Anna Melenchuk: Dear participants, welcome to today’s podcast on Unlock Ukraine with Roland Freudenstein, head of GLOBSEC Brussels. Roland, you’re a true supporter of Ukraine. We know you very well in Promote Ukraine. And you know my first question to you would be, just tell us a bit more about GLOBSEC. What you’re doing now? What are your activities? And maybe you could also elaborate a bit about EU support to Ukraine and what the EU could do more to support Ukraine against this brutal invasion of Russia.

Roland Freudenstein:  Great, Ana, thanks for having me. Let me start maybe with GLOBSEC. It’s a policy organisation, as it is called these days. I think a couple of years ago, we would have said think tank, but I think policy organisation describes it better because what we care about is politics, and we want to do advocacy based on research, based on sound analysis about the strategic questions for Europe and the world. So, maybe to start with our origins. We come from Central Europe. We’re a Central European think-tank based in, or headquartered in, Bratislava in, Slovakia. And we now have offices in Brussels — that’s myself and a small staff. We have a foundation in the United States, so we are in Washington. We just opened up a permanent office in Kyiv because Ukraine is such a priority for us. And we also have small antenna offices in Vienna and Warsaw. So, this is GLOBSEC for global security and indicates where we started about 15 years ago, with an international conference, which annually takes place in Bratislava, the GLOBSEC forum. So, where we bring together decision-makers, heads of state and government, defense and foreign ministers, active and retired generals, businesspeople, a lot of the corporate world is there, and of course, journalists and academics and civil society people.

Now besides that, we have a couple of flagship annual events, not going into detail at this point. But the purpose of it all is to bring people together, and in Brussels, our mission is to represent the constructive voice from Central Europe, which implies that there are unconstructive voices from Central Europe. But we want to counteract the impression that they create, and we certainly want to contribute to these strategic debates about the future of Europe, future of security, [and] the future of global democracy. And that brings me back to, of course, Ukraine, which is our number one priority at the moment, helping Ukraine win this war, helping to contain Russia, and helping to make the world safer for democracy. I think these are our main priorities at the moment.

Anna Melenchuk: Thank you so much. I mean, within Promote Ukraine, as I mentioned, we know very well yourself, GLOBSEC. For us it’s a great opportunity to talk to you and to know more about your work and also about what we can do together in Brussels to promote Ukraine and to make sure that Ukraine remains on the European Unions’ agenda, and European Union is indeed doing its best to support Ukraine. After the war started, we’ve seen this unprecedented unanimity in the European Union. There were so many decisions taken via member states to support Ukraine when it comes to support with weapons, sanctions, [and] political decisions, such as [the] European Parliament, which called member states and the council to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. And, of course, the think tanks, like yourself, like Promote Ukraine, we were behind all of those decisions pushing the decision makers to take them. After this year, just taking a step back and looking at what happened, what do you think about EU’s response to the war? Have they done enough? And what else could be done?

Roland Freudenstein: Well, the EU has risen to the occasion. It used to be an organisation that thought of itself as a purely civilian organisation, and it turned out that it plays a massive role in security and defense even. Look at the European peace facility, which was originally to finance peace-building missions in faraway places like Somalia and on other continents. And here we have the first massive use of the European peace facility, with the EU reimbursing member states for weapons deliveries to Ukraine. That was the first revolutionary step. And then, of course, the sanctions regime against Russia is another example. We have had sanctions against Russia since the illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. But now they really are massive and unprecedented in this intensity. I would go further; these last weeks, we’ve had decisions concerning the direct financing of ammunition production by the European Investment Bank. Now, another unprecedented step.

You know, I have the impression talking to people from NATO that NATO is almost getting a bit jealous because the point about NATO is as an organisation, it cannot do that much for Ukraine. Of course, NATO has done tremendously important things with the redeployment on the eastern flank. NATO has encouraged its member states to bilaterally support Ukraine, which is happening, fortunately. But when it comes to the organisation as a whole, the EU is far more engaged, far more intensely involved in helping Ukraine at the moment. And I think if you ask me about possible room for improvement, which is always there, I think one of the points would be even better communication at the working level between NATO and the European Union about these activities. Because even NATO does have a limited support program for Ukraine, a capacity assistance program, and that should be much better coordinated with the European Union. But now, coming to European Union itself, what I would wish for is much clearer support for Ukraine’s political agenda, Ukraine’s post-war agenda. We are discussing the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, in which, again, the European Union will have to play a massive role. I think there is never enough of that, of thinking today [about] how we are going to finance this. For example, how we are going to use frozen assets by the Russian central bank and even by private Russian investors, Oligarchs, how to use their assets to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine. Besides that, of course, the big challenge in EU-Ukraine relations is the future membership of Ukraine. Again, the glass is at least half full because we have made tremendous progress this year. Last year, especially with the declaration of the candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova in June, that was a major step. Now, I think Ukraine’s best friends in the European Union hope that negotiations will start this year. I would say we are not past the post on that question yet. This is not a consensus among the member states. Many member states, partly based on painful experiences in the past, just saying Romania, Bulgaria 2007, are opposed to declaring such tight goals in the timeline because they fear that this will lead to a sloppy preparation from both sides; the European Union side, as well as Ukrainian side, a sloppy preparation of the whole process, which will lead to mistakes made on the way, which will then cause costs later on once Ukraine does become a member. So, these are the fears, and these fears need to be overcome in discussions within the European Union, among the member states, with civil society, but they also need to be addressed by Ukraine itself, of course. There are a tremendous lot of things that Ukraine has started doing but could always do more intensively.

