Baiba Braže, a Latvian diplomat, has held one of the highest civilian positions within NATO since 2020. She serves as the Assistant Secretary-General for Public Diplomacy, responsible, among other things, for countering Russia's attempts to undermine the Alliance's image.
However, she is convinced that Russia will fail in its efforts. This confidence also extends to the military sphere, with NATO believing in Ukraine's victory in the war. Baiba Braže discussed these topics, as well as the expectations for the historic Vilnius Summit (not only for Ukraine), and the Russian terrorist attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, in an interview with "European Pravda" at the Riga StratCom conference.
NATO has plans, including a possible nuclear threat
- Thank you very much for agreeing to meet with European Pravda. First of all, I would like you to comment on the recent explosion that destroyed the huge dam of the Kakhovka Reservoir. Let's check if we have the same understanding of this event. Who destroyed this dam?
- Secretary General immediately announced his view on the Kakhovka dam, saying the destruction of the dam is indeed a big tragedy. It's a big tragedy for thousands and thousands of civilian population.
It's contrary to international law, international humanitarian law. It's just clear that Russia enabled war. It's Russia's war against Ukraine which has enabled this catastrophe. So it's a really horrible development and attack on critical infrastructure.
- Firstly, Russia is responsible for this. Secondly, it was Russia itself that blew up the dam. Do you agree with any of these statements?
- Again, Secretary General was very clear in what he said. The dam would not have been destroyed if it were not Russia's war. It's very clear. Indeed it was in Russian hands already for a year. The Russians were running it. There are all types of evidence. NATO is not in the business of gathering evidence and neither running investigations. So let me stop with that.
- The Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant is located not far from the Kakhovska dam, and the operation of this NPP is somehow connected with the destroyed reservoir. Let's talk about Russia's likely next steps. Can we now be sure that Russia will not dare to attack the nuclear power plant?
- That would be speculation on my side if I said one or the other. That's not what you want NATO to do – to speculate on various scenarios.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and its Secretary General, Rossi, clearly said that for now, there is enough cooling water for the next few months for the nuclear power plant. The important part is to use that time to ensure all the contingencies are addressed and there is no more risk for further catastrophe. So I think that is the most important thing for now.
- Does NATO have any plan to prevent a nuclear catastrophe?
- When we speak about NATO, it's important to understand that our mission is collective defence, the defence of 31 country population and citizens.
That is what NATO is legally based on – the Treaty of NATO. That is our collective mission. So everything that we do is based around that, including deterrence, making sure that there are plans to defend, that those plans are exercised, that there are forces that can verify that it's both civil and military effort. It's not just the military.
In that respect, NATO has plans for nuclear deterrence and defence. NATO has what it means. NATO is very careful not to speculate or not push it, or be very loud about it. When somebody speaks about nuclear issues, it creates certain worries in the audience.
It is already decided that Ukraine will become a NATO member
- Let me return to Ukraine - NATO relations. What is Ukraine from NATO?
- Ukraine is a great partner for NATO. It's a country that has been a partner since 1991 when Ukraine gained independence. The partnership has grown in strength. It has grown in depth. It really comprehends almost all institutions in Ukraine.
Allies provide lethal aid, while NATO does not coordinate lethal aid. That's done outside because it's much wider than NATO countries from various regions providing Ukraine military aid.
So what we are doing at NATO now is ensuring that all the essential efforts that we provide, including non-military aid, lead to full interoperability. Meaning – that Ukraine is compatible with NATO standards.
A new package is being prepared in terms of practical help - medical help, antidrones and many other things that NATO coordinates. We don't always speak about it because it depends on operational security issues. You know how to how to make sure that Ukraine gets what it wants. So we don't necessarily advertise and things that we do. But it's all there.
- Mrs. Ambassador, I agree that practical assistance is much needed. However, for a country aspiring to become a NATO member and having strong support for membership within its society, it is also important to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- The decision to grant membership future for Ukraine was made in 2008 in Bucharest. So the leaders at that summit in 2008 made that decision. It was also a clear sense that Ukraine will need a membership action plan to implement that which is not yet. It did not happen.
- I apologise, but I have to interrupt you here. Ukraine is clearly stating, at the official level, that it does not accept the option of receiving MAP (presidential decree of constitutional jurisdiction). President Zelenskyy has made this clear. I understand that it is not up to you or me to make this decision and that it is a matter for the leaders of the Allies to consider. However, is NATO even aware that MAP is definitely not what Ukraine wants to receive?
