Popova: Hello, I present today a new episode of the “Eurointegrators” program. Our quests today are Barbora Maronkova, Director of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Ukraine, and Enrique Menendez, Co-founder of the “Responsible Citizens” initiative, Head of the Donbass Regional Policy Institute think tank.
Barbora, strategic course of Ukraine towards EU and NATO is now in our Constitution. How it’ll help cooperation between Ukraine and NATO?
Maronkova: First of all, I’d like to state that NATO and Ukraine have many years of cooperation. In fact, since 1994, when Ukraine joined a “Partnership for Peace”, and 1997 when Ukraine signed the Distinctive Partnership with NATO, and we created the NATO-Ukraine Commission as a political forum, where Ukraine can meet with the NATO representatives and discuss issues of mutual interest. Of course, after 2014, the foreign policy of Ukraine has changed its course towards Euro-Atlantic integration and of course European integration as well. And Ukraine has adopted a series of decisions, including changing the Constitution in way to reflect the ambitions of Euro-Atlantic integration. From NATO’s prospective, we as the NATO representation to Ukraine, are here to support Ukraine in its reform processes. Because the Euro-Atlantic integration is a process, it’s a long road. Reforms need to be done. Some membership criteria, standards of NATO have to be adopted and reflected. Not just for NATO, but also for Ukraine itself. Because stronger and prosperous and stable Ukraine is also very important for our own Euro-Atlantic security.
Popova: We have infographics, which shows regional difference in perception of NATO. And we still have not so strong support of NATO accession on the east of Ukraine and in the Donbass. Enrique, I know you support EU integration, but you against NATO integration. Explain, please, why.
Menendez: My view on joining NATO at the moment are dictated by my origin and by the fact that I represent a region, in which, as we see from the infographic, the support for joining NATO is rather small. Moreover, the opposite point of view dominates. People not just haven’t decided what they want, but they consider it wrong to join NATO. So they rather support non-alignment. A simple and concise answer to this question is that from our point of view joining NATO may prevent the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas and will make this condition almost eternal. I personally consider it to be a big mistake that under Poroshenko, NATO membership was implemented in the Constitution. Because this strategic decision was made without relying on the people’s opinion. That is, people were not asked what they thought to be right for Ukraine. We see a fall in the level of support of NATO from the date of the last survey in 2017 by 5% across the country. These regional contradictions are well reflecting the number of regions affected by the conflict in the Donbas. Because, as we see, the farther from the conflict zone – the higher the level of entry into NATO is. It seems like a paradox for many people. They ask why people living near the war don’t support joining NATO. The answer here is quite simple – because NATO really should guarantee people’s security, but unfortunately, I think that joining NATO is more likely to guarantee that we will forever live on the front line. Because Russia, as our largest neighbor, will not go anywhere. So if Russia counteracts and aggressively perceives the potential accession to NATO, this will mean that this tension will always exist. And this will cause the greatest problems in our regions. I mean they tried to sell us so that we become the front line of European security but we don’t want to be this front bastion for shields. We want to have a peaceful, prosperous country and to live in a safe region where there is no need to resist external aggression. This is the most important position. It is caused only by the fact that we have an existing conflict in the Donbas and everything that prevents its regulation, from my viewpoint, is harmful to the whole country.
Maronkova: Of course, I fully understand the feelings of the people who live in the Eastern regions. Of course, the opinion polls reflect this position of the people. Traditionally the support for Euro-Atlantic integration and membership to NATO has been always higher in the Western regions of Ukraine, than in the East or in the South. But I still believe that if we compare for example the public level of support, let’s say, 2007 or 2011 and today, even in the East and Southern part of Ukraine the public support has grown. Obviously not in dramatic numbers, but even at 10-15% is quite a rise, compared for example to 11% that we used to have before. Whether or not a country joins our organization is solely sovereign decision of the country itself. So it is really up to Ukraine and Ukrainian people to decide whether they wish to join our organization or not. What we can offer and we do offer to Ukraine is assistance. This assistance is in very important reforms, particularly in defense and security sector. And as I mentioned before these reforms are not just for us or to tick some boxes in some documents that people in Brussels prepare. These are really reforms, which have been proven to work in many other countries – post-communist countries of Central East Europe, even the county of former Yugoslavia. So overall, the reforms can really bring an added value and strength to Ukraine itself. Whether afterwards it will continue to think about joining NATO or not, that is of course for Ukraine to decide. And Ukrainian citizens of course play an important role.
