are going on. But this has never been the main goal. The main goal is the de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine, creation of a normal political process here, and sanctions were viewed as a tool of making the sides sit at the table and carry out negotiations.”

But we do not see the result of the sanctions and numerous phone conversations between Putin and Merkel and Obama, set aside negotiations between US Secretary of State Kerry and RF Foreign Minister Lavrov. Why is it so?

“At the moment, a process initiated by the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship is going on. I am convinced that it is better to have a negotiation process than not to have it, because there is no other solution, but a political one. Let us give this process a chance. The meeting in Geneva was good, but obviously, there are various interpretations of the results of those agreements. And the participants do not have much enthusiasm to meet in the same format again. There is no place for vacuum here, a political process is needed. I think we need to support the OSCE Chairmanship initiative.”

But some conference participants said that sanctions are a demonstration of the European Union’s inactivity. How can you comment on this?

“I do not agree with this. The EU acted in various ways. It implemented the first and the second round of sanctions. Last Monday we adopted an additional list of persons to whom visa and other restrictions are applied. We expanded the range of criteria to increase the number of persons and companies that are affected by sanctions. I do not agree to a statement that sanctions have no influence. They do.”

But large numbers of Russia’s troops are still located near the border with Ukraine, Putin does not put pressure on separatist terrorists, who continue receiving Russian ammunition and do not intend to lay down arms.

“It would be naive to expect an overnight settling of the situation. But Moscow’s tone has changed. A few statements were published, which differ from those released several weeks ago. And this is an encouraging sign for me. We need to move along with that.”

During the discussion of the future of NATO, French MP Pierre Lellouche said: if the West does not have strength to fight Russia for Ukraine, then it is necessary to sit down with Putin and negotiate about the fate of Ukraine. Do you share this opinion, especially since Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger voice proposals on the Finlandization of Ukraine too?

“Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state. It is up to Ukrainians and Ukrainian institutions to decide the internal order of the future Ukraine and what unions it should join. That is why I do not recognize a right of any external entity to settle the fate of the Ukrainian people. And this right must be protected. Democracy is the protection of people’s rights, and we must guarantee that Ukraine is peaceful, that presidential election will take place on May 25 in the atmosphere that will ensure free and transparent voting. I hope this will help regulate the situation and intensify the political process. There is no military settling of the crisis we are witnessing now.”

Based on the situation in Ukraine, should NATO increase its presence on the border with Ukraine, as it is demanded by leaders of many countries of the former socialist camp?

“NATO should draw conclusions from the situation. And the fact is that security crisis is present near our borders. At the same time, as a diplomat, I will say there is no military solution for this crisis, but a political one only. And we have to view it as a primary option. Sanctions increase the necessity of understanding by all the players of the need for a political process. It is absolutely normal and logical, and I agree completely to all the steps NATO has taken, it would be irresponsible not to do what NATO has done already.”

What about Tusk’s words that the more NATO soldiers there are in Europe, the stronger security in Europe is?

“This is a matter of discussion for the Alliance members. We do not feel military threat. Indeed, we appreciate now more than ever the importance of being a NATO member. But at the same time, we have responsibility for our neighborhood. I agree with everyone that NATO has to act, and it is here to protect us and guarantee that our neighborhood is secure.”

Election to the European Parliament will take place in a week. What changes can be expected considering this?

“This election to the European Parliament is the most important in the history of the institution’s existence. Firstly, the European Parliament knows about its new powers. Secondly, after the economic crisis, people will assess the European Union and European government for their management of the crisis. This parliament will face many challenges, including the crisis in Ukraine and the new atmosphere near the EU eastern borders. I want us to have a European parliament. In a sense that standard pro-European parties will dominate in it. It does not matter whether they are right or left. It should be standard political parties that have a vision of the future, real plans for the future, and believe in Europe.”

There are various messages regarding the reverse supply of gas from Slovakia to Ukraine. Allegedly, Slovakia agreed to supply gas, but it demands payment guarantees from the EU. What can you say about this?

“I was surprised when I read some rather critical statements from Ukraine regarding our position. The fact is, there has been no direct communication between Ukraine and Slovakia in the past three months. That is why I went to see Prodan and told him it is not a proper way to communicate. I invited him to Slovakia, and in less than two weeks we signed a memorandum on mutual understanding. We started preparation for gas supply in reverse mode from Slovakia. We carried out negotiations in a trilateral format with the presence of the European Commission and we found the best possible solution. It means that we did not violate the existing obligations. You cannot enter new legal obligations and violate the existing ones. This is not how the EU works. And this decision will be a significant reduction of Ukraine’s energy dependence.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day