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Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Former Secratary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Former Prime Minister of Denmark
Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
John E. Herbst
Senior Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council
JOHN HERBST: We have a Front Page event for you today, a very special event. We have two very distinguished speakers. We have Mr. Andriy Yermak, who is the head of the president’s office in Kyiv in Ukraine. We have Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and former secretary general of NATO. And they’re going to talk today about the upcoming NATO summit, the question of the NATO-Ukraine relationship, and also—critical to the security guarantees for Ukraine—how do you ensure Ukraine’s stable, secure future? They were both the authors of the Kyiv Compact, which addressed the issue of security guarantees for Ukraine. And with that, we’ll turn it over to Mr. Yermak for some introductory remarks and then to Mr. Rasmussen. So, please.
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much, Ambassador Herbst, and I would also like to thank the Atlantic Council for organizing this event. It’s indeed very timely. Next month, NATO leaders meeting in Vilnius have the opportunity to make history. Let me be completely clear right from the outset. I am personally in favor of extending an invitation to Ukraine to join NATO. It would be the first time that we invite into NATO a country that is at war. And that requires careful consideration. Not least, resolving practicalities regarding Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, and which areas and eventualities it would cover in the current conflict. I have reached this conclusion for three reasons.
First, in 2008, we decided that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, but we did not provide a roadmap. Now Ukraine has been in the waiting room for fifteen years. It is not a safe place. The time has come to move Ukraine into a safe place, as we are doing with Finland and Sweden.
Second, it is often argued that the prospect of NATO enlargement incited Putin. The truth is the opposite: It was the failure to extend security guarantees to Ukraine that incited Putin. Gray zones are danger zones. Neutrality provides no security. Finland and Sweden realized that.
Third, often I hear the argument that we cannot give Ukraine neither security guarantee nor membership of NATO while there is a war going on. That is an extremely dangerous argument. If you make security guarantees and NATO membership dependent on cessation of hostilities, you are giving Putin an incentive to continue the war. By extending an invitation now, we tell Putin Ukraine will become a member of NATO. It will not happen overnight, but you cannot stop this process. Our door is open for Ukraine and you are not the doorman.
Now, if allies cannot find consensus on an invitation to Ukraine in Vilnius, the second-best option would be to outline the path toward NATO membership in three steps.
First, to remove the need for a Membership Action Plan, as was the case with Finland and Sweden. The fact is the Ukrainian army is probably the most combat-ready army in Europe.
Second could be a pledge to review the question of NATO enlargement at the NATO summit in Washington, DC, next year.
And then, third, we could establish a NATO-Ukraine Council with a mandate—with a mandate to identify the conditions that must be met in order to join NATO. The deadline for the report should be the NATO summit next year.
Regardless, Ukraine will need security guarantees until it is a full member of NATO. We need strong methods to deter any further Russian aggression. And that’s the purpose of the Kyiv Security Compact that I coauthored with President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, who I’m very pleased joined us today.
The compact is based on four parts. First, deliver weapons on such a scale that Ukraine can repel or deter any further Russian aggression. Second, enhance intelligence sharing. Third, training of Ukrainian forces under EU and NATO flags. And fourth, support to build Ukraine’s defense industry so that Ukraine can produce weapons and ammunition itself. These security guarantees, similar to those that Israel received from the United States, will not replace Ukrainian membership of NATO, but they will build the bridge and allow Ukraine to defend itself until it is covered by NATO’s Article 5.
The summit in Vilnius is the most important NATO summit in a generation and let us not repeat the mistake of the Bucharest summit in 2008. Any pledge to Ukraine should be followed by a clear path forward. And NATO leaders must be prepared to be bold; otherwise, we risk constant war and instability on the European continent. Thank you.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
Mr. Yermak, over to you.
ANDRIY YERMAK: Yes. Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador Herbst.
Good day for everybody. I’m glad to welcome all of you here in the Atlantic Council.
There are about four hundred ways to prove fundamental Pythagorean theorem in mathematics, four hundred ways to prove the obvious. Sometimes it seems to me that during this war year we have provided not less explanation as to why Ukraine should get all the assistance it needs—why it requires reliable security guarantees, and the clear and understood prospect of the join NATO. In other words, throughout this year we, too, have to prove the obvious over and over again.