Popova: As far as I remember, a country that has an open armed conflict or occupied territories cannot join and become a full member of NATO. We can be only an associated member of NATO, like Japan or like Korea?
Maronkova: First of all, our founding treaty – the Washington Treaty – from 1949 does not provide any specificities of that kind. Article 10 stated that any European country, which is ready and committed to contribute to our joint security, can become a member of NATO. So this is a very basic article in the founding treaty. Then, in 1995, after the discussions about the first enlargement of Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, our experts have created a Study on Enlargement. This is a much more detailed document, which really goes into NATO criteria of what you need to join, what ratification process, what conditions are there. And here we do have a mentioning, which says that the country needs to solve its territorial problems and have good neighborly relations, according to the OSCE and Helsinki Summit principles. Of course, we cannot speculate what would be the final decision of the member states, whether yes or not when it comes to invitation. We are a consensus-based organization, so all the member states have to decide, it’s a political decision. But nevertheless, we believe at the moment we should jointly focus on the reforms.
Popova: We have one more guest. This is Denys Neimiller – Head of the NGO “Odessa together”. I want to hear Dennis, but as far as I know, they have a slightly different view as to whether Ukraine should be a larger NATO partner. Denys, could you tell us about your position as a representative of Odessa together?
Neimiller: For example, in June, we held the NATO exhibition with Cold War posters. Of course, I want to thank Barbora for their trust, because such kind of event took place in Odessa for the first time. We all know that the alliance is the guarantor of world security. If our country would became a member of it in a timely manner, we wouldn’t encounter the problems that Ukraine unfortunately has today – Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea. I think this kind of event to popularize NATO should be carried out systematically in different cities. Because, for example, in Odessa, this exhibition was very popular.
Popova: So Denys, do you think that the problem that NATO doesn’t have such a percentage of support in some regions, because people don’t know much about it?
Neimiller: Yes, of course. It’s ignorance and misunderstanding of the situation that NATO is safe. If to popularize it then the people will trust this organization more.
Maronkova: Thank you Denys for joining us and thank your organization for your support in hosting our exhibit in Odessa. This is one of the ways how we’d like to address the people. True public diplomacy, true cultural diplomacy, because we believe that words don’t speak as loud as pictures. We like to use educational tools, cultural tools, visual tools to increase the information and awareness amongst population about NATO. I’m not going to hide that NATO is a very complicated institution. There are a lot of stereotypes, a lot of prejudices against our organization. Not only in Ukraine by the way, in many of our member-states. And it’s quite logical, I mean “it’s a military organization”, “what do they want?”, “what do they do?”, “they create conflicts”. We would like to show to people that we have been part of the modern post-World War II history, for the past 70 years. And that we have through our work contributed to peace and security in our Euro-Atlantic area, and have tried to forge partnership with those of our neighborhood. And that when we talk about security, security is much broader than just some military and some soldiers. We can discuss about it.
Popova: Denys, joint military drills with the NATO navy are conducted sometimes in your city. What do citizens of Odessa think of it?
Neimiller: When NATO exercises were conducted about one month ago, and we have held a press-conference with representatives of Canada. Many people came to this event, there were many experts. Everything was very comfortable, there was a dialogue. In my opinion, all participants were satisfied.
Popova: Barbora, what benefits can Ukraine get from joining NATO or this partnership with NATO, like Japan or Korea have. We know what concerns some representatives of some parts of Ukraine have. What are its benefits?
