On Monday, March 3, Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca joined the Atlantic Council to speak on the crisis in Ukraine and how Moldova intends to step up its efforts to reform its economy and political system so it can integrate as quickly as possible with Europe.
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Governor Jon Huntsman
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FREDERICK KEMPE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. And thank you for joining us here at the Atlantic Council and making your way through the winter storm. I think the tilt between how many are in this room and how many are listening to us online may have tilted a little bit more online, as we’re live streaming right now. But thank you all who have come here also physically.
I’m very pleased to welcome you to this public event with the Moldovan prime minister, Iurie Leanca, a long-time friend of the Atlantic Council. The prime minister was last at the Council in March, 2012 when he was deputy prime minister and foreign and European integration minister. So we’re delighted to welcome him back.
We’re also delighted to have with us our relatively new chairman, Jon Huntsman, one of America’s top foreign policy thinkers, to introduce the prime minister. American politician, businessman and diplomat who served as ambassador to Singapore and China and served under four U.S. administrations. Governor, thank you as well for waking – making your way through the weather to join us.
For the past 20 years, U.S. policy toward Europe and Eurasia has been guided by the vision of creating a Europe whole, free and at peace. The crisis in Ukraine and the deteriorating situation in the Crimea make this a very timely meeting; timely, perhaps, not in the way the prime minister would wish it to be, but it comes at a critical moment when the United States must directly engage its European partners to keep the vision of Europe whole and free intact.
We heard some strong language from the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, on Sunday, denouncing what he called a, quote, “brazen act of aggression,” unquote, by Russia in moving troops into the Crimean region. What was most telling from the Atlantic Council’s standpoint, however, is his remarks and his emphasis on addressing the issue via a collaborative effort by the global community, a far effective way if we can summon our resources than doing action unilaterally.
In the midst of all this upheaval, Moldova has become the star of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, a positive outcome that I don’t think anyone would have predicted even last year. It is the only Eastern Partnership country to be governed by a political coalition, a coalition which symbolizes an entirely new generation of Moldovan politics and one which has expended a commendable amount of effort in bringing Moldova on the path to Europe via much-needed reforms. Last week the European Union lifted visa restrictions with Moldova. Mr. Prime Minister, that’s a very big deal. As early as May or June this year, Moldovans will be able to travel within the Schengen area with the same rights and ease as their Western European neighbors. The EU is now Moldova’s leading trade partner, accounting for 54 percent of the country’s total trade. Of course, another crucial issue today will revolve around Russian influence in Moldova and in the wider region.
So after an introduction by Governor Huntsman and a speech by the prime minister, we will have a discussion moderated by Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson with an opportunity for questions from the audience.
On our panel along with the prime minister, we’re honored to have three all-star experts and long-time friends of the Atlantic Council. Swedish Ambassador Bjorn Lyrvall is one of the original architects of the Eastern Partnership under Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and he can speak on the goals and aspirations of the Eastern Partnership better than anyone I know, except for maybe Carl would quibble with that.
Annette Heuser, executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington and a member of the board of directors here at the Atlantic Council, is exceptionally well-versed on the gauntlet of trans-Atlantic issues and in – particularly Germans – Germany’s crucial role at this moment in history.
And then finally David Kramer, president of Freedom House, former deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs, who has been a clear and consistent voice on the need for reform and progress in the region.
With clearly very pressing issues to discuss today, before I turn the floor over to Atlantic Council Chairman Governor Jon Huntsman, who will introduce our guests of honor, I have my most important announcement, which is: We’re encouraging you to engage in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag – is hashtag #ACMoldova.
Governor, the floor is yours.
JON HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Fred, for your leadership and for the guidance that you provide a terrific group of experts here at the Atlantic Council. And thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for coming to the Atlantic Council today following your meetings at the White House with President Obama and Vice President Biden. We are delighted as well to have the ambassador here with us as well.
I have to say, I’m truly impressed with people’s dedication to fight the weather to get here as you have. You call it snow here in Washington. In Utah, where I’m from, we call it dust. (Laughter.) Nothing to worry about.
Clearly you recognize, just as the Council does, the strategic importance of what is at state in Europe’s east today, and the outsized importance a small nation like Moldova takes on as an example of a nation that was once part of the Soviet Union, that has succeeded in becoming both a vibrant democracy and a market economy.
Every time I walk through the doors of this Council, I am reminded again of the seminal importance of our mission. Council experts have been warning of a downward spiral in Europe’s east just as we witnessed over the past few days in Ukraine as Russian forces seized Crimea. The Atlantic Council has been on offense over the past few days with its analysis and coverage of the crisis, but as importantly, our team is hard at work publicly and privately helping to determine the best strategy for the United States and its European allies toward Russia and other nations in Europe’s east. President Putin clearly has a strategy of reconstructing an empire and preventing his neighbors from determining their own future.
Today we’re for Moldova to discuss the extraordinary progress that Moldova has achieved and to consider the challenges that lie ahead for the country against the backdrop of Russia’s aggression in the wider region. Moldova is a relatively small country geographically, but is a giant in terms of reforms and political commitment required to integrate with Europe. Though Crimea is the flashpoint at the moment, Moldova faces its own set of challenges with Moscow-fueled and –financed separatists in its breakaway region of Transnistria.
To add to this, the United States and Europe too often find themselves reacting when we should be advancing our own strategy. Too often we fail to recognize the historic stakes at critical moments until they have already passed us by.
Now, there are certainly people with deeper knowledge of this region than I, many of them sitting right here in this room. But make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen; this is one of those moments. The events happening as we speak should serve to remind us that there is a need, now more than ever, for an engaged trans-Atlantic community. It is in a scenario such as this that Moldova is poised to shine.
The man who has led Moldova’s integration into this community joins us here today, Prime Minister Iurie Leanca. Under Prime Minister Leanca’s stewardship, Moldova has garnered a stellar reputation for reform in the region. What was once the poorest country in Europe is now rapidly becoming an example of a reformer. Judicial reform, human rights and the economy are just a few of the challenges Prime Minister Leanca has tackled while in office. As prime minister, he has faced great pressure – indeed, coercion – to end his effort to ensure Moldova meets European standards. Yet he has forged ahead, committing Moldova to continue its process of integration with the European Union.
Prior to being confirmed as prime minister, he served as deputy prime minister and minister for foreign and European integration, where he played a significant role in guiding Moldova’s continued alignment with the European and wider trans-Atlantic community. He is also not a stranger to the D.C. community here in the States. Some of you will remember him from his formative time at the Moldovan Embassy back in the 1990s.