Anna Melenchuk: I totally agree with you. Our homework is still there. We have done a lot when it comes to the requirements for getting the candidate status. I think most of them we have already fulfilled except for one, and recently the vice-prime minister on European Integration announced that around 85% of all of the requirements on joining, on getting the candidate status, have [been] fulfilled. Ukraine is really moving unprecedently fast to fulfil all of that and getting closer to the European Union to get the candidate status and start getting to the EU joining this enlargement process. As a civil society, our role, of course, is to push our Ukrainian government to do even better, but then being here in Brussels, it not only depends on Ukraine. We see how our Ukrainian colleagues are doing on the ground, both the government and civil society, but we also understand that, as you mentioned, consensus is unfortunately still not there. I guess we will need to see for Ukraine our best to keep advocating to be here, to be loud, to make sure that we are there on the agenda, that they remember about us, that we are here, we are doing our best. And then for the European Union to find this consensus inside and maybe not be afraid because [the] time after the last enlargement it has come, many countries in the western Balkans have been waiting for joining the EU. You can definitely benefit from new member states, and we hope that they will understand that as well.

Roland Freudenstein: Yes, all right, of course, and Ukraine would be a fantastic asset to the European Union. This is the one thing that I don’t think enough people have understood. Here in Brussels and places like Paris, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, because Ukraine really has a quality of its own. And not only in terms of quantity, of course. It would be the biggest country to join in many decades, but Ukraine also has a different level of economic sophistication and technological sophistication when it comes to software development, for example. You know, Ukraine produces satellites. You just have to demonstrate, and this needs to be repeated here just to demonstrate the asset that Ukraine can be for the European Union. Now you mentioned the Vice Prime Minister, Olha Stefanishyna. I know her. For me, she embodies the new Ukraine, precisely the Ukraine that we should be extremely happy to have, that we should embrace. But when she says that all 80% of the Aquis Commentaire has been adopted into Ukrainian legislation, that is absolutely great, but it doesn’t completely address the problem and the challenge. Because the challenge is not only to have laws rewritten; the challenge is to have them implemented in practice, to have corrupt officials indicted, to have the judiciary functioning in a more independent way. And again, institutionally and nominally, and on paper, a lot of changes have happened that are actually excellent developments compared to, let’s say, the last decade when things went up and down, to say the least. So, on paper, this is all great, but we need the changes visible and in reality. The national anti-corruption Bureau has to not only exist but also to function and be active. And coming back to Ukraine’s image, in places like Brussels or Paris, there is a degree of suspicion that beyond the paper and the great changes in legislation, there is still a great degree of corruption, of inefficiency, of waste of energy for example, when it comes to environmental questions. So, I wish that my Ukrainian friends address these issues even more directly and by deeds and by concrete examples. But I do agree that the most important steps have been taken. Now, the second set of steps has to be taken as well.

Anna Melenchuk: Definitely. And all of this happened during the war. We also need to understand that it’s so surprising. We had so much time before to implement those reforms, but it’s the full-scale war that kind of pushed all of us — the government, the Ukrainian civil society — to work harder, to work faster on our EU pass, and there is still work to do. You rightly mentioned the corruption issues the judicial reform, which are still remaining issues of Ukraine. And we hope we will be able to deal with them.

Roland Freudenstein: Maybe one more aspect is important. Of course, Ukrainians very rightfully say that our people, our soldiers, are dying for values that are shared by Ukraine and all democracies in the world, and, of course, including Europe, [and] the European Union. And that is, of course, a very strong argument to bring Ukraine more quickly, closer to the European Union, and for Ukraine to actually join the EU. The point is that the EU is constructed in such a way that other conditions have to be fulfilled than value-related ones. These values are fantastically important, and Ukraine is a glowing example of a robust democracy that defends itself. I wish that member states of the European Union today were all like that. But an ascension process that is based only on these factors will be damaging for everyone if the rest of the homework is not done. And I do agree that this is sometimes more difficult under the conditions of a war. But that cannot be the argument, for example, to be slower on fighting corruption. The fact that Ukraine is in a war situation defending its existence is no argument to be soft on corruption. Quite the contrary. Actually corruption is making it more difficult for Ukraine to defend itself. So, you know, the war argument should be handled with care in homeopathic doses, I would say.