Maronkova: Of course, we (NATO) at the broader sense of what it means to be a member of NATO. As a member of NATO, you become a member of so-called collective defense organization. This is the core task of our organization – collective defense. That means that in case of an attack against one ally other allies can consider to be also under attack, and invoke article 5, which means that we come to each other defenses. This has been the core principle of NATO for 70 years. Since our founding fathers have believed that European and North American prosperity and security depend on supporting each other. If you would go to the old speeches for example of President Truman, when he was welcoming the founding treaty of NATO, this was the idea. Let’s not forget that in 1949 the world looked very different than it looks today. Over the course of the 70 years, of course the geopolitics has changed. We have been through the Cold War, we have been through the period of ‘90s, disillusion of the Soviet Union, of Yugoslavia, the wars in the Balkans, terrorists attacks on 09/11 against the United States, which has led us to our far away operations in Afghanistan for example. And that ultimately led us to cooperative security with countries far away like Japan or South Korea, or Australia or New Zealand. For example, our Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has just visited this August New Zealand and Australia, who are our partners. Obviously, the idea of global security network has been created as a result of developments, to which we need to react. This is just a conceptual base of what it is to be a member of NATO. So, collective security is number one. Of course, different countries, who were joining NATO over the years, be it my own native country Slovakia, or countries like Montenegro or Croatia, have their additional reasons for joining NATO, based on their geography, based on their history, based on their own security needs. It is a bit difficult to say, generally speaking, what are the additional benefits. For every country, they represent something else. But overall, we can agree that being a member of NATO provides for security. And security as we know is very important factor also for economic development, strengthening of democratic institutions etc.
Menendez: I would like to clarify my position. In fact, there is a need to understand that neither I nor other residents of the south and east are against increased cooperation. For example, bringing our army to NATO’s military standards, which is an indicator of progress; deepening of some kind of cooperation that will make our country more developed, more approximate. For a large number of people, cooperation with NATO is certainly associated with approaching the standards of the developed Western world. The question that worries most of all comes down to one thing – whether participation and cooperation with NATO is opposed to a comfortable neighborly life with Russia, roughly speaking. The question that causes the biggest discussion is whether NATO was created as a military instrument of pressure on Russia and whether Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a geopolitical level of conflict on the side of the Western world. This is the main question, in my opinion. Here again, as we saw in the infographics at the beginning of our program, citizens of the East and the South are opposed to joining NATO, but at the same time they do not support joining any military alliances with Russia. Form their point of view, Ukraine is geographically located between two super powers, and joining either of them is a mistake. Therefore, people prefer the idea of neutrality, which will allow them to work with one side and with another side.
Popova: I would like to remind you that we were a neutral country, and it did not save us.
Menendez: The question also is whether participation in NATO guarantees us from any kind of conflict. We know that two NATO members Turkey and Greece have unresolved conflicts between each other. Their participation in the same security system unfortunately doesn’t help them. In general, as I think, joining NATO is one of the damned questions of Ukrainian domestic policy, which also includes the question of language, questions of humanitarian rights. A question that requires a very wide public discussion. I would like to remind you and perhaps Barbara would like to comment this, that many of the prominent American diplomats who have made a huge contribution to the development of international politics, for example George Kennan, were opposed to the eastern enlargement of NATO. He was a famous author of the doctrine of containment of the Soviet Union in 2005. Before his death, he wrote that the enlargement of NATO to the east was a mistake; it was poorly prepared.
Popova: Henry Kissinger later said the same thing.
Menendez: That’s right, in 2014, already during and after the annexation of Crimea, Henry Kissinger wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal, where he said that if Ukraine’s membership in NATO creates a conflict with Russia and creates an eternal point of tension, is this a right decision? It means that Ukraine needs to consider neutral status, as Finland did. In my opinion, this is a good argument, at least for discussion. So if Denys is right, and people in the South and East oppose joining NATO because they don’t understand its essence, then it means that we need to be given clear answers to these questions – is NATO an anti-Russian bloc? Does Ukraine’s joining NATO stand in opposition to Russia and our participation on the side of NATO? So, is it possible to get clear answers to these questions?
Popova: It seems to me that we are already in confrontation with Russia.
Menendez: Eternal confrontation or not? I would like it to finish someday.
Popova: All wars end someday.
Maronkova: Of course, the issue of the NATO enlargement, as you pointed out, has not been, I would say, 100% agreed by everybody. There are different voices, also in the Western Europe, in North America, a lot has been written about the enlargement, whether or not it was the right thing to do, or if NATO should not have enlarged etc. I am not a scholar, so I cannot provide you with some academic arguments. I am a representative of NATO, so what I can present, is the view of our member-states and their governments. As I mentioned, when it comes to the decision whether or not to invite a new member state – this is based on consensus of all member states. Whatever number of member states we have at the given moment, if they decide unilaterally that they wish to have a country join us, then we do it.
When there is no consensus found, such as in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, whether to invite Georgia and Ukraine for the membership Action Plan, which is let’s say a preparation for membership – then we do not act, because we don’t have a consensus.
