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NATO Deputy Secretary General: Alliance Must Stay the Course on Russia Sanctions

In the keynote address at the 2015 Leangkollen Conference in Oslo, Norway, NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said the Alliance must be patient and continue sanctions against Russia, not repeating the mistakes made after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. Vershbow said NATO faces a new and more dangerous security environment, and that Russia has “torn up the international rulebook” with its invasion of Ukraine. He also warned of threats from the south, with violent extremism spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. His complete speech is excerpted here.

Let me begin by saying how honored I am to speak here today after the Prime Minister, and at such an illustrious venue, the Nobel Institute. I cannot think of a more symbolic setting for a speech about NATO – one of the world’s most eminent and successful peace organizations.

In the 21st century, the quest for peace remains as urgent as ever. This will certainly keep the Nobel Committee busy to recognize efforts to bring conflicts to an end. And it will keep NATO hard at work as well. Indeed NATO today is as necessary as at any time in its history – and we’re fortunate to have a Norwegian at the helm.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not an isolated incident, but a game-changer in European security. It reflects an evolving pattern of behavior that has been emerging for several years, despite our efforts to reach out to Russia and build a cooperative European security system with Russia.

After the watershed events of 2014, we face a new and more dangerous security environment, with threats pressing in on us from the East and from the South. We did not want this. We did not choose it. But it is the reality. And every successful strategy must be based on facts and realism, not simply on hope.

To the East, Russia has torn up the international rule book. It has returned to a strategy of power politics. It threatens not just Ukraine, but European and global security more generally. And it is pursuing this strategy even as the costs to its own prosperity and reputation grow.

To the South, violent extremism is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. And we are seeing the consequences in the form of mass migration across the Mediterranean, foreign jihadist fighters traveling between Syria and Europe, and other terrorists, many of whom are inspired by a twisted interpretation of Islam, trying to bring bloodshed to our own streets.

So, for the first time in NATO’s history, we have to look both “East” and “South.” This said, the theme of this opening session is ‘NATO-Russia relations,’ so that is where I shall focus my remarks.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not an isolated incident, but a game-changer in European security. It reflects an evolving pattern of behavior that has been emerging for several years, despite our efforts to reach out to Russia and build a cooperative European security system with Russia.

Today, we must contend with a Russia that wants to go back to a Europe based on spheres of influence and doctrines of limited sovereignty for its neighbors – policies that are a throwback to an earlier time, a time we thought we had put behind us. Russia’s behavior, in short, has called into question many of the assumptions on which we have strived to build the European security order. We will have to live with its consequences for some years to come.

Russia has used force to alter legally recognized borders and to actively subvert the government of a neighboring state. Although it claims to want de-escalation and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, its actions tell a different story.

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