ua en ru

Mark Rutte becomes new NATO Secretary General: His background and views on Ukraine

Mark Rutte becomes new NATO Secretary General: His background and views on Ukraine Photo: Mark Rutte (Getty Images)
Author: Daryna Vialko

NATO has officially chosen a new leader for the Alliance. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, has been appointed. He will replace Jens Stoltenberg in this position this October.

What is known about the new NATO Secretary General and his stance on Ukraine can be found in the material by RBC-Ukraine below.

Mark Rutte is the new NATO Secretary General

The appointment of Rutte as the new Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance was announced on the NATO website. His candidacy was approved by the Allies' ambassadors in Brussels. The official appointment is expected to take place at the summit in Washington on July 9-11.

"The North Atlantic Council decided to appoint Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the next Secretary General of NATO, succeeding Jens Stoltenberg," the NATO website says.

The NATO Secretary General is the chief executive of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He is responsible for coordinating the work of the Alliance, is the head of the North Atlantic Council, and leads NATO staff. The NATO leader ensures the implementation of decisions and speaks on behalf of all members.

Western media note that Rutte will lead the military-political organization at a critical time for European security when the war in Ukraine is ongoing. His predecessor, Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, who is leaving office in October, has been in office for more than 10 years. His mandate has been extended several times, in part to keep NATO stable in the face of Russia's war against Ukraine.

"I warmly welcome NATO Allies' choice of Mark Rutte as my successor. Mark is a true transatlanticist, a strong leader and a consensus-builder. I wish him every success as we continue to strengthen NATO," Stoltenberg congratulated his successor.

Politico notes that several obstacles stood in Rutte's way to the position, although he had the support of the White House and most other major member states, including Germany. The day before, he became the only candidate after Romanian President Klaus Iohannis officially announced that he was withdrawing from the race for the post of Secretary General.

Slovakia and Hungary remained the last countries whose support Rutte needed to get. In particular, Hungary withdrew its objections. This happened after Rutte unofficially offered Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban the opportunity to refuse to support Ukraine in exchange for lifting the veto on his candidacy. In addition, Turkey also opposed Rutte's application but withdrew its objections in April.

Who is Rutte: Facts from his life and what he says about Ukraine

Mark Rutte is a 57-year-old politician. After graduating from university, he worked for ten years in a food company, and from 2006 to 2023 he was the leader of the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. He served as Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Education. In 2010, Rutte became the head of the Dutch government, meaning he has been in office for almost 14 years. As of this summer, he is ranked 40th on the list of fifty the longest-serving heads of state or government.

Reuters wrote that Rutte has been nicknamed "Teflon Mark" for his ability to lead diverse coalitions and survive political turmoil, and is called a pragmatic dealmaker and consensus builder. The Dutch prime minister has established a relationship with Stoltenberg, as well as with other Alliance leaders, from Albania to Lithuania and from Poland to the United States. The ties with Washington were another lever in Rutte's favor, who has an excellent relationship with US President Joe Biden. At the same time, he is one of the few European leaders who have tried to maintain a stable relationship with Donald Trump, who may return to the White House after the US elections in November. By the way, because of his special relationship with Biden's predecessor, the newly appointed Secretary General also has another nickname "Trump whisperer" for his ability to calm tensions with the former US President. As Politico explained, Rutte has been called this since he was able to calm down Trump in 2018 when he complained about insufficient defense spending by NATO's European allies.

Many media outlets have reported that the biggest test for Rutte may be preserving the Alliance if Trump becomes president again. After all, when asked whether the United States would defend a particular ally in the event of a Russian attack, Trump replied that in the event of non-payment of contributions to the budget, NATO will not defend the country under attack and will even encourage the aggressor to do whatever it wants. But later, Trump softened his rhetoric.

Also, as Politico notes, Rutte managed to overcome the only weakness in his candidacy - the Netherlands has increased defense spending to more than 2% of GDP, which is a requirement for NATO members.

As for Ukraine, Mark Rutte is a staunch ally and supporter of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Reuters notes. The new NATO Secretary General is also a fierce critic of Putin. His worldview was significantly influenced by the downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 by pro-Russian militants over the Donetsk region. This tragedy, which claimed 196 Dutch lives, spurred Rutte's increased international activism within the EU, advocating for a strong alliance capable of countering Kremlin influence and urging EU leaders not to be naive about Putin's Russia.

“He (Putin - ed.) won’t stop at Ukraine if we don’t stop him now. It’s about upholding the international rule of law,” Rutte said at the UN in September 2022, seven months after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, even as he warned of the threat posed by Putin, he suggested that the Russian dictator is not as strong as he seems.

“Don’t mentally overestimate Putin. I’ve talked to the man a lot. He’s not a strong man, he’s not a strong guy,” Rutte said.

In January 2023, Mark Rutte was awarded the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, First Class, for his significant contribution to strengthening cooperation with Ukraine and supporting its independence. After all, this year in May, his government officially authorized Ukraine to use F-16s provided by the Netherlands for future strikes on targets in Russia.

The world's reaction to Rutte's appointment

Today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, congratulating Rutte on his new position, called him a "principled and strong leader" in a post on the X.

"Congratulations to Mark Rutte on the Allies’ decision to appoint him as the next Secretary General of NATO... We anticipate that our joint work to ensure the protection of people and freedom throughout our entire Euro-Atlantic community will continue at a good pace. I know Mark Rutte as a principled and strong leader, who has demonstrated his decisiveness and vision on many occasions over the past years," Zelenskyy said.

The appointment of the new NATO Secretary General was also congratulated by several leaders of NATO member states and beyond. Among them: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Finnish President Alexander Stubb, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

In addition, Mark Rutte also commented on his appointment.

"It is a tremendous honor to be appointed Secretary-General of NATO. The Alliance is and will remain the cornerstone of our collective security. Leading this organization is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I’m grateful to all the Allies for placing their trust in me. I look forward to taking up the position with great vigor in October, as successor to Jens Stoltenberg, who has provided NATO with outstanding leadership for the past 10 years, and for whom I have always had great admiration," he wrote on the social network X.

Sources: Financial Times, NOS, Politico, Reuters, NATO website, and posts by leaders of countries, governments, and organizations on social network X.