Obviously, what are the internal political discussions in each country – this is something we cannon influence. At the end, it depends really on a particular political force in power and on the government in the particular country.
I would like to address little bit the issue that you mentioned about NATO and Russia. Because especially at the last two decades of course NATO was striving to build a constructive relationship with Russia. We understood that the end of the Cold War meant that we have a peace on the European continent and that we engaged with our former “adversaries” so to speak. The former Warsaw bloc countries. Already in 1994, mostly all post-Soviet Union republics, including Russian Federation, have joined the Partnership for Peace.
In 1997, just as we created the NATO-Ukraine commission to have a direct dialogue with Ukrainian leadership, we did the same with Russia – we created a NATO-Russia Council. Russian Federation has a diplomatic representation at NATO, just as all the other partner countries do. They have an ambassador there. We have cooperated in many areas. Particularly, for example, in Afghanistan, where Russian assistance, support was essential. We had joint project within our Science for Peace cooperation.
The Russian soldiers, officers could come and get training at NATO schools, just like other partners. I believe NATO have really tried to build a constructive relationship, and we have had some successes. Of course, we have our differences – over the enlargement, over the 1999 air campaigns against Milosevic’s regime in Serbia at that time. But we always tried to use the forum that we had – the Russia-NATO Council to have these discussions. Unfortunately, after 2014 and the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and the support to separatists in the Eastern Ukraine this was no longer possible. So, we had to stop all our activities, but we kept the channel of communication open – through the political dialogue which is the NATO-Russia Council. We pursue policy towards Russia since 2014, which is based on defense and deterrence – our security. But we dialogue. So, we are looking for a constructive future relationship.
Popova: We have one more infographics about projects that NATO does in Ukraine. Maybe you can describe some projects and funds.
Maronkova: What you see is just a part of our activities that we carry out through the practical support to Ukraine, which is enshrined in the document called “The Comprehensive Assistance Package”, which was adopted at the NATO Summit in Warsaw in 2016. It encompasses different programs. These programs also give a bit of an idea that NATO is not just a pure military organization, but we deal with broader topics of security. So, we have several trust funds. These trust funds are money, which are donated by different member states for a very specific problem, which we try to solve through the funding. For example, trust fund on medical rehabilitation of Ukrainian wounded soldiers, cyber-security or building of your logistics centers inside the Ministry of defense.
Popova: Enrique, are you against this cooperation?
Menendez: As I said, I am not at all opposed to deepening cooperation with other western structures. The question is only how this will affect the settlement of the situation in the Donbas. Is this an obstacle or is it not a significant factor? I don’t want to be an advocate of Russia here, but I have to do it because it is deeply involved in the situation in Donbas. If this is a confrontation, will these types of cooperation intensify the confrontation, forcing us to choose one of the sides? I think this is a wrong way. We are not discussing an issue of cooperation or not cooperation. The question is that the course for entry is now in the Constitution. Is it possible to cooperate without strengthening the course of entry? Indeed, this cooperation, as we have already seen, has different levels of deepening. One thing is when your country takes part in joint military studies, and another thing is when the armies of other countries are placed on our territory. So if I am for the first one, I am against the second one. And it seems to me that it is a very clear and specific position.
Popova: But the Russian army is now placed on the territory of Ukraine.
Menendez: If someone asks me for my support about the placing of Russian army on the Ukrainian territory, I will say of course no. On the territory of Ukraine, there shouldn’t be armies of any other states except Ukraine. This is obviously the point of view of the majority of citizens of the eastern and southern parts of the country.
Popova: You see now any strengthening of Ukrainian security, including through these trust funds or through cooperation programs, will annoy Russia anyway. So we don’t have to do this?
