NATO Is Back

A Conversation with Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Rasmussen at the UN headquarters in 2011.
Rasmussen at the UN headquarters in 2011. (Eric Thayer / Courtesy Reuters)

After serving as the prime minister of Denmark for eight years, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was appointed secretary general of NATO in 2009. During his tenure, he has had to deal with three main issues: the winding down of the U.S.-led, NATO-run war in Afghanistan; NATO’s 2011 military intervention to protect civilians in Libya, which contributed to the downfall of the Qaddafi regime; and, most recently, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Foreign Affairs Deputy Managing Editor Justin Vogt spoke with him in Washington, D.C. on March 19, 2014.

Why do you think that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to occupy and annex Crimea?
It's difficult to guess about motives, but let me try. [Putin has] stated that the fall of the Soviet Union was the biggest catastrophe of the century. And that reflects his basic thinking. I think he has a desire to restore Russian greatness and establish, or reestablish, a Russian sphere of influence in Russia's neighborhood. In more concrete terms, I think there might be side motives. Through a number of “frozen conflicts” in this region -- in Transnistria, in Abkhazia, in South Ossetia, and in a way also Nagorno-Karabakh -- Russia tries to prevent countries from seeking Euro-Atlantic integration.

What’s your impression of Putin and his leadership?
I have dealt with Putin also in my previous capacity, as prime minister of Denmark, and during Denmark’s presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2002. Among other things, we had to negotiate the transit link through Lithuania to Kaliningrad on behalf of the European Union. It was a very, very tough negotiation between the European Union and Russia. And I've also been involved in other issues. My bottom line is that you shouldn't underestimate Putin's determination. He has a clear goal, he has a clear strategy, he has clear tactics. To match that, you need a firm stance and strong determination.

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