Bulgarian National Radio and Cross-border Talks did an interview with the Ukrainian international politics journalist Olena Kurenkova, working for the Ukrainian Public Broadcaster “Suspilne”
The topics discussed:
– the recent events in Kyiv – the EU foreign ministers’ council and the defense industry forum;
– is the EU prevailing as an international partner of Ukraine or is the USA remaining the key strategic partner;
– what is the future of Polish-Ukrainian relations after Poland banned Ukrainian agricultural imports and stopped the new arms exports to its Eastern neighbour;
– what is the perception of Bulgaria’s support for Ukraine among Ukrainians;
– to what extent Romania does enough for Ukraine;
– what role will Turkey play in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the near future;
– Ukraine establishes ties with the Global South countries.
Welcome to a special edition of Cross-border Talks, where we follow the aftermath of the EU foreign ministers’ visit to Kiev on 2 October 2023, an unprecedented visit for the first time outside of the European Union. And also we will discuss various geopolitical dimensions of the Ukrainian position right now in the world. We will be speaking to Olena Kurenkova who is a foreign policy and international politics journalist at the Ukrainian broadcaster and she also has a podcast on international relations, which is a play of words. If translated literally, it means World not Sweet. So we certainly discuss hard matters. And she will be our guide in that.
Olena, First of all, let us start with the EU foreign ministers’ visiting Ukraine and also the statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the EU appears now to be the most important foreign partner or ally of Ukraine. Maybe I have to put that in the context that there is a certain feeling that the American support for Ukraine right now is losing some magnitude or intensity. And we also have to take into consideration that Polish-Ukrainian relations have been having some problems recently over the issues of Ukrainian grain imports. So can you somehow comment in this context, what is the importance of this EU foreign minister visit to Kiev and also what it means for what is changing now in the network of allies of Ukraine? Is it really the EU becoming the most important partner and what is exactly the balance between the different partners here?
Hi, and thanks a lot for having me. General, I would like to, first of all, clarify my point of view. It is very much important to know that in the recent week there are some very important events happening in Kiev, in Ukraine. As you already mentioned, it’s EU Foreign Affairs Council that is taking place in Kiev. This is the first time in its history it is happening beyond the borders of the European Union. And it is important that, for example, a Ukrainian minister of Foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, mentioned that it is happening in the future, within the borders of the European Union, mentioning that Ukraine’s aim to become a part of the European Union is still in power. It is still very much needed for Ukraine, for the further support, for the further development of the country.
And I guess that the fact that this meeting of the foreign ministers of the 27 countries of the European Union, is happening right now in Kiev, is also a great sign of support from the countries of the European Union, who demonstrate that the diplomatic and the military support for Ukraine is going to last in the future. And most of these countries are ready to see Ukraine as an EU member in the future. Of course, we can talk a little later about the terms and how much Ukraine, on its part, is ready now for becoming a member of the EU. But generally it’s a good sign of support on this point of view.
Another event that I would like to mention took place last week. It is the Defense Industries Forum and it is also important to mention it in the connection with this event of the EU Foreign Affairs Council and at the same time with the visit of Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO last week to Kiev and a number of the defense ministers of France, Great Britain and some other countries to Kiev. The most important thing was the gathering, the meeting of the representatives of different producers of weapons and ammunitions that is very much needed for Ukraine. And it is important to know that this is happening while Ukraine is understanding more and more with every day that the potential of supporting Ukraine with the amount of weapon that the countries, the most important allies of Ukraine, as we mentioned, the EU, for example, and the United States and some other some other allies of Ukraine, these amounts of help are being exhausted. And it is important to create some new platforms of connecting these ties, of discussing how it is possible to make new weapons in co-production of Ukrainian producers and the world producers.
These things are very much connected because these two events, the EU Foreign Affairs Council and the Defense Industries Forum were all about how Ukraine sees its place, not only from the point of view of what Ukraine would like to receive from the other countries, but at the same time what Ukraine can give the other countries. And it’s very much needed now as Ukraine is conducting the counteroffensive. Of course, there are different thoughts on how successful this is going to be, how successfully the counteroffensive is going on right now. And of course, for example, in summer and in spring, we’ve heard pretty much criticism on what Ukraine is doing. It was said that it is not what our allies would like to see. But at the same time, it is still going on. And the situation on the front has an impact on their relations of Ukraine with other countries. So we always have to keep in mind that everything that is now agreed, done and discussed with international partners, is everything that Ukraine really needs right now for the front lines.
