Endless corridors, impressive columns and massive doors. For decades in this building on the Kyiv hills was an office of the communist party with a separate cabinet for Nikita Khrushchev. Now the President of Ukraine is working here. The head of state, Petro Poroshenko, accepts us with deep cordiality, which melts the tension from the cold architectural luxury.
- Mr. President, for 4.5 years the war has been raging in the east of Ukraine. How do you plan to convince people there that the peace is possible?
Thank God, Ukrainians are by nature very optimistic people whose spirit is not so easy to break. And I, as the president, am almost obliged to personify the hope of victory in this conflict.
- You say victory?
Yes, but a victory, which we aspire to achieve by political and diplomatic methods. Russia must leave Ukraine and finally leave us alone. Here we are talking not about an internal conflict, but about the military aggression of another state against Ukraine.
- In your opinion, what interest does President Putin have in this war?
I think we should realize that Putin considers himself not only the president of Russia. He sees himself as the leader of the Great Russian Empire. And without Ukraine this is not possible, I'm sure. Do you remember what he called the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century for Russia? Not the Second World War with its millions of victims, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union! Therefore, he will continue to treat Ukraine as a vassal state. However, we are a sovereign country and we have the right to choose our own future.
- This includes the choice regarding membership in NATO and the EU?
Of course! We strive to fix this political goal even in our Constitution. For us, the goal of future membership in the EU is a powerful motivation for the continuation of the reforming process. On the way to the West, the West, with which we are connected. And, you know what? For the first time in 300 years, the vast majority of people support this goal. 70 percent want membership in the EU. Five years ago the situation was different: then half of the Ukrainians wanted to join the EU and even less part – to get membership in NATO. And now 54 percent are in favor of it. And who provided such growth support? Putin! He united us!
- But for Putin, the entry into NATO will be like a red rag to a bull.
But does he leave us another choice? If Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, does not observe international peace and order, then NATO will remain our only guarantee of survival. I would like to recall that Russia solemnly guaranteed Ukraine state sovereignty after the collapse of the USSR. In response, we abandoned the Soviet nuclear weapons located on our territory - at that time - the third largest arsenal in the world! And what in the end? Putin annexes Crimea and foments a war in the east of our country.
- Do you think that Ukraine really has a chance to become a member of NATO?
Now we spend 6 percent of our GDP on defense. And, I think, due to our opposition to Russian aggression on the eastern flank of NATO, we are already playing an important role today. We are fighting not only for ourselves, but for Europe, democracy, the West and its values. This is not a frozen conflict, as some argue, but a bloody war. At the same time Ukrainian soldiers perish every day. Almost 170 have been lost since the beginning of the year. Hundreds were injured, among the victims there are civilians.
- You proposed the introduction of the blue helmet mission in the East of Ukraine, Putin - too. But this is not the same thing?
No, we are striving for a true peacekeeping mission that would provide for the location of international forces throughout the war zone as a prerequisite for a ceasefire, ensuring the political process and holding free local elections in Donbas. But Putin offers something like the mission of escorting international observers. It's something completely different. It is important for Putin to maintain the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, which he officially denies. And that the Russian frontier remains open for the possibility of sending reinforcements. Such a mission is just a cover.
- In Germany there is a fierce discussion about the expediency of sanctions against the Russian Federation. Some consider them ineffective. Why should we keep them then?
The question is, what do we have to replace them? Sanctions mean the only non-military tool that we have at our disposal in order to put pressure on the aggressor in such a situation. At the same time, we are not talking about punishing Russia at all. The goal is to keep Putin at the negotiating table. And in this sense, sanctions are very effective. Believe me, without them, Putin would not have bothered with the Normandy process, designed to find a peaceful solution. Now Russia pays a high economic price for its aggressive foreign policy, and Putin's popularity also suffered. The Russians long ago disposed of the belligerent euphoria that reigned at the beginning, as a result of the annexation of Crimea. Today, many people ask, what does it cost us?
- However, there are a growing number of European governments, which want to abolish sanctions as soon as possible. Among them is also Italy.
Putin made a bet on this from the very beginning: that the common position of Europeans on this issue is failing. He hoped that after the presidential elections of 2017, France, under the influence of the right-populist National Front, would surrender positions in the issue of sanctions - in vain. Then he hoped for the growth of the Alternative for Germany position and the completion of the cadence of Angela Merkel to finally get rid of the sanctions. Until this time, Putin's calculations have not worked, Europe has preserved unity, and for this we are immensely grateful to our European friends.
- You have repeatedly sharply criticized the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, designed to supply Russian gas, bypassing Ukraine to Germany. You call it a political project. What do you mean?
This pipeline from the economic point of view is not profitable. This is an attempt of Russia to weaken Ukraine, which thanks to transit now receives 3 billion US dollars annually. But above all, Putin is trying to create a geopolitical tool of pressure on Western Europe. I will say directly: you have a strong political lobby of this project in Germany. And the stubborn facts testify to this. Ukraine has more than enough transit capacity to supply Russian gas to Europe: 146 billion cubic meters, of which only slightly more than 90 billion are currently used. Why waste 20 billion dollars on an unnecessary gas pipeline? Give the answer yourself!
- Every time, there were doubts regarding the reliability of the Ukrainian supply...
To this I can only say that I cordially invite German energy concerns to invest in our gas transportation system. If you want, you can control the management process, if there is any doubt. Our doors are open. I can only caution our European friends, and this is because of our own bitter experience: if you will be so dependent on Russia on the issue of gas supply, how Ukraine depended on it several years ago, it forms a field for blackmail. I can assure you that this was not the most pleasant moment when Putin called me and said that the next day the tap would be shut off. Do not fall into the same trap!
- Next year elections will be held in Ukraine. Do you care that Russia will try to influence the voting process?
This is more than just a concern that Russia will actively intervene. With the help of propaganda and disinformation, they are already doing it today. Daily. The war in Donbas takes lives and brings destruction. But another war, at least, is just as dangerous, because it aims to split my state. And not only mine, but yours. After all, during the last 4.5 years, Germany has always stood on the side of Ukraine. And not only in the conflict with Russia, but also in the process of Ukraine's modernization. Over the past few years, we have been able to implement more reforms than it was done 20 years before - during the war. To do this, we needed support from our friends in Europe, and we received it. To a large extent, this is the merit of Angela Merkel, who proved that she is not only a successful federal chancellor, but also a major European leader. We will never forget this assistance on her part and on the part of the German people.
Read original article at RP online