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MLO Belgrade  /  Newsroom  /  News Archive  /  2023  /  Interview of Chief NATO MLO Belgrade for Kurir

Feb 7 2023

Interview of chief mlo belgrade for kurir

On February 6, the interview of the Chief of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade Brigadier General Giampiero Romano for Serbian outlet Kurir was published, in both print and online edition.

In the interview, Chief MLO highlighted the importance of NATO-Serbia long-standing and mutually beneficial partnership, as well as that NATO fully respects Serbia's military neutrality policy. 

NATO and Serbia have managed to develop a mutually beneficial partnership over the past sixteen years, in full respect of Serbia’s stated policy of military neutrality. Everything we do is based on Serbia’s request and tailored to Serbia’s needs.
Print edition of the interview of Chief MLO Belgrade Brigadier General Giampiero Romano for Kurir (February 6)

Q1. How satisfied are you with the cooperation so far between NATO and Serbia, which does not intend to change its status as a militarily neutral country? Are any joint exercises planned for this year?

I took over my post as Head of the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade at a ceremony held in Belgrade this past December, ar. Many Serbian high level officials and military dignitaries attended, including your First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Milos Vucevic, and the Chief of Serbian Armed Forces General Milan Mojsilovic, as well as NATO Commanders, including Admiral Munsch, Commander of the Joint Force Command in Naples, and Major General Ristuccia, Commander of our KFOR mission, and many others. This reflects the value of our long-standing partnership, and to the important work we all do together, with a shared goal in mind: to create the conditions for a prosperous and peaceful future for our children.

NATO and Serbia have managed to develop a mutually beneficial partnership over the past sixteen years, in full respect of Serbia’s stated policy of military neutrality. Everything we do is based on Serbia’s request and tailored to Serbia’s needs. We worked together to be better prepared for civil emergences such as floods and forest fires. We are helping Serbia reform its security forces and institutions. Also, NATO trains Serbian soldiers for peacekeeping missions; and we have invested millions of euros to help Serbia destroy hundreds of tons of obsolete ammunition. Furthermore, Serbia and NATO also worked together to train Iraqi military medics.

We also have long-standing scientific cooperation with Serbia, through our Science for Peace and Security Programme, including in areas such as energy, environmental security, emerging disruptive technologies counter-terrorism, and cyber-defence.

Having said that, I look forward to playing my part, as we build on the efforts carried out by my predecessors and continue to move NATO-Serbia relations forward, for our mutual benefit and for the benefit of regional stability.

Due to the decision of Serbia, all planning and exercise activities of the Armed Forces of Serbia with its foreign partners are suspended until further notice. Therefore, at this moment there are no specific exercises foreseen between Serbia and NATO.

Q2. There have been elevated tensions in Kosovo in the past month or two. Can KFOR, the NATO mission in Kosovo at all times guarantee security for the people living there?

The NATO-led KFOR mission is the most tangible demonstration of the Atlantic Alliance’s multi-decade commitment to lasting security  in Kosovo and stability across the Western Balkans. With more than 3,700 troops contributed from 27 countries – including NATO Allies and partners. Our KFOR mission is fully capable to continue implementing its UN mandate, based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo. KFOR contributes to security in Kosovo and to stability across the region as an impartial and trusted actor. 

Our KFOR troops are fully prepared to intervene if stability, security and freedom of movement are jeopardized -  in line with the mentioned UN mandate. Since last October, KFOR has reinforced its presence in northern Kosovo, including with additional troops and patrols. So our commitment to KFOR and its mandate is steadfast. Let me also add that any changes to our force posture in KFOR remain conditions-based and not calendar-driven; and they are subject to a decision by the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s decision-making body – by unanimous vote. 

What is now important is that all sides refrain from provocative actions and further seek solutions through dialogue. This is key to lasting security in Kosovo and to stability across the region. The KFOR Commander remains in close contact with his main interlocutors, including the representatives of the Institutions in Kosovo and of the Kosovo Security Organizations, the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff, as well as the EU-led Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and the international community. KFOR also continues to provide the security framework necessary for the EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina to move forward.

Overall, there is an excellent level of dialogue between NATO, including through its KFOR mission, and our Serbian interlocutors. The KFOR Commander Major General Angelo Ristuccia is in frequent direct contact with General Milan Mojsilovic, who he recently met in Belgrade. The recent tensions in northern Kosovo have not jeopardized these relations. On the contrary, they have reflected the importance that these long-standing relations have, especially in complex situations like the one we have seen late last year.  They continue to help ensure mutual transparency and avoid misunderstandings. I stand fully committed to play my part to ensure that this trend continues.

Q3. What do you see as the key security challenges and problems in this region? Are these Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The region has come a long way since the conflicts of the 1990s, but we have seen recurring tensions, including in Kosovo, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina; with more aggressive rhetoric, stalled reforms and foreign actors working to undermine progress. 

