We see that Ukraine is improving every year - NATO Commander | Interview
NATO Ground Forces Commander Admiral Jeanette Morang, a year ago received the highest rank in the Dutch Navy at the age of 54 . In her new position, Morang works at the NATO Naval Command Center in Northwood, England. After the Sea Breeze 2020 exercise, correspondent Krystyna Dombrovskaya spoke with Jeanette Morang about security in the Black Sea region, Ukraine's navy and cooperation with NATO.
What role did the Ukrainian Navy play in this year's SNMG-2 operations? Is it easy to work with them?
The Sea Breeze 2020 exercises, which Ukraine co-organized with the United States in 1997, provide an opportunity for NATO to take joint action with Ukraine, and it is an opportunity for Ukraine to really improve their skills as well as improve its interoperability with NATO. It is very important for us, as the organization, to study not only with the allied countries on the Black Sea, but also with our partner countries (such as Ukraine and Georgia). If you are used to training together, then, in times of crisis, it would be much easier to interact and connect, because you have done it before. In addition, these exercises improve our understanding of the Black Sea region. So, for us, this is a good opportunity to train with the Ukrainian Navy, in turn, for them, to learn to plan and work with NATO. During this year's exercise, the Ukrainian Navy demonstrated great professionalism in ships and aircraft. To sum up, they performed it perfectly. So, we were very happy to see it. We also have another naval operation where Ukraine as a partner wants to contribute. So we also work when they study and work together.
Cooperation between Ukraine and NATO. How ready is the Ukrainian navy for NATO standards?
Ukraine is a partner with enhanced capabilities, which means that NATO has received a special program with Ukraine. All this is aimed at improving cooperation, but also helps Ukraine to develop its military capabilities. For example, how to work together in the SEA Breeze exercise, which is part of the Navy program. At present, we see that Ukraine is improving every year.
How do you assess the current situation in the Black Sea region in terms of security and defense?
Of course, the Black Sea is a very important region. It is strategically important, in addition, 80 percent of commercial trade routes pass through the latest maritime communications. Therefore, it is very important that they have the opportunity to freely use navigation in this region. We have seen that Russia has forcibly expanded its territory in the past. They increase their presence, increase the number of ships they have there. Therefore, it is also a reason for NATO to increase its presence and be in the Black Sea region more often.
But at the same time, all the exercises and training we do are within the framework of international law. We expect Russia to do the same. So far, this enhanced presence does not necessarily carry any risk. It maintains balance as long as everything is safe and professional. We will continue our strong presence for as long as needed. Joint exercises with NATO will help Ukraine's navy be prepared for any developments.
After NATO ships entered the Black Sea region, how stable do you think the situation is in this region, in the context of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?
During the exercises, Russian ships came very close to NATO ships, but they monitored and did not interfere. They acted safely and professionally. But it is also good that they can witness how NATO allies work together and demonstrate their readiness and training. I believe that the presence of NATO and Allies stabilizes the situation in the Black Sea region as long as everyone adheres to international norms and does everything possible to maintain security.
How much has the situation changed here lately? Ukrainian military experts say Russia is strengthening its position in the Black Sea, especially its underwater part.
It is clear that Russia is expanding its military presence in the Black Sea region and increasing its military power in new deployments. Putin announced their intention to increase the Russian fleet by 40 ships of various classes. As such, they will continue to build up their forces, but NATO is also taking steps to strengthen its presence in the Black Sea region. We plan to continue our influential presence while we continue our dialogue with Russia in order to keep the situation under control.
What progress do you see in the navy in Ukraine since 2014?
Ukraine lost some of its ships in 2014. However, the Ukrainian Navy is making active efforts to improve its professional skills. They were also invited to become a Sea Guardian operational partner in NATO's military security operation in the Mediterranean. But, before participating, they must practice on training ships. After that, NATO will analyze the level of their training and all these factors will increase the willingness to cooperate effectively with Allies.
Does Covid-19 affect the learning processes that take place during the year?
Mostly Covid-19 influences exercise planning, but doesn't really make it impossible. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have introduced special measures. In addition, before boarding the ship you need to go through a two-week quarantine. During training, you are still at sea at a safe distance. This allows you to perform various exercises without actually getting physically very close, keeping in touch via VTC or Skype. There are so many opportunities for this now, despite the Covid-19. Sure, it's not as easy as being face to face, but it works.