NV’s own Kristina Berdynskykh has talked with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The country’s chief diplomat shed light on Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia, where on one side, Ukraine, stands firm and refusing to surrender to Russian ultimatums, while the other side has only one person, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, making all the decisions.
The minister has openly criticized NATO for inaction and said the world will have to provide real security guarantees to Ukraine in future.
- You recently met with Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, held talks, but he was not ready to discuss even humanitarian issues. Probably because it's up to Putin to decide everything. Is it possible to negotiate with any of the Russians apart from Putin?
- You understand everything absolutely correctly. I spent an hour-and-a-half trying to engage him in solving two problems: the humanitarian corridor with Mariupol and the 24-hour ceasefire. But he was not ready to make any decisions. There was a moment when I suggested: if you can't make a decision, let's pick up the phones right now, call those who can make such decisions (presidents or commanders-in-chief) and say that there is the political will to do so. He refused.
- Now there are more and more talks about direct talks and a possible meeting between Zelensky and Putin. Is it just chatter or are there any real preparations for such a meeting?
- The idea of a meeting between Zelensky and Putin is not new. Last year, or even longer back, we talked about this only in the context of resolving the situation in the Donbas, but now it’s in the context of ending the active phase of the war. Preparations for such a meeting have been going on for a long time. The logic is very simple: if Putin decides everything in Russia, we need to negotiate with Putin one way or another. At the same time, I have no doubt that this will be a principled talk. You all see the actions of President Zelensky, his words, so no one will go to such a meeting to surrender. The president is in a very strong position now and he would speak from a strong position at such a meeting.
- Ukraine is preparing for such a meeting. Are the Russians preparing for it?
- It would be an exaggeration to say that the talks taking place on the so-called Belarusian track are preparations for such a meeting. Of course, the negotiations are underway, but we believe that all issues can be finally resolved at a meeting of the two presidents, because the negotiating teams just do not have the authority to "settle" all issues from A to Z. They are working on basic solutions, but in terms of the logic of this process, there will still be unresolved issues that will require political decisions at the highest level – at Putin's meeting with Zelensky.
- Can Ukraine really agree to a neutral status under security guarantees?
- Russia has a number of demands of Ukraine. If they are put together, in fact, they are an ultimatum to surrender. We reject this approach, as we want negotiations that will find balanced solutions.
Ukraine is now focused on establishing in the negotiation process what security guarantees Russia is ready to provide to Ukraine, as well as other states, first of all permanent members of the UN Security Council. Once we understand what security guarantees are in question, we will be able to determine what constructive steps we can take. I would not talk about neutrality or any other sphere now, but talk about how Ukraine will get security guarantees and what they will be. Neutrality alone is not a solution to the problem. The solution is security guarantees, and not like those in the Budapest Memorandum.
- Just a question about this. We have a bad experience of the Budapest Memorandum – how can we not repeat the same mistake?
- (We should) have a tough negotiating position and understand which guarantees are declarative and which are real. Here is a simple example. The Budapest Memorandum states that if there is a threat to Ukraine, the signatories undertake to convene consultations with the UN Security Council. Well, they made a commitment, they convened, they talked. And what? The threat remained. We already have experience, even in recent weeks, when we convene consultations, meetings of the UN Security Council, a legally binding resolution is put to the vote, but Russia blocks it. The consultations themselves are not security guarantees. But if, for example, Russia undertakes to convene consultations, to take part in consultations without vetoing decisions on threats to Ukraine's security, then this is a tough guarantee. We will approach these talks with a clear sense of the bitter experience of the Budapest Memorandum and will not allow this mistake to be repeated again.
- The West has imposed very tough economic sanctions against Russia, one such as have never been seen before. Russia's economy is flying into the abyss, but it is not affecting Putin. What can really affect him?
- Putin pretends to be unaffected by the Russian economy. What can influence Putin? Now this is the biggest intrigue in diplomacy. Every day I talk to several ministers, including from those countries that considered that they just had to click their finger and the world would immediately turn upside down. And we are discussing this with all of them: what can influence Putin? Nobody has a direct answer. Some say this is the economic collapse of Russia, some believe this is China, some claim that the closest oligarchs should come to him and say: "Volodya (familiar form of Vladimir), we can't live like this."
There are a number of such answers, but no one has a clear understanding of a single point of effort. There is a clear understanding of one simple fact that, given the crime of aggression committed by Russia and the war crimes it is committing in Ukraine, this war must be stopped by all means. And these efforts are focused on three areas: weapons for Ukraine, sanctions against Russia and financial support for Ukraine. If all these three elements are in place, we will somehow bring the situation to the point when Russia is forced to end this war.
- The transfer of Polish aircraft to Ukraine has been hampered by the United States. What is the United States afraid of? An even greater escalation?
- I categorically do not accept the argument that nothing should be done to avoid further escalation. How much more? What other escalation do you need? I hear this argument from several countries, but I’m fighting hard against it and rejecting it.
