Dmitro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, expresses in this interview [cedida a EL PAÍS en el marco de la alianza de medios europeos LENA] his amazement at the circumstance that the same politicians who were humiliated by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, like the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, say that Russia should not be humiliated. Kuleba accuses Germany of being clumsy in delivering weapons to Ukraine.
Ask. Russia’s war against Ukraine has lasted almost two and a half months. You and your president, Volodymyr Zelensky, seem convinced that your country can win the war. What makes them so optimistic?
Response. We see that we are capable of fighting and also of winning. We also see that the supply of weapons flows without interruption. We need three elements to achieve victory: the resistance, character and fighting capacity of Ukraine; the supply of essential weapons and sanctions against Russia. If all three factors converge, we will win this war.
P. What would victory look like? President Zelensky is now even talking about taking back the regions that Russia conquered in 2014.
R. In war everything can change in a single day.
P. Because it is a dynamic situation.
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R. Yes. And the conditions for negotiations are defined by the battlefield, and not the other way around. Now we feel more confident in fighting, and so our stance in the negotiations has also become tougher. If the situation on the battlefield turned around, Russia would find itself in a more favorable position.
P. In other words, the Ukrainian successes on the battlefield determine its position in the negotiations.
R. Yes, but the problem is that Russia shows no willingness to make the negotiations real and substantive. And we see the offensive in Donbas and the attacks in the Kherson region, or the endless missile attacks throughout the country. At the moment, it doesn’t matter where in Ukraine you sleep. Even if you sleep 1,000 kilometers from the front, there is no guarantee that you will wake up alive the next day, because if a missile hits your city, anyone can become a target. It is very clear that the Russians do not want to negotiate and prefer war. We, on the other hand, are ready to negotiate, but what we are not ready to do is accept Russia’s ultimatums. If they force us into war, we will respond.
P. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says that the war could still last for months or even years. Can the Ukrainian army and people and the country’s economy hold out for so long?
R. The most repeated question before the war was how long Ukraine could hold out against Russia. Some gave us 48 hours, others 72. Now the question is how many weeks or how many months can we continue holding out. It’s good that people have more confidence in us now than before the war, but we don’t ask ourselves that question. Because as a nation and as a sovereign country, we have no choice but to win this war, whatever it takes. Losing it would mean Ukraine would cease to exist. If anyone thinks that Putin would take pity on us, they are very wrong. Putin leaves us no choice but to fight for our existence. Therefore, I would ask the question in another way: not how long can we hold out, but what will it cost to continue fighting. In terms of human lives, we are devastated, we have suffered war crimes, atrocities and casualties on the front lines, but as a country, we are ready to meet this deadly challenge, because the stakes are high.
P. And what is the economic situation?
R. The war has hurt our economy more than the Russian sanctions. Sanctions are very important and have an effect, but they will not stop the Russian war machine as long as Europe continues to buy oil and gas from Russia.
P. In fact, Russia’s income from energy exports has increased because prices have risen.
R. That is the question. The Russian budget has a surplus thanks to gas and oil. It is true that other sectors have enormous problems. This is the case of the retail sector and the arms industry. And although, in the long term, the Russian economy will be destroyed, in the short term it is in a better position than ours. That is why we ask our friends and partners to help us financially and allow us to continue fighting.
P. Why do you think Germany has been so reluctant to hand over weapons for months?
R. I think you have to go back to the time before the war, when Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a real commendable effort to prevent it. Scholz called President Putin several times, and Putin assured him and President Macron, among others, that he had no intention of attacking Ukraine. And when the attack happened, the chancellor and the other leaders were shocked that Putin had lied to them. When Germany found itself faced with such a blatant lie, with a political betrayal, a radical change of position took place. The foreign minister immediately announced a 180-degree turn on the arms issue and a new direction in relation to Russia. It was a fair and very welcome change, so I cannot complain that Germany is not capable of taking courageous and necessary measures, because they have shown that they are.
P. When it comes to sanctions, at first Germany also acted as a brake.
R. At first, Germany was more reluctant than the others. However, now I see a clearly different attitude. It plays a strong, even leading, role in the oil embargo. If Germany wants, it can find solutions and take the lead. On the other hand, when it comes to weapons, we are still in a phase of awkward decisions.
P. Do you expect Germany to also support Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union?
R. Germany should also take a leadership role. And I would like to understand why we are not making progress in this regard. It is not just about providing us with weapons. It is also about giving the people of Ukraine hope that they are fighting not only for our own country and for our right to exist as a nation, but also for a better future in which Ukraine is part of the EU. It is not a matter of immediate accession, but of obtaining the status of a candidate that legally anchors Ukraine on the path of European integration.
P. Let words be followed by deeds.
R. That is. Candidate status is only the beginning of a long process. We defend the European way of life and values in Ukraine because we want our country to be built on these values. We welcome good words, but it would be nice if the EU also secured a place for us in its political space. The only decision that Ukraine can accept is that we be granted candidate status. We do not want any more half-decisions. This war is the result of half-hearted actions and decisions taken in recent years by all sides, including us.
P. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin redefined the goals of Western military aid. He said it is about wreaking such havoc on the Russian army that it cannot launch another war like the one in Ukraine for a long time. Is it a realistic goal?
R. Why not? The Russian war machine must be stopped. We Ukrainians are the ones who invest the most in the effort because we sacrifice our lives and destroy the machinery on our soil. Other countries can help us by supplying weapons and using sanctions to prevent the Russian arms industry from replacing destroyed heavy weapons with new ones of its own production.
P. How does this square with French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that Russia must not be humiliated?
R. One of the causes of this war has been that everyone was always trying to offer Putin a solution that would allow him to save face. When Putin launched the attack, he sent a clear message: I don’t need solutions to save face. I am willing to cross lines, to commit war crimes, in order to achieve my political objectives. When I hear again that solutions should be found that preserve Putin’s dignity, I am perplexed. What I ask these people is what else has to happen for them to understand that Putin doesn’t need any of that, that he won’t respect them if they offer it to him. Putin blatantly lied to Macron saying that he was not going to attack Ukraine. Russia has humiliated all those who tried to prevent war. When those same people say again that we should not humiliate Russia, I cannot understand it.
P. According to some reports, more than a million Ukrainians have been deported to Russia, including 200,000 children. What does Russia want with it?
R. This is one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about. What Russia is doing is a war crime, because, in fact, it is a forced deportation. At first it was propaganda to show that people were fleeing what Russia calls the “kyiv regime”. They use people. Another reason for which I have no proof at the moment, but on which I dare to speculate, is that Russia, which is huge, lacks human capital. I say this because we see that many Ukrainians are transferred to remote areas of the country and forced to settle there. Russia tries to solve its lack of human capital with forced deportations.
P. President Zelensky, your Defense Minister and you have been under enormous pressure these months to save your country from annihilation. No European politician had had to go through such an experience since World War II. How do you deal with pressure?
R. Every night I smoke a cigar. It is my way of meditating. It helps me a lot. The other way to keep going is a puppy dog from Mariupol that I have adopted. When I leave the office, I play with him. In war both people and animals suffer. And there is a saying that if one human life is saved, the whole world is saved. That gives me hope. The third element that allows me to move forward is the Government’s teamwork. When the president stayed in kyiv through the darkest hours despite being threatened with death, he taught us what true courage is. That brought us closer together as a team: the president, his chief of staff, the prime minister, the speaker of parliament. We support each other to keep trying everything. When I see the task that the president assumes, my tiredness is the least of it. I recharge my batteries and move on