The role of NATO representatives in reforming Ukraine's security and defense sector is hard to overestimate. The changes in the vector of Ukraine's development over the past two years are reflected on the nature and intensity of their operations. Censor.NET met the director of the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine Alexander Vinnikov to talk about the Alliance's mission in the country. This is his first interview in Ukraine.
Q.: Have the Office's tasks change since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine?
A.: The office has existed since 1999, for more than 15 years. It was originally established to support closer cooperation between NATO and Ukraine. In that sense, the overall tasks have not changed.
We have three key priorities right now:
- First one is to act as the Liaison office, which has classical diplomatic missions' tasks: to facilitate meetings, conferences, visits; to analyze developments and report back to Headquarters;
- The second task, which has greatly increased in importance over the past year and a half, is the advisory support to the reform of the security and defence sector. This also includes capacity building support through some of our programmes;
- Third task is to manage technical assistance projects. Some of them are addressing legacy issues, like surplus ammunition or resettlement of former service personnel. In this area we again have greatly increased our involvement since the beginning of the crisis with the establishment of the five TFs.
The Wales Summit in September 2014 really marked a very significant increase in the activities of this office. And also the size of the office has almost tripled in the year and a half.
Q.: About a year and a half ago I talked with the SBU, and they said that the cooperation with NATO has significantly increased since when Yanukovych was the president. Now all the cooperation and the communications have to be re-built. Do you feel that Ukraine is ready and wants to change?
There have been achievements and challenges on the way to reforming Ukraine according to NATO standards and practices. What is very important is that the political leadership of Ukraine has clearly set very ambitious goals for the country in relation to its course towards Euro-Atlantic values and structures.
Q.: This is interesting. They declared it on the words, but not a single strategic document mentions Ukraine's NATO membership aspirations.
A.: Without mentioning the issue of membership, there is a very clear course towards approximation of Euro-Atlantic standards. Those are clearly spelled out in the National Security Strategy and the Military doctrine.
Q.: Then it is not that ambitious as you say. It would have been ambitious to declare the membership plans. Approaching the standards is not as ambitious.
A.: That is a question of interpretation. President Poroshenko said, as recently as in September, when our Secretary-General visited, that he wants to focus on getting Ukraine "ready for membership by reaching those standards." And then place the issue of the membership on the agenda. Whatever the country chooses to do, that is the sovereign decision of that country. We respect any decision. That is up to Ukraine to decide.
Q.: Let's get back to the strategic documents and Trust funds. Ukraine must show that they are its priority. For these means, it must have the Strategic Defence Bulletin. However, in the meantime, the MOD and the GS create the Project Reforms Office. What do they reform if the SDB has not yet been finalized and approved?
A.: The Strategic Defence Bulletin is a key document that is part of the Comprehensive Review of the security and defence sector. The Review was initiated two years ago and includes security strategy, the military doctrine, etc. We are putting most of our effort now into helping Ukraine draft this document to reflect NATO standards and practices. We believe that this document should be the roadmap presenting Ukraine's vision of both the end state of the reform: how they want the security sector to look in X number of years; and also on how they want to get there.
You also mentioned the Reform Project Office. I would also add very important structure that has just been created - the Reform Committee under the chairmanship of the Defence minister. The RPO has done very good work on very concrete issues which needed to be addressed, like uniforms, food, catering, and other concrete issues that needed to be fixed quickly.
Our efforts focus on more systemic approaches. These are great but they are not systemic reform. Our advisers are working on a daily basis with a wide range of Ukrainian counterparts precisely to help them devise and implement that systemic reform.
To add one more word about the Reform Committee. This is an important development, which we have encouraged our Ukrainian partners to implement. Precisely because it will monitor the implementation process of the reform.
Q.: Is the structure of the Reform Committee in line with the Strategic Defence Bulletin and the tasks that we [Ukraine] plan to fulfill until 2020?
A.: The structure which was announced at the inaugural meeting, which took place just 10 days ago, we have provided comments to that structure. We believe that certain adjustments should be considered. In particular concerning the number of the subgroups. We have made those recommendations both here, in Kyiv, and in Brussels during the meetings that were held exactly at that time in Brussels. One of the key points we made was that it was important not to separate reform of the MOD from the reform of the GS. That they should be, in fact, integrated into one subgroup. This is exactly the principle of the reform that they are supposed to implement. The committee should reflect that.
Q.: There have been many scandals related to the NATO advisers. They were not allowed inside of the MOD and the GS, they were not provided with the documents, etc. Is there enough of communication with the Ukrainian side right now?
A.: The situation has greatly improved from the early days of our advisory mission. Ukraine is much more interested and capable of absorbing our advisory assistance. The challenges we had with access, which for a long time was obstructing closer engagement, have practically been resolved. Some of our advisers are already collocated with the Ukrainian institutions: the MOD, Ukroboronprom, and hopefully soon - the National Guard.
Q.: The Verkhovna Rada voted for the new status of your office. Did this give any advantage in communication with Ukrainian officials? Or was it just some kind of a technical document?
A.: We welcome the ratification of the agreement on the status of the NATO representation to Ukraine, and also the fact that the president has signed it recently. We look forward to its formal entry into force.
We think that the agreement reflects the stronger role that both NATO offices, the NLO and the NIDC, are playing in Ukraine today. It also reflects the need for the stronger political dialogue with Ukraine and better coordination to guide NATO's work here.
Both these offices existed for over 15 years and will continue to exist with their separate mandates. Taken together, we will be the NATO representation. The added advantage of that is that we will have full diplomatic status with all of our international staff and all of our programmes, importantly, covered by that status. This facilitates our efforts for the benefit of Ukraine.
One very practical example that I hope to see soon is that the projects agreed under the cyber TF will be able to be implemented.
Q.: In other terms, equipment passing through Romania will not be taxed, or are there any other advantages?
A.: That is one very concrete clear example of how the agreement should facilitate the implementation of concrete projects.
Q. Is it true that two NATO offices will actually merge into one, as everyone here is saying?
A.: As I said, two offices will continue to exist. We will have a common legal roof and also a physical roof because we will soon share the common premises. There will be one physical address for the NATO representation. Each office will be headed by their respective directors. For administrative purposes, there will also be the head of the representation.
Q. All the reforms we talked about are passing very slowly. We understand that the corruption is still a very sharp issue and so on. Is there a feeling that West is being disappointed in Ukraine?
A.: We all understand that systemic deep reforms take time. Nobody expects Ukraine to reform and reach those ambitious goals set by the leadership tomorrow. At the same time, NATO and the Allies are consistently encouraging Ukraine not to lose momentum. It is important to keep the pace of reform, to stay on track. This is not only to satisfy Western donors. I think it is most important also to show Ukrainian people who have sacrificed so much for country to be built on the new foundations, that changes are happening. So it is important to maintain the pace of reform, and the fighting against corruption is one of the key aspects of reform, which I think is a truism, acknowledged by everyone.
I would like to add one more comment regarding security and defence sector reform. Often people equate NATO simply with technical reforms in the security and defence sector, or NATO standards with the technical reform. We consider reforms as a much broader and more comprehensive process. Reaching NATO standards is also about democratic standards, the rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms, good governance. All of these values are part of what makes countries reach NATO standards and practices. It is not simply implementing the STANAGS.
Q. How will you implement the culture you are talking about? I think that you often face incomprehension and opposition?
A.: We always point out how things are done in NATO countries. We are not here to decide for Ukraine. We are here to show to Ukraine, how it is done in our countries.
When it comes to the comprehensive approach to reform, Ukraine also has an instrument called the Annual National Programme. It is a very important instrument to help plan and implement a comprehensive reform vision with the help of NATO and Allies. This plan, we believe, could be used even more effectively. Currently, as we speak, efforts are underway to maximize effectiveness of this instrument through the Foreign Ministry. We see a lot of potential there, specifically to have this broader approach, not just focusing purely on defence and technical standards, but have this broader vision of the wholesale change. This is a Ukrainian document, where NATO provides advice and assistance.