But the truth is simple: The Russian dictator’s desire to restore the empire is an existential threat to the Ukrainian state and nation. But it also poses a spectrum of the threats from the military to environmental to the Western civilization and humanity and the world. Therefore, Ukraine must win. It must integrate into Euro-Atlantic community. It must get reliable security guarantees for the transitional period. Not losing, it’s not [an] option for us. Simply restoring the status quo, it’s not [an] option. Any uncertainty involved outcome of this war, any ambiguity in NATO’s response to our inspiration will be equal to Russian victory. It will reinforce the Kremlin’s narratives of Russia fighting against an Alliance expansion in Ukraine and winning.
However, we cannot be—by war and sanctions, Russia will increasingly depend on China. Thus, by defending Ukraine, the West itself will have all the strategic advantages to Russia and geographical advantages to China in Europe.
The Ukrainian people have proven they will not give up their rights to stay free. They have paid with their blood, sweat, and tears for their place in the ranks of the world democratic community… To deny them now is to betray everything Ukraine has paid for the—with tens of thousands of lives and destructions unseen in Europe since World War II. It will be a defeat for democratic community far greater than Afghanistan. It will be a triumph for dictatorship. This must be prevented, not only for the sake of Ukraine but for the sake of all democracies on the planet.
Words about Russia having no way to power in the Alliance must finally be supported by actions. The fifteen-year schedule ban of Ukraine must come to end. Otherwise, Putin will get a huge bonus for his next presidential term, which is next year they have the elections… It will, obviously, strengthen support for his regime. It will increase the illusion of the legitimacy for the invasion among the Russian public—but also among the Global South countries, for, as we know, elections will be—inevitably be furnished in the occupied territories. Therefore, preparatory actions is needed. We must connect the dots once and for all. No arguments against Ukraine’s NATO membership go beyond… fear.
Throughout this war year, Ukraine has repeatedly been providing that the Russian threats are more a bluff than menace. The current wave of the alliance expansions has also proven this. Ultimately, it was the uncertainty in the Budapest and… in Bucharest that made the attack on Ukraine possible. Uncertainty… precisely the gray zone where Russia has the advantages, and we have got to deprive it of these advantages.
The state of war cannot be an obstacle to inviting Ukraine into Alliance because in that case Russia will do everything to indefinitely prolong this state. Our Alliance and partners prepared support Ukraine fighting for independence individually. Do we have enough resources to provide such support? I am afraid these are rhetorical questions.
Therefore, the solution is evident: The prospect of the membership when circumstances allow along with the reliable security guarantees for the transitional period. They will be not replace Ukraine’s participation in the Alliance, but we will be provided sufficient opportunity for defense until the possibility of actual NATO membership arise.
The International Working Group Anders Fogh Rasmussen and I co-chair has developed and presented our view of the guarantees in the Kyiv Security Compact documents. These documents has great potential for modifications to maintain a balance of the interest between Ukraine and the guarantor states for our common good.
We must win together, and together we must lay the base for reliable and secure peace in the future. It’s not the theorem. This is actual. And as such, it requires not proof. Thank you very much for your attention.
JOHN HERBST: OK. Thank you, Mr. Yermak.
All right. I have a few questions and then we will turn to audience questions.
So, Mr. Rasmussen, you made clear what you would like to see in Vilnius. You are, obviously, very well connected. What do you expect to happen there?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Well, I made clear that I would favor to extend an invitation to Ukraine already in Vilnius. My impression is there will be no consensus on that at this stage and that’s why I tried to outline the second best option and actually I think that could be possible to reach a compromise to remove MAP; to review the whole question again in Washington next year; and to establish, for instance, a NATO-Ukraine council with a clear mandate to identify the conditions that must be met.
That gives Ukraine a pledge but also a clear roadmap, and allies have still the control of the process. So, in my opinion, that should be achievable. So but, overall, I hope that Vilnius will demonstrate unity, and the worst thing would be a split and that would only serve the purpose of Putin.
JOHN HERBST: All right. Just one quick follow-up here, though.
You laid out a variety of things that I think would be a reasonable outcome, a good outcome, for Vilnius short of actual Ukrainian membership. We’ve seen—it looked like the United States was moving partly in that direction when they seemed that they were dropping MAP as required—the Membership Action Plan. But then President Biden said something over the weekend which wasn’t so clear about that. So do you think that MAP is still something that needs to be argued away or is this something which has been decided?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I took notes of the same as you did. I would interpret the statement of President Biden as a negotiating position. I think everybody is now positioning themselves in the run-up to the Vilnius Summit.
