Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and professor at the University of Leiden, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was head of NATO from 2004 to 2009. His mandate was marked by an attempt at rapprochement with Russia and the accession, in 2004, of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, then of Albania and Croatia in 2009.
How do you analyze the evolution of NATO’s relationship with the Russian regime?
The situation was good in 2004, bad in 2007-2008, very bad in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, even worse today… Never, at the start of my mandate, did Moscow protest against the enlargement of the NATO. In 2008, during our summit in Bucharest, in the presence of Vladimir Poutine, we had however to find a compromise, weak and not very useful, at the end of a very tough confrontation between George W. Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as between Europeans. On this occasion, the postponement of the status of candidates for Ukraine and Georgia was recorded, Putin having judged that these candidacies were unacceptable.
Could you imagine, at that moment, that he would start a war?
The lightning war he launched in August 2008 for control of the Georgian province of South Ossetia was already a direct consequence of this summit in Bucharest. I understood during my tenure, when relations began to deteriorate, that Putin is a rational being focused on reclaiming his former empire. And a dictator’s rationality can be as dangerous as his irrationality. So it was the magnitude of what was unleashed on February 24 that amazed me, but not the unleashing itself. I believe that Georgia and Moldova are among his other targets, as well as the Baltic States, even if he is aware that this would be much more complicated. I fear that his thirst for conquest has not been quenched.
How much room for maneuver does the European Union still have?
We must continue to massively help Ukraine and provide it with the necessary equipment. Block Putin wherever possible, and expel him wherever possible.
Emmanuel Macron called not to “humiliate” Russia. Do you approve?
“Humiliation” probably wasn’t the right word spoken at the right time. More important is the unprecedented solidarity and unity that characterized the European Union’s response [UE] and NATO. The Atlantic Alliance has shown its solidarity, it could expand to include Finland and Sweden, it is once again enjoying the full attention of the United States, strengthening its eastern flank, and its members are once again concerned about their defense , after what I called their period of “geopolitical holidays”.
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