Q. NATO is not the only organization that helps Ukraine. There are other consultative missions working presently in Ukraine, etc. How do you communicate with them? Do they have a unified position, since, as far as I am concerned, EUAM and NATO have different philosophies in the defence sector.
A.: The coordination of international advice and assistance is a very important aspect, and I am glad you raised it. We maintain regular contact with all international bodies and actors, including international organizations like the UN, the EU, and the OSCE. And also with bilateral embassies, some of which have significant advisory capacity. We have been working hard to improve donor coordination. We play our part in the Donor Coordination Council that is led by the EU delegation. We have been even asked to lead on of the 17 subgroups of that Council - on the national security and defence. There is some progress there.
DCC is coordinated by donors. It was created by the foreigners, as a reply to 17 thematic groups under the National Reform Council.
When it comes to the EUAM, we have particularly close relations with them because of their interest in the security sector, in strategic reforms of that sector.
We are talking specifically about the security sector, because they do not have the defence sector in their mandate. We do not intersect there. We intersect only in the issues of reforms in the security sector. And there are two key aspects there. First one - is the cooperation with the Ministry of Interior (MOI), where the EUAM plays the leading role. And the second one is the SBU, where we coordinate our efforts and try to speak in one voice when it comes to the strategically important issues.
Q. I think it is quite difficult to keep the balance. You have more of your consultants in the MOD, and they have more of theirs in the MOI, but in the reality, they still intersect?
А.: They [EUAM] do not work with the MOD as far as I am concerned. But better ask them. They also do not work too close with the structures under the MOI, but have the defence functions. Please clarify with them.
Q.: SBU plays an especially important role in the defence now, especially because of the ATO.
A.: So does the National Guard and that is exactly the specificity…
Q.: So there exists some communication now if I understand well? You know, who these people are, and you have direct contacts with them, you write e-mails to each other?...
A.: Yes, of course. Our office cooperates with the MOI and its structures. We cooperate for many years already, particularly with the Emergency Service, the Border Guards and the National Guard. We also hope that one of our advisers will work closely with them. All of these structures are a part of PARP.
It is an annual programme that is reviewed annually and Ukraine restarted it last year. There are partnership goals established jointly by NATO and Ukrainian side. Those institutions that have defence functions are part of those partnership goals. Here especially, the National Guard, the state border guard, and the state emergencies service. SBU is also included in some of its goals.
Final note on the SBU: we welcome the establishment of an international advisory group to advise on SBU reform. We play an active role in that, alongside with the EUAM.
Q.: We have talked about work issues; now let's talk a bit about personal stuff. Knowing of your family roots and cultural level, I would like to know what you think about Kyiv's cultural events. Do you attend theaters of museums? How do you feel living here?
A.: My father grew up in Kyiv, maybe that's why I'm so comfortable here.
Q.: Is this your first job in Kyiv?
A.: I used to work in OSCE previously and curated many countries, including Ukraine. I visited Ukraine many times on short trips, by this is my first time living here. I like it really much. I cannot say I had time over these six months to get to know cultural sites of Kyiv. I have been to the Philharmonic theatre, the Opera. I saw Turandot, Tale of Saltan Tsar, some ballets. As a student, I used to work as a ticket seller in the Theatre in Covent Garden in London.
Q.: How do you compare them?
A.: Ukraine is well-known for its voices, and many Ukrainian singers work on the world stages. But there's still something to strive for. I also visited the Russian drama theater and really want to see the Kyiv history museum, although I didn't have time yet. We went to the Natural science museum with my son. As long as I am from musical family, as you said, I like staying in touch with music.
Q.: How did you end up in the military sector?
A.: There's an odd bird in every family. I'm not a military, I'm a diplomat. I have always been interested in international relations. I studied in this sector, and the security issues are an important part of the subject. I started my career in research, and then worked in various departments of the OSCE in different countries. The issues of diplomacy, conflict prevention and post-conflict period, security issues have always lured me so much that I engaged myself with them.
Q.: Are you learning Ukrainian? I hope to have our next interview in Ukrainian.
A.: I am. But the language is difficult, and I have little time so far to learn it. But it will happen.
Anna Kovalenko, Censor.NET