Still, I think it would be a natural step forward to go beyond the 2008 language. Back in 2008 we decided that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and then we added next step in that process would be a Membership Action Plan, a so-called MAP.
Now, I mean, we—it’s easy to remove that precondition partly because we didn’t require a MAP for neither Finland nor Sweden before we extended an invitation to them and actually Ukraine already fulfills all criteria within a Membership Action Plan. They have demonstrated such efficiency on the battlefield that they don’t need a Membership Action Plan.
So I think it’s essential that Vilnius goes beyond the language of 2008.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
Mr. Yermak, as you know, I was in Kyiv. I spent ten days there last month, and the—it was clear from talking to many Ukrainians that there are high expectations for Vilnius. What are the Ukrainian people expecting in Vilnius and what is the president of Ukraine expecting in Vilnius, and you yourself?
ANDRIY YERMAK: I try to be—will answer very specifically. We really—the Ukrainians, because now—and, John, I’m sure that you can feel your—you know our country very, very good and you feel how united Ukrainians, how strong Ukrainians, and the—our position, the position of the president, the position of the team, it’s absolutely same that the positions of the—all Ukrainians, and the position is following.
We expect that Ukraine will be invited to NATO with open date but with concrete signal. And I agree with Anders that we need and everybody in the world need to receive strong signal the way to membership of Ukraine in NATO nobody can change; it’s decided and it’s happened.
And of course, in this way we want to receive and our expectation to receive the concrete security guarantees. We a lot of times talk about it. I mentioned in my speech about the Kyiv Security Compact. We can, on the base of these documents, continue to work with the partners.
This is two most important expectation of Ukraine, Ukrainians, president of Ukraine, and all our team.
JOHN HERBST: OK. Thank you. Let’s—well, let’s pursue this a bit more.
Mr. Rasmussen laid out four points from the Kyiv Security Compact regarding security guarantees and that started with substantial weapon supplies to make sure that Ukraine could defend itself.
I’ve been advocating, Ukraine has been requesting, various advanced weapons right now to conduct its counteroffensive and it’s gotten some—it’s gotten some of those weapons. It’s not gotten others.
Given the caution we see in the weapon supplies coming from the West to Ukraine just to fight the war, do you think they’d be willing to consider substantial weapon supplies now not just to fight the war but to insure you going forward? In other words, might that not be something you can’t quite count on at this point?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Me or—
JOHN HERBST: We’ll start with you, Mr. Secretary.
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, I appreciate, of course, all the deliveries of weapons we have seen so far. However, so far we have provided weapons for Ukraine just to survive. Now time has come to provide weapons for Ukraine to win. And that should be the overall goal. We should define the overall goal very clearly. We want a victory, and everything we do is with the goal to ensure a Ukrainian victory. And victory ultimately, of course, is to kick out all Russian troops from Ukrainian soil.
Next, you cannot win a war by an incremental, step-by-step approach. You have to surprise and overwhelm your adversary. We—so that’s why we need to use the big hammer to put a quick end to this conflict. So I’m in favor of lifting all self-imposed restrictions on weapon deliveries. We should deliver everything the Ukrainians need, not only heavy battle tanks, longer-range missiles, but eventually also fighter jets. We have seen how the Ukrainians lack air superiority during the first phases of their counteroffensive. So we should deliver fighter jets as soon as possible.
JOHN HERBST: Mr. Yermak, do you have anything you’d like to add to this?
ANDRIY YERMAK: I’m agreed with Anders. And, of course, you know that we are sure about our victory. But, of course, it depends of how in time we will receive everything which we need. We need very important things. We need strong character of our people, of our heroes. They are very motivated. And we receive enough people to be successful in the battlefield. And you can know that we have some success, and I hope we will see it more in the nearest future.
And of course, all this issue and all this kind of weapons which mentioned Anders, it’s, of course, very important. I just can add that we still have one option which still not open for us. It’s long-range missiles. But I hope and believe that it’s a question of the—of the very, very near future. Another—you know that this opportunity, it’s open. And we now closely working with the partners about the time and—for our jets and before it about tanks.
