The meeting of Donald Trump with Vladimir Putin is definitely the top topic of the last week and still to this day - what do you think was said behind closed doors? Was there an agreement reached between the two Presidents concerning Donbas and Crimea?
I think it was clear from the press conference of the leaders that there continue to be some substantial disagreements over Crimea and eastern Ukraine. You have heard that there was no movement at all in terms of possible recognition of Crimea – that is not going to happen. And also really no movement on eastern Ukraine. In fact, it was not the principal topic of the talks. I think this is good that the two presidents met and that they are trying to establish a better atmosphere for discussions. But this is very important also that we maintain a very firm position on the substance, which is clearly what happened.
What do you think about Putin's so-called proposal to hold a referendum in Eastern Ukraine?
You might have seen that on Friday the White House has issued a statement that rejects the notion of holding a referendum in eastern Ukraine. Given the conditions that there is no government control of the area, people are living in physical insecurity, there is no freedom of movement, there are a million and a half IDPs, there is no way you can hold a referendum there that would have any legitimacy whatsoever. And so that is why the US and everyone frankly rejects the notion of any referendum.
As Sara Sanders said, president Trump asked his national security adviser to invite Vladimir Putin to the White House in autumn - why do you think Trump needs this meeting? And what to expect from it?
I think it is part of president’s continuing effort to try to build some kind of relationship with President Putin. As the president has said, “we have the worst relationship with Russia now than we have had since the end of the Cold War.” We have problems over Ukraine, Syria, Iran… And this is just a very bad situation, difficult one. So in order to try to address some of the issues. This is not about giving in some issues, trying to establish a better relationship to start addressing them.
Basically, it continues a dialogue with Russia.
There has not been much dialogue with Russia. I think that this meeting held in Helsinki was the first real bilateral meeting that the two have had. They had a short exchange in Hamburg in 2017 and another brief exchange in OPEC summit in Asia, but nothing really substitutes. This was really their first time. If you think about other presidents, President Obama, President Bush, they had much more frequent engagement with president Putin at that time, when they were presidents. It has been a lack of communication and we need to reestablish it.
Some experts believe that Ukraine can lose from the meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki.
I think that there is evidence, it is clear that would not happen. There are lots of speculations and concerns about these things. But if you look at all the issues that were out there, there has been no movement to restrict Ukraine’s sovereignty, territory, and freedom of decision about its future, no recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, no acceptance of the international force that would defectively divide the territory of Ukraine. So those concerns appear to be unfounded.
Speaking about relations with Russia - do you have any plans to meet with Surkov? Your last meeting with him was in January - and the main topic was the peacekeeping mission in Donbas. Any progress in this issue?
We do not have any meeting plan at the moment; of course, I am always opened to meeting with him. The last time we spoke was in January. And after he was reappointed to his position, we had a brief exchange of notes. I think in light of the Helsinki meeting it is National Security Advisor John Bolton who will be in touch with his counterpart. But in that context, I would be very prepared to meet with him to see if Russia is now willing to make more progress than it was before.
Your last meeting with Surkov took place in January, and you discussed the UN peacekeeping mission. Is there any progress in that question?
Not really, no. Russia remains stuck in the position that it put out in September last year, which was for the UN protection force that would only protect only the OSCE monitors. And that would not resolve the issues of the basic security in the area. It would not create the conditions necessary for the implementation of Minsk agreements. So what we need is a genuine peacekeeping force that has area security, that oversees the withdrawal of heavy weapons, that eventually gains control of the Ukrainian side of the international border, and that creates the conditions of the security that you can hold local elections. Where people can return to their homes, where you can see a restoration of normal life. Until that happens, it is hard to see how you can make any further progress. What we did talk in January, and I am prepared to continue the discussion with our Russian friends, as well as others, is how the peacekeeping force grows and stages to accomplish those objectives. You cannot do it all at one day, it needs to be able to grow into that. And we need to be prepared to talk about how. The basic position remains the same: we need to have a genuine peacekeeping force to create real security so that you are able to have local elections and take other steps necessary for the Minks agreements to be implemented.
Is there any possibility that the UN mission will appear on the whole territory of Donbas and Russia would not give any permission and any agreement for that?
No. Because it would only deploy if Russia is in agreement. This is why we are talking with Russia, to see if we can reach an understanding of what needs to happen if Russia would agree to that. Then we would be able to move forward. But not without Russia’s agreement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the interview to Voice of America that current Administration provides support to the Ukrainian forces and that creates a space for the Ukrainian people to have a successful election in 2019, then I will quote, “And we are very, very hopeful that that situation will resolve itself”. How could this situation resolve itself? And does it depend on the elections results and how?
What situation was he referring to?
I think, the situation in Donbas.
I do not think it resolves. I think it is resolved when Russia decides that it decides the peace to establish. Right now we continue to have so-called people’s republics, we have Russian military force, and the conflict continues with shelling and opening fire every day. We need Russia to choose to take peace.
So nothing depends on the elections results in Ukraine?
I think that the current government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to create peace and see the restoration of the integrity. And I believe that whoever comes to power, he would sure also be prepared to do it. It is not so much about Ukrainian elections so much as it depends on Russia’s own actions.
The recent OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine alleged spy leak – what do you think about it and how do you evaluate the work of the monitoring mission in Ukraine?
I think we have and everything the SMM (Special Monitoring Mission) does is in fact, being reported out to the national government. It is impossible to expect that there would be genuine secrets there. Yes, I am not surprised that there is it going on, that information is being shared. Frankly, I think yes, SMM does an excellent job, I think it has a very high quality. So the fact that people have that information can probably only have a positive influence.
You mean in Russia?
I think, everywhere. In Russia also, I think that the SMM is doing an excellent job, they report on the violations, report on the lack of freedom of movement. I think they are doing outstanding work. I am not surprised that Russia is trying to steal that information or get it through espionage. And frankly, I do concern about it.
A year ago, you were appointed for the position of the US Special Representative for Ukraine. Has the security situation in Ukraine changed during this year? And how - for the better or worse? 7) Has there been any accomplishment in the last year in your capacity as the US Special Representative for Ukraine that you are proud of? What are your next steps?
I think there have been several things. First, we have seen much more clarity in the way the international community is discussing and understands Russia’s responsibility for the conflict. I think it was very vague before, there are a lot of ways to avoid assigning responsibility directly to Russia – whether for the MH17 shoot down or for the supply and the support of forces in the East, for the control of the People’s republics. I think there is a lot more clarity about Russia’s responsibility. Another thing is that the sanctions regime has remained in place, and it fact, it has been strengthened, in particular, the US has increased the sanctions. Another thing is that we have lifted the arms embargo and are able to provide assistance to Ukraine’s army. You may have just seen there was an announcement on Friday concerning further assistance. Ukraine has made some progress on reforms, education reforms, anti-corruption court and so on. I think it has been a good year for Ukraine.