by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Black Sea Security Conference of the International Crimea Platform
Thank you so much, Alina, and it’s good to be back home, in this place which symbolises Romania’s national identity and the sacrifice of generations and historical periods, to be finally part of the West.
I had a long and interesting discussion with my friend Oleksii Reznikov earlier, and I also was a physical participant and contributor to the launch of the Crimea Platform in August 2021 in Kyiv. And I was a bit puzzled why I was invited, as NATO representative, to speak last. And I asked President Zelenskyy and Dmytro Kuleba, “Why did you invite NATO to speak last? Is that a message?” And with his exceptional humour and wisdom, the President, the Foreign Minister told me: “The guy that speaks last will have the most lasting impact on the audience”. Let’s hope this will also be the case in Bucharest.
The day after the Crimea Platform launch – and by the way, I was impressed by the leader of the Crimean Tatars, an old general, dignified and heroic, and also telling us: If we allow an imperialistic power to grab by force territory from an independent nation, we are doomed, for this cannot only happen in Europe, but also elsewhere. What happens in Europe can also happen in Asia. What happens in the Black Sea could happen tomorrow if we don’t do things right now - and here - in other seas and oceans, the Indo-Pacific, or wherever else.
The day after the Crimea Platform launch, I attended the 30th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine. I even remember the big square, and also men were wearing “E” as we said then in Romanian, and I asked the day before President Zelenskyy, “So Mr. President, when are you going to respond to the infamous long essay by President Putin? I think that is still on the website of the Kremlin. And basically, he denies the national identity and culture of Ukraine”. And he smiled, and he said, “Listen to my speech tomorrow”.
I listened to his speech on the 30th anniversary of Ukraine, and I heard the leader of a proud nation anticipating probably trouble to come, with a sense of national identity and resilience and hunger for a better future. That is probably the explanation for the heroism that we see with our Ukrainian friends in this difficult, difficult, barbaric war.
We are living in a world which is competitive and dangerous. And this is not only because of this war, it's also because of the global shift and great power competition, a competition defined by a fight between democracies and authoritarian regimes.
The Black Sea region is at the heart of today's discussion. And as a Romanian, I also know - and I feel - that this is a region which is strategically important area for Euro-Atlantic security. Of course for the riparian states, but also as a platform, a springboard, for Russia to project power - to Africa, to the Middle East, in what we call in NATO a 360-degree approach. So what happens in the Black Sea is not only for the Black Sea only, it’s also for the Mediterranean Sea, for the Adriatic Sea, for the Indian Ocean, and beyond.
The Black Sea region has been the focus of Russia's aggressive build-up and actions for more than two decades now. And the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the portions of the Donbass but just, if you want, the start-up.
This is also influencing the Western Balkans. It’s influencing also our Georgian friends. It’s influencing our Moldovan friends. It’s influencing our friends in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And this is why Russia’s irresponsible and hostile behaviour in the broader Black Sea region is deeply affecting the security of the entire Alliance.
So in Madrid last year, when our leaders approved the Strategic Concept stating the strategic importance of the Black Sea, this is not just a piece of paper. This is a fundamental belief and action by our Alliance.
We stepped up our presence in the region since 2014. We enhanced our cooperation partnership with Ukraine. And this is why our footprint after the full-blown war by Russia is increasing.
I would like to thank our French and Italian Allies for leading the two battlegroups in Romania and Bulgaria. Of course to our Allies in Türkiye for the immense role that they play in a much broader region.
We have now four more new battlegroups, and we'll be bringing them up to brigade level as needed. And also encouraging pre-positioning of equipment, and also multi-domain operations because it's not only about sea, land and air, but also cyberspace and space.
We continue, and we will continue, to support Ukraine. We have stood by Ukraine since the independence of this country back in 1991. Over the last year, Allies have provided unprecedented support for Ukraine's right to self-defence, with 65 billion euros of military aid, and Oleksii and his colleague, the Minister of Defence, know that this is going to continue.
NATO will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes. And we will support your long-term path to Euro-Atlantic integration.
And as a Romanian and a former minister of this country, who had the privilege to raise the flag of my country as a new NATO member back in - 19 years ago already - and seeing our Finnish new Allies and our Swedish new Allies joining our ranks, I know that you belong to the West, you belong to the family of democracies, you belong to the Euro-Atlantic family, and we are standing with you all the way.
We also have increased our support to other partners at risk of Russian aggression, including for the Republic of Moldova, and I salute Nicu Popescu, a brilliant diplomat and leader. But our friends in Georgia, they are an Enhanced Opportunity Partner to NATO, and we are looking forward to continuing to invest in our partnership. And we wish you the best of luck also on the EU front, because this is also very important for you, together with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova, to go towards Europe.
Nicu Popescu remembers that when you visited NATO HQ earlier this year - and also some of your colleagues - we discussed how to deepen our cooperation with full respect for Moldova's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional neutrality.
I welcome on the partnership we have, both with NATO and the EU, and I encourage the Republic of Moldova to make even better use of this joint partnership between NATO, EU and the Republic of Moldova. There is more synergy to be identified, there are more things we can do - and will do - together.
Your neutrality does not mean we cannot work together with NATO. On the contrary, NATO is stepping up political and practical support to Moldova through an enhanced capacity-building package. We support your political aspirations to join the West, and also to increase your national resilience.
Because resilience is crucial. It’s multifaceted. Sometimes it has explicit, aggressive behaviour, sometimes more implicit, insidious facets. Russia is using all the conventional and hybrid tools in its toolbox. And the Republic of Moldova is the place where Russia is using to its fullest extent the toolbox of hybrid warfare against your country in order to hamper economic development and foment instability in the region.
So we need to strengthen our individual and collective resilience to withstand any threats and challenges - from conventional to cyber attacks to disinformation and attempts to interfere in our democracies and economies.
We can learn much from one another amongst Allies and partners, building up stronger societies and more resilient critical infrastructures in a team effort.
Recently, NATO and the EU, our Secretary General and President von der Leyen, we established a joint task force on critical infrastructure. And I encourage the countries in the Black Sea region to co-opt and be active in this new format because of the Black Sea has critical infrastructures we need to protect, defend, and make sure that they work to the benefit of our people.
So we look forward to working with all of you as we head towards our next Summit in Vilnius in July. We look forward to welcoming Dmytro Kuleba, Oleksii, to our Ministerial meetings. Nicu, if you want to be again like you’ve been in Bucharest at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting that Bogdan has hosted I think some months back, you are always welcome amongst our ranks. And of course, we look forward to welcoming President Zelenskyy at the NATO Summit in Vilnius in mid-July.
So in this temple of Romanian national identity and struggle over generations to become part of the political, democratic and hopefully prosperous West, I send you our best message of hope. We’ll stay with Ukraine for the long haul. And the place of all these independent nations - from Georgia to Moldova, from Ukraine to Bosnia - and to any other democracy in Europe: if you choose so, to be with the Euro-Atlantic family, this dream will come true. Thank you so much.