NATO has a long track-record of promoting peace and stability in the Western Balkans. Our new Strategic Concept approved at the NATO Summit in Madrid reaffirms the strategic importance of the region for the Alliance and we agree on the importance of our presence in the region. Furthermore, our cooperation with the European Union and other like-minded partners remains essential and we will continue to work together to preserve stability, and support reform in the region, because security and stability in the Western Balkans is important for NATO and for peace and stability in Europe. 

With regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, we continue to develop our long-lasting partnership, which has been in existence since 2006, when Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the Partnership for Peace Programme with NATO. We remain committed to our strong political dialogue and practical cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina and we will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic path and its reform efforts for the benefit of all its people. 

We welcome the adoption of the Reform Programmes and the renewal of the UN Security Council mandate of the EU-led Operation Althea, which plays a key role in ensuring a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the benefit of all in Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO continues to provide support to the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Berlin Plus agreement. 

Our political dialogue and practical cooperation are more important than ever, especially in light of the most recent developments that we have seen across the European security landscape. At the Madrid Summit last June, Allies agreed to step up political and practical support to help a number of partners, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, counter any potential malign influence, in light of the changed security environment in Europe. We are ready to step up our support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in different ways, in order to strengthen its resilience. For instance, by developing a new defence capacity-building package to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to strengthen its defence and security capabilities   and make the country more resilient and secure. The package is expected to be approved soon.  We  also intend to reinforce our Headquarters in Sarajevo with more personnel and provide more resources to support expert team visits to the country and counter-disinformation efforts.

Overall, through KFOR peacekeeping mission and NATO offices in Sarajevo and Belgrade, we will continue to help promote political dialogue, practical cooperation and reforms on a wide range of areas. Our policies in the Western Balkans region are aimed at strengthening stability and building greater cooperation. This will benefit all citizens of the Euro-Atlantic family.
When it comes to potential security concerns, there are a few things that could cause challenges. It’s a combination of political tensions, political polarization, stalled reforms, and nationalistic rhetoric that can be misused by those who wish to destabilise the region. All in all, the influence by some foreign actors is also something that is a cause of concern. That is why we are conveying to the actors in the region the need to be as constructive as possible, and this is actually a part of my mission.

Q4. How do you see the ongoing great struggle between the East and the West for domination in the Balkans, which is strategically important for both?

First of all, as I have already said, NATO fully respects Serbia’s stated policy of military neutrality, as well as its sovereign right to choose its own path. NATO and Serbia are not only partners, but also neighbours, since almost all countries in the Balkans are NATO members, and some also EU members. 

Secondly, we urge all actors, including Russia to play a constructive role in the Western Balkans. Unfortunately, we regularly see Russia doing the opposite. We have seen hacking, disinformation, intimidation, and other destabilising activities. Last year, there was also some uncertainty about the renewal of EU’s Althea mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the UN Security Council.

On the other hand, we actively monitor disinformation and propaganda campaigns by both state and non-state actors in the region, which try to sow division, undermine our democracies and our ability to act. We counter false narratives with facts, with our values, and with concrete actions, which demonstrated NATO’s readiness and solidarity. For example, during Covid pandemic we worked closely with other international actors, including the European Union, the G7 and the United Nations, regularly engaged with free and independent media to explain NATO’s role in support efforts to counter the global pandemic and disinformation related to it, and made our activities in this domain available to the public, including on the NATO website and social media. 

These and other disinformation efforts target all of us, and the rules-based international order. We all have a stake in telling the truth, and upholding our values through global solidarity. 

So, to conclude, NATO actively engages in efforts to counter Russian disinformation by explaining our actions and providing the truth in statements to both social and traditional media sources; and we continue to do that also by engaging with the Serbian population, whether through media outlets or through other forms of dialogue and outreach.

NATO fully respects every nation’s sovereign right to choose their own political and security arrangements, to decide its own path. We urge Russia to do the same. This is a fundamental principle of European security that we have all signed up to, including Russia.

Q5. Next month, the war in Ukraine will have lasted for a year. How much has Russia’s attack on Ukraine changed the security situation in all of Europe? And is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine actually turning into a conflict between Russia and NATO?

Let me start by saying that NATO is not at war with Russia. It is very important for me to highlight that. 

What NATO and NATO Allies and partners are  doing is firstly  to help Ukraine uphold its right to self defence enshrined in the  UN Charter against a brutal and unjustified aggression carried out by Russia, by providing different forms of military lethal and non-lethal aid, as well as financial and humanitarian assistance; and secondly to ensure that this conflict does not escalate further beyond Ukraine, into NATO territory; in this respect, NATO has taken additional measures to enhance its collective deterrence and defence posture – across all of its operational domains, including by doubling the number of multinational battlegroups in the east of the Alliance from four to eight.  All of this sends a clear message to Russia that we will protect and defend every inch of Allied territory.  As NATO’s new Strategic Concept makes clear, Russia is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Its brutal war in Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe. Russia seeks to establish spheres of influence. It aims to destabilise countries. It uses conventional, cyber and hybrid means against us and our partners. 

