Capitulation not an option for Ukraine, says Polish Ambassador Cichocki from Kyiv

21 March, 08:11 PM
Bartosz Cichocki, Polish Ambassador to Ukraine (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev / NV)

Bartosz Cichocki, Polish Ambassador to Ukraine (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev / NV)

Polish Ambassador Bartosz Cichocki on how to increase pressure on the Russian Federation and provoke a discussion in NATO.

Ambassador of Poland to Ukraine Bartosz Cichocki meets NV at the front entrance to his diplomatic mission, which is located in the old part of the capital, on Yaroslaviv Val Street. There are now very few people in the spacious rooms of the embassy. Aside from the ambassador and a few other employees, you can sometimes stumble upon Polish journalists who came to Kyiv to cover the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

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But the fact that the embassy is still working seems out of the ordinary – after all, most Western diplomatic missions left the Ukrainian capital ahead of February 24.

Cichocki stayed to work in Kyiv and he has been busy here. Take, for example, the unexpected visit of the prime ministers of three countries of the European Union (Slovenia, Poland, and Czechia) who recently came to show support for the state and its leadership in such hard conditions.

Ukraine has felt Poland's support from day one of the aggression because this neighboring country has already accepted 2 million Ukrainian refugees and still continues to do so.

In an interview with New Voice of Ukraine, the Polish Ambassador spoke about the preparations for the visit of the three government heads, how many more Ukrainian refugees Poland can accept, and why Warsaw has no doubts about Ukraine's victory in the war against the Russian Federation.

- Now many Ukrainians are going to Poland, while you, on the contrary, are staying in Kyiv.

- I listened to President [Volodymyr] Zelensky: when he was still a presidential candidate, he said, “If you choose me, the Poles will come to us, and not vice versa.” I obeyed and came (smiles).

- But seriously?

- I have a mission and my job is here.

And the women, children, the sick, the elderly, who are now leaving for Poland – it is clear that they need to be taken care of. Today’s data revealed that there are already 2 million Ukrainians in Poland. In total, 2.7 million people left Ukraine because of the war; 2 million are somewhere in our country now. [Some of them] will move further, some will stay, some will return. But this is already a critical amount – other countries need to be brought into the fold. It's hard [for us] to keep receiving.

- The majority of Ukrainians left for Poland, the war is ongoing, which means that people will keep fleeing the country to avoid the dangers of war. How many more Ukrainians can Poland accept?

- There are already decisions of the EU, Canada, the US, UN: they will help us with money, we will build some centers, the government will then decide on the next steps. But I can guarantee that no one will block the border and everyone who wants to leave will be able to – we will keep dealing with this. But this should be the common responsibility of the EU countries, because this is not a Ukrainian crisis, not a Polish-Ukrainian crisis – this is a European crisis. Some [states] provide weapons, some give humanitarian aid, and others should help refugees.

- A week before the start of a full-scale war, Western governments started announcing that their embassies were moving to Lviv. And then they left Ukraine. Was it your joint decision with the government to stay in Kyiv?

- Before the war, both Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited Kyiv. They all said that we will not abandon you, Ukraine – we are staying with you side by side, also in the form of an embassy. Moreover, we are sure that Kyiv will not be seized and Ukraine will win. A few days ago, when the Prime Minister of Poland had already left Kyiv, he told all the embassy staff: your presence here is a sign that we are confident in the victory of Ukraine.

- Prime Minister Morawiecki and his deputy Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently visited Kyiv. Coming to Ukraine at a time when shelling is already underway throughout the country and explosions are heard even in Kyiv is a big risk. Was it a spontaneous decision or a prearranged visit?

- I found out about the visit at the last minute. I can’t reveal everything, but I can reiterate what the Prime Minister of Poland said at a press conference: the idea to visit Kyiv during the war came from Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša. They got together with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Polish [counterpart] Mateusz Morawiecki and came.

Indeed, it's a brave decision. It is easier for us in the region to understand that this is our common cause, that we are also at risk, the threat of Russian aggression against some EU countries exists. The prime ministers decided to make such a symbolic gesture. Ukraine, as a state, works, there is a capital, and people do go to capitals with visits.

But also this visit was very specific. There was a long conversation, lasting almost four hours, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, then with President Zelensky. They discussed in detail the course of the war, what are the prospects, what is missing.

I am here in constant contact with everyone, but I also learned a lot about the current needs in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, about the humanitarian situation. We were shown a clip about what is happening: that this is Russia's aggression against civilians, this is the destruction of cities, how everything is going in different [areas].

Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak gave a briefing on how to build a further sanctions regime to ensure the effectiveness of pressure on the regime of Vladimir Putin in order to thus end this aggression.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, had an idea for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, it was also discussed. So this is a very rigorous conversation.

- Now the Minister of Defense of Poland, Mariusz Blaszczak, has also mentioned the idea of an international peacekeeping mission in Ukraine. How would this work in Poland’s eyes?

