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- Today we will talk with Edward Lucas. He is the editor of the authoritative British magazine The Economist, as well as the vice president of the Center for Analysis of European Policy of the Washington Analytical Center.
Mr. Lucas, thank you for joining our broadcast! US Special Representative Kurt Volker visited eastern Ukraine for the first time after his appointment. He also met with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, this was his second visit to Ukraine for a month. What is the role of Kurt Volker in solving the Ukrainian crisis?
- Firstly, Elina, thank you for having me on the air. Congratulations to all your viewers in Ukraine. I've known Kurt Volcker for 10-15 years, and I have a best opinion about him, given the experience and knowledge of the region he has, and the ability to bring things to the end. This is good news for Ukrainians, and I think for people like Volker, it's a chance to show that even though people can talk differently about the Trump’s administration, there really is a certain consistency in American foreign policy. And he will continue to increase American involvement in Ukraine's security issues. I must say, this is not an easy struggle. I have the best opinion on him and other people in the administration. And I haven’t such an opinion with respect to Trump. We must be careful in optimism. But I still think that it's better with Volker than without him.
- What is the strongest feature of Mr. Volker, which can convince us, Ukrainians, that he can help solve the Ukrainian crisis? Or for Ukraine it is necessary to solve it independently?
- I always said that the fate of Ukrainians is mainly in their hands. You are a big country and you have already done a fantastic job to resist Russian aggression and turn what really seemed like a catastrophic situation into something that is just serious. Ukrainians should always realize that the most important thing they can do is to achieve the success of their country, in the economic, political, constitutional and social fields. And this is the best way to resist Russian aggression. But, I think, it is obvious that the outside world should play its role as well. The signals that America is involved in solving Ukrainian crisis, Ukraine has friends and the anti-Russian sanctions will be extended - these are all good signals for Ukraine.
- Do you think that Mr. Volker can represent the United States, although this country will not be publicly present in the discussion of the issue of resolving Ukrainian crisis?
- This is a very good question. And I think that the previous administration handed the Ukrainian crisis to France and Germany. On the other hand, they should not work on this. In fact, Europe should be responsible for its own security, but I would prefer that France and Germany will mature and become real participants in security. But, of course, if they attract America, they would be more effective. But we must never forget that Russia is a small economy in comparison with the West. Yes, it has many weapons and a large area of land. But the West is about a billion people, in Russia there are 140 million people. And the West creates about 40 trillion dollars of GDP. And Russia's GDP is about a trillion three hundred billion dollars, so we are seven times larger in terms of population and more than 14 times more economically. Sometimes, I think, from the Ukrainian point of view - you might think that Russia and the West are the same. No, it's not like that at all. The West is much larger and stronger, and this gives us a great advantage in terms of coordination. And I think that this will be a very important part of the work of my friend Kurt Volker - to make sure that America, France and Germany, other EU countries and other institutions will coordinate their policies together.
- The leader of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" Alexander Zakharchenko announced the creation of a new "state" named Malorossia (Little Russia), which will take the place of Ukraine and will have its capital. What is the purpose of these statements?
- This is very interesting, and I think that Little Russia, and before it was Novorossia, is all part of the Kremlin fantasy world, where they think that the neighboring countries do not want anything else, except to return to the Russian Empire. In fact, the opposite happens - the more they talk about it, the more people say: "It's not true, I love my country." We see this in the Baltic countries, although they say: "Perhaps, we are not satisfied with the government of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, but we certainly do not want to live under Russia." And we see this in Ukraine. Such statements actually have a productive effect. They consolidate the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian national identity. Even if it is a question of a bilingual, bicultural national identity, people do not want to be under the control of Mr. Surkov or his strange friends in the East. And the way they manage these subjects is very ugly. And their rhetoric is ugly and menacing. Therefore, it seems to me that the more they tell nonsense, the more they undermine their authority.
On the other hand, from the Ukrainian point of view, I see that there are threats when someone says that your country does not exist and he will create a new country and you are going to become a part of it.
- How should Ukraine and the whole world to react to such statements?
- I think the best way is to laugh at such statements to check the sense of humor. After all, one of the things they consider too hard to fight against is a mockery. So, "Little Russia", "New Russia", what else still can appear there, it can be "Potemkin Russia". They must see an amazing variety of the Russian language to find stranger names. It is important to emphasize that this is not a real country, they are not real politicians, they do not have real elections, they do not have real economy ... This is a provocation imposed by the Kremlin to attack Ukraine, we should always bear this in mind. I think it is very important, when dealing with security officers, not to show them that they frighten you, if they try to threaten, we must respond with laughter, such things are most unacceptable for them.
- You said that France and Germany should become mature. The subsequent telephone conversations of the Normandy Quartet were held on July 24. Can these conversations bring peace to Donbas?