Zelensky’s peace formula and the relations between Ukraine and the USA
I guess what is also important to note about these events that we mentioned is that it’s the chance for Ukraine’s president and Ukraine’s authorities to clarify the meaning of the so-called peace formula of the president Zelensky. It’s, as you perhaps know, a ten-steps plan. It’s not very much clear. It’s not very much correct to call it an actual plan. It’s more like the ten most important directions about how Ukraine sees the development of Ukraine’s victory and further the establishing of some stable peace in Ukraine. And we know that there are different parts, different topics in this regard that more or less maybe seem to be more or less of a controversy for Ukraine’s allies because it is much easier, for example, to agree on some first topics like nuclear safety or food safety or energy security that is needed for Ukraine and its partners. And it is more difficult questions that are more politicized, like withdrawal of Russian troops or a cessation of hostilities or bringing in those guilty of war crimes or crimes of aggression to justice. And these are the topics that Ukraine seeks to clarify before every person and every platform to clarify and to encourage more and more allies to believe that this is the plan to establish a peace in Ukraine. These are the terms that Ukraine is trying to articulate to its partners.
You ask me if we can say that now Ukraine is focused on the EU as the most important partner. I’m not sure that I can agree with that because generally before this meeting with the EU ministers, we know that President Zelensky went to the United States. I was also covering this visit while being in New York and then in Washington. First in New York, Zelensky and the delegation were taking part in the General Assembly of the UN in New York. And then they went to Washington to meet with President Biden in the White House. We know how efficient and how important, actually, is the support of the United States, the main strategic partner of the Ukraine over the recent months, trying to to tackle the Russian threat, with the Russian aggression, but also before the full scale invasion. It used to be very, very important and essential. And I guess it’s going to continue.
And just to sum up a little bit, this topic about the partnership, I guess it is also very good tendency that now Ukrainian diplomacy is trying to develop in some new directions, like, for example, building some ties, building some diplomatic contacts with the countries of the so-called Global South, with the countries of the Latin America and Africa, some Asian countries like India, for example, and trying to, first of all, make them understand what this peace formula of Ukrainian interpretation of Ukrainian view on this formula is. And on the second step, of course, to make them believe how both Ukraine and these countries can be useful for one another. And it is also the way to maybe fill those gaps that appear to be in Ukraine’s diplomacy and Ukraine’s foreign policy before the full scale invasion. And now this help is very much needed. So Ukraine is doing pretty much work to fill these gaps, and that’s very important.
Okay. Thank you for the long and detailed answer.
What if Ukraine is not addmitted rapidly to NATO and the EU?
We see that European institutions on various levels have this renewed push for enlargement of the EU, which also includes Ukraine as a potential future member. But we also saw that recently Ukraine didn’t receive a clear date for its NATO membership. So I want to ask you something about that as well. There is a term called Ukraine fatigue. And I guess you know what it means – a certain feeling that the level of intensity for support or dedication to Ukraine may be decreasing at some places. And I was wondering, what would happen if the fast track membership to EU or NATO, which some people try to advance, doesn’t materialize? To what extent there is fear or danger of some backlash in Ukraine, maybe a more nationalist backlash. And also related to that, how would a Republican president in the United States influence Ukraine’s situation in the world?
Well, I guess we have to separate these questions and talk about the United States a little bit later. And first of all, let’s concentrate on Ukraine’s relations with NATO and the EU.
