New working group to find solutions to deter Russia from further aggression.

Mikuláš Dzurinda, former Slovak prime minister has become a member of the International Working Group for New European Security Architecture, chaired by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO secretary general, and Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the Ukrainian president. Members include former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former British prime minister Boris Johnson and former Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

The last European Council summit ended in a compromise. How do you view the result and the process that preceded it?

Viktor Orbán has a problem. He has found himself on a slippery slope called 'violating the principles of the rule of law'. Still, he wants money from European funds. Evidently, these two aspects are in conflict. Secondly, Orbán always plays it rough. He understands politics - power politics above all - so sometimes he flirts with danger. Thirdly, one thing significantly weakened him, and that was the elections in Poland which cost him an ally. He can no longer stand his ground, because when 26 countries agree to apply Article 7 [suspension of voting rights - Ed. note], it will happen. When he realised that no one would help him, he simply voted for it. Also, I know that it's not a problem for Brussels officials to find ways around a problem.

Are you referring to the Financial Times article according to which European politicians were preparing to put Hungary under pressure, announcing that they would stop European funds and causing damage to the Hungarian economy?

Yes, there were probably several ways to help Ukraine without Orbán having his foot in the door. But in my opinion, the most powerful, truest and most direct way was using Article 7.

Recently, you have become a member of the International Working Group for New European Security Architecture. What exactly is that about?

When the war broke out two years ago, the leaders of Ukraine, the EU and NATO were thinking about how to help Ukraine. At that time, none of us knew how long the war would last, whether there would be a truce or a cessation of hostilities. It was then that the idea was first born, probably in Kyiv, that an international group of politicians, former politicians, as well as representatives of NGOs could be formed with the goal of developing a system of guarantees for Ukraine to avoid further attacks against it. It was at the beginning of the summer of 2022 when I received the first invitation to such a group.

From whom?

[Former NATO secretary general] Anders Fogh Rasmussen. At the beginning, there was an agreement on cooperation between the Ukrainian president's administration headed by Andriy Yermak, and the Rasmussen Global consulting company. That choice was obvious, as Ukraine not only wants to join the EU, but also NATO. Rasmussen is a very experienced politician, so a partnership was formed.

It was probably due to consultations with Ukraine that I was invited as I've left a long-lasting mark in the country. The group drafted the Kyiv Security Compact document, presented to Zelensky in September 2022 by Rasmussen. For the first time in the system of potential guarantees, the document contained a proposal for cooperation in the form of bilateral agreements between a given state and Ukraine.

These agreements were aimed at helping Ukraine militarily, economically and financially in order to make Russia lose the will to fight. The document became the basis for the joint declaration of the G7 countries a year later at NATO's Vilnius summit. It was explicitly said that if Ukraine does not become a NATO member state, then its security will be mainly guaranteed by bilateral agreements.

The first such agreement was signed on January 12 by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Kyiv. However, the Russians don't want to end the war, and tension is growing in Ukrainian society as well. With NATO's summit in Washington approaching, Yermak and Rasmussen met again and formed this group, calling it the Task Force. The first meeting was held last Tuesday.

The report on the group's establishment mentions ideas such as the new European security architecture, a term that has been making the rounds for perhaps 15 years. The strongest deterrent against Russia is NATO, or more precisely the threat of the US entering a war. You talk about the initiative to create bilateral agreements. Is there a threat that the US, possibly under Donald Trump, could withdraw from NATO or weaken it?

Trump is not the deciding factor. The primary factor is a more objective one. Ukrainians submitted an application to NATO in 2008, and the more difficult it is for them, the more they push for it. The question is what should the alliance in Washington do.

If it's a formal level problem, what should the working group do about it?

This is not a formal problem. This is a highly political and factual problem.

But if we are talking about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO or security guarantees at the level of existing, legitimate leaders, how will a working group of people, who have experience and contacts but lack the legitimacy that state leaders have, handle it?

Legitimacy is not the goal; invention is. At Globsec, [Czech MEP and former defence minister] Alexandr Vondra said, 'Come up with something, because as a minister I don't have time to do so.' I was a prime minister for eight years. Prime ministers don't have much time to think. They need inspiration, they need ideas and support. When leaders meet in Washington, they need something to choose from. I'm not saying that what we come up with is acceptable. But I certainly hope that we will inspire them and that they will think about it. This is the goal of the group.

So the people who make up the group will use their contacts, create some kind of document and try to get it to leaders with real power?

