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Velizar Shalamanov: The Best Way to Fight Hybrid Threats - Deploying Heavy Military Forces

"Security issues in South-Eastern Europe can not be solved without the deployment of multinational military contingents there"

Today, NATO's defense policy on its eastern flank has a certain imbalance in favor of its north-eastern part. The reasons for this situation, as well as its vision through the prism of interests of the southeast members of the Alliance - in an interview with the former Minister of Defense of Bulgaria Velizar Shalamanov.

Mr. Shalamanov, who today represents NATO's policy on its eastern flank?

This is a rather complicated question. After the summit in Wales, all of NATO's policy on its eastern flank is related to the so-called Readiness Action Plan, which is mostly East-oriented, but with some initiatives for the South. This is partly due to some informal distribution among the Eastern members of NATO. Thus, the three Baltic countries, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are focused on the forward presence of the Alliance in the East, while Turkey and Greece are more interested in the southern direction (Middle East and North Africa). But even among the countries belonging to the first group, there is also a symbolic division: the Northeast (three Baltic states and Poland), which today has a strengthened forward presence of NATO and the South-East (Romania and Bulgaria) , for which, due to the complexity of the situation in the Black Sea region, a tailored forward presence was identified. With regard to the further development of this special advanced presence on the south-eastern flank, it will largely depend on joint assessments of the situation in the region by Romania and Bulgaria and their proposals for responding to the challenges and risks in it.

How would you rate the current approach of Bulgaria and Romania to this NATO's special advanced presence in the region?

It must be admitted that Romania is much more active on this issue today. Bucharest already has a multinational division. From the Romanian side, there are initiatives to establish a corps headquarters to coordinate NATO activities in its southeastern zone of responsibility - similar to that of the Alliance in the north-eastern direction of the Polish Szczecin. In addition, in the interests of a special advanced presence, Romania initiated the creation of an additional multinational brigade in the Republic. Along with this, Romania (here along with Bulgaria) considers it necessary to create a Black Sea Security Coordination Center (Varna), which would be subordinated to the Joint Naval Command in Northwood and would improve situational awareness and overall coordination of NATO / EU forces in the Black Sea .

In addition to the foregoing, Bulgaria, in its turn, is also interested in the Western Balkans, as it borders on Serbia, which has close ties with Russia, with Macedonia, Kosovo, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has the Republika Srpska as its part. That is, there are certain sources of instability. That is why the Bulgarian side would like to see a much higher level of cooperation in South-Eastern Europe within NATO, not only between Bulgaria and Romania, but also with the Western Balkan countries.

In addition, it should be noted that all countries that form the leading NATO presence in Eastern Europe plus the Czech Republic have formed the so-called Bucharest-9 initiative aimed at closer cooperation on the implementation of NATO's policy on its Eastern flank.

Do not you think that NATO is slightly underestimating the situation on the south-eastern flank compared to the north-eastern one?

Comparing NATO's approach to the Southeast, as it relates to the North-East, should take into account the complexity of the Black Sea region, with its several frozen conflicts and one hot spot in eastern Ukraine. This factor greatly complicates the possibility of consolidation of countries from Southeast Europe.

You are well aware that "NATO is a nation." And the nations themselves are putting on topics for discussion at the NATO table, on which decisions are made only by consensus. Today, the Baltic States and Poland are much more determined to protect their territories. Unfortunately, as we can see, there is no such determination in Bulgaria and Romania. Especially when it comes to the formation of a common, coherent proposal on the situation in the region.

As for Bulgaria itself, the main problem I see here is the lack of understanding of NATO's mechanisms and capabilities to solve serious security problems in South-Eastern Europe. In addition, the situation is aggravated by the conviction that these problems are better mitigated, occupy a passive, devoid of any ambitions position and expect the decision "to come from the mountain."

But the decision can not "come from the mountain" if the "bottom" will not raise the issue ...