On the one hand, we can talk about them in a complex way because what I mean is it’s important to know that the citizens’ support for Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU now is at a record high level. It has never been so high as it became after the full scale invasion of Russia, of Ukraine. Now, 92% of Ukrainians support Ukraine’s membership in the European Union, and 89% of Ukrainians support the idea of Ukraine becoming part of NATO. These are the results of the survey that was conducted, if I’m not mistaken, by the key International Institute of Sociology in the period from May this year. And it is important because it shows that we are talking not only about this topic, from the outside, like when you or NATO are going to declare Ukraine its member. But at the same time, we understand that if you do remember the history of Ukraine, it’s been a pretty harsh discussion whether Ukrainians are ready to see themselves as part of these alliances. And actually these topics in 2013 led to the protests and then to the Russian invasion that actually was the turning point of Ukraine’s history in recent years. So it’s important to keep in mind that it’s also the big step that Ukrainians are ready to see Ukraine’s direction of further political movement, NATO and the EU. Talking about NATO’s membership. I guess here we would like to hear some very clear and very optimistic prognosis, but it’s not always possible, unfortunately.
And just to sum up the idea, personally, I do not believe that it is possible to talk about Ukraine’s accession to NATO before the war ends. And generally there are no such mechanisms that can make the partners of NATO, the alliance member countries, to go to some compromise on these issues and then decide to make Ukraine the part of NATO. And so I guess it’s generally impossible to talk about that.
But at the same time, we do hear some very good signs from, for example, I mentioned this visit of the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, to Kiev last week. He mentioned that now we can say that Ukraine is at the closest point to becoming a NATO member. So it’s a good sign that the head of NATO is talking that way. But at the same time, also, there are some very clear steps that Ukraine really passed through over this year and half after the full scale invasion. And it is important that, for example, the way of Ukraine to NATO is now shortened because Ukraine doesn’t have to receive this action plan that was very much discussed before. So it’s a good sign.
Also, what was important: when I was at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels in June this year, I first heard about this idea of creating the Council of Ukraine and NATO. And it’s also important because it gives some practical ways of Ukraine’s inclusion and participation in some of the discussions, in some decision making, even on the same level with the NATO defense ministers or the leaders of the NATO countries. And it is very much important that Ukraine is included.
I guess sometimes it’s not a very pleasant thing that we would like to hear, but it refers actually to the NATO and to the EU accession as well, that these allies are pointing to Ukraine its mistakes in conducting the reforms and implementing that reforms that has to be done to become the part of the NATO and EU as well, because we understand that NATO is not only the alliance of the countries with the same level or the similar level of weaponry. And for Ukraine now, it’s not a big problem because actually Ukraine is using more and more Western-type weapons. So it is simplifying this process of generally being a part of the NATO standards to the weapon, to the army and etcetera.
Ukraine and reforms
But at the same time, we are talking about some political reforms that had to be done. In this regard, we have a very clear plan concerning the European Union, because as we remember Ukraine on 20th June 2022, received the candidate status to become a part of the EU in the future. But at the same time, we not only receive this promise that Ukraine will one day become definitely a part of the European Union, but at the same time, we received this plan of the seven very clear steps that has to be done and the European Commission is periodically checking how successfully Ukraine is moving this way. And now, of course, the question is no more about Ukraine’s fatigue, as you mentioned, but more about our responsibility that we are taking, that Ukraine is taking to implement all of these steps. Like, for example, we know that there are still some problems. If we go through this list of the seven points – the reform of the constitutional Court, the continuation of the judicial reform, for example, and some anti-corruption measures. So there is still that has to be done.
And one of the assessments, if I’m not mistaken, was in the beginning of June, that was done by the European Council, and it was said that Ukraine successfully implemented only two of the seven steps to become a member of the EU. So much work has to be done. But at the same time now we have reached the Western media for example, Bloomberg recently wrote that there are clear signs that in October, Ukraine will again receive the assessment from the European Commission and in case the results will be more positive than it used to be in the summer. Ukraine has many chances to start the negotiations about the integration of the European Union, so it’s a good sign.
Talking about that, I wanted to say from the Ukrainian point of view that we understand clearly our perspectives to become the parts of NATO and the EU. And we understand, in case even Ukraine starts these negotiations with the European Union, it can also take more than one year to become actually a part of the union. But still, I guess the most important thing is that we are ready to work together. And from the other side, as we see from these meetings, for example, in Kiev of the EU, representatives and the defense ministers and etcetera, it’s a very clear sign that NATO and the EU don’t have pretty much of this fatigue from Ukraine. So I read this as a clear sign of support and readiness to support Ukraine, to help Ukraine as long as it takes.