So please join me in extending a warm welcome on this coldest of days to Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, back to his old Washington stomping ground. Prime Minister, the floor is now yours. (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER IURIE LEANCA: Mr. President, Mr. Governor, (Mr. ?) Ambassadors, it’s very good to be back in Washington, D.C. I want to thank you for organizing this event and for offering me and my colleagues to discuss about the situation in Moldova, but also about the developments in the region. It is good to be back in Washington and to see how strong are the traditions in the city. In ’90s, you referred to my work here – whenever we saw a first snow, institutions would shut down, schools would shut down. Nothing has changed. (Laughter.) And tradition is a great thing. I admire it.
I am – I am here in Washington at a moment when probably some people, some fellow citizens think that I should stay at home because we are going through an unprecedented developments in the region. I don’t think that half a year ago or one year ago, 10 years ago, anyone would imagine that we would have to go through again developments which resemble more Cold War period and less the spirit of the 21st century. Unfortunately, we are here, which means that we need to discuss what happens, we need to debate it, but we need also to find the ways out of this – of this situation and to make sure that we are able to build the conditions of such a development in the region which would not – which would make it impossible to see any further developments of this – of this nature.
Let me say a few words about Moldova and then, of course, to discuss a bit about the region and the response to these dramatic developments. Moldova four years ago was still ruled by the Communist Party, unreformed (orthodox ?), and was lagging behind the other countries of the Eastern Partnership. You were very generous to call us a star, to speak about a stellar reputation of Moldova, and I’m proud that we indeed were able to make certain progress in these four years. But many challenges are still ahead of us. Many problems we still have in Moldova. The dissatisfaction of our citizens with our society, with our achievements, and with the state of affairs is there. I just hope that we wouldn’t see the situation like I recall from ’93 when I came first here to Washington, D.C. I went to deliver a speech to the Foreign Institute – future diplomats were trained – and then I found that Moldova is an example, because when you stay in Moldova you are not aware that we are doing so well. Only when you get outside of the country.
Again, we still have many challenges ahead of us and many problems. And some are old and some are new, unconventional challenges. But we made, despite all the problems we had to go through – constitutional crisis, political crisis – coalition, which is, as I told the governor, (never ?) happy marriage, but it’s still better than to have the vertical of power because it offers better solutions and better policy-making decision process. So Moldova today is much better and much safer than it was four years ago. If you look at the economy, for example, we had a cumulative growth of, in the last four years, 20 percent. Last year was the best year, 8 percent. And it’s not just because we had a good (agricultural ?) year, but because, as the IMF says, due to the reforms which were enacted in the last three or four years, we were able to conduct the structural reforms, we were able to motivate the business to create jobs to bring – to bring investment. Therefore, last year we had an economic growth of 8 percent, but the budget deficit was 2.3 percent. Inflation below 5 percent. Exports grew, especially to the EU markets, by 11 percent. And we hope also to be able this year to follow more or less the same – the same path.
If you look at the institutions of Moldova, I am proud to say that today we are much better than we used to be in 2009. We have the checks and balances. Again, we are the only country in the Eastern Partnership which has a coalition government. And decisions which were made last fall by the president of Armenia, by the president of Ukraine, for instance, to change their path and their attitudes within the Eastern Partnership not to sign the association agreement or not to initial it, as was the case of Armenia, is something impossible (nowadays ?) because simply of how the political system which we have and which makes me more or less proud of our achievements.
We still, as I said, have many problems ahead of us and many challenges. The biggest challenges is the unreformed law enforcement agencies, the unreformed justice, the problems with our police, which is making certain progress but is still behind expectations of our people. Still the social-economic conditions. Despite the solid and robust economic growth, we still are a poor country and the migration from Moldova outside both to the east and west make us vulnerable. The investment is coming but not at the extent which one would like – would like to see.
Plus, we still have the Transnistrian conflict, and I’ll be very happy to discuss about this unresolved circle from the (frozen ?) conflict, especially in the context of what happens today in Ukraine.
We have made a choice four years ago to move Moldova into the direction of the European Union. We said that it’s a fundamental choice and a fundamental policy of our foreign policy, of our domestic policy. And with certain – we – I think we achieved certain progress in this respect. President, you mentioned the fact that in a few week – months, Moldovan citizens will be able to travel freely to the Schengen countries. Not later than September, Georgia and we will sign an association agreement and the free trade area agreement, something which puts us much closer to the European Union in terms of building same standards, in terms of applying the same values and principles, and which makes us better integrated and much safer. And I am proud of what has been achieved until today. But we still have certain problems, and the biggest problem, the biggest challenge in this respect, of course, is the lack of European perspective, which would be acknowledged by our European partners.
If I may, I would like to discuss a bit about the Ukrainian developments and the lessons for Moldova. And not just about what happens in Ukraine, these military actions undertaken by the Russian Federation in Crimea, but to start with November of last year when Ukrainians decided or Ukrainian president – former president – decided not to sign the association agreement. One Moldovan analyst was saying that as long as Ukraine was supposed to sign association agreement, there were no revolts, no protests. The situation was calm and stable in Ukraine. And one decision has changed everything and brought additional problems, additional challenges. So our first conclusion which we are – we have to draw from the Ukrainian example: Once you’ve set up the target, the objective, you have to follow it. You have to show determination in achieving it. Any deviation from this target makes you much more vulnerable. No one would understand what you really are getting at.
So last – the first lesson from the Ukrainian experience is that we need to be even more determined, more motivated to pursue the reforms at home in line with European standards, in line with our commitments, and to make sure that we can get to this objective.
The second lesson from the European – from the Ukrainian crisis is that we shouldn’t focus just on negotiating the agreements and asking the Europeans to sign it as quickly as possible, but we need to focus on preparing the country to benefit from those agreements once they are in place. Are we ready today to benefit fully from the association agreement and especially from the free trade area? I would say, not yet, because our goods are not competitive enough, because we still don’t meet – (inaudible) – sanitary requirements, which means that some of our goods in which we have comparative advantages are not – do not have access yet to the European markets, so we have in theory – we will have in theory quotas for more goods, but if we don’t meet the conditions, how we can benefit?
So that’s why our key focus right now is not just when we sign the association agreement, but how to make Moldova ready, how to make Moldovan economy, how to make Moldovan products competitive. And once the market opens, to show to our citizens the benefits.
