Gates Notes Ukraine’s Progress, Hopes for Change in Rus­sia

By Jim Gara­mone
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

TALLINN, Esto­nia, Nov. 13, 2008 — Ukraine is mak­ing progress, but still has a long way to go before becom­ing a full mem­ber of NATO, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates spoke to reporters at the con­clu­sion of a meet­ing here of NATO defense min­is­ters to dis­cuss Ukraine’s path to mem­ber­ship in the alliance. The sec­re­tary also spoke about Rus­sia and how the secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment has changed since Russia’s inva­sion of Geor­gia in August.

The NATO rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with a Ukrain­ian team led by Defense Min­is­ter Yuriy Yekha­nurov. Gates called the meet­ings good and pro­duc­tive, and he praised Ukraine for what it has done to date.

“Ukraine par­tic­i­pates in all NATO-led oper­a­tions and con­tin­ues to build expe­di­tionary forces com­pat­i­ble with alliance require­ments and goals,” the sec­re­tary said.

Still, Ukraine can­not rest on its lau­rels. The NATO min­is­ters called on Ukraine to speed the pace of secu­ri­ty-sec­tor reform, specif­i­cal­ly address­ing defense bud­get short­falls and urgent­ly need­ed improve­ments in plan­ning and pri­or­i­ti­za­tion, the sec­re­tary said.

“Despite polit­i­cal uncer­tain­ty, the lead­er­ship in Kiev must con­tin­ue to show the sus­tained com­mit­ment required to join the alliance,” Gates said.

The sec­re­tary empha­sized that one of the main rea­sons he made the trip to Tallinn was to sup­port the coun­tries of the region who wish to more ful­ly inte­grate with the West. “These nations are, quite under­stand­ably, on edge due to Russia’s incur­sion into Geor­gia last sum­mer,” Gates said.

The sec­re­tary called Russia’s more recent behav­ior trou­bling as well. With­in hours of the con­clu­sion of the recent U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Dmitriy Medvedev threat­ened in a speech to put weapons in Kalin­ingrad – a small sliv­er of Rus­sia on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithua­nia. The speech was “hard­ly the wel­come that a new Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tion deserves,” Gates said. “Such provoca­tive remarks are unnec­es­sary and mis­guid­ed.”

Gates repeat­ed what is fast becom­ing a mantra. “As we have tried to make clear, Rus­sia has noth­ing to fear from a defen­sive mis­sile shield, or for that mat­ter, the pres­ence of demo­c­ra­t­ic nations on its periph­ery,” he said. “Rather than asso­ciate with the rhetoric of a bygone era, the Unit­ed States would pre­fer that Rus­sia work with us to com­bat mutu­al secu­ri­ty threats. We will con­tin­ue to seek a pos­i­tive, con­struc­tive rela­tion­ship with the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment.”

The Unit­ed States has put for­ward pro­pos­als to ease Russ­ian con­cerns and has been answered by mis­siles, Gates not­ed. “Quite frankly, I’m not clear what the mis­siles would be for in Kalin­ingrad,” he said. “After all, the only real emerg­ing threat on Russia’s periph­ery is in Iran. I don’t think the Iskan­der mis­sile has the range to get there from Kalin­ingrad. Why they would threat­en to point mis­siles at Euro­pean nations seems quite puz­zling to me.”

Still, Gates said, the Unit­ed States does not want a rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia that dwells in the past, but one that looks to the future. “That means greater inte­gra­tion of Rus­sia with the rest of Europe as well as the Unit­ed States,” the sec­re­tary said. “It means the Europe ‘whole and free’ that we talked about in 1989 and 1990 extends to and includes Rus­sia.”

No one in U.S. or Euro­pean gov­ern­ments wants to exclude Rus­sia from these rela­tion­ships, Gates said.

“We just hope that the evo­lu­tion of pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics in Rus­sia moves Rus­sia toward resum­ing the move­ment toward inte­gra­tion with west­ern insti­tu­tions,” he said. “We want them to be a part of this fam­i­ly, and we are going through a peri­od that they are tak­ing a dif­fi­cult line. I’m hop­ing that this is tran­si­to­ry, and they will resume a more pro­duc­tive and pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship going for­ward.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)