But the question is time. You know, every day it cost Ukraine the lives of our heroes, the lives of our civilians. You know that the Russian not stop this terroristic attack to our city. I’d like just to say just in the day when the delegation of the African countries was here, and they definitely know that next day they go to the—to the St. Petersburg, and they know exactly—they in Kyiv—they sended the twelve ballistic rockets to the Kyiv. Thanks God and thanks our heroes and thanks to United States for Patriot, we destroy all of them.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
Mr. Secretary General, you mentioned earlier that it’s very important for there to be unity in Vilnius. And I think everyone understands that. Sometimes that understanding is used to argue for a more cautious policy, because some members of the Alliance don’t want to be as strong in confronting Kremlin aggression as others. But now you have an interesting situation where a group of members of NATO, particularly in the east, want a stronger policy. So you have to worry about how you get to unity.
Now, I mention that as an introduction to this question-slash—well, this question. If NATO in Vilnius were willing to make commitments on weapons that we have not seen yet—of course, the US ATACMS, but of course, clear signal with clear delivery dates for F-16s and other fighter jets—while being more cautious on some of the other elements that we’ve discussed already, might that be a compromise which in fact could still—would help Ukraine have a more successful counteroffensive and pave the way for other direct NATO-Ukraine missions in the future? Would this be a suitable compromise that could work for everyone’s benefit?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress, it is not NATO as such that delivers weapons. NATO is not, as you know, a party to the conflict. But NATO allies—you’re right—NATO allies deliver the weapons. And actually, they are right to do so. They are parties to the conflict, and they have every reason and right to do so because, according to Article 51 in the UN Charter, Ukraine obviously has every right to defend itself against Russian aggression. But furthermore, Ukraine has the inherent right to ask its allies to help it to counter this Russian aggression. So when the US and the European allies deliver weapons to Ukraine, it’s on firm legal ground.
So I’ve never, ever understood this ridiculous discussion where the Russians time and again are complaining about NATO allies being engaged in this conflict. We are. Obviously, we are. And of course we are. Because we have every right to help Ukraine. Now, on weapon deliveries actually let me be very clear. I don’t understand why we have any restrictions on weapon deliveries. To make sure that Ukraine is winning this war, we need to deliver everything the Ukrainian people need. The Ukrainians have the will to fight. We have one thing to do, to give them the means to fight. And this is actually a winning formula.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
Mr. Yermak, you spoke about Ukrainian heroes. You’ve talked about the morale. Some people say that if there is a—
ANDRIY YERMAK: Sorry.
JOHN HERBST: I’m sorry?
ANDRIY YERMAK: John, we lost you.
JOHN HERBST: OK, I’ll repeat. You spoke about the Ukrainian heroes fighting off the Russians against great odds, in terms of numbers. And, for that matter, amount of weapons. You’ve spoken about the strong morale of the Ukrainian people. Some observers have expressed concern that if in Vilnius NATO does not offer something substantial in support of Ukraine, morale might be impacted. So here’s my question: If in fact—taking into account what Mr. Rasmussen just said—if the United States, Germany, the UK were to announce decisions on, you know, more robust weapon supplies in Vilnius, even if progress towards Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO was not so much, would that be an outcome that can suit Ukraine? In other words, might that prevent any fall in morale because people would think, oh, news of weapons systems?
ANDRIY YERMAK: Yes. I think that of course the expectation of the Ukrainian society, the expectation of Ukrainian soldiers, it’s very high because we have historical unity around Ukraine. We have the historical unity with all our partners. And of course, no strong decisions in the—in the Vilnius, of course, it will be—that will be very, very strong demotivation of the people. And I absolutely agree with Mr. Rasmussen that he said—his phrase that it’s impossible to give Putin to be like not just right, like feel like a doorman in the—in the door of the NATO. It will be after the catastrophe in Kakhovka, after all these terrible things which continue to happen every day in Ukraine, it will be very bad signal.
And very—and, of course, the Russian, the Russian machine, it will be used against Ukraine. And of course, we very respect the opinion of our partners. But we also believe that Ukraine has already passed all exams and passing them every day in battlefield. I mean, exams to be—exams to be a real—to be a real member of the NATO. And I can say very openly that now the level of the professionalism, the level of the average soldier, we showed for all the world. I think we—I will be very surprised that still existing somebody in the planet who not be sure that Ukrainian army, Ukrainian people, one of the most strongest in the world.