Anna Melenchuk: I would say it’s a positive argument because when the war started nine years ago almost, it united us as Ukrainians. Everyone, the government, civil society, academia, we all understood that we can only win if we are actually working together. So, the war is no way an excuse to do our homework. It’s rather a positive argument that can help us to push the reforms, and we already see those developments. And when it comes to new member states, as you rightly mentioned, it’s good that they finally started to see that Ukraine is providing that necessary value that the EU is all about; it’s about peace and security, and we are the country which is now in the frontline of that. We are the ones that are ensuring that other member states of the European Union can now live in peace, especially those in Eastern Europe, those that are sharing borders with Russia. So, in this sense, we definitely have common support for the EU, but when it comes to the reforms and our internal politics and internal regime, there is still so much to do, and the war should not be an excuse. But then, when it comes to security, you also touched [on] NATO. NATO is the organisation that Ukraine has been willing to join for many years. Of course, it depends both on Ukraine and on NATO member states as to why it hasn’t happened so far. But now, with the war ongoing, we are talking more and more in Ukraine about how we can join NATO as fast as possible because, for us, it’s the only guarantee of the fact that the war will not start again. It’s the only way that can stop Russia from attacking Ukraine. So, for us, it’s essential to ensure our security, and I think also NATO member states realise that Ukraine could be very beneficial for NATO member states because we now have the experience in the battlefield. We are very well trained. We know we have all of those weapons, equipment, and we know how to use it, due to the support of NATO member states. But then we also understand that during the war, joining NATO is quite unlikely. But then we also want to understand when it will happen. We want to hear the Vilnius Summit is upcoming in June or July this year, and there is a big expectation in Ukraine that some decision will be taken there. We have a concrete promise that we have this pass, and there [are] one, two, three steps maybe to take, but we will definitely join it, we will definitely join NATO. What do you think of that? Is there a chance for Ukraine to join NATO, and if yes, when?

Roland Freudenstein: First of all, the Bucharest Summit of 2008 ended with a clear commitment by NATO to Ukraine that Ukraine will one day become a member of NATO. Let’s not forget that. What was missing at the time was a membership action plan, i.e., a timeline with concrete steps to be taken to lead up to membership. And many experts and leaders are saying today that the combination of generally a promise of membership and, on the other hand, the lack of concrete steps of a membership action plan actually produced the situation that Putin felt actually encouraged to attack Ukraine. So, I think what we would, the very least we can expect from the Vilnius Summit of NATO, is repetition and reinforcement of this component of the 2008 summit declarations. If there is going to be much more than this remains to be seen. The next couple of weeks will be decisive in this. We know there are very active discussions among the member states where the eastern flank countries, or most of them actually except Hungary, of course, are arguing in favor of a much more substantial commitment, something like a membership action plan for Ukraine to be given this year. There are other member states, most of them more on the western side of the continent, that are opposed to this. Because they are saying that the membership question can only be seriously and officially discussed after peace has begun, after the Ukraine war [and] Russia’s invasion is over. And indeed, I mean, if you look at it from a certain angle, you could say right now, NATO is helping Ukraine to achieve victory, but NATO is also doing everything to avoid any direct confrontation with Russia.

So how could Ukraine become a NATO member while the war is still going on and the West is still avoiding a direct confrontation with Russia? How could Ukraine become a NATO member during this time? And the fact that NATO is not directly engaging with Russia is consensus among the member states. So, there is a logical challenge, I would call it, which would need to be overcome. So, I do think that we are going to land, in the Vilnius Summit, somewhere in between a membership action plan and the pure repetition of the general commitment to Ukrainian membership of 2008. Something in between, we will see. It’s the opponents of Ukrainian NATO membership who would clearly say that if NATO is not willing to engage with Russia militarily directly today, it will never do so in the future. And therefore, the whole question is moot. I think that’s a minority opinion, but there are some prominent people, even in this town and Brussels, who are running around with that kind of opinion. I’ve been on panels with people like that myself. So, you know, we will fight it out in these next couple of weeks among the member states and, as I said, hopefully, come to a result that gives the right signal to Ukraine, but I don’t see a concrete timeline for membership at this point.

