Ukraine’s foreign minister: Czechia and Ukraine both have a bill to settle with Russia
Ukraine’s foreign minister: Czechia and Ukraine both have a bill to settle with Russia
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The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, paid a brief working visit to Prague on Monday for talks on further Czech assistance to Ukraine, the abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia and preparations for the third Crimea Platform Summit due to take place in Prague in October. During his visit, he granted Czech Radio an exclusive interview.
How important is the Czech Republic among Ukraine’s supporters?
“Top of the top. There is a group of countries that support Ukraine more than anyone else and Czechia definitely belongs to this group. We are extremely grateful. Our cooperation is perfect and we understand that the people of Czechia and the government of Czechia realize that what is at stake in Ukraine is also of vital importance for the security and prosperity of Czechia. So it is a very natural alliance.”
So you say that that is the reason why the Czech Republic and the Czech government are so determined to help Ukraine…
“Yes, I think the reason is the future. Because you understand that without Ukraine’s victory you will be facing much bigger problems caused by Russia. This is why Ukraine must win. But, also, let us be frank, because of history. There is a bill that Czechia and Ukraine have to settle with Russia - all the damage that Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, inflicted on our nations.”
Why do you think there are nations that don’t realize this danger?
“Because every country is special, every country has its own unique combination of factors, political situation, perceptions in the society. You know countries are like human beings, some get along with each other better than with others, for a number of reasons. But essentially, I think that, details aside, every nation in Europe understands that Russia must not win this war and Ukraine must win this war – because it is the future of Europe that is at stake here.”
Even countries like Hungary?
“Even them. I have no doubt that Prime Minister Orban doesn’t want to have Russia as a neighbor.”
Despite everything you said, Ukraine has not had an ambassador in Czechia for more than a year. You explained that it is difficult to find the right person for the job. Why is that – what is special about the post here?
“What is special is what I said in answer to your first question. Because the relationship between our countries is so deep and so strong that I need to send someone here who would be up to the quality of this relationship. You have to remember that the level of contacts, daily contacts that we have at virtually all levels of government is unprecedented –ministers, deputy ministers, directors, advisers, councilors, they all talk to each other. So we need a figure here as ambassador who would match the task. And, yes, I am sorry to admit it, but it is not that easy to find an appropriate person, but we are in the final stage of the selection process, we have a shortlist and upon my return from Prague I will discuss it with the president.”
One of the tasks of an ambassador is to defend the rights and interests of their citizens in the country where they are serving. Recently there have been several attacks on Ukrainians here in the Czech Republic. Has this matter been brought up, in talks with the Czech authorities?
“Our embassy follows very closely not only acts of violence committed against Ukrainians but also violations committed by Ukrainians in Czechia. And we uncompromisingly condemn any violations of the law committed against Ukrainians or by Ukrainians. Our two nations are so close. These isolated cases of aggressive behavior, are regrettable, but they are exceptions. That is the good message. There are bad people in every society. It is not about nationality. It is about being a bastard. If you assault a woman, if you beat a woman it is not about being Ukrainian or being Czech – it is about being a bastard. I would use a stronger term if I was not a foreign minister. So we follow all these cases and appreciate that Czech law-enforcement agencies and in particular the Interior Ministry address these cases in a highly responsible manner.”
So these incidents or attacks have not harmed the relationship in any way?
“No, not at all, for the reasons that I mentioned. It is very important that they should not harm the relationship between our peoples. And I would like to thank all Czechs who do not judge Ukrainians by the behavior of one person, by isolated cases. This relationship between the people of our nations is the most important thing that we should cherish. We will never judge all Czechs by the behavior of one or two Czechs. And, please, never judge Ukrainians, in the same manner.”
Still there are now increasingly verbal attacks on social media against Ukrainians. Are you not concerned that the drawn-out war is changing people’s perception of Ukrainian refugees?
“Well, first, social media and real life are two different realities. And it is very easy to manipulate public opinion on social media by using trolls who spread this language of hatred. It works the same everywhere and we should always be mindful that what we see on social media can be generated by someone who wants Ukrainians and Czechs to be at odds with each other. And we should not interpret comments on social media as an expression of public opinion. On the other hand, of course we always say thank you for welcoming Ukrainians in Czechia, but your country also benefits from their presence here –they work, they become loyal members of your society, they pay taxes.
“The way that Czechia and other countries reacted to the flow of refugees from Ukraine is very different from how they reacted to refugees from other parts of the world –indeed Europeans were accused of double standards, because they were welcoming European refugees but rejecting refugees from other parts of the world. So, don’t get me wrong, we are grateful, but your country also benefits from the presence of Ukrainians here. We will always be grateful to you, but do not spoil the momentum and turn it into an issue of a burden, not an issue of opportunity.”
You spoke about accession to the EU and you mentioned that Ukraine would like to start accession talks before the end of the year. The Czech Republic supports this goal. Do you have any signals from Brussels or other member states that this may happen?
“There are still some issues that need to be fixed, but I believe that if the sky does not fall into the Vltava River in the next four months, Ukraine will open accession talks with the European Union.”
Your prime minister said that after the opening of talks your government would like to see them concluded within two years. Is that realistic, given the circumstances?
“As in the case with the appointment of the ambassador, I am not in a position to give any specific deadline on when exactly Ukraine will become a member of the EU, but what is important, what the prime minister’s message was, is that Ukraine is ready to move forward as fast as the European Union is ready to go. And as we have shown with our reforms –made even in wartime- that we can be very fast, much faster than the European Union.”
Both the EU and NATO accelerated the accession process with Ukraine. The EU very quickly granted Ukraine candidacy status, while NATO dropped the Membership Action Plan for you -is it enough for Ukraine?
“NATO still has to extend an invitation to Ukraine to become a member with the understanding that membership will only take place after the war ends. But it’s very simple. First, without Ukraine in the EU and NATO both institutions will be incomplete and secondly, until that happens there can be no safe and prosperous Europe. There are only two ways to prevent further Russian military or economic aggressions –either Ukraine has to become a member of both the EU and NATO or Russia has to cease to exist –or both.
There is no other way. People and decision makers in Brussels and key capitals have finally begun to realize this –and the moment that happened we saw all these decisions being made – candidacy granted, accession talks in the pipeline, Membership Action Plan dropped, invitation in the pipeline. It is inevitable – it is going to happen. It is not a question of “whether”, the only issue that matters is “when” and the sooner it happens the better it is for all of us –for the Czechs, for Ukrainians and for other nations in Europe.”
So are hoping to get an invitation to join NATO at the Washington summit next year?
“It would be a historic achievement.”