Ukraine and the sovereignist governments in the Eastern part of the EU
I guess sometimes this phrase maybe doesn’t give enough clearance for Ukraine, because, for example, when we are talking about how exactly some of the Ukrainian partners may support Ukraine, we don’t take into account some realistic issues. For example, now in the recent days, we are clearly very much passing after this situation with the Slovak elections, the parliamentary elections that were happening in Slovakia. And the bad news, of course, for Ukraine, it seemed to be the bad news that the leader that now is going to form the government, Robert Fico, the leader of the Smer party, actually pro-Russian party, he claimed that he is not going to help Ukraine with the military aid. And of course, we are hearing that from the country that is a member of the United of the European Union, and that used to be one of Ukraine’s very important allies. And now to hear that things are a very bad situation generally.
But at the same time, when we look at this situation more clearly, Slovakia has given Ukraine almost everything that they could have given. And now we hear some signs from Great Britain and some other countries that the resources of these countries are exhausted. So it’s not always realistic to expect too much from them when we see that they are also struggling. Inside the country. And we have to take that more seriously, I guess. And this understanding from my observations is just now in the process of appearing now talking about you mentioning this phrase about the some nationalistic backlash in Ukraine.
I’m not sure how to comment on the question about nationalistic sentiments in Ukraine, because I don’t think there is an impact on them. Talking about nationalism in Ukraine is not very much connected with our accession, our way to NATO and the EU. From my point of view, it is much more connected with the situation of invasion of Ukraine by Russia. So generally we are talking about a little bit different things and I don’t think that in this context this nationalist stuff is something bad. ButI guess it’s just the topic for some other discussion very deep with a historical understanding of the meaning of Ukrainian nationalism and etcetera. So I guess it’s pretty hard for me to comment on that.
And also you ask me about the support of the United States. I guess the answer here is very short. Ukraine, the United States, is one of Ukraine’s most important strategic allies. And the thing that Ukraine has always been proud of and always made an accent on is that Ukraine does have the bipartisan support of the United States. And we see it pretty clearly now. And of course, we do receive much help from the Biden administration. Of course, in recent weeks. There are also discussions that America would like to receive also some clear results, not only how this help is used, but the US would like to see some concrete changes in Ukraine, especially in the area of fighting corruption. But that is also the issue. I don’t feel that it is some wrong expectation because as we already mentioned these reforms are needed for Ukraine, very much for the implementation of the different things like becoming a part of NATO, becoming a part of the EU to receive more support from the United States. So it’s a complex question.
It’s a combined factor for receiving more help from the allies if the situation is going to change in the future in case, for example, President Trump may come back to the presidency or some representative of the Republican Party is going to become a president. I guess we have to understand what the decision making process in America looks like. So it’s not only about the president very much it depends on the Congress as well. The election to the Congress will also play a role on the long term perspective. And as we see now that is happening. We see the situation with the new packages of financial aid to Ukraine that were discussed in the Congress. It’s also pretty much a discussion inside one party. For example, not all of the Republicans are against further help for Ukraine. There is pretty much an understanding that it is very much needed for Ukraine as it is needed for America to support its allies. So I think it’s too early to sum up on what would happen if a president changes and the military aid from the United States will be reduced. I guess it’s too early. Let’s look at some tendencies in the president’s elections in America next year. So maybe closer to the date it will be more understandable.
Polish-Ukrainian relations before the Polish parliamentary elections
Okay. There is another country which has been considered a strong ally of Ukraine, that is Poland. We know that Poland sent a lot of military support and there is cultural historical proximity between Polish and Ukrainian people. And it is even believed that in a future European Union with Ukraine, Poland and Ukraine will be very influential. A number of articles already are being written that the center of Europe is being moved to the east because of this close relationship, maybe between Poland andUkraine. But we see that in recent times there seems to be some contraction or problem in Polish-Ukrainian relations. Just as Ukraine sends this strong pro-EU or pro-Western European message, Poland bent imports of Ukrainian agricultural products and also said that we will not be sending further military aid. What do you expect to be the future of Polish Ukrainian relations?
Actually, that’s a good question because I guess it’s one of the most worrying topics for Ukrainians now. And in Ukrainian media, it is something that is very much discussed. I thought that the culmination of this discussion used to be two weeks ago when I was in New York in the General Assembly, and that was the time that perhaps you remember, it was on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. It was these words President Duda said about Ukraine that it looks like a person who is drowning and we have to help this person. At the same time, he said, we have to first of all, pay attention to our own interests or something like that. I’m just now trying to generalize his thoughts. And he also said that later they would see the development of this situation.
First of all, I would like to note that, of course, we understand that there are a number of reasons why this is happening. On the one hand, we know that in between Ukraine and Poland, before the full-scale invasion, there used to be many contradictions on the historical ground. For example, it was not once, not twice that there were some scandalous things discussed in the relations of Poland and Ukraine. But at the same time, they used to be very strong allies. And we saw the strengthening of this alliance since the beginning of the full scale invasion, when Poland became the closest ally of Ukraine geographically and politically with the amount of weapons and with the amount of people who Poland managed to invite and to whom to help. As far as I remember, around 1.5 million of Ukrainians went to Poland and stayed there until 2023. So it’s a pretty big amount. So we are talking about the percentage of Ukrainians that are now part of the Polish society or the. So they are integrated into Polish society. So it’s important. But the most and at the same time, also, we know that in Poland now it’s going to be the parliamentary elections. So it also definitely plays a role in the background of these contradictions and misunderstandings.
At the same time, the main topic that I would like that Ukrainians and Poles to remember as well, the main ground for these contradictions on the basis of, for example, Ukraine’s grain import and grain transit through the Polish territory. The main reason for that is Russian aggression. In case Russia didn’t fire the grain warehouses or in case Russia won’t fire Ukraine’s ports with Ukraine grains and Ukraine ships with the grains, there would never have been a need to find some alternative ways to export Ukraine’s grain. So it must be strongly emphasized that the root of the problem is Russian aggression and all of these contradictions are just the consequences of it. For me now, the most important thing is the elections and how they are going to influence these relations. As for me, we now see that, for example, peace, the ruling party uses this rhetoric with Ukraine’s help. It refers not only to, for example, the grain things and not only to Ukraine’s claim to the WTO, for Poland, Hungary and Slovakia and some other countries, that Ukraine has contradictions on the ground of the grain deal.
At the same time, we see how, for example, this thesis is not used by the opponents of the peace because they just don’t know exactly how to react to it. And we hear that the leader of the Civic platform, Donald Tusk, is now silent because on the one hand, maybe we are not sure if he’s for or against this ban on the transit and import of Ukraine’s grain. But at the same time, he doesn’t comment on that because he doesn’t want to sound like the leader of the ruling party. So it’s the difficult situation in that case because generally now looking at the rhetoric of the candidates, we actually don’t know what to expect after the elections. So for me now, it’s really hard to say what to predict. At the same time, of course, we have to understand that from the Ukrainian side, there has to be some very clear – on the one hand calm and on the other hand, very argumented reaction on what is happening. And it has to be a very argumented position on why Ukraine and Poland as well still need this stable, calm and very reliable relations between the countries. Because as I mentioned, as Russia’s aggression is one of the main ground for these contradictions as well as Russia’s aggression is one of the most important binding experiences for Poland and for Ukraine, because Russia is the main threat for the region, and especially for the countries on the eastern borders, not far from the borders with Russia as Ukraine and Poland. So it’s very much important to keep an eye on that.
So first of all, I’m looking forward to finding out about the results of the election in Poland. And I guess that will be the main thing it will show us the main direction how this conflict may be developing in the future. But still, I think it’s a good sign that now we see these claims that there are some negotiations on these topics and there are some attempts to solve the problem. We would like to hear more readiness from both sides to solve the issue. But that’s it. And also, I guess this issue that was also mentioned by the Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, concerning stopping weapons supplies to Ukraine, we also first of all, how to pay attention to all of the details of these claims. He mentioned that now Poland is not ready to supply Ukraine with weapons. But in case, for example, Poland will receive the weapon from the Western type weapon that will replace older types of weapon that Poland will be ready to give Ukraine. So Poland, first of all, pays attention to its own interest. It doesn’t sound right for Ukraine, but generally it’s the reality of international policy. So it’s a normal claim, I guess. And I hope that there won’t be some very harsh conflict on this ground of the weapon supplies, because it will be very much in a contrast with the previous position of Poland, who was one of the first countries that supported Ukraine with the weapon since the beginning of the full scale invasion.
Okay. If we move to the south of the eastern flank of NATO, we have Bulgaria and Romania, and Bulgaria appears to be now very much having pro-Ukrainian foreign policy. Of course, it’s a little bit more complex because when the imports of Ukrainian products were voluntarily accepted, there were some protests in Bulgaria as well and some kind of a nuance may have appeared after that. But in any case, Bulgaria is also strongly supporting militarily within its limits Ukraine. And I wanted to ask you, how is Bulgarian pro-Ukrainian policy perceived in Ukraine, in the media by society? To what extent Bulgaria is recognized as a good partner?
I would say it is definitely recognized as a partner. But the issue is that not many Ukrainians fully know about the Bulgarian support. Of course, as we started our conversation and you mentioned that EUgenerally is one of Ukraine’s main partners, so often we hear that this concept of Europe and the European Union is generalized in Ukrainian media. Of course, we’re not talking about some most important countries like stakeholders in the EU, like France or Germany or some countries whose position goes into contradiction with the generally the position of the European Union, like Hungary and now perhaps we’ll see that from Slovakia.
But talking about Bulgaria, it is definitely seen as an ally. At the same time, I’d say that we know that there are some issues inside Bulgaria with the Russian influence and especially with Russian influence in the media. We’ve read pretty much how powerful the Russian embassy is in Bulgaria. There are some issues around that. But at the same time, as I mentioned, not all of the Ukrainians fully know about Bulgaria’s help. And I guess here it is needed to remember about the very beginning of the full scale invasion. And in the first year of the war, Bulgaria helped the Ukrainian army during the so-called period of ammunition hunger, and the published data on the scale of these deliveries surprised many Ukrainians and they allowed them to look at the relation with Bulgaria in some new way.
As we remember in January 2023, it was the publication by the German media Die Welt that published an investigation into Bulgaria’s secret aid to Ukraine. And in this article it was stated that in the spring of 2022, when this situation of so-called ammunition hunger appeared and Ukraine was really running out of ammunition and fuel, Bulgaria secretly came to help and actually we remember that publicly. Bulgaria, as well as Hungary refused officially to provide military aid to Ukraine, although some parts of the coalition government in Bulgaria opposed this situation. And they found the ways through some intermediary companies to help Ukraine and to provide with this weapon, with this aid. And I guess that’s a very important sign of our cooperation, of Bulgaria’s help, of tackling Russian invasion. And maybe that’s also the story that to some extent didn’t have to be publicly known in order to avoid some contradictions, to avoid some problems with Bulgaria’s allies, and maybe not to make a big impact on Bulgaria’s relations with Russia. So it was made in such a secret way, but at the same time it was done. And it is the clear reason to understand that Bulgaria is an ally. And at the same time, I guess it’s also needed to remember the recent statements of the Minister of the Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Mariya Gabriel, that she said that at this EU council foreign ministers in Kiev yesterday, she mentioned that Bulgaria will definitely continue to provide assistance to Ukraine, the diplomatic, political, military, humanitarian levels, and it is going to as well as support the Ukrainian peaceful formula. As we mentioned, one of the most important directions of Ukraine’s view is to establish peace. And so I guess there are good signs of really naming Bulgaria the ally.
Okay. I understand that Bulgaria is a little bit ambiguous, but it does the right thing. This is what I got. And I wanted to ask you in this sense, to what extent Romania’s support for Ukraine is sufficient from the Ukrainian point of view, because Romania has been known that it doesn’t unveil the exact extent and content or dimensions of its support. And there has been some criticism in Romania about that. But maybe you know better what is exactly going on between Romania and Ukraine right now.
Perhaps I can mention to you what most appears in the Ukrainian media concerning Ukraine and Romanian partnership and concerning Romania’s support to Ukraine. First of all, it was the visit of the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, last year, together with other three European leaders, to Kiev, and it was around a week and a half or two weeks before Ukraine received its candidate status to the EU to further become a member of the European Union. And it was the clear message of support of these four leaders and the president of Romania as well to come and claim that they would like to see Ukraine among the future members of the European Union.