Anna Melenchuk: Continuing speaking of NATO, Ukrainian civil society and Ukrainian government are watching NATO. We are preparing for the Vilnius summit. We are doing what we can to ensure that either the membership plan or some concrete decisions are taken for Ukraine. But as civil society has promoted Ukraine as volunteers here in Brussels after all of those manifestations that we have done in front of NATO headquarters. After all the meetings that we had with the decision makers, representations of member states to NATO headquarters to the organisation, we still don’t feel like this decision is going to happen, and we do not feel also empowered enough to change something. We try now to focus more on public opinion also in member states to let them know that without Ukraine, there won’t be any security in Europe. And NATO stands for security. Its primary goal is to ensure security and peace that without Ukraine, it’s not going to happen, and it’s simply not fair that Ukraine is not part of NATO, defending NATO while not being part of it. So definitely, there is this expectation that we deserve it. It’s really, it’s the time, and if not now, it’s not during the Vilnius, then when? What would be your advice to people like us, civil society, also the Ukrainian government, [and] those that have those expectations?

Roland Freudenstein: Well, I think one of the challenges of the upcoming couple of months will precisely be expectation management. And that means preventing a situation in which people in Ukraine are massively and deeply disappointed by the West, by NATO, by the partners in the European Union, if there is no concrete timeline with a membership action plan after the Vilnius summit. And on the other hand, of course, the lobbying for a clearer commitment to future Ukrainian NATO membership has to be the other part, has to be the other side of the coin, so to speak. That means, you know, signaling with symbols with human chains with demonstrations. That’s one part. But it also means bringing together stakeholders, decision-makers, with experts, with people who can provide a robust analysis. To make an argument that we need to do more than has been done in the last 15 months about Ukrainian NATO membership. You know there are so many steps in between the status quo and a concrete timeline. And one of them, for example, is a mutual learning process, not just training by NATO and the European Union for Ukrainian soldiers. You might ask why Ukrainian soldiers need any training from rather peaceful nations. But yes, there are some skills like first aid medical field medics using certain technologies. You know, preparing, God forbid, for chemical and biological attacks or something like this.

So, but much more important, and I would say completely undervalued, is the other direction of this process is NATO and NATO and EU member states learning militarily from Ukraine at the moment. And here, GLOBSEC has done an important step. Just three weeks ago, we came out with a study, and it’s titled nicely titled “How to Beat Russia.” You know, it wasn’t completely self-understood that this title was going to be accepted, but the author, actually a German friend of mine, Nico Lange, former chief of staff of the German defence ministry, insisted on the title. And it lists the 10 central strategic lessons of the war in Ukraine right now, Ukraine’s defensive war for NATO forces. And there are things like the completely unprecedented massive use of drones, for example. I mean, every platoon in Ukraine basically has at least a commercial, commercially available mini drone with a camera for close reconnaissance, not to mention the use of armed drones and all this. Another example: total defense, like engaging the entire population, including civilians, to use the functions on their mobile phones, for example, to spot the trajectory to record the trajectory of missiles or drones that are flying overhead, which tremendously helps air defense and civil protection, of course. So, you know, all these are things that NATO forces can already today start to implement in their own structures and their own also relations with civil society in order to increase deterrence against Russia or other potential aggressors. And for the member states of NATO in the future, and you know, this mutual learning process, I think, is one of the things where we can be much more concrete, and both NATO and the European Union can do a lot more to enhance cooperation with Ukraine already now in preparation of future membership.

Anna Melenchuk: Indeed, you mentioned drones, you mentioned some weapons, anti-air defense missile systems, and you know I cannot but ask about fighter jets. Why in your opinion Ukraine still hasn’t received fighter jets, and for us, and when I speak about fighter jets, it’s not those of Soviet, yeah, Soviet fighter jets. We are expecting the Western fighter jets, the modern ones like X-16, and I mean, after looking, it was all of the drama around tanks which took a lot of time. We feel like it’s time to provide also fighter jets for Ukraine; it’s the only weapon which we haven’t received so far, and for us, it’s still hard to understand why.

Roland Freudenstein: Well, the short answer is I agree with you. The slightly longer answer is the following there are basically three arguments leveled against the immediate delivery of Western modern fighter jets to Ukraine. The first one is that you know it takes too long to train, and it’s not only training, it’s not only pilot training, it’s also providing infrastructure. And you know a modern jet is not just the plane; it is the entire command and control reconnaissance radar fire control systems and all this. Plus, of course, the ammunition and so on that has to match the plane. So, all this taken together is allegedly two complex to deliver planes right now.

The second argument is that there is a red line Russia has told us that if we deliver fighter jets, then they are going to use nuclear weapons or whatever. And the third argument is that, actually, in the current situation of the war, fighter planes are of limited use, and so they wouldn’t radically change the situation on the ground. And also, to massively use fighter bombers in an offensive capacity would create a whole new set of problems with Russian air defense which is actually not so bad as we as we have seen. Russia has quite modern and quite functional air defense systems with the S300 and especially S400. Okay, so let’s tackle these three arguments. First of all, training, I mean Ukrainians, have put to shame the predictions about how long it takes to train them in all the other weapon systems that were delivered over the last 14 months. So, infrastructure indeed is slightly or that part of the argument is slightly more valid, but there again, I mean, if we really try, we can deliver the infrastructure as well and the ammunition and all this. So, that argument is only half valid. I would say now the red lines, I have to laugh. We have crossed our own red lines so many times, and you brought [up] the example of tanks but also other artillery systems, missile artillery missiles, air defence systems on all these systems. There were Russian threats that completely failed to materialise after the systems were delivered to Ukraine. In our own countries, the things that were declared impossible a year ago or nine months ago, or seven months ago certainly became possible shortly after. So, don’t talk to me about red lines. I can, frankly speaking, if we’re talking especially about fighter planes as opposed to strategic bombers if we just talk about fighter planes, I cannot see Russia suddenly stepping up. It’s escalating the war as it’s called.

