I know you are a decent and honest man. Do you realize that your mission is impossible because Russians are used to cheat the world and they are not going to settle peace with the Ukrainians?
Well, mission is mission important. And reason is because we have all people of Donbas are suffering of this war. So you have Russian-speaking people throughout Ukraine – Odesa, Kharkiv, Slovyansk, Kyiv. But the only place where Russian-speaking population is suffering is where Russia has invaded and is occupying the territory. So it is imperative to the lives of the people who live there that we do everything we can to bring peace.
In brief, with one word – will Ukraine return Crimea and Donbas?
I think that it is important that we do not accept ever that a country can invade another country and just take its territory. You would have seen that on July 25th Secretary of State Pompeo issued a formal government declaration that United States is not going to recognize the annexation of Crimea.
In case of the Donbas we really believe that we can see this territory returning to Ukraine. In the Minsk agreements Russia’s committed to the return of this territory. Russia’s also always talking about the safety and security of Russian –speaking people. So if you really cared about the people you would find the way to bring peace so that this territory can be restored and peoples’ lives can be back to normal.
You’ve met both – Putin and Poroshenko. What do they have in common, and what do they have different?
I’ve only met President Putin when I was working in the White House for President Bush. That’s a long time ago. I find that President Putin is all about power, he wants to have power inside Russia, and he’s created a very strong authoritarian regime and he wants to exercise power and influence outside Russia. So that seems together
Poroshenko seems to want to do more for his country. Now everybody has the wrong point of view about politics. You may like some of the policies, you may not, but I think Poroshenko is a way motivated what he can do for his country.
Saakashvili and Turchynov told me that when Russia showed its first steps towards aggression, the West used to persuade both Saakashvili and Turchynov not to fuel tensions, not to resist, and practically to yield the territory to the enemy. Have the West understood its fatal mistake?
Well, I think in the case of Georgia that was the right advice because Russia used Saakashvili’s desire to defend the country as a pretext to the invasion. They used it to influence European decision making and policies. Even today you find most European governments blame Saakashvili. So I think that Russia was effective in that sense. And so that was a good advice to Saakashvili at that time. I have a different view about Ukraine, because we have already seen Russia’s invasion in Georgia and we had warnings about Crimea. And in fact the opposite happens. People in Europe say why should we stand up for Ukraine if Ukraine won’t fight for itself. I wish all of us including the United States reacted faster in 2013 – 2014.
Ukraine is approaching presidential elections. Russia throws money to support the candidates that might be fulfilling Putin’s will here. American’s are keeping silent. They don’t say here’s the candidate that we support. Don’t you think that we may end up with a pro-Putin president here and Ukraine will be lost for the civilized world forever?
First, Russia thinks it should decide who should lead Ukraine, the United States thinks Ukrainians should decide who should run Ukraine.
The second point is that Russia has failed to understand the consequences of its invasion because now Ukraine is a more united, more nationalist, more pro-Western and more anti-Russian country than ever existed before. And the more Russia tried to influence, the more Ukrainians resist. Because they have pride in their country. And so, what we want to do is to see Ukrainians themselves build democracy, build a strong economy, be safe and secure inside their own borders. And we’d like Russia stays inside its borders too.
High-ranking Americans tell me that they don't see any Ukraine from the windows of the White House. Is Ukraine today of any importance to the United States?
Yeah, it is. Ukraine is very important for the United States. First, because of values. Ukraine is adopting and implementing the same core values as a society, on which the United States was founded, on which all our allies and friends are based. Freedom, democracy, striving to build the rule of law, market economy, human rights, security. So these values are under threat somewhere in the world. It’s a threat to all of us. If these values are succeeding in the world, it’s a safer world for the United States. And the second reason is that we believe that Russian people deserve the same thing – a free society, prosperity, security, and they are denied that by the government they have. A successful Ukraine can bring an example that can inspire people in Russia.