And be very honest, let’s back to the first day of invasion. Many people in the world give to us three days, one week, one month. But look at it, one year and we have—we not just defend, we already show how we’re able to liberate our lands, how we can be real guarantors in the future of the security of our neighbors. I think it’s necessary to not forget about them because, you know, how in our childhood many people—you can listen many people, but you trust when you really see how your friends can fight it, and how your friends can be fighting himself and you. And Ukraine show this.
And I think now it depends for the final political points. It’s necessary to do. It’s necessary not give any more chance in the world to afraid any dictators, to afraid any countries who is breaking international law, who is not respect independence, who is not respect freedom, who is not respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of any countries. It’s great historical chances. We, Ukrainians, back the faith that it’s possible in our world—be free, be independent, be strong, and be secure.
JOHN HERBST: That’s very clear. We’ll turn now to audience questions. We’ve got a bunch. The first one I have here is from Jonathan Landay of Reuters.
He notes that—this is to you, Minister Yermak—he notes that Ukraine has agreed with NATO that it cannot join the alliance while the war continues. But you’ve spoken about, and other NATO members have spoken about, the need for security guarantees. But his question is this. He says: The Biden administration speaks only of security commitments to be considered from Vilnius. He asks, how has the Biden administration explained to you, to Ukraine, what these security commitments might look like and how they would bolster Ukraine’s security? Is this a question you feel comfortable answering?
ANDRIY YERMAK: Thank you. First of all, I’d like to say that we are very appreciative and always not tired to repeat the words of thanks personally President Biden, his administration, both parties, Congress, and Americans. It’s mean that for us very important that we in the every day’s dialogue, and now we continue consultation of the workings of these guarantees. I can say that administration absolutely understands our positions, our idea. And I didn’t listen any refuse or any not agreements that Ukraine need to have concrete security guarantees. Yes, we discussed wordings. Yes, we have that experience, and we remember Budapest. And of course, we have today war in our lands.
But I think we found the solutions. I hope in this. I very appreciate that we have very friends, very partners, conversations with other areas and, first of all, with United States. This job, it continues. It’s not easy, honestly. But I hope that this consultation will be continue all these days which we have before Vilnius. I optimist by my life. I do all my best from myself. I know the all best doing from the allied team. And I hope we found the forums which give to Ukraine can create a very serious working what is important, working security guarantees.
Look, I can say that when we are start with Mr. Rasmussen, our group understand, agree with me. We have mostly skeptics. Now I can say our documents in the table of all leaders—practically all leaders in the world. And now nobody discuss that this is very serious, very fundamental, a very strong document. We continue to work.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you. Mr. Rasmussen, we have a request from—a question from Volodymyr Svyryda. He asks: What is the likelihood of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, or for that matter in Poland?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Yeah. I am very often—I’m very often asked that question. And my answer is also very clear. I don’t think there is any risk of Putin using nuclear weapons in neither Ukraine, nor Poland, nor any other country. Why? Because the Russian military knows that it would face no strategic advantage in using nuclear weapons. It’s been clearly communicated to the Russian military that the response from the United States and its allies would have a devastating effect on the Russian military.
Further to that, we know that the rest of the world would probably turn its back to Russia if they were to use nuclear weapons. So, in conclusion, the Russian military would refuse to abide by orders from Putin, and their own alternative would be to remove Putin and install a new leader. So and any attempt to try to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be the end of the Putin era and the Putin regime. And for that reason, I’m not concerned about risk of Putin using nuclear weapons.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you. That was clear.
I have a question from Nino Gelashvili, who’s of the RFE/RL Georgian Service, and—well, actually, this is also for you, Mr. Rasmussen, but I’ll ask—well, then see if Mr. Yermak wants to add as well: Why are NATO members hesitant on moving towards Ukraine’s NATO membership? Are they afraid of being involved in a war with Russia? Is there something else, maybe the issue of nuclear escalation?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Sometimes I’m asking exactly the same question because I think we should learn lessons from the past, and the ultimate security guarantee for Ukraine would be membership of NATO, let’s face it. Until Ukraine can join NATO Ukraine will need security guarantees and that’s why there’s a clear link between security guarantees and a future membership of NATO.
There may be allies who are concerned about the fact that a country that is currently at war would have difficulties in defining the coverage of Article 5. But I think where there is a will there is also a way forward.