The third conclusion I would be able to draw of the Ukrainian lesson or crisis is the – is the communication with our citizens and with our society. Somehow, I personally, my colleagues believed that the advantages of the European integration are so self-evident to everyone in the society that we should not even focus on it. We should focus on the reforms, we should focus on negotiations, and then the evidence will – and the advantages will be so convincing that we shouldn’t really make an effort. And I think it was one of the biggest miscalculations we made in this respect. If you look at the perceptions in the Moldovan society, which three years ago were more than 60 percent of in favor of European integration, and today they are even between the European integration and customs union. It is our own mistake because we neglected the propaganda, or intoxication – we call it differently – conducted by some of our opponents in terms of what are the real advantages of European integration and what are the real provisions of the association agreement or the free trade agreement with European Union.
And that’s why it’s extremely important for us now to have an assertive communication to explain to every citizen of Moldova why it is so important, why it’s so beneficial, why the relationship with European Union and the perspective of membership has no alternative if you want to build a viable, functioning and, hopefully, boring state. Because EU – as U.S. does as well – helps us with money, with political support, but yes, in exchange they want us – you want us – to fight corruption, to reform the justice, to make sure that shadow interests disappear, that there is transparency. And that’s exactly what every single citizen of Moldova should be interested in. But it’s not self-evident. The (nostalgists ?) are still strong. This propaganda is still quite effective.
So one more lesson again for me personally and my colleagues: We need to be much more effective in communicating.
Now, another lesson, which hopefully is also learned in Brussels and in the member states of the European Union, is that it’s really time to rethink the Eastern Partnership. Ambassador of Sweden is here; Sweden together with Poland was behind the Eastern Partnership. Bjorn, I know you personally worked very much on launching this initiative which brought many positive developments to the region. But the developments in Armenia, in Ukraine, probably get us to the understanding that we need now to reflect what to do about the future of this regional initiative. Is it just a substitute for enlargement or it’s just a kind of antichambre, as the – our French colleagues would say, for moving towards the EU membership?
I think that by not offering it to Ukraine, to Georgia, to Moldova, the European perspective – European Union has weakened the pro-Western elites in our countries but also has deprived itself from a – probably the most powerful instrument and leverage EU would have in exercising the positive pressure on the developments in the region. So I was very glad when Carl Bildt went to the Swedish parliament a few days ago. And in his speech delivered there, he again reminded about the need for the EU to use this European perspective, to bring it to the table and to offer us. Because if you don’t have a clear perspective, if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, why should we undertake this very painful, necessary, imperatively necessary reforms – but again, painful and sometimes difficult to explain to our citizens.
Another lesson probably is about the so-called frozen conflicts to which I referred already. While you probably know that Moldova is so-called hosting this frozen – (inaudible) – from the very first days since its independence – it’s exactly like Georgia does – why we were not able to find a solution to these conflicts in the almost 23 years of our independence? Is it our – (inaudible) – lack of imagination, lack of determination, or it’s also the fault – or not fault, bad word – responsibility of our partners, of our friends? I think it’s combined. But the lesson is that if we – because we didn’t tackle it in the – at the right moment, because we were not able to find a solution, this frozen conflict, the separatist movements are very contagious. And what we see today in Crimea is probably a(n) effort to build just another Transnistrian conflict, but this time in another country. So I – trying to be optimistic, hoping that we will be able, the international community, to find a solution to the current crisis in Ukraine – probably afterwards, the next imperative objective would be to focus on this – on these frozen conflicts and to find solutions, because the longer they exist, the more difficult it is to find solutions and the more they spread in the region.
I probably spoke already for too long. I would just say that the developments in Ukraine are of deep concern to Moldova. We have a border, despite our small size, of 1,243 kilometers with Ukraine. This is an extremely important neighbor for us. When I came in ’93, first time to Washington, I learned, Governor, how Moldova is presented. The sentence was: Moldova is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. So because we are sandwiched in between the two big neighbors, of course we are extremely interested to have excellent relations.
Now, Ukraine was, is, and I’m sure will be a very important partner to Moldova because of many things: because of trade, because of energy, because of Transnistrian conflict, because of human relations and because also of our strong interest to see Ukraine moving exactly along the same lines, seeing Ukraine integrated into the European Union. Because once we would be governed by the same rules, by the same values, by the same standards, it would be much easier to find solutions to the formidable challenges which we face also regionally. Therefore, again, from the very first day since the military actions started, we expressed our deep sympathy for Ukraine, our strong interest for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, our strong unacceptance of these military actions and the need for urgent appeal to international mechanism in order to find solutions. Because when you care about the citizens – foreign citizens in your country through these military actions, this is definitely not the best way to pursue.
I want to remind you that in the Transnistrian region, we have, according to some dates, around 170,000 Russian citizens. After German, I’ve heard that we are the second in the world country of having so many Russian citizens. I don’t think we mistreat them. I think we have a civilized attitude. And I think it’s not a reason to intervene militarily, as it was not the case of doing it neither in Crimea nor in the – hopefully in the rest of the country.
So again, thank you for your attention, and I’m looking very much forward to our debate. Thank you. (Applause.)
DAMON WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, for those remarks, your thoughts, those important words.
Let me echo Fred very quickly and welcome to the stage Annette Heuser on my right from Bertelsmann Foundation and also board director here at the Atlantic Council; Ambassador Bjorn Lyrvall, the Swedish Ambassador to the United States, a former political director in the Swedish foreign ministry who worked on the Eastern partnership; and David Kramer, a colleague at Freedom House, the president of Freedom House and a former State Department official handling this part of the world.
Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for kicking this off with laying out your thoughts and your remarks. I want to start with a couple of questions with you and then broaden the conversation to bring in our colleagues here.
First of all, you just ended by talking about Transnistria and talking about the 170,000 Russian citizens you have on your – on your territory, and citizens in part because they have also been given Russian passports. But you also have about a thousand Russian troops already on your territory. And I think as we speak, we were watching the news as we were coming in, we see the flow of Russian forces increasing across the Krech Straits into Crimea.
You went to Vilnius, to the Vilnius Summit, the Eastern Partnership summit last November, and you went forward and initialed the association agreement, and you made clear Moldova’s commitment to move forward on this path. Yet in the run up to that summit, Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin visited your country from Moscow and in a very public way warned about that if Moldova moved towards Europe, you may lose a caboose to your train, you may lose Transnistria as part of your territory, used fairly strong language and warning about the cold winters that Moldovans may have to face, referring to the potential cut of energy supplies to your country. And you’ve had efforts not only in Transnistria but in other parts of Moldova where you have minorities to stir up additional challenges to your European vocation, direction. You just met with President Putin at the Sochi Olympics. What is he thinking? You have been courageous. You have been committed to this path. Can Moldova successfully go to Europe without suffering consequences that Ukraine is facing today?
