Moldova and NATO: natural partners

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the Moldova State University in Chisinau, Moldova

  • 13 May. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 13 May. 2014 09:11

Dear Rector Ciocanu,
Dear friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for that warm welcome. Moldova State University has a well-known international reputation for excellence. So it is a privilege and a pleasure to address you today. 

I am also happy to be addressing young people, as well as your professors who help to shape your future. Believe it or not, I was also young once.  I came of age in the 1970s, during the Cold War.  At university and in graduate school, I studied Russia and Eastern Europe.  I was fascinated by this region, and it seemed natural to dedicate my life to helping shape my country’s relations with this part of the world.  So I joined the Foreign Service in 1977 as a very junior diplomat.  Twelve years later, I was the US State Department Director for Soviet Union Affairs when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union began to disintegrate.

It is often said that the West won the Cold War and the East lost it.  But this is not really what happened.  The truth is that the end of Soviet communist totalitarianism was a universal victory – a ‘win-win’ for everyone, not least for the people of the former USSR.  It led to a new strategic expectation that we could erase Cold War dividing lines and spread freedom, stability and security across Europe.

But while the Cold War ended for many countries, it did not fully end for Moldova.  Within a year of your independence you suffered terrible fighting.  And the protracted conflict in Transnistria, and other frozen conflicts elsewhere, have impeded our progress towards a Europe that is free, whole and at peace.

Now, Russian revisionism risks heating up these cold, protracted conflicts.  In his March 18 speech to the State Duma, President Putin asserted that Russia has the right to limit the sovereignty of territories that are historically Russian or contain large numbers of Russian speakers. He has chosen to establish a sphere of influence in Eurasia.  And by imposing his choice, he will take away the right of other countries and other peoples to make their own choice.

My message today is that, if we are to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous European future, all countries must have the right to choose their own political and security destinies, including the nature of their relationship with NATO and other organisations and countries.  If they wish, they must also be free to choose neutrality, and they must do so without interference, without intimidation and without the threat of intervention or annexation.  The choice is for the people and their democratically elected government to make – not for another country or one leader of another country to make.

Back in December 1991, I was the United States’ Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO, and I was fortunate to be present at a seismic moment in European history.  That year, NATO had formed the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a consultative body that included the Allies and nine Eastern and Central European countries, including the Soviet Union – one of the first efforts to bring former adversaries together as security partners.  During the NACC's first Foreign Ministerial meeting in December, we were preparing an important communiqué for release.  I was sitting near the table, behind the US Secretary of State, when the Soviet representative informed the Council that he could no longer sign the communiqué because his country had just ceased to exist.  A few moments later, the NATO Secretary General announced that he had just received a telegram from Boris Yeltsin that Russia was interested in joining the Alliance as a member.

That was a very startling moment and showed us how much things had changed.  And it made clear to us that NATO would have to change, too.  We would need to help countries going through the wrenching economic and political transitions. Because if we didn’t, Central and Eastern Europe risked descending into poverty and instability – a very dangerous historical mix.

So from that point forward, we strengthened and broadened our partnership programmes, creating the Partnership for Peace in 1994.  The NACC was renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997, and this body remains the venue where NATO and its partners, including the Republic of Moldova, consult and where we coordinate on many of our cooperation programmes.

Partnership and cooperation with NATO has benefitted many states, including neutral countries and former Soviet republics.  And it has done so in many different ways.

Our main focus is on helping our partners to adopt democratic reforms, to modernize defence institutions and armed forces, and to promote interoperability between our forces.  Through such efforts, many partners have become producers rather than consumers of security.  They have made valuable contributions to NATO operations and helped to build stability in their own region and beyond.

Twelve of our NATO partners have gone on to become NATO Allies, but this is not the main purpose of our partnerships.  They are worthwhile for the many other advantages they bring.  And our partnerships are not exclusive or competitive.  You can be a European Union member or a strong friend of Russia, and you can still be a NATO partner.  You can preserve your neutrality and choose not to choose.  That is your right.

NATO enlargement will continue because we are an open alliance and several of our partners want to join.  But the process will not occur through covert subversion, fake referendums or illegal annexations – tactics that Russia has employed in Ukraine.  The Alliance will grow because sovereign countries will make their own choice to join NATO, and the Allies agree that their membership strengthens not just NATO but Euro-Atlantic security as a whole.

This freedom to choose is the foundation of our post-Cold War European security architecture. It is the same architecture that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have unfortuately called into question.

NATO is having a Summit in autumn in Wales. Our Allied Heads of State and Government will gather to discuss the implications of Russia’s actions. A main focus will be on reinforcing our collective defence.  But we will also focus on strengthening our partnerships, and NATO counts Moldova as an important partner.

Our partnership rests on a firm foundation.  Moldova has been an active NATO partner for well over two decades.  Our cooperation has developed in many areas, including military education and training, inter-operability among our armed forces, scientific cooperation, civil emergency planning, and cyber defence.  Since 2006, Moldova has had an Individual Partnership Action Plan to help structure its cooperation with NATO, and we are now looking to update that plan.  And I appreciate the fact that your country is the only NATO partner I know that has featured our partnership programme on a postage stamp!  And I am sure you wouldn’t do that if it hasn’t been a success.

Moldova’s decision to contribute to our NATO-led operation in Kosovo last year has been a major step forward in strengthening our partnership. I would like to express my profound thanks to Moldova for its important contributions. Right now,  an Infantry Manoeuvre Platoon and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO and partner forces in that country.  It is a culmination of our joint efforts to develop Moldova’s ability to participate in crisis management and peacekeeping operations.  Following your previous support for the UN Mission in Afghanistan, this is another strong demonstration of Moldova’s determination to be a security provider.  The efforts of your young men and women in uniform make a real difference, and their work is greatly appreciated.

But partnership with NATO also has immediate benefits for you and your fellow Moldovans right here at home.  For example, a NATO Partnership Trust Fund is helping to ensure the safe disposal of huge stocks of dangerous chemicals and pesticides left over from the Soviet era.

As we approach our NATO Summit in the fall, the NATO Allies have already discussed several ways we can enhance our cooperation. That is what I have been discussing here in the last 2 days. There is scope to deepen our political dialogue. And we are looking at ways to intensify our cooperation in the defence field as well, including by helping you to strengthen your defence institutions.

Going forward, NATO will continue to support Moldova’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.  And I do want to congratulate you on your choice to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, as well as achieving a visa-free regime with the EU.

Given this progress, we are all the more disturbed by Russia’s attempts to pressure you and your other neighbours.  We are also aware of your difficulties in the 5+2 negotiations over Transnistria.  We commend you for your commitment to a peaceful resolution of this dispute.  And we strongly encourage you to continue to work for the peaceful settlement of the conflict.

So Dear friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

NATO and Moldova are natural partners.  We share concerns about the security of this continent, about protracted conflicts and the increasing unpredictability of Russia’s actions in this region.  And we agree on the need for peaceful, freedom-loving nations to cooperate to build greater stability and security.  

We in NATO understand and respect that Moldova is a neutral country, even if we also know that ‘neutral’ does not mean ‘uninterested’.  So we are keen to deepen our partnership, and to help you to continue on your path towards the level of European and Euro-Atlantic integration that you find most appropriate for your country.

Young people like you rightly expect and justly deserve a future that is free from fear of intimidation or outside intervention.  NATO’s vision for Europe is based on cooperation, not confrontation.  It is based on stable borders, and every country’s freedom to choose – or not to choose.  There is a strong role to play in that Europe for an independent, sovereign Moldova.  And I am convinced that, with your support, NATO and Moldova can turn that vision into reality.

Thank you.