"Security and stability in the Western Balkans are important to NATO and are key to maintaining stability in Europe and the entire Euro-Atlantic area. Since the late 1990s, our forces have been helping keep peace and stability in the Western Balkans, and our KFOR mission in Kosovo is the best indicator of this commitment. KFOR continues to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 from 1999," NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said in an exclusive interview with Kurir.
How happy is NATO with the cooperation with Serbia, which has decided to be militarily neutral, i.e. remain outside of any military alliance?
"NATO and Serbia are close partners, as NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg pointed out during President Vučić's recent visit to our headquarters. This year we are marking the 15th anniversary of Serbia's membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace programme. The NATO Secretary General is in regular contact with President Vučić and other Serbian officials, and we have a very broad political dialogue at various levels, owing among other things to the excellent work of our colleagues at the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade."
In which areas is this cooperation most intensive?
"We have a well-developed practical cooperation in a number of areas. For example, NATO and Serbia work together to be better prepared for civil emergences. Furthermore, we are helping Serbia reform its security forces and institutions, which includes training Serbian soldiers for international peace-keeping missions. We have also worked together to train Iraqi medical corps officers, helping support the Iraqi armed forces. We are happy with and welcome the partnership with Serbia. We are ready to develop it further, while continuing to fully respect Serbia's military neutrality. NATO can have strong relations with partners although they are not members of the Alliance, such as Austria or Finland. We fully respect the decision of these countries not to join NATO, just as we respect the decision of others to join."
How much of a security risk does Kosovo pose? And what is your view on the persistent attempts of the Kosovo authorities to form the Kosovo Armed Forces, which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg opposes?
"Above all else, NATO remains fully committed to security in Kosovo. We regularly review our presence through KFOR, and all the Allies agree that we should maintain the current contingent of about 3,600 troops."
So, KFOR is not withdrawing from Kosovo?
"Pursuant to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, KFOR will continue to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo. The KFOR mandate remains unchanged, and the members of NATO are strongly committed to this important mission. Further, NATO fully supports the normalization of the relations between Belgrade and Priština, including by means of the EU-facilitated dialogue, which is the only lasting political solution for both sides and the wider region. Belgrade and Priština should refrain from statements or actions which could lead to an escalation, and should remain focused on making progress with the reforms and on the dialogue. For us, the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština is the best platform for finding a solution which respects the rights of all the communities, as well as for ensuring a lasting peace which guarantees a better and more prosperous future for all. Lastly, the NATO Secretary General has made it clear since December 2018 that the move you mention [interviewer's note: the intention of the Kosovo authorities to form armed forces] was ill-timed and that the decision was made against his advice. Since 2016, the NATO Advisory and Liaison Team (which is not part of KFOR) has been providing support for a further development of the Kosovo security organizations under their original mandate, capacity building, education, and training coordination. With the change of mandate of the Kosovo Security Force, the North Atlantic Council is re-examining the level of NATO’s cooperation with it. Discussions among Allies are ongoing."
The country that you are from (Romania) wasn't a member of NATO in 1999, at the time of the bombing of Yugoslavia. How do you personally see that operation from where we are today?
"First off, I would like to say that I understand that the memories of the 1999 air campaign are still painful to many, especially those who lost their family members. Secretary General Stoltenberg offered his condolences to all those who had lost their loved ones on both sides. He said clearly that any loss of innocent lives was a tragedy that he deeply regrets. The aim of the campaign, following many failed international diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, was to protect the civilians in the wider region and stop the humanitarian disaster taking place in Kosovo. We mustn't forget the past, but we can move forward, and that is what NATO and Serbia are doing through this partnership – looking forward towards a better future."
On the pandemic
'Corona has shown how capable we are'
How much has the pandemic changed the world, the people's habits and needs and, as a result, the security system, politics, and diplomacy?
"The pandemic has had an enormous effect on every corner of the world and all aspects of our societies. It has also affected NATO, our member states and partners, our missions and operations. Still, despite the extraordinary challenge posed by the Covid-19 crisis, we have proved to be resilient and adaptable, able to face everything it confronts us with. During the pandemic, NATO's greatest priority has been to make sure that this health and economic crisis doesn't turn into a security crisis. That is what we do. Our forces remain vigilant, ready to defend all the Allies against any threat. We have done what is necessary to ensure the security of our forces, and maintain our operational preparedness and our missions and operations."