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Haig: Ukraine Has The Right to Choose Its Alliances, including NATO

Barbara Haig, Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Barbara Haig, Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Barbara Haig, deputy to the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, rejects Russia’s takeover of Crimea as unacceptable and supports Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, saying that Ukraine, as an independent country, has a right to choose its alliances.

Haig, a panelist at the recent “Forum 2000” in Prague, spoke extensively on the ongoing refugee crisis and the turmoil in the Middle East in an interview with RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. But she had thoughts on the Ukraine crisis.

“Forum 2000” was established as an initiative of the late Czech president, Vaclav Havel, brings together thought leaders to discuss issues.

This year the issue of the Ukraine crisis was somewhat overshadowed by the refugee crisis and the fighting in the Middle East. But Haig took time to address that ongoing crisis and recent Russian opposition to Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

She said that Western countries, including the US, should support Ukrainian independence and its right to choose what alliances and relationships it wants to.

She said: “We really need to support it, [even] with all the flaws within Ukraine,” because “it is not possible to cover the distance from a kleptocracy to a clean democracy overnight.” She acknowledged that there is “quite a struggle ahead for Ukraine, and the West should be with it all the way.”

Asked about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, she said:

“It is a very difficult problem to work out, but I don’t think the right way is to start backing off on the principles that are fundamental to international order and universal values, as well as to our security architecture.”

She said that security was “designed to try to prevent this kind of thing, to find mechanisms to maintain peace and protect citizens from tyranny, and so on. And more and more we compromise on this…then [when we have backed off of engagement], anything else is possible and that is a scenario some countries like Russia would like to see. That is the real crisis."

As to the Russian argument that Ukraine’s desire to join NATO is a disguised attempt by NATO to come to its borders and encircle it, she said:

“First of all, it is a right of Ukraine--if it wants-- to be a part of NATO, because it is an independent country. This issue was supposedly settled a long time ago when its sovereignty was recognized. While Russia may…feel threated by countries being part of NATO, as long as no action is taken against it by Ukraine or NATO, Moscow does not have any rationale whatsoever to invade another country.”