‘France Has Delivered Almost Nothing’

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s former secretary-general, is not impressed by Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy with Russia over Ukraine.

A black-and-white photo portrait of Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Win McNamee / Getty

As the war in Ukraine approaches the six-month mark, much has changed. Since Russia invaded, more than 12 million Ukrainians have been displaced, of whom at least 5 million became refugees across Europe. Several cities and towns, particularly in the country’s central and eastern regions, have been reduced to rubble. Some 5,000 civilian deaths have been recorded, though the true number is thought to be considerably higher. Kyiv estimated last month that it was losing as many as 200 soldiers a day.

Farther afield, Finland and Sweden await the ratification of their applications for membership in NATO, perhaps the most significant expansion of the alliance since the Baltic states joined nearly 20 years ago. Moscow has become still more economically and culturally isolated from much of the Western world.

Some analysts argue that the next six months could present a “a window of opportunity” for Ukraine to win the conflict, predicting that war fatigue will kick in on the Russian side. But for that to happen, others say, Kyiv will need more military and financial aid from its allies.

To discuss all of this, I caught up with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark who was secretary-general of NATO from 2009 to 2014. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Yasmeen Serhan: Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have ushered into existence the thing he feared most: a stronger, expanded NATO. What do you make of his recent remarks that Russia has “no problem” with Finland and Sweden joining the Western alliance?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: He has stated numerous times that he would react if NATO came closer to Russia’s borders—and now he’s got 1,300 kilometers [810 miles] more NATO border through the membership of Finland. So, of course, his comments are ridiculous. But he is in a situation where he cannot do anything. He is preoccupied elsewhere, mainly in Ukraine. So he has to accept the inevitable, namely that his attack on Ukraine has changed people’s minds in Finland and Sweden, and now they’re joining NATO. He wanted less NATO. He got more NATO.

Serhan: Speaking of borders, how worried are you about Russia’s ability to use Belarus, which some call Moscow’s vassal state, and its own Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad to encircle and virtually cut off Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from the rest of NATO?

Rasmussen: That’s a major concern. The reality is that if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he won’t stop in Ukraine. The next goal would be Moldova, then Georgia, and finally the Baltic states. But that project has now been made much more complicated for him because, after the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, the Baltic Sea will now be a NATO sea. So the defense of the three Baltic states will be much easier and much more efficient now, and if we wish, we can block all entry and exit to Russia through St. Petersburg. So, for Russia, it’s a strategic defeat that Putin has provoked Finland and Sweden into joining NATO.

Serhan: You were recently in Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Can you tell us about that?

Rasmussen: I was in Kyiv because Zelensky some weeks ago asked me to chair an international group formed to prepare recommendations to the president and his government on how we can guarantee the future security, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We had an excellent meeting and he outlined his ideas about that work, which I aim to finalize in September.

Serhan: What can you say about that project so far?

Rasmussen: It’s premature to talk about the outcome, but one important element is already clear: All the members of the group agreed that Ukraine should be allowed to have a strong security force—no restrictions, no limitations. We have seen Russia try to dictate the terms on which Ukraine would be allowed to have its own military. No way. The best security guarantee for Ukraine is for it to have a strong military—and a commitment among its allies to assist in building that.

Serhan: That willingness has been especially apparent here in Britain. So much so that Zelensky has lamented the fact that Boris Johnson will soon be stepping down as prime minister. How do you see the role Britain has played over Ukraine?

Rasmussen: The U.K. has been an outstanding partner for Ukraine. Next to the U.S., the U.K. has been a driving force in helping Ukraine. This should be seen as a contrast to the efforts of another big European country, namely France—partly because of President Emmanuel Macron making those very strange statements about a need to avoid humiliating Putin and because of his telephone diplomacy with Putin: unsuccessful, I would say.

If you assess the weapons deliveries from different countries to Ukraine, France has delivered almost nothing. The scale of French deliveries is equivalent to what Denmark has offered—valued at $160 million, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. (Germany, for instance, has committed nearly 10 times that value.) In comparison, Britain has been outstanding. I think this is deeply rooted in the British mentality, so whoever will succeed Johnson, I expect to see a continuation of this British course.

Serhan: You’ve argued against the West giving Putin what Macron called an “exit ramp.” How did your own experience at NATO—a tenure that was bookended by Russian aggression in Georgia and Crimea—inform that position?

Rasmussen: In hindsight, we reacted too mildly and we sent the wrong message to Putin, both after his invasion of Georgia in 2008 and his invasion of Ukraine in 2014. He calculated that he could, almost without any cost, grab land from his neighbors.

That is why Macron’s statement is so disastrous. It suggests that we are approaching a new world order where it’s not the rule of law that matters but the rule of the strongest. If Putin can get away with taking land from Ukraine, that’s horrendous—because what next?

It sends a very bad signal, for instance, to China. The Chinese are following the developments in Ukraine very closely because if Putin can get away with taking Crimea, and maybe the Donbas, and that is settled in a peace deal, then China might interpret that as an invitation to take Taiwan by force.

We shouldn’t offer Putin an off-ramp. We should send him a new message: If you want to get out of this mess, get out of Ukraine.

Serhan: Discussion of military deterrence has dominated this crisis, but you and the former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo H. Daalder have recently been focusing on economic deterrence as a way to counter authoritarian coercion. Tell us about your Economic Article 5 proposal and what it entails.

Rasmussen: It’s inspired by the NATO Article 5, according to which an attack on one is considered an attack on all. So our idea is that the same principle should also apply in the economic arena, where we have seen exactly the same danger. Certain democracies, such as Australia and Lithuania, have faced Chinese economic coercion. Our proposal is that we should consider such a use of economic force as an attack on all of us.

The aid could be in the form of trade deals, investment agreements, transfers of technology, or it could be to establish credit facilities to enable companies with production facilities in China to move operations to other low-cost countries. We know that many companies are now reviewing their supply lines because of the disruption problems in China, and we should help them.

My long-term vision is to establish a common market of democracies because the world’s democracies represent about 60 percent of the global economy. That is a formidable force if we can unite. A new world order is emerging that will involve less economic interaction between autocracies and democracies. Globalization is entering a new phase.

Serhan: Where do backsliding democracies such as Hungary or India fit into this?

Rasmussen: There may be complicated issues, but we should make it so attractive to belong to the democratic camp that India and other countries will want to integrate and have the benefits of democracies’ financial systems and free-trade agreements, and in general to enjoy a stronger economic alliance.

We’ll say to India: If you cut your links to Russia, we’ll replace Russia. We’ll deliver weapons and we’ll offer you deals on trade, investment, technology, etc. The key word is incentives.

Serhan: We are nearing the six-month mark for the war in Ukraine. How do you see this ending?

Rasmussen: The biggest risk right now is a prolonged conflict with no clear winner because that serves Putin’s purpose. A long, simmering or semi-frozen conflict serves his goal of destabilizing Ukraine. He knows that if Russian troops stay in Ukraine, it will be hard for Kyiv to begin rebuilding. He knows that it will be difficult to integrate Ukraine into NATO as long as Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil. That’s why we should do our utmost to bring this conflict to a speedy end by delivering all the weapons the Ukrainians need, without restrictions.

According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, all countries have a right to self-defense. Ukraine has a right to defend itself against the aggressor and Ukraine has the right to request help from all of its partners. So we should help. The Ukrainian people have the will to fight. We have an obligation to provide them with the means to do so.