So, third argument, and this, I think, has some credibility. The fighter planes would indeed make it much easier for Ukraine to defend its own air space against Russian planes but also slow-flying drones. For example. I mean, it would be much easier for Ukrainian air defence to not only intercept 70% or 80% of a swarm of drones that are launched. But actually, 100% [of] that would be possible with a solid number of modern Western fighter planes. But I think it has to be taken seriously that this would, of course, indeed protect civilian infrastructure energy infrastructure much more effectively, but it would certainly not help to protect against hypersonic missiles, of which, fortunately, Russia possesses only [a] few. And we would also have to be aware indeed that the Ukrainian counter-offensive, which is coming in a few weeks, would not be strategically made easier by this. On the other hand, and you know, summarising this whole argument, I would say psychologically, it would make a huge difference for Ukraine; it would be a sign of continued support for Ukrainian victory. I think it would be extremely important for Ukrainians. And yes, it would be of limited but important military use, and all the red line arguments and the complexity of training and so on, I would really dismiss, or most of those arguments. So, this is my summary, and I believe the fighter planes are coming. I mean, you know, behind closed curtains, the training is going on already; we all know this is just not the delivery is not happening right now.

Anna Melenchuk: Yes, indeed, it must be just complicated to ensure all this infrastructure, and we have the same feeling in Ukraine that we are waiting for them, and they will come eventually just want to make sure that they come on time. To, first of all, protect our air defence system and protect our civilian infrastructure and our civilians, our people. You know Russia keeps shelling our hospitals, our schools, you know, shelling cities, shelling people, and killing people.

And that’s the way you know the more we know, the better air defense system we build, the more lives we can save. That’s why the urgency; that’s why we are asking for fighter jets as the final step to complete this air defense support that Ukraine is requesting. Because Russia is a terrorist state, it’s a country that doesn’t fight a fair war. It’s not the war in the battlefield; it’s the war against civilians. So that’s why the air defence is so essential; that’s why Ukrainians are talking about it that much, and when it comes to, you know, delivering this message about Russia being a terrorist because that’s the only explanation of why they are killing civilians. We are also seeing here in the European Union a bit of misunderstanding and maybe not readiness to speak openly about it. I mean, we feel like everyone understands that, especially when they talk behind the scenes with us, but when the time comes to speak openly and declare Russia as a sponsor of terrorism, the European Union hasn’t done enough. We do appreciate the recent resolution of the European Parliament and the strong stance of members of the European Parliament in recognising Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. Also, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly did that. And now, the expectation is the decision will be taken at the level of the whole European Union in the European Council, and the EU member states will support it and will enlist Russia as a sponsor of terrorism and Wagner group as a terrorist organisation. So far, it hasn’t been done, and yeah, I was wondering what’s your take on if there is a chance we can achieve this decision, and if yes, what we could do more.

Roland Freudenstein: Well, indeed, I think the key at the moment in this question is the member state governments. So, there you have professional diplomats who are advising their leaders that, look, if we declare Russia a terrorist state, it means that we can’t talk to Russia anymore but look, we have concrete problems even today. Take the real Armenian conflict over territory. We need to talk to Russian diplomats, right, I mean, EU diplomats, as we speak, are traveling even to Moscow to talk to Russian diplomats about these questions about, I don’t know if the Islamic state in Syria, about a proliferation of weapons globally and, of course, about other global questions like climate change and so on. So, there is a fear that declaring Russia a terrorist state would make it impossible for these things, and this argument is leveled even more intensely about the negotiations that will have to start at some point, hopefully, after Russia has been kicked out militarily from Ukraine. But you know there again the argument by the diplomats is look, we need to be able to talk to Russia. And that is the reason why there is so much hesitation here. I don’t think this will be quickly overcome, but I would instead focus much more on the successes where Ukrainian advocacy has been very successful in the whole area of post-war justice. Again, a year ago, it was unimaginable that EU member states would favor a war crimes tribunal to make a commitment today that there must be a war crimes tribunal after the end of hostilities and today, it’s official policy. I’m saying even more, I mean that I see the international criminal court has declared Putin a war criminal. And there is an arrest warrant, of course logically and predictably. Hungary has already said that if he ever came to visit, they wouldn’t arrest him. Fine, okay, Victor. We know this game; he’s still trying to curry favor with Putin, alright, but the point is these are successes of the whole question of post-war justice. And the fact that in one question, i.e., declaring Russia a terrorist state, Ukraine wasn’t successful yet should not take our attention away from these successes, which were, and I repeat, unimaginable a year ago or even a few months ago. These are very concrete successes that need to be celebrated.