Menendez: No, we need to do this. By searching for forms of interaction that don’t cause a threat. As I see from public statements, I certainly follow the events that Barbara talked about the relationship between NATO and the Russian Federation; I read publications on this topic. And as far as I understand for myself, the Russian Federation is not annoyed by the deepening of cooperation. It is annoyed by the possibility of Ukraine’s participation in any aggressive actions against Russia on the side of the West. And there are very specific issues – placing of a missile defense system, of military bases. This is actually not my conclusions, but the conclusions of Kissinger and Stephen Walt, who is a professor of political science at Harvard University. He wrote an excellent article in the “Foreign Policy” journal in March 2014 about reasons why Russia had annexed Crimea. Again, in any case I don’t want anyone to suspect that I am presenting here pro-Russian position or trying to somehow justify Russia’s actions. The annexation of Crimea has no justification, this is an act of aggression against our sovereignty, and this is obvious. But nevertheless if a deepening partnership with NATO can not help to normalize relations with Russia, but on the contrary, can worsen them, this will make the conflict in my native region Donbas eternal. And it is unlikely to make Ukraine more prosperous and safe country. This point of view has the right to exist as for me. At the moment, I haven’t heard any arguments that could convince me.
Popova: It’s a hard topic, right?
Maronkova: Of course, it a hard topic. Because we are talking about the national security of a particular country, whether it’s Ukraine or any other country, which is thinking about joining NATO. They are arguments of course that the country and the citizens have to address. There is just one point I would like to make about the location let’s say NATO military bases or presence of NATO soldiers on the territory of Ukraine or some other country. Just a small remark here – when it comes to military bases of NATO and NATO soldiers presence on the soil of any of our member states, this has to be done only with the approval of the particular country. If Ukraine will not wish to have this on the territory, they will not have them. Our military presence is only either in our military missions and operations abroad, out of our territory, like Kosovo, Afghanistan or at the invitation of a particular member state, like for example Poland or the Baltic states, which after 2014 have requested an increased NATO’s presence in light of Russia’s aggressive actions towards Ukraine and its neighbors. This is something that I would like to point out, because we believe this is important. We have had these arguments and discussions in Montenegro for example, when I worked there before coming to Ukraine. The Montenegrins were really worried about having, for example, NATO ships, coming and destroying their coasts. It’s very important coast for them, it’s tourism etc. So, citizens, particularly on the coastal area were really worried. We tried to explain – no, there will be no military naval NATO base in Montenegro, if you don’t wish so. And two years after joining there is no military base of NATO in Montenegro. This is just one example that if a country joins NATO, you maintain your sovereignty in decisions over foreign policy and security policy. This is another very important factor I would like to mention. Because many times people believe that if you join NATO, everything is decided in Brussels.
Popova: I was talking to our media partner from Israel, who has come here for various investment projects since the new government and the new president. The first thing he asks is how safe it is here, whether we already have enough technological weapons, or we use old Soviet designs, or we are provided with enough weapons to protect the investments that Western or Israeli investors can make. Do you understand that this is an economic issue too? Security including economic.
Menendez: Of course. But Israel is a very specific country. Again, I would rather compare our country with Finland or Switzerland than with Israel. But I understand what you’re talking about, of course. I would like to ask one more question to Barbora if possible. Do you have any examples in the history of NATO with such countries as Ukraine, which are strictly divided, and which have regional difference, even 50/50% on different opposite points of view. How do NATO treat this situation? Do you think it’s a problem and want to overcome it by some maybe educational programs? Or as you mentioned in the beginning of our discussion you treated it as a question of domestic policy? What could be done in the situation, when a big part of a country, which do not have now good voice in the national politics, are against NATO, and the other part of the country, which have major voice, are for NATO? How do you treat this situation? And do you have historical examples?
Maronkova: There are countries where we did have a level of public support in terms of joining NATO below 50% of population, including my own Slovakia by the way.
Popova: Why in Slovakia?
Maronkova: In our case, it was because of the air campaign in 1999 of NATO against Serbia and at that time President Milosevic. Because Slovakia has very close tights with Serbia, Serbian people. The Slovak citizens at that time were not pleased with the air campaign. They believed that this could lead to instability. While the support for NATO was much higher before the air campaign started, and after the March 1999, it went down a lot. We also had similar questions in the society, also being a Central European country, former post-communist country. There were discussions. We were in the Warsaw Pact, and it didn’t really help us, because our own “allies” to Warsaw Pact have attacked Czechoslovakia in August 1968. So, we had this experience. NATO has not been very helpful to us either in those days. They didn’t come to support us in ‘68. So, the best thing for us – we are small, just let’s stay out of these things, let’s be neutral, let’s not bother.