- That was in 2008 what the leaders decided. The cooperation, the integration of Ukraine, the practical work is very, very comprehensive. It really includes all the areas from civil to military to everything. That is what makes Ukraine special. It's not only the words; it's not a sort of paper but real work. That's what NATO is about – real work.
An essential part of all this is obviously, Ukraine has to leave victorious in the war. There has to be an independent democratic Ukraine that can join NATO after the war. During the war, the perspective is important. That's why Secretary General went to Kyiv, and we affirmed the decision of the Allies that Ukraine would be a member of NATO.
He said Ukraine belongs to the Euro-Atlantic family and Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO.
That's why we all, as allies, as NATO international staff, and as military, and civilian police, are making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to win the war.
The leaders will decide what political relationship Ukraine will have. It's not anymore about whether Ukraine will be a member. Ukraine will be a member because that is already decided. It's about how to win the war and increase very practical but political relationship with NATO.
- NATO's popularity in Ukraine hits a record high.
- Yes, I saw 80-82% support based on one of the latest polls, which is great.
- What is the reason for the huge success of NATO?
- I think people in all countries, also in NATO countries, understand that this collective security organisation, the collective defence, brings peace and security. We see record high interest, record high support for NATO also in other countries in NATO member states.
Do you see the danger that certain actions or inaction can undermine this record level of support?
- Very difficult to say.
- I will show you a scenario leading to a significant decline in support. This will happen if we do not achieve a positive outcome at the Vilnius Summit. Is there an understanding within the Alliance that this summit is crucial for Ukrainians' trust in NATO?
- This summit is decisive in a number of matters also for NATO itself. We are discussing new defence plans for implementing the concept of deterrence and defence.
Agreeing on very practical ways how to ensure the defence of Euro-Atlantic territory is crucially important. We indeed have a relationship with Ukraine. I will not speculate or prejudge the outcome of the negotiations among the allies because it's 31 countries that have to agree.
But I am sure the message will be overall very positive. I don't know what exactly will be the wording that one or the other person wants. There is no reason to doubt NATO's or leaders' commitment to Ukraine. The need for Ukrainian to be able and willing to really be victorious is crucial for the condition. We are enabling that through assistance.
The interoperability for a longer future and full compatibility with NATO is needed.
- Ukrainian armed forces?
Defence industry. There is a whole set of very practical works that are ongoing. Sometimes it's better to keep it going instead of only talking about it because not necessarily that is what brings success.
Russia is failing not only on the battlefield
- Those who are definitely not silent are Russian agents of influence. Do you see any dangerous narratives they are spreading?
- Russia is also using much more technological capability - the ability to coordinate its activities on closed information channels, whether it's Telegram or other platforms. The ability to run information operations through various not only bots but fake accounts, buying agency services through intermediaries, and running information campaigns supposedly legitimately.
I will not ever say that this is something that Russia is doing very well because we do not see that. Russia is failing. Russia is failing not only militarily in Ukraine.
It's the second-strongest army in Ukraine, obviously. But it's also failing information space. Yes, it's trying to split the society. Yes, it's trying to pinch various fake accounts, and bots into social media bubbles, trying to split society on various existing issues.
At the same time, we clearly see the democratic institutions, the resilience of societies, and the understanding and perception of Russia are negative, very negative, whether in our countries, Ukraine, or elsewhere, not positive at all. One element where we, as allies, as Ukraine and a number of other partners, should do better is the global South.
Where indeed, Russia and China are both running hostile information campaigns not only against Ukraine but also against NATO, blaming NATO's "expansion" for the start of the war – that it was NATO's "expansion" that was the reason for the Russian attack.
This is where countries should be doing much more, using the various instruments to not only counter but actually preempt these Russian narratives. Otherwise, I'm not going to repeat Russian narratives because I don't want to give oxygen to them.
- To finish. Ukraine will definitely win. I think you agree with that
- Ukraine will win the war.
- On this path, it may turn out that negotiations with the Russian Federation are needed. What does NATO think about it?
- NATO will not be in charge of negotiations. Negotiations will be done on Ukrainian terms. Ukraine will decide what negotiations, when, and how it should be done. Partners, allies, and the international community will support Ukraine. All wars eventually end with negotiations. But NATO will not push for it, that is for sure.
Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko
"European Pravda", editor