Anna Melenchuk: Definitely, plus the compensation mechanism for Ukraine now that the member states are talking about, it was also unimaginable for us in the beginning of the war. We were just trying to look for ways to ensure that the decision is not taken yet but that they are talking about it. We see it as a great success of both the Ukrainian government and civil society advocating for it, and we look forward to those decisions being taken. And Russia bringing, to bring Russia to justice and also to ensure that Ukraine is compensated for what happened, and yeah, as civil society, we are doing our best. I would also like to go back to the topic of when we speak about Ukraine and this invasion of Russia and Ukraine, we normally speak about Western countries. We speak about the US, we speak about the EU member states, let’s say [the] so-called Western world. But this war has touched the lives of people all over the globe, and after, you know, also the start of the full-scale invasion talking to decision makers been here in Brussels, we understand more and more the value of engaging with partners outside the European Union. You mentioned Armenia Azerbaijan, and there are also partners in Africa; there are partners in Latin America, and Asia. While they know about the war, they see it very often through Russian propaganda because Russia is very active in those countries, and also these countries are very important for Ukraine to gather more support, especially when it comes to international tribunals and support for the punishing of the war criminals for the compensation mechanism and all these resolutions in the United Nations that Ukraine is proposing now. And we definitely need the support of the whole world, but how to get that support? Ukraine is much smaller. We do not have as many resources as Russia to engage in propaganda, to spread, you know, this information about how Russia is doing it. We would like to convince partner countries that we are the victim here. When it comes to Africa, we are, in a way, in the same position; we were also colonised by Russia. These countries very well know what colonialism is, but we unfortunately still see that they either do not vote for resolutions or they remain neutral, or when it comes to some talks behind the scenes, they are clearly pro-Russian. What, in your opinion, can we do better there?

Roland Freudenstein: Well, first of all, we need to see the magnitude of the problem, and you have very well described it. While the West has become more united in this war, the global south has actually not taken sides and, in some cases, is even taking Russia’s side or at least willing to listen to Russian propaganda and speaking points. But there are also counter-examples. I mean, the Kenyan UN ambassador held a fantastic speech shortly before the war actually, the full-scale invasion started, where he clearly made this through the parallel between colonialism and imperialism of the past and what Russia is doing today.

So first of all, there are also positive signs from the global south, but generally, one shouldn’t underestimate the general resentment against the West in countries of the global south, and this is partly referring to what they would consider in complete coming to terms with our own imperial and colonial past. And second, one also shouldn’t underestimate the way that Russia’s rhetoric and propaganda still catches on in terms of Russia itself presenting this perversely, of course, as an anti-colonial war against the West. Right? Claiming that you know Russia, the West is trying to do with Russia what they’re doing with you guys every day, and unfortunately, some people still believe that in Africa, for example. Now, there are a couple of other aspects of this ambiguous attitude of the global south.

There’s also the argument of hypocrisy, for example, about refugees. I mean, you know, I’ve read many op-ed pieces in Al Jazeera, for example, which claim that when the refugees were brown-skinned and Muslim in 2015-2016, they caused a crisis across the whole European Union. And you know this caused a tremendous rise in populism and ethnonationalism across the whole EU, especially central Europe. Whereas today we have white and Christian refugees coming from Ukraine, and they’re embraced; they’re welcomed with open arms. So why this difference, of course? Let me start answering here. Obviously, there are differences between these two cases. In 2015 and ’16 ,we were not talking about 100% refugees from an acute war zone. Yes, there were some people from Syria, but there were also fake Syrians among these refugees; many people actually had no documentation at all. So, you didn’t know, I mean, was these those economic migrants? Are these people whose lives are threatened at the moment? It was not clear. The second thing is the composition of the refugee stream. I mean, the Ukrainians coming to European Union countries today are 80% women and children. Well, in 2015 and ’16, these were 80% young men, which makes a difference. Come on, I mean, let’s be honest in terms of the threat perception of the receiving population. And finally, yes, culture matters, culture matters. I mean, Ukrainian refugees, take Poland, the country that hosts the highest number of Ukrainian refugees at the moment. I mean, the languages are arguably pretty similar. I mean, I’m fluent in Polish, I understand Ukrainian, and of course, there’s a complex Polish Ukrainian psychological relationship; there is a past, but by and large, these are populations that are culturally comparable. Let’s put it this way. You know that is not the case for people from sub-Saharan Africa or Afghanistan or Iraq coming to the European Union countries five, six, seven years ago, and it does make a difference.