So, every country has it’s own historical narratives, which it needs to overcome and discuss. Similarly, in Montenegro, when the discussion started about the country joining NATO, the public support was also quite low. It was 32-35%. Again, the reason, very logical, because Montenegro in that time, in 1999 was a part of the federation. They were also victims of their campaign. So there it was even more the sentiment of the people against NATO, which is understandable. I think every country has its own story to tell, and it’s up to the country to come up with a narrative that works best for you. I cannot tell you what works best for Ukraine, as I couldn’t tell my Montenegrin friends, what worked for them. We knew what would work for Slovakia. That’s important. Very important issue to have discussions like we have now, for example.
Menendez: Yes, I’m completely agree with you about discussions. Why I’m asking that questions about 50/50 support in different parts of the country – because it could lead to a conflict, and it could be again instability inside the society. If one part of the society approves and another part of the society is against that, it would be a problem.
Popova: This infographic shows changes from 2014. It started in 2014 from 34% approval. In June 2019, it is 53%. Actually, it grows. Yes, in some period, it was some decreasing, but still we see this trend for growth. And we see a trend of decreasing of those who are against NATO. Still only 53%, it’s not so much. But it’s growing.
Maronkova: Looking at the data, I agree there are different sociological approaches. Some share 53%, this summer I even saw some, which show 62%. Nevertheless, of course the dynamic changes, because it reflects the mood and emotions of the people. That is why we believe that public diplomacy, communication is very important. That is why our office is here. It has been here since 1997 already, quite a long time. I can recall when my predecessors, the former Directors of our Center were trying to reach some audiences in your region for example, and they really had big difficulties. People were not interested, they were almost aggressive, reacting for someone even to come and want to have a discussion.
Nowadays we actually have, I would say, the opposite problem – we have too many invitations, we are not able to accept all of them because of time of travel and availability of speakers. How do I translate this interest? I translate that interest that people are curious. People have heard about NATO, NATO integration from their elected officials, journalists, experts. They are curious. And this is good. If people are curious we can talk, we can bring an exhibit, we can print a publication, we can prepare a little video. People can look, they can read, they can visit. And they make their own ideas and their own mind about what they think is the best for them. Therefore, even an exhibit we prepared in Odessa can help we believe in this outreach program. The last thing I would like to mention however is that I am a very strong believer of local voices. Again, based from my experience from my country and the other countries I worked with, as a foreigner, I don’t represent your country, and I don’t represent the voices of your country. There have to be Ukrainian people, who go and speak in Ukrainian language, address the Ukrainian domestic problems, with information about what it means to be a partner of NATO, to cooperate with NATO and eventually join it.
Menendez: Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that local people should be agents of myths debunking. Because the specifics of the situation is, that Donbas is not just people in the East. I would include there the neighboring conflict zones of Zaporizhzhya and Dnipro. In these areas, people can be not only aggressive towards NATO, they are aggressive about the point of view that dominates here in Kiev. Because there is some opposition, and that is why even people who came from Kiev as Ukrainians don’t have authority in the eyes of local citizens. That is why it is important to work with opinion leaders on the places. And again, if you try to abstract yourself a little with the question whether you are for NATO or against it, try to put the same survey data on other topics, for example: do people in these regions consider Russia as an enemy, do they think we are having a war with Russia? We will see a large correlation of these data, so people against NATO, they don’t believe that we are having a war with Russia, and they do not consider Russia as the enemy. So, in this paradigm, we need to talk to them, speaking of the fact that cooperation with NATO will not mean opposing Russia and will not interfere with the settlement of the conflict. It will make this position much weightier in these people’s eyes. It seems to me that this is the only chance we have. I completely agree that we should dispel myths, because opposing any opposition interferes with the regulation of the conflict, and any expansion and debunking of myths helps in this case. I am speaking in support of information campaigns including NATO campaigns, which will simply tell people more. I know my citizens from my region very well – they are very greedy unfortunately for propaganda, and unfortunately, the information from Russian sources is false. It needs to be balanced with nonaggressive propaganda, and make it as close as possible to the worldview of my citizens, and in this sense, we really need to act with local organizations.