We have precedents for solving that kind of problems in the past. Germany joined NATO back in 1955, the whole of Germany, actually, but as we all know at that time Germany was divided in a West Germany and an East Germany.
So when Germany—when western Germany joined NATO it was clearly stated that Article 5 covered only the territory controlled by the western German government in Bonn. We could use exactly the same formula when it comes to Ukraine. We could say, OK, Article 5 covers the territory controlled by the government in Kyiv but still we would have some outstanding questions, including in Donbas and Crimea we still have a war going on—maybe we still have a war going on and you have a borderline that move forth and back and you have continual clashes between the Ukrainian forces and Russian forces. And then, of course, the question is if Russia attacks Ukraine in Donbas would that invoke Article 5 or not? How should we respond in that case?
These are not trivial questions. They are crucial questions to guard the credibility of Article 5 and security guarantees in Article 5. So we have to work to sort out all those practicalities in confidential negotiations with Ukraine. That’s not for public use. But we have to spend some time in sorting out those questions and that’s why I think we should extend an invitation to Ukraine sooner rather than later and then spend some time sorting out those practical issues in confidential negotiations with Ukraine before you can actually access NATO.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
OK. We have a question from Roman Zakaluzny from Calgary, Canada, and it’s for Mr. Yermak: Can we say today that a Ukrainian victory in this war is not—not—a precondition for Ukrainian membership in NATO?
ANDRIY YERMAK: Yes. Yes, absolutely. I’m absolutely can confirm this phrase, this principle. I think vice versa. The membership of the—of the NATO, and just we are talking about invitation, will be—work as help and supporting element of the more sooner victory of Ukraine. I am sure about it.
I think that I can add one very important thing. We’re now in the stage when the authority and the power of the NATO very, very high. And today, NATO need one very important element after Sweden and Finland, Ukraine. It will be elements which fits everybody and now understand that NATO is the most strongest alliance in the world. And everybody understand only NATO can give the 100 percent guarantees of the security, because you can see in reality any countries of NATO not involved in the war, and the people—any potential aggressors understood it. I just can confirm this phrase.
JOHN HERBST: OK. Thank you.
We have a question which almost answers itself, but I’ll pose it anyway. It’s from Dr. Wayne Schroeder at the US Naval War College. He asks: Should the US provide long-range strike capabilities such as ATACMS on an urgent basis? And what is the likelihood that Ukraine will receive ATACMS, and when? So, Mr. Yermak, for you.
ANDRIY YERMAK: Yes, of course. Thank you for these questions.
Yes, of course we need it so much as soon as possible. We’re waiting for decisions. And my attitude that we are very near of these decisions, and I hope that it happens very soon. And I can say that as soon as possible it’s happened, it give to us possibility, first of all, to survive lives of our people. With Mr. President Zelenskyy it’s a lot of times and the represent of our team said one example is Kherson, which we occupied, but we have not how to protect our people because the enemy’s attack from another side of the river. And you can see terrible photos and videos how their rockets destroyed supermarkets, the civilian infrastructure. Of course, we will be more strong with the ATACMS.
Waiting. Waiting. And I can say, you know, maybe just for the positive things when we are talking about this very, very big tragedy for my country, I don’t know the person in Ukraine who is exactly know all these words: HIMARS, ATACMS, Leopards, and many others. I think because this is symbolic for our people. It’s—Patriot, of course. It’s symbolic of life. It’s symbolic of surviving. And what is very important, that you can see that you—I mean Americans—when you deliver these weapons, how it’s really work and how it’s strengthening our able—how we, with these weapons, more able to defend our country. I think it’s we—you can see the real evidence how these weapons really survive people, really survive children, really survive old people, women.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
We have a very large question from Albert Lee. It’s for you, Mr. Rasmussen: What can be done to further break down the mental, bureaucratic, and institutional obstacles blocking not just the supply of advanced weapons systems, but also future security guarantees and NATO membership for Ukraine?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Yeah.
JOHN HERBST: It’s a big one.
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: That’s a big question.
But first of all, I think it will take determined political leadership, because I fully agree we really have to overcome all those obstacles. As I said before, we cannot—we cannot conduct warfare in this bureaucratic way of an incremental, step-by-step approach because we are concerned about provoking Putin. Let’s face it, Putin has exploited our long decision-making processes to fortify Russian defenses in Donbas and Crimea, so it’s being even more complicated for Ukraine to conduct its counteroffensive because of our hesitation. So we really have to step up to the plate.