PRIME MIN. LEANCA: Well, you asked one hundred questions, I guess – (laughter) – and all of them are not easy to answer.
I’ll try to be very brief. My first point is that since September 2009, when the change in governments happened in Moldova, we pursued this objective in a more or less coherent way, and we had one message delivered and the same message delivered in Brussels, in Washington and in Moscow. So no one should have been mistaken about our genuine fundamental objectives. But we stated always with maximum clarity and trying to be very precise. So again, it should not come as a surprise to anyone.
What are our chances to get to the final station, it will depend a lot on the European Union, whether we will be offered this membership perspective. And the sooner it happens, the better it is. But it will depend also in the way we are able to conduct business at home and to prepare for elections because we have elections at the end of this year, and now elections will be not just about the salaries and pensions and infrastructure projects; it will be also about the choice between two different projects, between a European Union and between customs union.
As you know, probably our opponents, the communist parties, great opportunists, typical communists. One day they advocate European integration, the other day they change completely; they are trying to say that Moldova will be best-served by integrating itself in the customs union. So it will be also a kind of geopolitical competition in our elections.
To the extent we are able to convince our citizens that’s the best choice, it will depend a lot of – on us on how we pursue in the coming weeks and month the fight against corruption. People want to see results, how we are able to reform justice and increase the confidence and trust of our citizens but also of our partners in our ability to deliver upon our commitments, upon our promises, on how we are able to work on the different projects so that people would see tangible changes to their – to their day-to-day life, which is still quite difficult.
As to the freezing, we are not freezing. We receive gas. And we buy – we pay a lot for this gas. The price which we pay is exorbitant. But again, we prove to be a reliable partners to Moscow, to Gazprom. So basically, they wouldn’t have any reason to cut it. Well, that’s true they didn’t have any reason to prohibit Moldovan wine exports to the Russian market, and why they’ve done it, I still don’t know; they quoted technical reasons, but more than half a year has already passed.
But I think the most important for us is to stay united in the coalition, is to focus on the reforms, focus on the real problems and needs of our people. And we are able to do so, and if our European partners are also opening more and more towards us in terms of showing a clear perspective, I think we will succeed. But it also will depend a lot on how Washington understands to be active in the region.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Prime Minister, if I could pick on that point, because you are here in Washington. It’s not a coincidence that you’re here in the wake of what was a tumultuous summit in November. It couldn’t have been more timely, and I don’t think that was the plan.
But we spoke to some administration officials before your visit. It’s very clear that you’re here as part of a concerted effort on the part of the United States to demonstrate support for the tough decisions, the tough reforms that you have on your agenda.
So talk to us a little bit about what’s at the top of your agenda as you think about the role that the United States and Washington can play. What did you come to Washington with on the top of your agenda? What are you able to share with the discussions you had today with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, at USTR? We’ve had an agenda, actually, on Moldova in a way that we hadn’t in the past. I see congressional staffers here who worked on the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions so that there are new opportunities for what the United States and Moldova can do together. I’m wondering, what are your priorities on that agenda?
PRIME MIN. LEANCA: Well, very briefly, I had indeed very good discussions and unprecedented level of interest. In addition to the names you’ve mentioned already, I had a discussion with the administrator of USAID. I had the honor to meet again Senator McCain, who is very interested in the developments of the region, who visited us and promised to come again to Moldova, together with fellow – more senators.
The focus in – on the – probably one of the most important things which happens today is the kickoff the – of the strategic dialogue. We wanted to get to this point for a long time already, but it’s good that it happened finally. And the strategic dialogue will allow us to focus on a few key areas: security cooperation, energy cooperation, trade and investment – today we re-launched, as you rightly say, the trade commission with the USTR and colleagues from the U.S. Department of Commerce and a few others, which shows that our deep interest is to focus not just on the political dialogue, which is extremely important, but also to expand our trade, so bringing more Moldovan products here because we are confident that here, business and politics are not mixed up, so if there is an interest to buy Moldovan products, you will not look at the state of our political relationship.
So again, the discussions were very good. Some of – I get the impression that because of these developments in the region, U.S. is slowly getting back to Eastern Europe. And I think that this is a very important, positive development because we need a concerted effort of U.S. and EU, and I’m sure that only together we can build an area of stability and prosperity also in our region.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Prime Minister, I want to pick that up and turn to the EU. I’m going to underscore for our audience to launch of the strategic dialogue. Moldova was – Georgia and Ukraine both had these strategic partnership councils that structured the relationship with the United States. Moldova didn’t. And so I think today you’ve gone a long way towards helping to deepen the relationship, and that’s – congratulations on that accomplishment.
Mr. Ambassador, during the prime minister’s remarks, he spoke about maybe a need to rethink the Eastern Partnership and talked about perhaps the European perspective, the membership perspective, which really hasn’t been on the table in the context of the Eastern partners. You were one of the architects to help come up with the idea in advance and launch this. Where is the European Union now and thinking about the Eastern Partnership, the opportunities for Moldova? How does what we’re seeing unfold in Crimea today affect the calculus in European thinking?
AMBASSADOR BJORN LYRVALL: Well, Damon, first of all, thank you very much for organizing this. And let’s say, first of all, that it’s very hard on a day like this when the drama is unfolding in Ukraine and Crimea to talk about the mid-term and long-term aspect of the Eastern Partnership because inevitably, the focus is on the call for an end of the Russian aggression against its neighbor and to try to see what kind of measures could be taken one way or another that would have an effect to deal with that situation. So it’s hard, in a sense, to talk strategy about the Eastern Partnership. We need to do it, but it’s hard.
EU foreign ministers met today, as you well know, in Brussels to discuss the crisis. And they I think came up with a fairly tough statement condemning Russian acts of aggression and saying that essentially, unless there are some measures to de-escalate the situation, there will be restrictive measures adopted. And now we’ll see what will happen over the next few days. We’ll have an extraordinary meeting of the European Council, of the heads of state and government, of the European Union meeting on Thursday. So that’s going to be an important next point of discussion for the European Union. Many ministers today of course also looked at the issues of what can we do in order to support the Ukrainian government in Kiev, and also, many ministers underlined the importance of not losing sight of what’s going in the other neighboring countries of the Eastern Partnership as well.
And in that context, I’d like to say, from my government’s part, that we admire what you have done, Prime Minister Leanca, your government, what you have done over the past years. You have an extremely challenging situation. I think you’ve laid out very accurately the very different challenges that you face. Situation is very, very fragile. We don’t really know how the current developments of Ukraine will affect the state of affairs in Moldova, but we need to be very much vigilant.