Popova: This is actually how Ukrainian citizens voted on the last parliamentary elections, and which party got bigger number during the last parliamentary elections. We can see that these regions with mostly anti-NATO sentiments support “Opposition Platform – For life”. I tried to analyze it. It is a new trend. There were not so many anti-European, anti-NATO ideas in the South of Ukraine, like in Kherson. They didn’t even watch Russian television before. But now with this Krasnoperekopsk tower, there are some regions where “Opposition Platform – For life” is leading. These are Donbass, Luhansk, Kharkiv near the Russian boarder and next to Transdnistria and Moldova, where they also have Russian TV-channels. I also have an idea that it Is connected with propaganda. How is NATO dealing with Russian propaganda by the way? In overall and in Ukraine?
Maronkova: Of course, the issue of disinformation, called the hybrid warfare, has been very much on our radar screen, especially after 2014 in Ukraine. Directly or indirectly, our policy are linked to Ukraine and vice versa. The issue of disinformation we believe is very serious, because in undermines values of our society, it undermines democracy. We believe the best way against fighting disinformation is to have a functioning robust system of strategic communication, as coordinated one-voice policy, and also to work with facts and information, what you have mentioned. Because to fight propaganda with propaganda is useless. That is why we try to put as much information our as we can. Engaged with journalists from all over the world, including from the Russian Federation. We organize press tours, we organize press briefings, we bring experts to NATO headquarters, or we travel outside. We cooperate with the European Union, with the Center of Excellence of NATO on strategic communication, with the EU Center of Excellence on countering hybrid warfare. Because we need to have networks in order to effectively communicate. And this is very important. There are a lot of NGOs in Ukraine and outside of Ukraine, who do this job for us, debunking myths, tracking disinformation amongst us. Whether we are government officials, whether we are NATO officials, whether we are experts in NGOs – we are all connected, and this is very important. When it comes to Ukraine, of course I would say here you have some leading experts on disinformation; they really do a very hard job. Over the past couple of years, also the Ukrainian government has stepped up its awareness, adopted some policies, trying to secure information space. A lot of donors are also supporting Ukraine in this respect, in funding different media, literacy programs, programs at schools for children, building resilience of the citizens be. Because if the citizens will not believe in what they hear or see on their smartphones – that is the best way how you succeed in fighting disinformation. This is a long term and difficult, and a very slow process, but this is the way how to approach this.
Popova: Is your organization doing something in this direction? I mean, in countering fakes.
Menendez: Our organization doesn’t focus on any military issues of military cooperation. But we are facing what Barbora mentioned – we are facing the facts, we are doing analyzes at the Donbas Institute of Regional Policy. And I can say by the way that we have a project called New Youth Policy for Donbas. We did research on students who study at universities, including displaced people from uncontrolled territories. There was a question about whether young people support joining NATO. In fact, I can say that the picture is about the same as for the older ages. So, it applies to all ages of the people and apparently doesn’t depend on age. Because there is such a stereotype that a typical voter for the “Opposition Platform” is a person who has pro-Russian sentiments and who is nostalgic for the Soviet past. But having done our survey, it’s not finished yet, but I can share some unpublished results, we saw that among young people, the situation is the same. Therefore, this is probably a part of a broader picture. Because what is happening in Ukraine over the past 5 years is not only the fault line, not only about joining NATO. There are many questions open on humanitarian policy in general. And if people feel that there is some infringement of their self-identification and someone tries to aggressively change it – then naturally they will resist. Therefore, I support the idea that we need to not only fight disinformation, but also show the image of the future, in which these people will have their places. So that they understood, what their life would look like. Now a typical picture of the future if we join NATO is that the Donbas looks like an eternal front line between the west and Russia. We don’t need that, we don’t want that.
You didn’t mention anything about that peace building process in Ukraine and what strategy of dealing with the conflict in the Donbass NATO has as an organization. Because I know that on the previous Munich security conference, Anders Fogh Rasmussen presented the strategy made by Hudson Institute about the peacekeeping mission in the East of Ukraine. Does NATO have any policy papers or any impact on what are your views on the conflict resolution?
Maronkova: When it comes to the particular question of bringing peace to Donbass, we as NATO support the already ongoing formats, whether it’s the Normandy Format or the Minsk Agreements. Should there be initiatives, which are official and have the backing of the Ukrainian government and other partners that are necessary, of course we support whatever diplomatic means that are to the peaceful solution. As I mentioned, NATO can only do things that our member states give us as a guidance. At the moment NATO as such, as an organization itself is not involved in any particular plan. But of course should there be any such necessity and request from our member states – we will react to it accordingly.