Because of its hostile policies and actions, NATO cannot consider Russia to be our partner. NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia. We will continue to respond to Russian threats and actions in a united and responsible way. We are significantly strengthening deterrence and defence for all Allies, enhancing our resilience against Russian coercion, and supporting our partners to counter malign interference and aggression. We seek stability and predictability between NATO and Russia and in the Euro-Atlantic area. However, we remain willing to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency. Any change in our relationship depends on Russia stopping its aggression and fully complying with international law.


Q6. Has Putin overestimated Russia’s power before starting this war?

President Putin has made big strategic mistakes. He totally underestimated the determination of the Ukrainians to defend their country, their homes and their families. He has also totally underestimated the unity of NATO allies and our partners in imposing unprecedented costs on the Kremlin. Because of its illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia is now poorer and more isolated in the world.

President Putin is also failing in Ukraine and he is responding with more brutality, through waves of deliberate missile attacks on cities and civilian infrastructure, depriving Ukrainians of heat, light, and food. Russian troops have been pushed back by the brave Ukrainian forces. Ukraine forces are mounting a well-organised defence but both sides are now fully engaged in a war of attrition, with high numbers of casualties.

We are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine, but we pay in money and Ukrainians pay in blood. If we let Putin win, all of us will pay a much higher price, for many years.

If Putin and other authoritarian leaders see that force is rewarded, they will use force again to achieve their goals. That would make our world more dangerous and all of us more vulnerable. So it is in our security interest to support Ukraine.

Q7. According to polls, the Alliance is not very popular in Serbia. One of the reasons is, undoubtedly, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia of 1999. How do you see this action of the Alliance today?

It is not easy to talk about the things that happened in the past when there are so many memories and emotions attached to it.

We must never forget the past, but we can move beyond it; and that is what NATO and Serbia are doing with our long-standing partnership. Looking towards a better future. I am fully committed to play my part in this important process.

Q8. You come from Italy. What did NATO membership mean for your country? What has it brought you?

The end of World War II left Italy and other European countries in utter devastation. Many cities had been destroyed and the entire Italian artistic and cultural heritage had been damaged. The population lived in a state of extreme poverty and deprivation and many held the Nazis responsible for this. Despite this feeling of hatred towards other European nations, there was an immediate desire for rebirth and development.

The Italians rolled up their sleeves, not only figuratively speaking, and rationally searched for the right path to follow for the future, strengthened by their historical roots from which we have learnt a lot and from which we always try to draw good lessons.

NATO membership was the result of lengthy domestic debates and longstanding dissensions engrained within the population and different political factions. However, the desire for peace and security was palpable and the path toward NATO membership was considered to be the most viable option for the country.

Decision to join NATO was reinforced by the country’s fear of insecurity and instability and its desire to play a role on the world scene. Moreover, the staunch anti-fascist Count Carlo Sforza, Italian Foreign Minister from February 1947 to July 1951, had economic cooperation as one of his major goals and he believed NATO was a first step towards the integration of Italy into the Western European community. Count Sforza signed the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949 in Washington D.C., and also led his country into the Council of Europe (May 1949) and then the European Coal and Steel Community in April 1951.

Count Carlo Sforza, speaking at the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C. on 4 April 1949 said the following:

“The Italian nation, after two World Wars, in the space of one generation looks with confidence and hope to this Treaty. It is seen in a decisive step towards the advent peace in a free and united world”.

Throughout the history of NATO, Italy has always provided valuable contributions to our shared security. Today, Italy leads NATO’s new multinational battlegroup in Bulgaria and has troops as part of multinational NATO deployments in Latvia and Romania. Italy also conducts air policing in Romania, Iceland, Slovenia, and the Western Balkans; and commands NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Iraq. .

The historical and cultural roots of every nation are very important. We must draw lessons from them, so that we can ensure a peaceful and economically and culturally sound future for our people, especially the younger generations. It is with this spirit that I embark upon my new, important professional assignment.

Q9. In this short time, how much did you see and get to know Belgrade?

Belgrade welcomed me with open arms and I believe it was a love at first sight. Belgrade is a wonderful city, a wonderful capital, with cafes that serve espresso as good as in Naples. It has very friendly and kind people. I am delighted to see many people speaking Italian. I very much look forward to learning more about your rich culture and fascinating language. In this short time I have been here, I had the pleasure of experiencing Serbian hospitality and the friendliness of Serbian people. In addition, my Serbian colleagues started to introduce me to Serbian delicacies, so every day, when I get to the office, there is a new thing waiting for me at the table to try, from cvarci or pogacice with cvarci to prebranac with kobasica, burek, lenja pita, cevapi, …they even mentioned something like snenokle that I am yet to try, but understand is a tricky thing to make.
And let me conclude this interview with my favourite Serbian word “ziveli”, with my best wishes to this wonderful country and its welcoming people.

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