And I think you mentioned most of the points, but if we were to recommend anything that you need to do, it’s clearly to keep your government coalition together to the time when you would be able to sign the association agreement, the DCFTA, preferably beyond that time as well. We will do our utmost to meet our commitment to make this happen before the elections in Moldova this year. I think there is a commitment to do it before the end of August, September. And I think that’s something we should stick to.
I think also you very rightly talked about the importance of getting the story out about what the Eastern Partnership is all about and what the association agreement, the DCFTA, has actually brought you. There is a lot of disinformation out there, at least in Russian-language media and in Russian-financed NGOs in minority areas, and I think we all need to try to help you contribute to spreading the information about the benefits of the association agreement, the DCFTA. My government is contributing to a DCFTA awareness campaign that would at least be a contribution.
You also mentioned the different domestic reforms that we would urge you to continue to work on, including the rule of law, banking sector, investment climate, anti-corruption issues, and I think (there would be scope ?) to discuss also donors’ conference for Moldova over the next few months, and I think it’s going to be important to try to establish an investment fund to help to attract FDIs in Moldova.
Now, to the issue of the architecture of the Eastern Partnership, I said it’s hard today to be very precise about it. I – we are now moving from Vilnius to the next summit meeting in Riga. And this is going to remain the offer out there from the European Union. I don’t think you will redesign completely the Eastern Partnership or get something completely new. This is what the EU at 28 has been able to agree upon. We have the front – the – sort of the key countries, the supporters of the Eastern Partnership, many of them in the room here, Sweden and Poland being the originators of this whole – trying to push to get as far as possible when it comes to the question of the perspective. But it takes 28 to tango in the EU. We all know that. And it’s going to be very difficult to get everybody to agree at this point in time on a very clear European membership perspective.
What we have been able to achieve, which I think is of importance, is that all the countries of the Eastern Partnership are European countries. That’s spelled out clearly in all our documents that make you eligible when the time is right to apply for membership of the European Union, according to Article 49 of the treaty. And I think that’s something one should keep in mind, although of course it’s wise to be prepared once you do that and also have prepared the ground to feel that there is going to be a positive reception of that application.
However, I think one thing I’d like to say now, if you look back at what happened with the Eastern Partnership, the way in which it was all organized and setup back in 2008, it was sort of as a counterbalance, in a sense, to the ideas that we had at the time about a Mediterranean union. And Poland, Sweden, other countries supporting this project wanted to, as things go with the EU, also to have something to offer to our Eastern partners, our Eastern European partners. We managed to get support for that in the EU context.
And then you had the interference, the war in Georgia, the Russian aggression there. And this was an impetus to developing and giving momentum to the Eastern Partnership from all EU, 27 at the time. And who knows? I mean, let’s see now what – the renewed focus you will have on the Eastern issues in the European capitals but also here in D.C., in the U.S., what kind of effect that would have also on the – on the energy that goes into the discussion on these issues on the political level. Maybe we’ll be able to reach a little bit further. I think that’s important.
MR. WILSON: If I may, I think you’ve captured an important point. I mean, the Eastern Partnership, which began as a bureaucratic exercise, was given life by the Russia-Georgia war. And I think that – the – you raise a right point of what will – what are today’s events going to have on the EU policy going forward.
I tip my hat to the two ambassadors that have – Lithuanian ambassador served his country as host to the Eastern Partnership summit, and the Latvian ambassador will serve as host to the next Eastern Partnership summit – who are with us today.
But you started out I think at the important point: It is quite difficult to talk about strategy when you have a crisis on your hands, and we’re in the midst of a pretty historic unfolding right now that will have tremendous ramifications for European security and the architecture. It’s hard to talk about 28 to tango in the European Union. It’s hard to talk about a coordinated response to what’s happening without Germany at the center of that.
So Annette, let me turn to you to focus us back into what’s happening right now and the implications of this and how you’re reading Germany where over the weekend, folks heard Foreign Minister Steinmeier speak out in some respects explaining and defending Russia’s role with the G-8. But today Chancellor Merkel – I haven’t seen all the quotes, but spoke out a little bit after her phone call with President Putin sounding a little bit more of a sound of alarm. Where is – where is Germany in helping to shape a coherent response here with the United States and what’s going on in the crisis in Ukraine?
ANETTA HEUSER: I think there is also no doubt in Germany right now and in Berlin and the German government that the crisis in Ukraine is a litmus test for the trans-Atlantic alliance and for NATO. And it’s no surprise in this town that it has become a common habit to question the motives of German foreign politics. But I would say at the moment it’s not very helpful to finger-point at Berlin because if you take a close look at the statements from the German government, from Chancellor Merkel and the foreign minister, they are 100 percent in line with the rest of the European Union and with the U.S. condemning the Russian actions.
But I want to underline that we are facing right now a twofold challenge for the trans-Atlantic alliance: first, how to deal with Ukraine, how to support the interim government and how to contain and keep the situation in Ukraine under control, and the second one is how to deal with Russia. And obviously, the German approach towards diplomacy is not maybe this loudspeaker approach that we see on this side of the ocean, and it’s – it needs to be seen which approach is more effective.
And I would say right now the fact that the German way of communicating right now with Russians is not a problem for the alliance, it’s a real asset because as we are discussing right now, Germany Foreign Minister Steinmeier is having dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. So with the fact that we have also a very close channel talking to the Russians is not a bad thing per se. I would say what we have seen out of Berlin in the last days – for instance, Steinmeier’s proposal for a contact group including the U.N., the OSCE, the European Union, Ukrainians and Russians – is a proposal that we should discuss right now; a proposal for a fact-finding mission in Ukraine is a proposal that we should discuss right now. So if anybody would question here that Germany is not in line with the trans-Atlantic alliance, I can tell you you are – you are wrong. It’s just a different approach. And I think it would be good if this government would accept this approach.
And when it comes to the situation in Ukraine, I want to underline two points that the prime minister made that I found very important. The first one, when it comes to the Eastern Partnership, I absolutely agree right now that it’s time to revisit our strategy and the goals of the Eastern Partnership. We can’t change it from one day to the other, but one thing I think is clear, that the goal is at the end of the day for countries like Moldova and Ukraine to become full members of the European Union. Is it a partnership or not a partnership. Anything in between is not negotiable, it’s not really attractive for Moldova or the Ukrainian government in the future.
