Dmitro Kuleba attends EL PAÍS through a Skype call from a place that he does not reveal for security reasons. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, who has become one of the voices that speaks loudest about the suffering of his country in this first month of Russian invasion, appears in this interview to be more satisfied with the reaction to the war in the European Union than with that of NATO. Kuleba (40 years old, Sumi, Ukraine) advances that the Russian and Ukrainian envoys have not yet agreed on any of the key points of the negotiation and demands security guarantees for his country for the future. “Putin is a war criminal. Russia will feel the consequences for decades,” he assures.
Ask. After a month of war, what is the situation?
Answer. It is difficult to get used to, but we have learned to live in war. We adapt to this reality, to its sounds, to the heartbreaking stories. It is not easy, but we have to do more than everything possible to end this war and win it to end the suffering of our people and the destruction of our cities.
P. How are relations now with the EU and NATO?
R. At the beginning of the Russian aggression, the European Union reacted quickly and forcefully by imposing several rounds of really painful sanctions. However, as the war progresses, we must continue to increase pressure on Russia, impose new sanctions and provide Ukraine with additional military and financial assistance. And in the last 10 days I have noticed a certain slowdown in the decision-making process. In Europe it seems that it is increasingly difficult for them to agree on new sanctions. It is very annoying, because those who think they have done enough are wrong. We appreciate all that has been done, but remains to be done. The sky is the limit. Russia is fighting back on the economic front, on the financial front and is trying to put the EU in a difficult situation, especially with its recent decision to impose ruble payments for gas and oil. If the European countries accept this, they will be subsidizing the Russian war and crimes. They have to find a way to avoid this trap. The situation with NATO is more complicated, because it is more cautious. We cooperate more with allies bilaterally than with NATO as a whole.
We are fighting for our existence. Putin will not break us. We will survive and prevail
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
P. Are you disappointed with NATO?
R. I don’t, because I’ve always been pretty realistic. I am a diplomat, which allows me to understand how things work. But the citizens of Ukraine are disappointed. Before the war, it was common to think that NATO is strong and the EU is weak. The first weeks of war proved otherwise. I speak of the perception of the public, not of my assessment. Now, if the EU goes back on its never-ending search for consensus instead of taking serious action to counter the problems, people will be disappointed too. But at the moment, she has every opportunity to show that she learns from the mistakes of the past and is ready not only to speak, but also to act. He took a very strong position and it is important that he does not lose that credibility. If they do, we will continue to fight, but Europe’s credibility will be lost.
P. Ukraine asks for new sanctions.
R. Some key sanctions must be adopted. The first thing is to end dependence on Russian oil and gas. If it cannot be done in one day, there should be a clear phase-out plan. I do not understand why the EU has not so far closed all EU ports to Russian ships and goods. All Russian banks must disconnect from [la plataforma de pagos internacionales] SWIFT. Now something half happens: you disconnect some banks from SWIFT, people go to another bank, open an account and they connect again. That’s not how sanctions work. If the EU does not impose more sanctions, there will be no excuses to explain why they did not.
Ukrainian citizens are disappointed in NATO
P. How are the talks with Russia going?
R. Russia wants to discuss the demands that President Vladimir Putin mentioned at the beginning of the aggression: Ukraine’s neutrality; recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and Donetsk and Luhansk as separate entities; demilitarization; denazification and status of the Russian language in Ukraine, It’s crazy! Sometimes they can’t even explain what they mean. When you ask what they mean by denazificationit is difficult for them to explain. Ukraine is interested in three things: security guarantees; recognition of its territorial integrity within recognized international borders, including Crimea and Donbas; and the ceasefire and withdrawal of the Russian Army. After four weeks of talks, we are more or less where we started. There is some agreement on secondary and technical issues. But there is no serious progress on any crucial or principled issues; either for Russia or Ukraine.
Europe must end dependence on Russian oil and gas
P. What secondary themes?
R. That Ukraine should receive security guarantees not only from Russia, but also from other countries. Russia agreed to this claim. Another secondary issue on which there is agreement is that everything that is agreed must have legal value and should be ratified by Parliament.
P. What does Ukraine mean when it talks about security guarantees?
R. Spain’s security guarantee as a member of NATO is article 5, which says that if someone attacks it, all the other members will defend it. We want something similar that says that if someone attacks Ukraine, those countries that provide their security guarantees will provide Ukraine with all the necessary weapons within 24 hours, adopt a UN Security Council resolution demanding to stop the aggression and impose sanctions.
P. And will the names of the countries that will give these security guarantees also appear?
R. Yes. We are in talks with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Turkey about their potential participation in this model. They have reacted positively to that idea. It’s still under discussion, but I’m pleased with your initial reactions. This is the only item we are discussing with them. Everything else is part of the talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Denazify Ukraine? It’s crazy! The Russians can’t even explain what they mean
P. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has already spoken of neutrality and opened the door for it. He even said a few days ago that NATO is not ready for Ukraine. Would Ukraine be ready to accept neutrality?
R. Diplomats often say that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It would be premature to say that we agreed to any element of the potential deal. For us, the most important issue is not neutrality, but security guarantees. If we get those guarantees, we will have to take a step. President Zelensky simply pointed out that the last four weeks showed that we are more distant from NATO than from the EU, because in the first two weeks the EU opened its doors to Ukraine. And NATO unfortunately did not take any steps towards Ukraine’s membership. We have to be realistic about NATO.
P. When the agreement with Russia is ready, will the Ukrainian citizenry be consulted?
R. It depends on what remains in the final text. Of course, if this draft involves any issue that requires a referendum, that issue will be submitted for consultation. But it’s too early to say what it could be.
P. The United States has warned about the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons. The Ukrainian authorities have denounced the use of white phosphorous by Russia. Do you have evidence of it?
R. Although it sounds scary, Russia has used all kinds of weapons in the last four weeks, except chemical weapons with gas and nuclear weapons. It has used the most advanced missiles and mines, artillery, everything… And also weapons prohibited by international law, such as phosphorus or cluster bombs. We have information suggesting that Russia is making moves to prepare chemical weapons. Our Western partners have said that if they do so, Moscow will face serious consequences. It would be very useful to know now what kind of consequences. And these should be hard enough. I hope and pray to God that Russia does not use chemical or nuclear weapons, but nothing will bring us down because we are fighting for our existence, for our rights as Ukrainians. And President Putin can do whatever he wants, but he will not break us. We will survive and we will prevail.
P. What is the situation in Mariupol, which has become a symbol of attacks against the civilian population, and in other cities under constant bombardment such as Kharkov or Chernihiv?
R. The most cynical thing about Russia is that its efforts to legitimize its war have to do with genocide and the protection of the Russian language. They say that Ukraine is committing genocide against Russian speakers, but attacks Russian-speaking cities. This shows that he is not anti-Ukrainian, he is anti-human. For him, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. If he decides to kill you, he will. He will propose hundreds of arguments to legitimize his crazy and ruthless plans, but he came here under the banner of protecting Russian-speakers and killed thousands of them. The International Court of Justice stated that it found no evidence of genocide in Ukraine. Mariupol is like Stalingrad for the Soviet Union or Aleppo for Syria. It is the place where the suffering of civilians is unbearable and the heroism of its defenders is unimaginable. Putin is a war criminal. He will first fail and then he will face responsibility for it. Russia will pay the consequences for decades. But that is the future, the important thing now is to stop sparing no effort to stop it and stop the suffering of the people.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits