Radosław Sikorski, MEP, head of the contact group between the EU and the USA, in an interview with the founder and head of Promote Ukraine organization Marta Barandiy, spoke about his faith in the victory of Ukraine, about the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, as well as about his vision of a legal mechanism that will ensure the withdrawal of Russian assets for the restoration of Ukraine. Mr Sikorski emphasized that the international assistance currently being received by Ukraine is the largest in the history of mankind. Radosław Sikorski graduated from Oxford University, headed the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, held the position of a marshal of the Polish Sejm.
Marta Barandiy: Hi! I am Marta Barandiy, and today we unlock Ukraine with the member of the European Parliament from Poland Radosław Sikorski. Mr Sikorski, you were the leading European figure at Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine. What did Europe do wrong since that? And what did Ukraine do wrong?
Radosław Sikorski: I think we managed to stop the massacre on Maidan, and in that sense it was a success. And I think it was then that Ukraine made its strategic choice to go West, to try to integrate with the European Union which hadn’t been so clear for the previous decades.
On the other side what Europe could have done better, it would have been to impose economic sanctions on Russia already seeing that Russia started boycotting Ukrainian products. We appealed here in Brussels with colleagues, it was a signal of solidarity what Ukraine needed, but the view prevailed that it was a bilateral issue between Ukraine and Russia. But here was a mistake.
The whole thing from the start was about Ukraine’s aspirations. You have first the Association Agreement with Europe, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, and now EU membership .
What Ukraine could have done, and I know this is a difficult decision… There was in fact no commander-in-chief at the time when Russia started the military invasion , and I know there was some wrong West-headed advise. But I think giving up Crimea without a shot on the other side had been a mistake, because it created the illusion for Putin that he could go on without any resistance. So, it’s speculation on my part, but maybe if Ukraine had resisted in Crimea, maybe Putin wouldn’t have then go to Donbas.
Marta Barandiy: Is there anything that changed your perspective about Putin’s capabilities and intentions since February 2022?
Radosław Sikorski: Well, I think we all thought (including Putin) that he had a first-class army, second army in the world. And now we know that he has a 20th century army and a 19th century logistics. And our sanctions also work from Crimea time, and from Donbas time– our sanctions on delivery of new technologies, logistics, some types of steel, chips are beginning to affect the capacity for his armament and his industry to produce what he needs. So, I think we have already learned all the lessons we should have run.
Marta Barandiy: Don’t you have any disappointment about Ukraine and its allies, in Europe in particular, during the past year?
Radosław Sikorski: You may or may not remember that I predicted that there would be the war, and I won. It was with Ukrainian lawmakers at the Munich Security Conference in February 2022, a week before the full scale war. But I have to say I am impressed first of all by Ukraine. Ukraine showed that all of the units of the Ukrainian army would fight. You did not just fight, you fought like lions, and did it so intelligently.
If we were talking a year ago before the war and you would ask me what the Europe and the United States do if Putin carries out his plan, I would have said that we would block SWIFT system for Russia. But I would not have imagined that we would block Russia’s central bank reserves, that we would cut them from funds in the European Union, that we would be buying arms for Ukraine. We had never done that before. And I would not have guessed that we would ground Ukraine a candidate status for the EU.
I would also have doubts that the United States would do what they are doing. When your add up all of the tens of billions of American assistance, buying arms, and then tens of billions of the European assistance, assistance from the European institutions, and the member states. That is the largest assistance programme for any country in the history. So, I’m impressed by both Ukraine and the West.
Marta Barandiy: Recently Ian Stoltenberg mentioned that most wars in the world end with negotiations, and this war will end with negotiations as well most probably. What do you think on that?
Radosław Sikorski: I think that the WWII was unusual in the unconditional capitulation of one side, but that required a bloody war and taking the aggressor’s capital which I don’t think will happen in the case with Russia. The historical parallels which I see are with the Crimean War, and the Russo-Japanese War. Russia had attacked what it was believed a weaker country, and was defeated, it lost its land and sea. And it ended with the president’s Teddy Roosevelt mediation and the Treaty of Portsmouth. It ended with Nicholas II, creating Duma, with a constitution and relative freedom of the press.
Reforms in Russia are usually followed by lost wars. They were reforms after defeating the Crimean War, reforms after the Russo-Japanese War, there was a liberal revolution in 1917 after the lost WWI, and the reforms after the Soviet Union lost the Cold War in the 90s. So, to help Ukraine win is also a hope for the post-Putin government to start reforming Russia.
Marta Barandiy: But if Russia would stay in the same borders, if you don’t consider the shadow Russian governments of some republics (e.g. Ichkeria) to form independent states…
Radosław Sikorski: I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate about that. There are some movements in Dagestan as well. But I think the strategic axis between Moscow and St. Petersburg would be stronger than any of those regions alone. And this is absolutely not the game either. I don’t think such speculations to be productive.