And the second point is related to frozen conflicts. Everyone I talked to this morning in Brussels, Warsaw and Berlin was making the point that the prime minister was making that, you know, we have to be aware that what’s happening right now in Crimea should not become the Transnistria of Ukraine. So we have to be aware of this issue right now. And we should address it very actively. So I will leave it like that.
MR. WILSON: I want to delve into that, but I think I want to keep the conversation moving. I think we’ll come back just to – as we’re pushing over our time; we’re going to run a few minutes over.
David, I want to bring you into this. You know, the approach of – what do you think the Russian strategy is right now? What is actually happening? Give us a sense of what – the significance of what’s playing out? And what’s required to actually deter, prevent, roll back? What do you want to see happening with U.S. and trans-Atlantic strategy here?
DAVID KRAMER: Well, first, Damon, the – thanks very much for doing this. But if I can pay tribute to the prime minister, whom I met about 20 years ago in Washington, and just want to acknowledge the tremendous progress you and your tremendous team have made in the past few years, which is also recognized by Freedom House in our rankings and surveys. But it’s really wonderful to see you here in your current position. But I also look back very fondly on those days. You have aged much better than I have, I have to say. (Laughter.)
But that said, on Ukraine, I’m reminded of Davos where outside of Davos, there were Ukrainian demonstrators at the time with the situation with President Yanukovych and the protesters in Maidan who were holding up signs saying U.S. and EU, thank you for your concern, now do something. I think those signs are even more relevant right now.
And so it seems to me that what worries me is that President Putin may be getting a little dizzy with success, to borrow I think an appropriate Stalinist phrase, that he has gotten away with what he has done so far with absolutely no cost whatsoever, except for the rather silly cancellation of preparatory meetings for the G-8. I’m sure he is quaking in his boots over that. The fact that we can’t call off the G-8, expel Russia from it, announce via a G-7 member that they are going to host the G-7 at the same time Sochi would have occurred when G-8 was scheduled, that’s what should be happening right now.
We need to see members move forward with sanctions, with Magnistky-like sanctions and broader sanctions. To me, this is the only language Putin understands. And economic, financial measures are also the only thing that will get his attention. I’ve seen lots of commentary by my friends and colleagues in the think tank community over the past few days that this is a waste of time, it will be a distraction, it won’t have any impact. Then why the reaction to the Magnitsky legislation when it was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2012? Why the threats against the Irish when the Irish parliament was considering passing Magnitsky-like legislation last year, threatening to end the adoption by Irish citizens of Russians orphans?
This is where we get them. This is where they’re vulnerable. So it seems to me that have to now take off our globes and go after them where they’re exposed and vulnerable. This is no time for sitting back and waiting to see what might happen. As you were saying, Damon, Russian forces seem to be mobilizing even more, across the Kerch Straits and possibly even further north where the Russian-Ukraine border is. If we wait for this to blow up, then we’ll be too late.
There is no bigger crisis that President Obama has faced than the one right now. He has to step up himself personally, show leadership on this, bring the alliance and the EU together with him. There is no graver moment that he’s faced in his presidency than the one right now. It will have enormous implications for Moldova. You had the Georgian prime minister here; same thing for him and for his country, for all the countries – and frankly, for all of our allies around the world. Everyone’s watching this, as are the Chinese, as are the Iranians, as are – you name it; all the bad regimes out there are watching what the Russians can get away with, and they’ll do the same damn thing if we don’t do anything about it.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, David.
Mr. Prime Minister, can I just ask quickly, Russians dizzy with success – do you worry that Putin will be dizzy with success in Crimea if there isn’t a reaction that this could escalate – go further?
PRIME MIN. LEANCA: Well, I think the response is self-evident to – if there is no strong response, yes, probably he will understand that the fait accompli policy the right policy to pursue, and it might just – (inaudible).
MR. WILSON: All right. I want to – we’re going to run the even just a little bit over because I want to take a round of questions for our group up here. So let me start with the ambassador from Lithuania. Please, if you could get a mic, please, in the front. Please introduce yourself, your affiliation, and please ask a concise question, a statement with a question mark, and then I’ll turn to my other colleagues here.
Q: OK. Thank you. Lithuanian ambassador – (inaudible) – old friend of Moldova.
Well, just referring to the – what’s my friend Bjorn said about tango, I agree with tango, but, you know, this is not about tango. We have a madman in the room. And we have to be strategic. That’s why I agree with much with Moldovan prime minister. We have to quickly react and decide on membership perspective. You did it, Bjorn, for us back in ’93 in Copenhagen, and you rescued our souls. That was the only chance we can do it when we face everything what, you know, Ukrainians are facing right now. So let’s be strategic because you have a madman.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Ambassador. I’ll come – let me pick up the gentleman right here, and then I’ll come back to our ambassador here. I’m going to collect a few of these for the – (inaudible).
Q: Welcome home, Mr. Prime Minister. I’m Timothy Tower (ph), retired State Department Foreign Service officer, 30 years during the Cold War. I like that lieutenant colonel from the KGB that’s in Russia now. I have my mind in the last century, and we’ve got to get in this century now.
You’ve told us briefly what you said in your meetings around town, but this is the most important meeting. Every back there has their BlackBerry out and their iPads, and they’re going to go home tonight and have a wonderful Moldovan wine in front of the fireplace, write their report, and tomorrow people in the CIA, their bosses, people on the Hill, senators, congressmen, people all over town are going to know what you’ve said.
So please, do what we used to do in the nasty Cold War days. We were Yankees and accused of telling people what to do, sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning. Please tell us what to do so that tomorrow we don’t waste time with Netanyahu, Venezuelans, “Obamacare,” poor old Syria. Let’s get down and save Western – save civilization; take “Western” out of it.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir. And let me pick up our colleagues here in this front row. Please. Let’s take this – let’s take these three (fine folks ?) here.
Q: Yes, ambassador of Latvia. Mr. Prime Minister, so good to see you again.
And I think when we look on Ukraine today, definitely what we see clearly is that what will become of Eastern Partnership in many ways depends what will be reaction of both EU and United States now these days. If it’s too weak, most likely we’ll have quite a different Riga summit. If it’s strong enough, we’ll have quite a successful summit.
But what might be your advice to EU members when it comes to EU policy vis-à-vis Russia in the next few months? What you should be doing and what you should not be doing?
MR. WILSON: Pick up, Harlan, please and I’ll come back to the ambassador for –
Q: I’m Harlan Ullman with the Atlantic Council. Prime Minister, thank you.
Let me just make one quick observation. This is not 1938, and let’s wait a few days before we determine whether this is the worst crisis we’ve seen or not. 2007 and 2008 were pretty bad, if you remember the economy.