Maybe too much detail on this question, but there is also a hypocrisy argument by the global south on a more strategic level concerning the war itself, saying that, okay, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen. Terrorist groups and neighbouring countries have been invading eastern Congo, and the West was more or less sitting on the fence, helping this side a little bit, talking to that side a little bit. So why are you suddenly so worked up about our sitting on the fence or refusal to take sides on Ukraine? Well, the answer to that one is that we’re talking about differences of quality and magnitude here. I mean Russia’s invasion of Ukraine goes against the existence of a country, right? I mean, of course, Putin and some of his defenders of Putin Fistere, as we say in German, are still claiming that this is all about NATO, of a future NATO membership, or NATO support for Ukraine; well, that may be 10% of the explanation, but most of it, and Putin has said it quite clearly, is his firm belief that Ukraine shouldn’t, it doesn’t exist or shouldn’t exist as a nation. And in the wars that are quoted by the countries of the global south, these things are objectively speaking a bit less clear. So, of course, the West has supported UN efforts to end these conflicts where many countries of the global south are still repeating speaking points that are delivered by Foreign Minister Lavrov when he goes on his beautiful long-term trips across Africa and so on.

Now, what’s the conclusion here? I think first of all, we should recognise that there is still anti-Western resentment and that by many countries in the global south, Ukraine’s defensive war is defined as still a Western action against Russia. We should counter this with a rational argument, but we should, first of all, perceive the fact that the idea is there. We have to deal with it. Now second, who should deal with it? And here comes Ukraine itself and the central Europeans. It’s good that Foreign Minister Kuleba went to Africa last year once, I think, in October. It’s good that he’s planning a second trip. It’s good that Ukraine is stepping up its efforts, but there has to be much more of this, and also, there has to be a special engagement of central European representatives with the global south. Why? Because central Europe has, like Ukraine itself, a certain street credibility as a victim of colonialism and imperialism. I mean, you know, most central European countries were controlled, colonised, if you want, first by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, second by the Nazis, and third by the Soviet Union. And Russia is trying to do the same today with very brutal and criminal instruments. So, that has to be pointed out time and again.

Finally, the final point here; there are some material reasons why countries of the global south are falling for the Russian narrative. This goes from arms deliveries by Russia; India is a fantastic example of a country that is right now, in terms of military deliveries and technology, dependent on Russia. It ranges to energy, cheap energy, you know, because of the boycotts and the sanctions of the West. Russia can now pedal energy at very, very cheap prices to countries like India and Africa, and China, of course. And third, it even concerns some investment, of course, mostly by China but also by Russia infrastructure investment and deliveries of goods, fertilizer, and foodstuffs, and these deliveries are given without conditionality, and for some governments in the global south, unfortunately, that’s a very attractive option. They hate conditionality. They don’t want to fulfil human rights standards before they receive something. But this is again a point where I think both central Europeans and Ukrainians should do some serious talking. I mean respectfully, but firm on the matter at hand, that if the global south, if countries in the global south and people in the global south invoke universal principles such as anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, universal human rights. Well, then, they should take sides in this conflict where good and evil are so clearly visible are so clearly distributed on both sides. And they should also say that if someone does accept universal human principles, then conditionality cannot be such a bad thing.

Anna Melenchuk: Yes, I really love this idea of joining forces with Eastern European member states. I think GLOBSEC is also very well positioned to do this kind of work, and let’s see maybe that also as an opportunity for our future cooperation. We could see what we could do, as Promote Ukraine, as GLOBSEC, really making sure that this topic is discussed, and we as Eastern European member states, are joining as, are acting as, a joint front when it comes to some advocacy and the partnership with those partners of the European Union in Africa, Asia, Latin America.

Roland Freudenstein: I’ll give you an example of what GLOBSEC has been doing recently. Last year at the GLOBSEC Forum in Bratislava, we had Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar, who predictably got into some very direct exchanges of opinion with representatives of EU member states, of civil society in central Europe, even some Russian Democrats were arguing against him. GLOBSEC has developed a special link to Indian think tanks and civil society organizations. As a consequence, several of us were at the Reisner Dialogue, which is like the biggest annual security conference in India, and it was striking to see how effortlessly Russia still acts in these contexts, like the Reisner Dialogue. Lavrov had an absolutely breathtaking, I would say, dialogue with an Indian think-tanker, and he got some spontaneous applause from the audience because part of the global South audience still falls for Russian narratives. But, thank God, on all these occasions, there is pushback from civil society organisations and think tanks of central Europe, and there are counter-narratives, and GLOBSEC was very active in this in the last Reisner Dialogue, which was just a few weeks ago. So, [the] next chance will be the GLOBSEC Forum end of May this year, where we are firmly counting on the Foreign Minister, Jaishankar, to attend again, and we will have other representatives of Indian civil society in the think-tank scene. And so, we are building this dialogue with India as a particular spokescountry for the global South.