- Deputy Prime Minister Kaczynski said that a NATO peacekeeping mission is needed, perhaps in a different format, international, to provide humanitarian assistance. Because we understand that Russia does not treat humanitarian corridors with respect, they need to be secured, that is what a peacekeeping mission is for. But we’re talking an armed mission that will be able to defend itself.

This statement was deliberately made in Kyiv in order to provoke a discussion in NATO. We understand that now there will be no consensus around it. But we are sure that in one form or another this idea should work; objectively this is a must. I was ashamed to hear NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg say that NATO's task is to ensure that the conflict does not go beyond Ukraine.

So Ukrainians must all die and we don't care? For us, such an attitude is unacceptable.

NATO was created to safeguard world peace and respect for international law. When a threat to the world order comes, NATO must respond, not just defend itself. We are all also under threat: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Scandinavian countries, Poland, the Visegrad countries [Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary].

Now, this is not a war against Ukraine or President Zelensky. In mid-December last year, Russian draft treaties [terms of so-called "security guarantees" put forward by the Kremlin to the West] stated that NATO should return to its pre-1997 borders. According to Russia, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states should be a gray area and Russia should be asked to approve any strategic decision.

- Recently, Russia shelled the Yavoriv training ground in the Lviv Oblast. It is 20 km from the Polish border. After this shelling, was there a feeling in Poland that Russian missiles might – by mistake or not by mistake – fly into its territory?

- It is not up to me to speculate whether they will fly in or not. But Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said very clearly: turning a blind eye on the events in Ukraine is not an option. Here we need courage and we need to move forward, we need to push this Putin regime to where it belongs – to the Middle Ages.

Strip them of all those iPhones, Mastercards, the ability to travel. It's already working. We see that Russian propagandists are already leaving, there are some arrests among high officers of various units, there are public statements by very influential people.

That is, they already understand that the war with Ukraine is a big mistake, and that they will have to pay for this crime, this genocide. Prime Minister Morawiecki, while in Kyiv on February 1, at a joint press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal, said: being a neighbor of the Putin regime is like living on a volcano. You never know what to expect from it. And this needs to be changed. All this talk about Nord Stream-2, about some kind of common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok – that’s the end of it. Not with this regime.

- Another talking point is the story around the transfer of Polish fighter planes to Ukraine. Can you explain what happened?

- Nothing has happened yet.

- So that is precisely the question: why hasn't anything happened yet?

- This is a complex topic. We are all part of NATO, we have mutual understanding between the allied countries. We need to build an intelligible mechanism that is transparent to all allies. I will not dive into details, but from the Polish perspective, we cannot afford to see the destruction of Mariupol, Bucha, Irpin, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and do nothing about it. This advantage of Russia in the air costs – as President Zelensky has said many times – dozens, hundreds of human lives every day. And this needs to be addressed. That is, we are working on the mechanism.

- Is there a desire on the Polish side to help Ukraine in the sky?

- There is such a desire.

- How do you assess the actions of the Ukrainian authorities now?

- It seems to me that the Russians believed that in 12, 24 or 48 hours the Ukrainian authorities, and especially President Zelensky, would break down and surrender. The articles of [Dmitry] Medvedev and Putin featured a certain dismissive attitude towards him.

They did not perceive President Zelensky as a serious politician. And then came the big surprise. Now much rests on the courage of the president. We visited the offices of the Ukrainian authorities with Prime Minister Morawiecki, Prime Minister Fiala of the Czech Republic, and Prime Minister of Slovenia Janša.

They aren’t working in bomb shelters or evacuation camps there – they are working in their offices. The government branch works, and this is very impressive.

President Zelensky speaks before the German Bundestag, addresses the American Congress, the Polish Sejm. The impact of this is enormous. I believe President Duda said that today the face of freedom is the face of Zelensky. This warrants support: both personal and for the state of Ukraine. President Zelensky is like all of you: everyone in the world admires the courage of Ukrainians.

I am also very impressed with the political consolidation of Ukraine. Because both in Poland, and in Ukraine you tend to see everyone fighting among themselves: it’s dog-eat-dog all over. And here everyone supports each other, the opposition and former presidents support the authorities – this is as right as rain, and this is your foundation for victory.

- Now there are talks of the neutral status of Ukraine as a possible compromise from the Russian Federation. Do you think the Kremlin can adhere to any agreements at all? Do we stand a chance of signing something with Russia that would be germane?

- You have to force them. They have created a situation where they use force to achieve their political goals. In such conditions, they did not respect their signatures in the OSCE, the UN, the Council of Europe. If they overlook values, believing that might is right, we will take away this might with sanctions and force Russia to respect its signatures.

Every conflict ends with some kind of political decision – diplomacy works wonders. But we are on the side of Ukraine's sovereignty and its freedom to decide how to end this war. It will be up to you to decide.

But it is important that this is not done under blackmail. You will decide in what format and what to negotiate. I take it in stride. I am in constant contact with many of your politicians, with the government of Ukraine.

They understand that Ukrainian society is not ready and will not be ready to surrender. You have already paid with your life and blood for your independence. If they wanted capitulation, they could surrender on the first day. But you never gave up. Capitulation is not an option.

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