You also have a crisis to your southwest. Romania’s government has collapsed, as you know. Social Dems have formed an alliance with the Hungarians. President Basescu and Prime Minister Ponta are each at throats. There’s all sorts of turmoil there. I wonder how you see Romania emerging after all this political conflict.
MR. WILSON: Ambassador Gegeshidze, please.
Q: Ambassador of Georgia. First of all I would like to thank you. I mean, congratulate with you a successful visit to Washington. Already I’m reading about very positive feedback of the visit.
And I would like, of course, to subscribe to many of the opinions already aired here regarding what should be the – well, reaction of the international committee to the developments in Ukraine. I think that both carrots towards Eastern Partnership countries such as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine and sticks towards Russia should be used. And unfortunate events back in 2008 in Georgia provide very good lessons, I mean, for the international community. As (Damon ?) mentioned, if Russia gets away with this, if Russia will not be – will not be, I mean, made to pay a price for what is – what it is doing in Ukraine, then the same may happen elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood or even further afield.
In Georgia’s case, the – Russia was about to pay. Was very temporary, very short-lived, just in two months time when the European Union, U.S. and some of the other international organizations, they stopped their cooperation, but in two, three months’ time, then everything was resumed. And afterwards, a reset button was offered to Russia.
So it was very – (inaudible) – to Russia. It – if not – if not that case with Georgia, this will not happen now in Ukraine. So I think that those lessons of Georgia should be well taken into account when reacting to the developments now in Ukraine.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much. There are many questions left. Unfortunately, I’m going to need, just because of our time, I’m going to need to come back to our colleagues on stage. And sort of we have this bunch, I just want to get a reaction. Maybe what I’ll do is conclude with you, Mr. Prime Minister for a final comment.
PRIME MIN. LEANCA: All right.
MR. WILSON: But as the issues that came up in terms of the membership perspective for the EU, advice to the EU and United States about what to do, let me sharpen that with, what should the United States and the EU do in the next 24 – 48 hours, the next several days? And then we’ll pick up the piece on Romania as well.
So perhaps I’ll go in reverse order with David, Annette, and the ambassador and then conclude with the prime minister.
MR. KRAMER: Just two quick points: One, it’s easy for an American to say, offer a membership perspective from the EU. Of course, I strongly support that. (Laughter.)
But I would say – and this is both for the EU, but also for Moldova and Georgia – hurry up; get these agreements signed; don’t wait until August or September, get them done because Russia will put your country and your country through torture between now and the signing, particularly given the level of support, Iurie, that you were describing in Moldova for this. They will try to turn that against support for signing these things. The faster you get them done, the better it will be for everybody.
On the point about wait a few days, wait for what? Russia invaded Ukraine. I don’t know what we want to wait for. Whether this is 1938 or not is irrelevant. Russia has invaded the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Ukraine, a country of 46 million people, straddling the West and Russia. If we don’t do something now then we may as well just fold up our tent and go home and wish everybody around the world the best because the world is going to be a much more dangerous place than probably 1938 in that case.
MR. WILSON: Annette, please.
MS. HEUSER: Yeah, also very practical and I think I totally agree here with David, freezing financial assets, having a visa ban in place, of course, and, obviously, making sure when it comes to the interim government in Ukraine right now that we have financial assistance available immediately, unconditionally. I think that it is also very important that the IMF and European Union –
MR. WILSON: Do you think there’s an appetite for both of those in the EU, the cost, the consequences, and quick aid to the government?
MS. HEUSER: I think there is no doubt right now that in this kind of situation, it makes no sense to have a traditional loan package in place that is connected with conditions. You need to provide financial assistance to the Ukrainian government immediately without conditions right now. And it’s probably 1 billion (dollars) that the IMF is ramping up supported by the European Union. I think that’s very important.
Besides that, we have the extraordinary meeting of the heads of state of all 28 European countries on Thursday. And in the call that we had on Sunday at the Atlantic Council, Ambassador Nick Burns made a very important, a very good proposal also to have a NATO summit of the NATO leaders, the heads of state. And I’m thinking maybe you can just add another NATO meeting of the NATO leaders taking place in Brussels because an EU-U.S. summit is supposed to take place at the end of March, 26th of March. We can’t wait until the 26th of March. I think that’s clear. So maybe that’s an opportunity because all the heads of states from the European Union will be already in Brussels on Thursday, just to add a NATO summit on the leader’s level on Friday.
And also the other point that Nick Burns made that I think is very important, show the physical presence of the European Union and the trans-Atlantic alliance in Kiev. Secretary Kerry is on his way, probably, right now to Kiev. The foreign minister of the U.K. is already on the ground. And most likely the Swedish foreign minister will go. I think the German foreign minister, the Polish foreign minister, they all should be in Kiev on the ground showing the physical support of the alliance and discussing with the interim government what to do next.
MR. WILSON: Terrific. Thank you. Thank you very much, Annette.
AMB. LYRVALL: Yeah, if you talk about what to do, I think, as far as the measure is, the restrictive measures are concerned, I think that’s what we’re working towards. There’s evidently quite tough discussions about that in the foreign affairs council throughout the day today. And I will see how – what kind of proposals we will put on the table unless there would be de-escalation of developments, which I don’t think seems to be all that likely as things evolve right now. But I’m pretty sure that we’ll see something along the lines as we have just heard here about restrictive measures, freezing of assets and targeted visa sanctions and so on over the next few days, weeks.
When it comes to the question about being strategic, my friend – (inaudible) – ambassador – I think, I mean, if you would ask me, of course Sweden is in favor of a membership perspective for the countries of the Eastern Partnership, that – (inaudible) – but it hasn’t been possible to agree on that. It’s a 28-member club and it’s very hard to get there. I think, as I said, maybe if you look at historical aspects of this, there might be some movement in the EU as a result of what we are now witnessing. I hope so, but I’m not so sure. We’ll see how this also evolves over the next few weeks and months in the EU.
We need to be prepared for other contingencies and think about other arrangements as well. We have lots of ideas in that respect, but there’s been a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The members of the Eastern Partnership shouldn’t ask for membership and we won’t tell them what is the ultimate goal of the negotiations of the association agreement and DCFTAs.