- Well, any discussions can bring peace to the eastern part of Ukraine, because there is a very simple reason why there is still a conflict there - this is Russian aggression. If Russia held a telephone conversation or two - of Putin with the Russian command and the leaders of separatists - this war would be over. And this is the main point here. Diplomacy works as a way to build trust and help people reach agreement on what both sides want. A discussion of economic, political and military aspects helps the parties to reach this agreement. So far, we do not press Russia enough, they will not agree, because they do not want it yet. And I think at such a time the negotiations in the Normandy format probably will be more useful.
- You said there is not enough pressure on Russia. What else can be done?
- First, we need pressure on Russia. We need people who can get to Putin and say: "Look, boss, it's really expensive, and we did not get those things that you promised. We have huge bills for the annexation of Crimea, a war in the East of Ukraine, the business suffers." This would be the right message to Putin. I would urge them for such a message. There are many things that can be done - not only in terms of commercial sanctions. What I would like is more severe personal sanctions. I would like those thousands of top people in Russia to think that their savings are at risk, their children will not be able to study at the West, and they will receive all those personal consequences for how they behaved. And here you can do a lot of things. Another thing that I mentioned is the concentration on what can make Ukraine attractive. And people in Crimea, Luhansk or Donetsk, or other occupied territories could say that Ukrainians have more freedoms, live better, they are treated better, they have good relations with the authorities, and in general they live modern European life. The more it will be like that in the next 10-15 years, the emptier will be the promises of Russia and the leaders of the separatists. This is what, in the end, will defeat the "Russian Empire". The more successful Ukraine becomes, the more Putin's history looks like a defeat.
- We often hear from Ukrainian experts about the Budapest Memorandum and its guarantee of protection of Ukraine. The United Kingdom is one of the countries that signed this document. Why it did not work with Ukraine, and should Ukraine insist on this Budapest Memorandum?
- You are right when you speak about the Budapest Memorandum, but, of course, one of the key moments is precisely the word memorandum, not the contract. When guarantees were given, no one thought that they really would need to act. I am ashamed of myself as a British citizen, that my country has not done more. And I think, perhaps, Ukrainians should bargain more for the sake of getting more legal obligations, then to resolve disputes in case of economic or other aggression. Perhaps not a memorandum, but a kind of "custodial obligation." Since there is not a single item in the Budapest Memorandum on what other parties should do if this policy is violated. So, this is a painful lesson for you. You suffered a lot, including from my country, because we did not protect you. But, I think, as we speak in English: "The train is gone." I do not think that we can get more out of this situation, because at this stage it is a good basis for us to continue to apply more sanctions against Russia. And I think we will use this, and we should always remind Russians about it. But I do not think that this is some kind of magic document, which we absolutely must use to make everything good again.
- Defense Minister Poltorak said that the West-2017 Russian military exercises in Belarus, may turn into aggression against countries that border with Russian Federation. In a recent interview, you were just talking about the threats of these exercises.
- Obviously, any country that has an army must have the military drills, and we have no objection to Russia having them, we constantly conduct such exercises too. But there must be rules, transparency, predictability, you must have observers. The main thing in the exercises is not to intimidate other countries, but to practice your own army, improve their capabilities. But Russia seems to see this "event" as a deterrent. This was noticeable in 2009, when the West exercises took place, and they really threatened the Baltic countries. But we observe that over time everything has become much better. Now they are very good at moving a large number of military and equipment to very long distances, and they are doing it very quickly, this was something they had not previously been very clever in, they are now doing it well.
But what does this mean for the neighbors? A lot of troops on your border – it’s not an easy situation. If you are in Ukraine, then your northern border is very transparent and poorly protected. You have never been engaged in planning possible threats from terrorists. And if suddenly 10, 20 or 50 thousand Russian military in the north in Belarus appear on your border, you, of course, should somehow react to it. This, of course, will be a burden for Ukraine, because you are trying to win the war in the East.
This is also a danger of an attack on NATO in Poland, in the Baltics, but I think it is less threatening than it was a few years ago. After all, now we have a thousand troops under the British command - in Estonia, a thousand - under the Canadian command in Latvia, together with the French soldiers. A thousand - under the German command in Lithuania and a thousand Americans in Poland, as well as many special forces, aircraft, ships. If Russia will attack the Baltic states, it could do this only by losing hundreds and hundreds of soldiers from different Western countries, including three with nuclear weapons. So, I believe that the Baltic states, Poland are in reliable hands. This is not an ideal situation, but this is no longer an easy quick victory for Russians, as it was 5 years ago, when they could send several tanks to Riga, to a couple of Baltic countries, and we couldn’t do much. I'm not very supportive of panic about the "West" military drills, but I'm worried about the secrecy and how Russia uses these exercises to intimidate people.