Can the US somehow economically prevent Russia from thinking about war?
First of all let’s say that we don’t’ want a war. This is not the goal. And you could say the same thing about Americans from Ohio or South Carolina defending Spain or defending Denmark. But the fact is we build in alliance around the idea of collective self-defense because we share common values, and so what we believe is that Ukraine, as it adopts these values and builds a strong society it can be a part of the same community as the rest of us. And the purpose of NATO, of this Alliance, is self-defense. I mean we want to deter any aggression. And that has worked for 70 years in Europe.
I was present when Minsk agreements were concluded, in the next room. Today it's obvious that Minsk agreements don't work. Leonid Kuchma briefs me about the details of their negotiations they held and how they fail. And he is actually very frustrated with his role and how they are conducted. Shall we go back to Budapest memorandum? Can the U.S. as one of the signatories force all the participants including Russia to the table and finally resolve the issue?
Let me tell you why Minsk agreements are not working. It’s because Russia is continuously denying its responsibility for the conflict. Russia has command and control over the forces, it pays for the forces, and it pays for the two people’s republics, it has political control over the republics, the so-called people’s republics, and yet it denies it has any responsibility. As long as Russia’s in denial we can’t move. What we are trying to do is to get an agreement that the UN mandated a peacekeeping mission could replace the Russian forces and create an environment of security for the population and for the first time create the conditions when the Minsk agreements could be implemented.
About the Budapest memorandum, I wish our country, the UK, France have responded more dramatically and assertively when Russia invaded Ukraine. But let’s also remember that the violation of the Budapest memorandum is being done by Russia, the one that invaded Ukraine – US didn’t invade, UK didn’t invade, France didn’t invade. Russia invaded Ukraine.
Russians in Kremlin tell me Putin wants one thing - we give Donbas, but close the discussion about the Crimea, you lift sanctions and then we come apart as friends. Is it possible that President Trump exchanges Ukraine and accepts these conditions?
No, and that’s one of the reasons why Secretary Pompeo issued the declaration about Crimea, that he did. We will not accept that a country can come and take another’s territory by force. But what I would say is that lack of progress in one, let’s say Crimea, should not be a reason for no progress in the other.
When I asked Kuchma on whom peace in Ukraine depends, he said - on God and on Putin. Can you add somebody third to this company?
Well, I wonder if Putin agrees that there are two people. But, no, ultimately, our greatest concern and I believe, Ukraine public’s greatest concern, is for the success of Ukraine. You know, when people ask me about Minsk and plan A, and plan B, and what if it doesn’t work, my view is: plan A is the success of Ukraine. So we want to do everything possible for the political development, strong institutions, democracy, economic growth, safety. And the more that that is successful, the better the chances of reintegrating these territories. No one’s going to go to war with Putin, we don’t need a nuclear war, we don’t need a conflict with Russia. But he doesn’t need the Donbas, it’s hurting Russia, Russian soldiers are dying, Russia’s facing sanctions, Russia is alienating Ukrainians, when it should be of one family, so it is really hurting Russia. So I think that there is a reason why Russia would want to resolve the Donbas, and if they, if Putin decides to, we’re ready to do what we can to help.
We hear a lot about hurricanes and typhoons in the U.S. It’s all calm in Ukraine, if compare. Ukraine is a very beautiful land, given by God to people to live here in happiness. We want peace very much. Abut evidently we are not capable to manage it on our own. Russians have imperial phantom limb pains – when you have no arm, but it hurts. There’s no sense for Ukraine to hope for Europe’s help. We only hope for the U.S. support. You are a symbol of U.S. involvement in Ukraine’s destiny. Your eyes are beautiful. Please help us.
Well, thank you very much. We are not giving up on Ukraine. We stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and we want to see a successful Ukraine. And part of what I do is travel all around Europe and make sure that people think about Ukraine in Europe as well. Thank you for having me on your show. Thank you.