We have said, however, from our side, from my country’s side that there’s been no example yet when a country that has been adequately prepared for membership of the European Union that has not become a member. If you do your homework, so to speak, if you do the implementation of the association agreement and DCFTA, and I agree, should be signed as quickly as ever possible and you’re able to take the next step after that, conceivably to something along the lines of what the Norwegians, the (Swiss ?) and others are having, a common economic area kind of thing. Then, ultimately, we’d be prepared and it would be very, very difficult to reject an application. But as we are right now, I’m not sure that you would be able to get the 28 to unanimously agree on that perspective, although we would like to see it.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. The – clearly the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy didn’t endure here in U.S. politics, so maybe you have a chance, Mr. Prime Minister, of having a change in policy.
Let me come back to you for a final reaction, a final word to what you’ve heard.
PRIME MIN. LEANCA: Well, very briefly, on my advice to the EU, I’m not sure that I am the best adviser. But I think that EU has to have one policy towards Russia, one policy towards south Ukraine, Georgia. Towards Russia I think what is very important is to be consistent and coherent, which was – has been already said that the stakes are there. The measures – it’s not that large variety. And if you don’t show consistency in the weeks and days and weeks, then it will be then difficult to speak about any coherent policy as such.
On your policies towards us, Bjorn, we will keep crying. The current Estonian president, Toomas Ilves, when we were working here and he was Estonian ambassador, and I asked him in ’95, how do you dare even to imagine to get into NATO when everyone’s response was here, it’s impossible? He was just quoting this English saying that the crying baby gets its milk. So we need to cry; we need to prepare. But if you look at the Serbian application, for instance, you could always find something not working well enough in Serbia and to tell them no for their application. It’s more a political process than just looking at de facto situation in each and every field. So as long as there is no political decision, it will be – it would be for us very difficult to apply and to get – (inaudible) – the screening of our situation a positive response. So I hope that these developments in the region still would convince even the skeptical capitals – and there are not so many, from what I understand – the need to think, at least, and to come with a vision, because at this stage we are sort of lack of a visionary approach, and it –
So what the EU should do towards us beyond this issue, which is also practical, it’s not just a mid- or long-term perspective. It’s to understand that it’s not business as usual. Ukraine is not counting on generous package of financial support. I really hope it happens and I hope it happens quickly and without too many stringent conditions attached. But from my own experience, talking to the EU in the last few months – talking to the IMF, for example; I will see tomorrow the leadership of IMF – but I want to tell you that it is a very difficult exercise. And the conditions attached to were completely unfair from what my point of view, and the fact that we were not able to agree on a standby agreement is not very fair towards us.
The same is from the EU. We were asking about additional amount of money because everyone agrees that it’s not business as usual. So my request to the EU would be to – I know, bureaucracy, you have to respect the procedures. But if you do it as – do this business as usual, it would put us in a very difficult situation. We don’t need that big money – 4, 5, 6 million – but if you had – would have the flexibility in Brussels to make quick decisions to offer us this package of support, on a very concrete, very targeted aims, I’m sure that it would work much, much, much better than it used to be until now
And I hope also the IMF would come not with some unexpected or unreasonable, unfeasible conditions. It’s in an interim government; they have elections. Who would now insist on raising the tariffs for heating or for electricity, as it happened in our case? I mean, we also have elections. I know IMF is not charity, is not a political organization, but to be in a concrete world, we are not on the other planet. So I really hope IMF commission is able to draw certain conclusions from this situation.
You asked the question on Romania and the recent reshuffle in the government because of the breakup of the former coalition. Well, I’m not happy that it happened in Romania, but still, despite the problems between the government and the president, I’m sure that they will be able – will be able to act more or less in a coherent way towards Moldova, towards Ukraine. I don’t expect major problems. I just want and hope we’ll be able to work together with Brussels on – and Washington, by the way – on what is really important for us: energy interconnection, bridges, can create investment projects, and if able to do so, then in a few months we would be much safer and the situation will be much better in Moldova. So I don’t expect some major problems because of this.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Prime Minister, if I may take the prerogative of our moderator to close us out with just a thought. First of all, let me thank you and thank your colleagues on stage with you for being here for this conversation.
We really wanted you to come to the Atlantic Council. We worked with your ambassador intentionally to be able to help spotlight your visit, just as we did with the Georgian ambassador, who’s here, as well for his prime minister, who was here last week. We wanted to be able to spotlight the record of success that you’ve undertaken of reforms in your country, but also to help galvanize our community, our community of the Atlantic Council, the Atlantic Community, around what should be a strategy of support from the United States and Europe and Europe’s east and for your country in particular. We recognize the vulnerabilities and the challenges that you face, and I think the story, the narrative of your country going forward in the coming months, the coming years, is one of the viability of this vision of, is there a Europe whole, free and at peace that is still viable? And if there is, that’s an opportunity for your country to find a home in that vision.
We’re seeing unfold before our eyes, in my view, a strategy that is designed to prevent countries like Moldova and some of your neighbors to move towards Europe, to move towards the institutions of Europe’s – institutions of Europe. And I fear that we have seen, in my personal view, that if there are leaders of countries that can’t be coerced through intimidation – as we saw with President Yanukovych, as we saw with the president of Armenia – can’t be coerced to abandon that path, then there really has been a willingness to use force. And we’re seeing that unfold before our eyes, leading to a situation that – this is an occupation that provides leverage over Ukraine now, leverage over the country that actually makes it much more complicated to have that conversation with Europe that’s about its future.
That’s where you are. You’ve got a complicated set of issues because your country has a separatist conflict on its territory. And it’s going to take a lot of creativity, dedication and ingenuity to navigate this challenge and to work it forward. I think that’s something we want to work through here, work through those challenges of how do you find a way to build this path where Russia finds a place – a peaceful place in this vision of Europe.
So I think, as we learned, as the ambassador was saying, from lessons of 2008 in Georgia, that many of the measures in the wake of that were too little, many that I was involved in, and probably the repeal of them with the reset was probably premature in some respects, in my view, in terms of how you think about deterring the use of force in Europe today. It hasn’t worked. The presence of European ministers and others in 2008 in the country, the use of even U.S. military aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid helps, I think, check an expansion of ambitions in Georgia perhaps to go on to Tbilisi. That’s a situation we may be facing right now. How do you check, sort of, some of the dizzying expansionist objectives in Ukraine today?
These are tough challenges. You are in the heart of it. You’ve demonstrated courage in your leadership of your country in dealing with these issues. We’re thankful for that and thankful for the agenda that you have before you. We wish you the best of luck and we hope to remain partners as Moldova goes down this path with moving towards Europe.
So please – I apologize for that lengthy conclusion but I wanted to offer some personal thoughts. Let me invite our audience to congratulate you and thank all of our guests for being with us tonight. (Applause.)