NATO Official on Security, Reform, and Gender Equality in Ukraine
30 December, 2018

Delegation of responsibility, transparency, and coordination are the three keywords for successful security sector reform, says Deputy Director of NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv Ann-Kristin Bjergene. She has held this position since 2014 and witnessed some of the country’s most important reform milestones.

According to Bjergene, one of the most promising steps in reforming the security sector so far has been the new law on national security, which includes reform of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU.) It also outlines the creation of a committee in the Ukrainian parliament, which will be able to oversee the security bodies that are legally mandated to use covert or intrusive methods.

“It was a long struggle, but, in the end, we ended with something that I think will be a stepping stone for further, very critical legislation, that will put Ukraine on the path towards, or even secure the path towards Euro-Atlantic integration,” Bjergene commented.

However, improving transparency in the security structures is among the priorities if Ukraine wants to remain on this path to Euro-Atlantic integration. In Ukraine, security officials are not obligated to declare their assets unlike government officials or even NGO workers.

“A domestic security service is a very normal thing in a democracy, and their task is to protect democracy, and their task is to show people that that's what they're doing,” Bjergene comments.

While there may still be obstacles such as this in Ukraine’s reform process, one thing Bjergene believes should not get in the way is the war in Donbas. The NATO official describes war as the “force that forces you to change.”

“War can really enhance reform because it will very clearly point at what is weak, and what should be strengthened, and what is obsolete and not needed anymore. Yes, it needs to be taken into consideration but it can't be a pillow to sleep on until better times,” Bjergene says.

As a female working in the male-dominated field of security while living in a country like Ukraine – where gender equality reform is still ongoing – Bjergene also sees promise and “exciting things” for women in Ukraine thanks to the law which allows women to serve in combat positions in the Ukrainian army.

Deputy Director of NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv Ann-Kristin Bjergene speaks to Hromadske in Kyiv, Ukraine on September 7, 2018. Photo: Dmytro Rusanov

But like most other areas of reform in Ukraine, there is still some way to go in terms of gender equality in the Ukrainian. This was demonstrated by the fact women were permitted to participate in this year’s Independence Day parade, but they had to stand in their own separate battalion.

“We had this [Independence] day show. I was not completely happy with it. It was a nice step forward, but they should be together with the men. It will probably take a generation, that's normal,” Bjergene states.