Anna Melenchuk: Well, that’s impressive. To be honest, I think you are either the only one or one of the very few who are doing this work, such important work. While everyone understands the importance of it, no one does anything. At this time in Brussels, we don’t see much effort towards those countries to explain what this word is about, what’s Russia, what’s Russian propaganda. Very little, unfortunately, is done. While you know this kind of argument that Russia is circumventing sanctions through non-EU member states, through Africa, through Asia, is constantly there, but there is no solution to what could be done. And it’s important, even more important this year, because it seems that this year when it comes to sanctions, maybe the last point we will discuss today, if you allow me, is that EU wants to focus on sanctions through convention, and then presenting some new sanction packages, and making sure that Russia is not avoiding those sanctions through other countries. But in order to ensure it, you really need to work with Africa, with Asia, but what are you doing to ensure that? And what’s the role of the society there? The brilliant example of GLOBSEC’s works with India and the Indian think tanks, inviting them to the forum, we are very much looking forward to watching that and participating.

But what else could be done? What could the European Union also do in this sense to better engage with partner countries, together with Ukraine, and as you suggested, central and Eastern Europe in the lead? In the context of sanctions, but also for other topics.

Roland Freudenstein: Well, central Europe was also in the lead when it came to the membership candidate status for Ukraine, for example. Another red line, so to speak, was crossed effortlessly after people had claimed for months that it was impossible. No, but coming back to the sanctions, look, the problem with sanctions at the moment is not that we need to invent new ones. The problem is the implementation. The problem is that, in fact, we have to acknowledge that Russia has not since yesterday developed very smart ways to circumvent the sanctions. Russia is using third countries, and this is China, but these are also countries of the global south. This is even Turkey to completely sideline the sanctions regime. And, of course, Russia has even found methods to continue to cooperate with enterprises in Western countries, in the European Union, somewhere below and unseen by the sanction’s regime. So, we need to address these issues, and I think we will see some improvement in the next couple of months here.

The problem has been identified by decision-makers in the EU, and it has been identified by our diplomats, who, of course, are trying to talk to countries of the global south and also to China. You know, in the Cold War, there was a very prominent organization called Co-Com, Coordinating Committee, which contains all the NATO member states, but also non-NATO countries, such as Japan, for example, at the time, South Korea. And they clearly agreed on lists of products and technologies that should never be delivered to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. We need something like this today. I mean, you can see the outlines of it in the so-called Rammstein coalition. The countries that have come together, first in Rammstein, at the US Air Base in Germany, to coordinate military help for Ukraine. This effort should be vastly enlarged to the civilian sector, and it should also encompass technologies, so that would be another one. On energy boycotts, I think it will be very difficult to recruit more support or more participation in boycotts by countries from the global south. So, we shouldn’t dilute ourselves here. But when it comes to cracking down on the circumvention of actual sanctions and when it comes to preventing technology exports to Russia, I think there is a lot of room for improvement, and there is a lot that can be done.

Anna Melenchuk: Definitely. And when it comes to energy, you know, one of the topics we were fighting here a lot over the last years at Promote Ukraine was also the ban of oil and gas, the Russian oil and gas for here in the EU states, and also the price cap for the oil for other countries in the world. We were a bit disappointed with the price of $60 per barrel, which is basically the market price now of Russian oil. Let’s see what could be done in this sense if this cap could be reduced because when it comes to energy sanctions, it’s maybe the only thing [the] EU can do better. That’s from the perspective of us, as volunteers of the Promote Ukraine, also of the Ukrainian government, and also the idea of this kind of larger coordination between member states of the EU, US, Japan, South Korea, ensuring that Russia is not receiving this kind of equipment, based on the example of the second world war, is really good, and that’s something we can also work towards here in Brussels when we are doing our advocacy. So, thanks also for this brilliant idea and all of those ideas that you shared with us today.

I think we can finalise; it was really a pleasure. We look forward to working together with you, talking more, doing joint activities. We look forward to the GLOBSEC forum, it’s always a highlight of the year, when it comes to these kinds of international discussions, and the GLOBSEC is always in the lead there. And Eastern European member states should be even more in the lead, and we are really grateful for your work there in those countries. Together with Ukraine, we can ensure that Ukraine wins the war. As soon as possible, ideally this year.

Roland Freudenstein: Fingers crossed.

Anna Melenchuk: Yes, that’s really the desire of the whole Ukraine and all our partners, and we are also really grateful for the work that you are doing in GLOBSEC. Slava Ukraini.

Roland Freudenstein: Heroyam Slava.

Anna Melenchuk: Thank you. Thank you so much, dear participants. That was an Unlock Ukraine of Promote Ukraine. Please subscribe to our channel, and we are looking forward to the next podcasts.

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