That's what I meant when I spoke of the lack of determination and misunderstanding of NATO's mechanisms. Security problems can only be solved by providing clear assessments and realistic suggestions on how to overcome them. Only in this way can you draw the attention of the great powers of NATO to your problems and form a consensus about, for example, the presence of NATO multinational forces in your territory. I deliberately mentioned multinational formations, because I am convinced that without their physical location security issues in Southeastern Europe will not be resolved. Otherwise, it will be a signal that this part of Europe is different from its northeastern, central or western parts. However, we want the whole of Europe to be safe and free. Therefore, when it comes to security and defense, all parts of Europe should be given equal attention.

What needs to be done to give NATO's south-eastern flank the same attention as the north-east?

The situation will only change if the countries of the region - Romania and Bulgaria - can really offer a common position on the basis of a clear assessment of the security situation in it, in particular with regard to conventional and non-traditional threats. Especially - non-traditional ones. As compared with the North East, the biggest challenge in South-Eastern Europe is non-traditional, hybrid threats that actually reduce the level of unity and resolve of countries to address security and defense issues in it. And no matter how paradoxical it sounds, the best way to solve hybrid threats is to deploy heavy military power. Because, if you have it - it dramatically changes the appetite of the enemy.

You said that the main problems for this region are non-traditional threats. And what about the militarization of Russia with the Crimea and the Black Sea?

Unfortunately, Russia is not an ordinary classic threat to NATO in Southeastern Europe. Moreover, from the point of view of Article 5 of the NATO Charter, Russia is still not a direct threat to the Alliance, at least in its current assessment of its territorial integrity. But sooner or later, the hybrid activity of Russia in the region will equally turn into a direct threat to the territory of NATO. That is why we need to deploy enough containment and defense forces in Southeastern Europe, especially in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, it is very important to conduct consultations with Ukraine and Georgia in order to find together a solution that, without the application of Article 5, would help them to ensure their full sovereignty.

As I have already said, many people in Bulgaria believe that taking a passive position can secure their future in this very risky region. However, people in Ukraine and Georgia have already shown that passivity will not yield any results and that there must be a decisive line of conduct. Moreover, I believe that the more determined the line of your (Ukraine and Georgia) behavior, the more likely it is that Romania and Bulgaria will change their current attitude to the situation in the region, make a joint decision and "put it on the table of NATO "

It is unlikely that all NATO members will be delighted with the activity of their southeastern partners?

Of course, this is a difficult question, and there will be enough countries that will try to avoid it. However, if we want to feel safe, we must be persistent in talking to these countries and addressing important issues for us, such as the deployment of multinational units in our territory, "on the NATO table".

There are still no multinational units in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian authorities believe that today it does not need it?

I think that in the first place, she is worried about Russia's reaction. She also avoids the reaction of the population, which is formed under the influence of Russian propaganda. And this is, in fact, a challenge, since NATO can not force you to place multinational units on your territory. If you want them to be in your territory, you have to raise this issue and persuade other NATO members to send their troops to you. If you do not, the chances that they will appear in you are very low. The Baltic States managed to persuade their NATO partners and this task now faces us.

By the way, the same applies to EU units - both military and border guard and civil defense. Today, the European Union is actively discussing its common security and defense policy. And this means that his security and defense forces will be deployed along its borders, that is, in Romania and Bulgaria. Moreover, for them it will benefit not only from the point of view of strengthening their safety, but also will mean a certain economic benefit. Therefore, I think that sooner or later, if not purely security aspects, then economic, will be motivated by the Bulgarian government (if not the next) to decide on the placement of multinational units in Bulgaria.

That is, multinational units in Bulgaria can be expected from the EU rather than from NATO ...

I would not say so, because there is already a certain merger of the forces of the EU and NATO. And I expect that in the future, more and more multinational formations will be considered as part of the EU and NATO security structures, since the same countries are part of both the Alliance and the European Union. The difference will be only in the command (NATO or EU), under which these units will be deployed in those or other operations.

How do you generally assess the chances of the emergence of multinational units in Bulgaria?

I would say that the chances are high enough. This process is inevitable both for NATO and for the EU. I can name at least three areas in which a multinational presence in Bulgaria can appear. The first is NATO. Sooner or later we will reach the moment when a decision is made to send multinational contingents to Bulgaria. The second is the EU, and the third is bilateral cooperation with Romania, which is becoming more and more closely every day.

Speak to Igor Fedyk (TsDAKR-Balkan)