NATO Assistant Sec Gen Baiba Braže on Ukraine’s Membership Aspirations and Russia as Global Threat
5 November, 2021
Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public Diplomacy Baiba Braže in Riga, Latvia hromadske

Amidst the ongoing Russian aggression, Ukraine over and over raises the question of its NATO membership on different international platforms. The answers are basically the same: Ukraine keeps moving in the right direction and all is needed is time, political will and effective reforms within the state. But at the same time is there unanimous support for the Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic course among the members of the Alliance? And what are the key challenges NATO defines now in terms of global security?

This issue and some other key challenges relating to global security were discussed by hromadske's Olena Kurenkova with Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public Diplomacy on the margins of The Riga Conference. Ms Braže’s mission is responsible for the core strategic communication of NATO, both on the civilian and military side.


There are numerous calls for NATO’s reform. At the NATO summit held in Brussels on June 14, it was decided to develop a new strategic concept for the alliance and work on it has to begin soon. So what are the key points of it that you find the most important to note?

NATO is an alliance that was established more than 70 years ago. And of course through the years the Alliance changes, because the countries or society changes. And so do the threats. NATO is a political and military alliance, so what we do is ensure the defense and deterrence of our countries and people. Now we have 30 members of the Alliance, so NATO's primary responsibility is guaranteeing security, stability and defense of these populations.

At the same time, of course, we have the so-called three core tasks that originated from the previous Strategic Concept in 2010. That is collective defense, crisis management and the corporate security or support of our partners. And all these three core tasks are the basis of what the Alliance does. So the next strategic concept will explain what core tasks should have been used for the future. What are the resources? What are the means? What are the capabilities that we need to implement those tasks as a political and military alliance? And for that, of course, we need to identify and examine the strategic environment, the threats and how to respond to them. And that will form the basis of the next Strategic Concept.

Now perhaps on the level of some discussions, can we say what are the main threats the Alliance is now focused on?

Among the allies there is a common assessment that there's Russia as a potential adversary. And, of course, we also know that there's a whole set of hybrid threats that we are faced with — whether that's cyber disruptions, whether that's disinformation, whether that's illegal course of actions through energy, or mercenaries, or other hybrid type of attacks.

Could some efficient alternative to NATO really exist in the future? What trends referring to the global security alliances do you observe?

From a variety of angles, it's very important that European countries continue to invest in their defense capabilities. Because, of course, to have the ability to resist you need defense capabilities. That means you need to invest in defense spending, you need to invest in exercises. At the same time, of course, there needs to be interoperability among the allies. We clearly know that, of course, the US engagement in Europe has been the key to ensuring the peace and security within the NATO area for 70 years. And that will be also crucial in the future. But it's not only about the US, it's also Canada's transatlantic partners. And in that respect, of course, there is no alternative to Euro-Atlantic cooperation. But yes, Europe needs to invest in defense capabilities and to be more coherent to work together.

I'd like to ask you about the Ukrainian aspirations for NATO membership. Because Ukrainian authorities and the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, confirm that Ukraine has made quite a lot of progress on its own way moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration. What are the main obstacles that make Ukraine's membership not realistic yet?

NATO has clearly said that its doors are open, that's part of the Washington treaties. The new members can be accepted. They have to be Europeans, they have to fulfill certain criteria. There also has to be unanimity amongst allies. Just a year ago we accepted North Macedonia as a 30th member of the Alliance. Ukraine is a very important partner for NATO. Ukraine has clearly progressed in its reforms. And there are, of course, still things to do. But to acknowledge Ukraine's progress, NATO awarded Ukraine with a status of enhanced opportunity partner. So that means it has the closest partnership.

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So that's an important step to mark some achievements of Ukraine.

Absolutely. And it's important that Ukraine uses this status as much as possible to hold exercises with NATO, to work practically with NATO, to fulfill it with substance on all aspects, not only on defense cooperation, but also countering hybrid disinformation, resilience and at the same time to continue its reforms. Because, of course, there are challenging reforms that still need to be done.

So you mean that nowadays, the issue is only up to Ukraine and there have to be some steps just from its side?

Ukraine has to continue on its path. It has to use the enhanced opportunities partnership. And, of course, in some moments there will need to be a consensus amongst the allies that Ukraine is ready to join and when they are ready to accept it.

How is it looking nowadays, from your point of view?

It's very difficult to see. But you know, it's a process.

So it's too early to talk about some concrete terms when it could be done?

Absolutely. Again, it's important for Ukraine to strengthen the partnership, but also to work very practically and progress on reforms.

This year there were numerous threats from President Putin of Russia who stated that Ukraine's acceptance to NATO would escalate the conflict in Donbas. How seriously does NATO take such statements from Russia? 

Russia's aggressive behavior that we have seen throughout the years now has clearly presented threats to our Euro-Atlantic security. And that's why also NATO has made its biggest adaptation in terms of defence and deterrence, we see the whole set of reforms that were made within NATO to understand the threats better.

And also, in terms of what was happening in April at the Ukrainian borders, we were able to clearly see what Russia was doing. Ukrainian actions were really very good, excellent. It was a very mature, calm and collected response, both by your politicians, but also by your Armed Forces, increasing readiness. The foreign minister informed what the stance was and what information Ukraine had, and also clearly indicated the steps that NATO and allies could take. The president was going to capitals, talking to allies, engaging them in activity and explaining what was happening. That formed a very clear understanding, both from the perspective, what we were seeing, but also what Ukraine was seeing and what Ukraine was intending to do. It was a good understanding of consolidated efforts. And, of course, it was a tough test that Russia was doing for a variety of purposes.

Taking into account the situation with the militarization of the annexed Crimea, how does NATO assess the level of threat of armed aggression from the annexed Crimea to Ukraine, as Russia is actively building its potential there?

As NATO allies have never recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea, and I can't imagine any scenarios that will happen. So there is a very clear political position showing that Crimea is Ukraine. But there’s the practical sort of actions that Russia is taking there by suppressing minority rights, Ukrainians, [Crimean] Tatars. Minorities’ rights have to be respected, and there are clear commitments that Russia has made. Also the free expression, freedom of speech and other freedoms - we don't see this. And also concerning the militarization: we don’t see the reason why Russia should not allow free passage in the Azov Sea and limit the actions of Ukraine and international seaways. This wish also to limit international passage is indeed disrespectful to international law and the freedom of navigation.

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Does that mean that NATO is ready for some decisive actions in this regard?

You saw that the NATO allies very clearly indicated the freedom of navigation has to be there. It applies to all, it's an international law. And, you know, as for the practicalities and deeds, you know, allies are watching very carefully what is happening.