And that’s why I think it’s quite simple: We should deliver everything the Ukrainians need without any restrictions. And we shouldn’t be concerned about Putin’s reaction because he has been the one who has escalated the war already, and we are always two or three steps behind him. So I fully agree, and I think first and foremost it will take determined political leadership.
And let me stress if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability on the European continent, we need a strong and stable Eastern European ally like Ukraine to serve as a bulwark against a still-aggressive Russia. Because when this war is over you will still have an aggressive Russia, so we have to protect not only Ukraine but the whole of Europe against that threat. And to that end, we need Ukraine as a NATO ally.
JOHN HERBST: I can’t help but step out of my role to say that it would be wonderful if the problem was described the way you’ve described it by President Biden and other Western leaders, making it clear that this is a war of Putin not just on Ukraine but also, ultimately, on us.
OK. Mr. Yermak, question from Trudy Rubin from the Philadelphia Enquirer: Is retaking Crimea or cutting it off, making it impossible for Russia to hold it, a necessary goal for Ukraine’s counteroffensive? And are some NATO countries, including the US, opposed to this?
ANDRIY YERMAK: We are very open for our goals. And we said that our victory, it’s to back all our territory over the international-recognized border. And we’re very clear of this. And of course, Donbas, it’s Ukraine; and Crimea, it’s Ukraine.
I can say about—if the question is about the position of our partners, I know that the partners very respect this our positions. And I—me personally—never listen that somebody just try to talk with us about any compromise of this.
And I can say that, for example, today I have the meetings with the G7 ambassadors here in Kyiv and we discussed the Ukrainian peaceful plan. And what is—and our position is very clear and very principled—that we are ready to listen and to talk and to take some idea with all countries in the world who respect our territorial integrity, our sovereignty, our independence.
It’s my answer.
JOHN HERBST: Thank you.
OK. We have one minute and we have one more question. This one’s for Mr. Rasmussen, also from Trudy Rubin: What do you think would be Putin’s reaction if Ukraine were, in fact, to take back Crimea?
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Putin attaches strong importance to keeping Crimea, but as Andriy Yermak just stated Crimea is, according to international law, a part of Ukraine. So I wouldn’t be concerned about how Putin would react. He would, of course, react militarily in a very strong way. But why should we care about that? I mean, this is Ukrainian territory.
And actually, back in 1994, when Ukraine gave up her nuclear weapons and handed them over to Russia, of all countries, and Ukraine signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in exchange Ukraine received so-called security guarantees from Russia in which Russia pledged not to attack Ukraine. They violated that. And Russia also confirmed that they would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine within these internationally-recognized borders, including Crimea. So Crimea is Ukrainian territory.
And if we accept that Putin can keep Crimea, it sends an extremely dangerous signal to the whole world because Xi Jinping would argue and he would conclude if Putin can take Crimea, I can take Taiwan. And I also say this as a message to the American public, where I have met the argument we should reduce—we Americans should reduce our support for Ukraine because we need the resources to protect Taiwan. The fact is those two conflicts are interrelated. A clear defeat—a clear Russian defeat in Ukraine will also tell Xi Jinping not to attack Taiwan.
So the two conflicts are interrelated. Crimea is Ukrainian territory. So I don’t care about how Putin would react. For me, a Ukrainian victory includes taking back Crimea.
JOHN HERBST: Well, I would agree with that.
And I would thank both of you for a wonderful and extensive conversation. I hope—in fact, I’m confident—that you’ve contributed to moving the debate in the right direction, and now we wait and see what happens.
So thank everyone for tuning in. We will be doing more stuff on Russia’s war on Ukraine and how the United States and the West should respond, and perhaps more stuff on NATO-Ukraine in the year to come.
ANDERS RASMUSSEN: Thank you.
Watch the event
Tue, May 23, 2023
This issue brief evaluates membership and other security options for the alliance and its members to consider with regards to Ukraine, from formal actions by NATO as a whole to collective or individualized efforts by member nations.
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Vladimir Putin claims one of the main goals of his Ukraine invasion is to prevent the country joining NATO, but in reality this objective actually goes directly against Russia’s own national interests, writes Leonid Gozman.