This is my first visit to Ukraine as NATO Secretary General. And I am delighted and honoured that my programme includes a meeting here at the Taras Shevchenko National University – one of Ukraine’s oldest and most prestigious academic establishments.
For all of you studying here, Taras Shevchenko must be a great source of inspiration. Because he is not only a great symbol of Ukraine’s culture, its national consciousness, and its statehood. He has also become a symbol of man’s constant search for freedom, for dignity and for a decent life.
When Taras Shevchenko spoke out for Ukrainian independence, he endangered his own liberty. And when he joined a society that promoted political liberalisation and a more balanced government for all Slavic nations, he was jailed – and even denied the right to use pencil and paper.
Taras Shevchenko not only enriched Ukraine with his literature – he also inspired the Ukrainian people with his message of freedom. No wonder that, for much of the last century, some of his works were censored by the Soviet Union. This was the time when the people of Ukraine, and many other millions across Central and Eastern Europe, were denied the right of self-determination and other fundamental freedoms.
But since Ukraine regained its independence twenty years ago, there have been significant changes. We all know that Ukraine today is determined to integrate fully into the European family of nations – which is where it clearly belongs. And Ukraine is also keen to strengthen its position as an active foreign and security policy actor, both in this region and beyond.
These are entirely legitimate aspirations for a free and sovereign country. And the main goal of my visit today is to discuss how NATO can help Ukraine to meet these aspirations.
The Atlantic Alliance has played a vital role in making Europe whole and free. For over sixty years, NATO not only kept the Cold War from getting hot. It also provided the security umbrella that enabled former enemies to become friends, and to move towards ever closer integration.
After the end of the Cold War, alongside the European Union, NATO was instrumental in consolidating Europe as an undivided, democratic security space. We opened our door for 12 new member nations in less than a decade – raising our membership from 16 to 28 Allies and spreading freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity across the continent. Our door remains firmly open to European democracies that wish to join us, and that meet our standards.
Today, NATO remains an alliance of democracies. Our member states form a unique community of values, committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and at our summit in Lisbon last year, we reconfirmed the basic principle on which NATO was founded: the commitment of NATO members to defend one another against attack.
In Lisbon we also decided to develop new defences against new threats, such as missile proliferation, piracy or cyber-attacks. And we reached out to Russia and other partners across the globe, offering them more political dialogue and practical cooperation than ever before; because our partnerships are making a clear and concrete contribution to making the world a safer place.
Ladies and gentlemen, throughout the past twenty years, Ukraine has been a very active NATO partner. Indeed, your country was the first of our partners to contribute to all our operations. The Ukrainian navy patrols the Mediterranean Sea alongside NATO to prevent terrorism. The Ukrainian army is serving together with Allies in Afghanistan and Kosovo. We highly value those contributions.
The current Ukrainian Government has declared European integration its top foreign policy priority. And it believes that constructive cooperation with NATO – rather than a drive towards membership -- can best support this aim.
I want to make clear that we in NATO fully respect that decision. Very much in the spirit of Taras Shevchenko, we recognise the sovereign right of each nation to freely choose its security arrangements. We believe that constructive partnership with NATO can indeed help Ukraine to chart its path into the European mainstream. And there is strong support, across the Alliance, to deepen our partnership with Ukraine.
In addition to helping Ukraine to fulfil its European aspiration, there is another, important reason for Ukraine and NATO to develop their partnership. It has to do with the complex, fast-changing world we live in.
Today, weak states halfway across the globe can have a direct impact on our security. They can be breeding grounds for terrorism, for drugs, for trafficking of people or weapons. Afghanistan is an obvious case in point. We are there because the Afghan people, and the rest of the world, have suffered the consequences. We are there to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, once again.
Another challenge is cyber security. We all enjoy the benefits of the information age. We take it for granted to have a cell phone, a computer, and easy access to bank machines. But there are literally millions of cyber attacks every day, targeting our banking systems, infrastructure, and power grids. I can tell you that even NATO computers are subject to around 100 attacks every day. They are very interested out there in what we are doing in NATO. These are the networks that we depend on – and which we have to protect.
And then there is the growing issue of energy security. All of our nations depend – to varying degrees -- on foreign sources to meet our energy needs. Your country has already experienced how an energy cut-off can cripple not just economic activity, but everyday life, without a single shot being fired. With energy becoming more and scarce, this is a possible scenario that all energy importing nations have to seriously consider.
My point is that most of today’s challenges go beyond national borders. Many of them are inter-related. And no country can tackle them on its own. The only way to meet these challenges is through a new level of cooperation between nations and organisations.
In recent years, NATO has become an increasingly effective platform for precisely that kind of multilateral security cooperation. We have decided to modernise our partnerships. That will boost NATO’s role in multilateral security cooperation. And it will open up interesting new opportunities for an active partner like Ukraine to deepen its cooperation with the Alliance.
Defence reform must remain a key priority. It is vital to Ukraine’s European aspirations to have military forces that are under democratic control, well-organised and structured to meet the requirements of the future, rather than those of the past.
So how can we help? Well, NATO can give advice on defence planning and budgeting. But we can also help to retrain military personnel who lose their job. And we can help to get rid of dangerous obsolete ammunitions. Ukraine and NATO also have a clear interest in improving the ability of their military forces to work together – what we call interoperability. Here as well, NATO has a lot of expertise to share.
Beyond our current missions and operations, NATO is also keen to work more closely with Ukraine in meeting emerging security challenges. NATO and Ukraine have already held talks on energy security, and we should continue and deepen that dialogue. Ukraine has also expressed an interest in cooperating on missile defence. And while we in NATO are still at an early stage in our own work on this issue, we are ready to discuss possible cooperation with your country in that area as well.
Finally, one challenge which is not so much emerging as re-emerging is piracy. NATO is increasingly focusing on maritime security, and we have a wealth of experience. The Ukrainian navy has experience of working with NATO in our counter-terrorist maritime operation in the Mediterranean. But Ukrainian merchant ships and sailors have also been the victim of attacks by pirates in the Indian Ocean. And so I hope the Ukrainian Armed Forces will consider joining NATO’s anti-piracy operation in that region as well.
As you can see, there is a range of opportunities for deepening the NATO-Ukraine partnership. We can do more together for our shared benefit. We have a particular interest in strengthening our partnership with European countries like Ukraine, because they are closest to us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I firmly believe that democracy is the strongest foundation for long-term security. Political and economic freedom generates peace, prosperity and progress, because liberty releases entrepreneurship and creativity.
The development of democracy and the rule of law is a key dimension of NATO-Ukraine relations and I trust that Ukraine will stay on this course.
Taras Shevchenko died 150 years ago. If he were still alive today, he would be proud of Ukraine’s determination to move to the very heart of Europe, and to be a provider of security in its own region and beyond.
And I can assure you that NATO will continue to help Ukraine as it continues on that path. And I have no doubt that, with your commitment, your energy and your determination, the journey will be a success.