As for the aircraft… If there was no war, it would be quite a surreal story about how planes were handed over to Ukraine. Everything is confusing, there are a lot of diplomatic maneuvers around this issue, but I can comment on this story like this: Putin feels fear very keenly. And nothing provokes him more than fear. Therefore, the turning point when NATO comes under attack will be the moment when he feels fear in NATO, but not the moment when some NATO countries hand over planes to us.
NATO, for all my commitment to the Euro-Atlantic course, is doing very little in this situation as the alliance. In fact, NATO has delegated this to member countries.
So, NOT handing over any weapons, planes or anything else is what provokes Putin.
- Western media report that Russia has asked China for military and economic assistance. Are we communicating with China to explain the situation to them?
- I spoke with the Chinese minister, after which we exchanged letters. There has been such a communication. We are interested in holding talks between the leaders of Ukraine and China so that they have a direct open discussion on this issue. In coordination with us, the United States and the European Union are also conducting a separate track on relations with China on the issue of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
- Do we already have an understanding of whether China is ready to help Russia or not?
- From a diplomatic point of view, China is clearly and directly in favor of ending the war through diplomacy.
- There are already many intermediaries between Ukraine and Russia, including both Germany and France. French President Emmanuel Macron calls Putin every week, and even more often, and it has not yielded any significant results. Now Israel is ready to become a mediator. Are there any prospects for this?
- We honestly don't care who makes progress. It could be the Pope, it could be the prime minister of Israel, it could be the president of Turkey, it could be the leader of China. The main thing is that it works and there is a result. Therefore, we welcome any mediation efforts. But we are keeping a very close eye on whether certain countries are hiding their intention to somehow justify their soft stance on Moscow or to help it circumvent sanctions by saying they are doing so because they are mediators. If we see something like this, we will act harshly. But so far no such things have happened.
- How serious is the situation at our nuclear power plants occupied by the Russians? Lavrov said he wanted talks between Ukraine, Russia and the IAEA. Is it a threat from him that if you do not sit down with us at the negotiating table, there will be a man-made disaster?
- The situation with nuclear power plants is extremely serious. Russia's tactical goal in this issue is to legitimize its presence at these plants and take them under control. They say: we are there, it is already a fact, let's now work together for the sake of nuclear safety – Ukrainians, Russians, the IAEA. We say "no, this is not a working scenario." It leads to the creeping annexation of our nuclear industry. So step No. 1 is that you leave these nuclear facilities and never return to them. Step No. 2 – let at least 100 IAEA experts come there, control, protect, we are in favor, but in cooperation with the Ukrainian regulator. Russia's nuclear games are extremely dangerous.
- In the first days of the war, it seemed that the West did not believe in our victory. Two-and-a-half weeks have passed, every day you communicate with Western diplomats and world leaders. Do you feel an overestimation of our chances? Do they believe more that Ukraine will win?
- On the first day of the war, Feb. 24, Ukraine's ambassador to a very influential European country attended the office of the secretary of state of some ministry and said: "Help us, the war has begun. Help us with this and that." That person smiled sympathetically and answered: "My dear, let's be honest, why we should help you if everything ends in a maximum of 48 hours and a new reality comes." This is a specific episode that took place in an extremely influential EU country. We saw radical changes in the next three days. We did not sleep, did not eat, did not drink during these three days, we worked with partners. We have seen unprecedentedly tough sanctions (which are still few today, more are needed). We have seen the supply of weapons and a change not only in rhetoric, but in the attitude toward Ukraine in general.
The fact that we survived for the first three days was a shock to our partners. At that moment, they realized that they have to fight for Ukraine. Unfortunately, this awareness was paid for by Ukrainian blood and destroyed Ukrainian cities. Historical decisions have taken place. For example, Sweden, which had only once handed over weapons to someone, namely to Finland in 1939, gave us weapons. Germany has changed its position and also decided to give us weapons.
During the first seven days of the war, I received the following daily messages from the ministers: "Dmytro, we are giving you this and that, such weapons. I hope it's not too late," "Dmytro, we're also handing over weapons, we hope it's not too late." It was as if they had agreed! They wrote the same phrase because everyone had this feeling (of urgency.) Now everyone I'm talking to says two things: we admire you, we are sure you will win. This is true. Another question is the price of this victory. But by our actions, our heroism, everyone starting from the president to the ordinary soldier in the trenches, we provoke admiration and desire to support us, to be with us at the time of victory. Therefore, no matter how difficult it may be, for the sake of the future of our country, we cannot get tired of the war, we cannot break down. Now there is a unique situation. There are all the elements available for victory: there is the desire and ability of the people to fight for themselves, there is the leadership of the state that leads these people to fight, there are partners who give us weapons, partners who approve sanctions – in fact, this is the second front of sanctions they have opened against Russia – and there is financial support of Ukraine. These are elements of our forthcoming victory. I'm sure that (this victory) will definitely come.