“This should be one of NATO’s concerns”
Portugal’s minister of defence, Helena Carreiras, has warned of “growing Russian influence” in some African countries, saying this should also be one of the concerns of the Atlantic Alliance.
Ms Carreiras was speaking at the NATO Public Forum – an event taking place at the NATO Summit in Madrid – in the context of concerns about the Alliance’s southern flank.
She began by pointing out the problems related to food insecurity, “which is affecting African countries due to the disruption of supply chains” as well as “a variety of other threats related to economic and social conditions”.
She also mentioned the “political instability” in these countries – saying that it opens “space for a growing influence of Russia”, to which is added the presence of paramilitary groups or “hybrid campaigns”, which create challenges that NATO must “be prepared to face”.
“There are, of course, concerns, we know that NATO is looking to the east for what is happening (in Ukraine), but we must not forget that threats arise from very different areas. And I don’t think that NATO is forgetting that because we have this 360º concept that is reinforced in the new strategic concept.”
Asked whether Russian president, Vladimir Putin, also has a 360º approach, Ms Carreiras said she believed so since Russia “is present” in areas such as Africa and the Atlantic.
“We should definitely think about strengthening our partnerships. It is not that NATO should be there; NATO is a regional alliance – but it should be concerned with the stability of our borders because our security also depends on the stability of our neighbours.”
The minister added this means that “strategies should be drawn up to address these challenges” and help the Alliance’s neighbours; “being realistic” but helping “through the reinforcement and strengthening” of partnerships.
“And I think that the partnership between the European Union and NATO is absolutely crucial,” she stressed.
Ms Carreiras was speaking alongside Bulgarian Defence Minister Dragomir Zakov and North Macedonian Defence Minister Slavjanka Petrovska, who both addressed issues related to NATO and the European Union.
North Macedonia has been waiting to start its accesssion process to the European Union since 2005. Greece vetoed the process in the early years – until 2018 – since when it has been Bulgaria that has blocked it, amid long historical and cultural disputes.
On June 24, the Bulgarian parliament voted to lift the veto on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the EU, and ministers were asked how they reconcile these differences as they are both members of the Atlantic Alliance.
“When we talk about collective defence, we are 100% allies and we have excellent cooperation,” said Mr Zakov, who underlined the fact that “regardless of the differences that exist in NATO and their natures”, these are always overcome.
“I think we now have a clear perspective on how to overcome difficulties also within the EU and I am very optimistic that we can do so in the coming days,” he said.
Minister Petrovska agreed, saying that the two countries see the issue from a broader angle: “We are currently fighting for common security, which is the current challenge and the ‘number one’ priority for NATO,” she said.
“We think that we have to stay united as NATO members but also the European integration process of the Western Balkan countries especially must continue as soon as possible,” she stressed.
Also participating in the panel was Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who considered that the divergences within the Alliance are one of its greatest assets.
“What we are defending together is the fact that we are 30 sovereign states and we defend that fact. And in that sense we should cherish having differences of opinion because that is what makes us stronger. Once we agree on something, nobody can stand between us,” he said.
The admiral also added that Putin should be “surprised” by this unity and the “quick response” to the conflict in Ukraine.