Marta Barandiy: Is it the war of Putin or the war of Russians?
Radosław Sikorski: I think this is the war of Putin and of some Russians who are being misled by the hate flow, nazi propaganda. And the question is when the Russian people, the Russian elites conclude that creating an empire is too costly.
Previous European imperial states have gone through this process as well. France lost 100,000 people in Vietnam (half of them Frenchmen), then tens of thousands of people in Algeria. The Portuguese suffered huge losses in the blood wars in Angola and Mozambique, the British had an emergency in Malaya and so on.
I keep thinking that the colonial state always goes through a cycle. First is denying the colonies’ “otherness”. What the British said about the Irish: people are speaking funny accent, they are just provincials, not a separate nation. Then there is resistance: the colonies start saying they are separate, but not capable about running a state. Then the empire has no resource (both human and economic) to keep a colony, and then they say “the colonies can go”. The Russian elites and the Russian people are not at that final stage yet, and the question is how quickly they will.
Marta Barandiy: Two months ago the European Parliament adopted the resolution on recognizing Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. It is a political statement. Should there be a real mechanism with the real legal consequences at the national states level to recognize Russia a state sponsor of terrorism? What does Poland have done, are there any results?
Radosław Sikorski: Well, I have spoken on that at debates, and frankly I’m not quite happy with the formulation because “a state sponsor of terrorism” is a state that hires others to do the terrorism on its behalf. Russia is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Think about the people who tried to kill Litvinenko, or tried to kill Skripal, who killed people in Berlin and somewhere in the Middle East. These were the agents of the Russian state, and it’s the Russian state that is conducting terrorism in Ukraine, because attacking civilians during an armed conflict is also an act of terrorism. So, Russia is a terrorist state, and this should have legal consequences, such as in the United States. Namely when the country is designated as a terrorist state in the USA, it can be sued in American courts. And it should be sued in the European courts by the victims – by the victim country or by the victims of terrorism to be satisfied from this country’s assets. So, Russia should be sued, the funds should be frozen, and used to help Ukraine during the war, and then to rebuild it.
Marta Barandiy: But for the funds of the Russian Federation to be frozen, the Russian Federation should be deprived by the state immunity.
Radosław Sikorski: Well that would be the legal consequences…
Marta Barandiy: Do you think it is possible? Shall the civil society work on that, start demanding that from their states?
Radosław Sikorski: Look, Putin fundamentally misunderstands the psychology of democracy and thinks that impossible in peace times becomes possible in war times. Before you could only freeze the bank assets in wartime. There is no war state between the West and Russia now, but we froze the Russian state assets, and the choice for us is the following: either we help to rebuild Ukraine, or Russia pays for it. Guess what, I am in favour of Russia paying for it.
Marta Barandiy: Poland recognized Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, but there is the embassy of Russia in Poland. So, Poland hosts the embassy of a terrorist state…
Radosław Sikorski: We also have embassies of North Korea, of Iran and few other such regimes.
Marta Barandiy: Europe still trades with Russia filling its pockets. One of missiles which hit a building in Dnipro about 10 days ago costs 400,000 US dollars. And trading diamonds, Europe paid to Russia 1.5 billion euro last year. So, 3,362 rockers could be bought for that money. Do European leaders understand that?
Radosław Sikorski: Sanctions is not something that you announced, and the guillotine comes down, and then you are secure. Sanctions is something that you have to pursue all the time, and close the loop holes all the time. So, yes, Russia earned a lot of money by exporting energy and raw materials to Europe last year, partially because the prices grow because of its aggression.
But we are dealing with it, slowly but surely. We have passed a limit on the price of the Russian oil, we have stopped buying it through the Russian pipelines, we have stopped the delivery of dual-use technologies. The reason is Putin will not be able to build many more missiles as he now doesn’t have access to our chips.
Russia still has in our papers over a hundred billions in gold. Sanctions on Russia are just beginning to work. It’s only this year when income of Russia will drop. We just need to keep at it.
Marta Barandiy: Haven’t we lost time? I mean past year sanctions did not work in full because more time is needed, and people got tired of the Ukrainian issue. Do you feel something alike?
Radosław Sikorski: I don’t think so. Every time Putin strikes at apartment blocks like he did it in Dnipro, this reminds people of bombing of London, of Coventry, or erasing of German cities. He uses the terrorist tactics. That sounds to be a crime of course.
Marta Barandiy: So, would you say there is no fatigue, and we are on the same level of support of Ukraine as during the last year?
Radosław Sikorski: I am the chair of the delegation of the contacts between the EU and the United States. I go to Washington once a quarter. And you know, in the United States Ukraine (apart from China of course) is the only issue on which the Democrats and the Republicans agree. And so it is in Europe. We are in the process of passing the 10th package of sanctions against Russia which has to be agreed unanimously. So, some countries try to make “side deals” with Russia, but when it comes to sanctions, they vote in solidarity.
Marta Barandiy: Thank you!