That's exactly it. This is how the G7 leaders' joint statement was created. They accepted the basic idea of our Kyiv Strategic Compact, that while Ukraine is not in NATO, we will help it on the basis of bilateral and legally binding norms. What [UK prime minister] Rishi Sunak has done now is a big thing. He signed such an agreement with Zelensky. Now it's France's turn. When agreements to supply Ukraine with weapons, for example, long-range missiles or fighter jets, are signed, that's a big deal. The results of the first working group's work became the basis for the negotiations of the G7 countries. A crucial part of that work was accepted.

What's your role in this?

To come up with an idea, a solution. What position should the alliance adopt at the Washington summit in July. I'm expected to comment on, for example, the dilemma of whether NATO should continue to choose an approach of strategic patience or whether it should adopt a different approach – more active and aggressive towards the Kremlin.

What's the idea?

Come back later and I'll think about what to say. But I always came up with something. It will be difficult, this is not a trivial matter.

Will using your contacts with leaders and lobbying, persuade them to be part of your job?

I will have the opportunity to offer that. As former leaders, we are expected to come up with creative proposals. First, we will discuss them among ourselves and these debates will not be easy at all.

Simply put, there will be a group of people who will want strategic patience. But there will be those who may say that 100,000 soldiers should be sent to Ukraine. Our activities will also include a presentation at the Munich Security Conference in February and at Globsec. There will probably be other forums where we will get wider support. We will promote those activities and gain public opinion for them.

Will you pick up the phone and call politicians from other countries? Will you meet them?

I cannot really answer that. I'm the head of the European People's Party think tank. We had a meeting with ten former prime ministers in Brussels in January, and it was an excellent forum. Former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel was there, as was former Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, ex Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy and others. I got a lot of ideas there.

The report on the formation of your group states that "the measures are intended to effectively deter Russia from any further aggression and contribute to the end of the war". Russia seems to understand only one thing at the moment - brute force. How can this be done? Can it be done without brute force?

You have to demonstrate that brute power.

Do you mean armed forces stronger than Russian ones?

Have you heard that I have been promoting the idea of a European army since 2016?

You are not alone in promoting this. Can you imagine a solution that Russia would listen to now and respect?

Do you want to talk about a quick solution or an effective solution?

Let's talk about the effective one, like the report states. So how do you want to contribute to ending the war?

These are the issues that are going to occupy me for the next few weeks. Building a European army will take time, but we have to do it one day.

A few months ago, for the first time in history, eight EU countries held military exercises in the south of Spain, where an active operation was simulated. Thousands of soldiers, submarines and helicopters were involved. For the first time a European action was simulated. And it worked. Putin will only take Europe and our contribution to the alliance seriously if our words are followed by actions. Until Putin sees that a 150,000-200,000 strong European army has been formed, ready to defend Europe, he will not take us seriously.

How to enforce something like this, when at the moment financial aid to Ukraine is hard to push through? What advantage do you have that European leaders do not?

The advantage of the group of former politicians is that they are much freer. Today, I'm not worried about my percentage in the polls. I'm more independent than the existing leaders.

If today Europe gives €50 billion to Ukraine only after major struggle and the US Congress is still blocked, why should politicians aim for something bigger?

These things are a battle for public opinion, €50 billion is not pocket money. You are being a bit dramatic, the only one with the problem was Orbán.

An extraordinary summit had to be held.

You're exaggerating. The most valuable thing is an idea, do not underestimate creativity. A Prime Minister often doesn't have the capacity for this, most of the time not even advisers. These people have no such experience. And secondly, it is necessary to sway public opinion. Support for Ukraine is a Sisyphean task. Take our [Slovak] conspiracy-laden society. That's a battle for public opinion and who better to talk about that than someone who's been through as much as I have. It also involves work with the public, as it poses a significant power. Even Slovak Prime Minister [Robert Fico], if he has a little bit of common sense and reads our work, can lean on it if in a good mood.

His voters want to hear something different.

As I said, if he has a bit of common sense and is in a good mood. Czech Prime Minister [Peter] Fiala will probably find more inspiration in the work than Fico, but that's a problem on another level.

Slovakia now has a political representation that often makes observers wonder how it will deal with international issues. Would you say that you share some responsibility for smaller right-wing parties failing to come together?

Let's not go down this road.

Why not?

I don't want to talk about it, it's not related to our work.

Who is funding the platform?

I don't know, but I didn't get paid anything for my work in the first group. I didn't expect that either.


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.