Koenders: ‘NATO is sending a message of unity to Russia’

Foreign minister Bert Koenders is pleased with the outcome of the two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Turkey. ‘The allies were united in expressing their concern at Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine,’ he said. ‘That international unity is essential in achieving a new balance in relations with Russia. It means the alliance cannot be driven apart.’

Prior to the NATO meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and President Putin in Moscow and Sochi. ‘Mr Kerry’s feedback on his talks in Russia confirmed that a lot still has to be done to redress the balance,’ said Mr Koenders, who yesterday published his policy letter on Russia.

The NATO ministers discussed the ongoing tense security situation in eastern Ukraine. ‘It gives me – and many of my NATO counterparts – great cause for concern,’ said Mr Koenders, who also spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin at the meeting. ‘It’s important for all NATO partners to discuss finding the right balance between deterrence and dialogue with Russia. In the NATO context I have pointed out the importance of not only greater military readiness – to be able to deploy to the eastern borders more quickly if necessary – but also being prepared for hybrid threats. Besides excellent intelligence, that also requires watertight decision-making processes, which must be tested in exercises.’

Russia’s flexing its nuclear muscles is also a cause for concern among the allies. ‘But we will not allow ourselves to be provoked into similar behaviour,’ said the minister. At the meeting he specifically called for disarmament issues to remain high on the agenda – especially in times of crisis. Greater transparency is a crucial aspect, including on nuclear weapons. ‘I urge NATO to make progress on this issue wherever possible,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘We must be realistic, but also ambitious and specific.’

‘Besides increasing the alliance’s military readiness levels,’ the minister continued, ‘we also need to maintain open lines of communication with Russia. So I’m pleased that contact via military channels has resumed, as it is in our interests to maintain a dialogue on future cooperation. The unclear situation and the need for a comprehensive military and civilian response to today’s hybrid threats also calls for closer cooperation with the EU.’

The meeting also addressed the situation on NATO’s southern border, including the problems in Syria and Iraq. All 28 NATO countries are members of the anti-ISIS coalition in their own rights. The EU is also part of the bloc endeavouring to push back ISIS. ‘So it makes sense for NATO and the EU to work together more closely,’ said Mr Koenders. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini also joined the meeting in Turkey to discuss the specifics of pooling the efforts of NATO and the EU.

The cooperation between NATO partners in Afghanistan was also on the agenda of the international talks. ‘We’re working with our NATO partners to improve security in Afghanistan,’ remarked Mr Koenders. ‘We agreed that we must continue to support the country.’ The minister visited Afghanistan last month and discussed the subject with his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.

Mr Koenders also discussed the situation in Syria and Iraq in a private meeting with Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The minister wants to intensify cooperation with Turkey. The Netherlands and Turkey work together closely in combating terrorism, particularly within the anti-ISIS coalition, in which the two countries co-chair the working group on foreign terrorist fighters.