And the second one, it’s the story that also somehow connected the situation in Ukraine and the situation in Romania. And it was the feeling for the European Union and generally for Romania that the war and the Russian aggression is much closer, that the Europe mostly would like to think it was a this situation with the discovery of the wreckage on the territory of the country, the parts of the Russian drone and the president of Romania mentioned that it has to be some immediate and professional investigation on this situation. But generally it showed the vulnerability of the countries that are not far from the Ukrainian borders. And it is a clear consequence of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, especially in this case on the Ukrainian border, for example. And it is a very dangerous situation.
I guess such examples make countries like Romania encourage to the better understanding of the situation and understanding that the eastern borders of NATO, eastern borders of the European Union have to be strengthened and to help tackle the Russian aggression in this case.
And also if we actually remember what were the signs of support for these recent events at the summit of the European Union in Ukraine, the statements were pretty much similar to what the Bulgarian minister of foreign affairs mentioned. Romania understands the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. It understands that it has consequences for its own security and for the security of the European Union as a whole. And Romania will assist Ukraine in the military dimension, but we don’t know the details of this agreement. The transit of the Ukrainian grain and the progress towards membership negotiations with the European Union is also part of the support. So these are the clear messages of Romanian support that we know that are publicly known.
Okay. Finally, there is another important country in the Black Sea region. Turkey and Turkey has been very influential until recently, being mediator between West and Russia, being the force that negotiated the grain deal, which used to exist before and in the beginning of September 2023 Turkey’s President Erdogan announced his intention to renew the grain deal. So I want to ask you about the role of Turkey right now for Ukraine and for the war in Ukraine. What do you expect to be Turkey’s contribution to a successful resolution of the war or maybe correcting some of the distractions of the war, such as the grain deal? What role will Turkey play in the near future for the dynamics of this conflict, which is going on in Ukraine?
Actually, I’ve thought a lot about that before the elections in Turkey. There were presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey in May 2023. And I was traveling to Turkey to cover them and talking with the people and finding out about their priorities and what they were saying about the war in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression. It was a very eye-opening experience. Let’s say that this way. Because it just confirmed the thesis that, first of all, Turkey and Turkish people and the Turkish government and Turkish president, first of all, do pay attention to its own interests and then they will think about Ukraine and Russia and etcetera. Of course, we understand that there are some very principal things, principal issues for Turkey like they do understand and they do claim that Russia is conducting aggression, aggressive actions. It is conducting the war against Ukraine. At the same time, we don’t have to expect any too active involvement in this conflict.
We know that, for example, of course, Ukraine receives bayraktar. And also there was recently the information that a private Turkish arms manufacturer supplies Ukraine with hundreds of large caliber machine guns, but we didn’t know much about them. So this help is mostly not very much publicly known, but still it’s very good that it is happening, that Ukraine is receiving these arms from Turkey. At the same time, we don’t have to expect a strongly pro-Ukrainian position from Turkey because it really values its economic ties with Russia. Especially, for example, in regard to nuclear safety and nuclear cooperation, we know that it is a priority for Russia to finish building its nuclear power plant in Turkey. That was agreed many years ago before the invasion. So there are some points of their cooperation that will never stop. So I don’t expect any change on that.
At the same time, talking about the role of Turkey as a mediator, perhaps it will continue. At the same time, we also don’t fully know all of the details. For example, in the beginning, in the first year of the Russian war against Ukraine, we saw that Turkey played a role, for example, helping to return war prisoners from Russia to Ukraine. So these exchanges were happening because of the mediation of Turkey and President Erdogan himself. And it was very efficient. So it’s a good part. It’s an important part of their work and of the impact of their participation in the conflict.
At the same time, with regards to the grain deal, we have now seen many pretty different signals from Turkey. For example, several weeks after the first temporary routes were used in the Black Sea by Ukraine to export Ukraine’s grain, Turkey said that there is no alternative to this grain agreement that Ukraine concluded with Russia, with Turkey and the United Nations. So it can’t be replaced. At the same time, in the media, we recently see that there are some possible alternatives that may be discussed and that may involve Turkey, Russia and some other countries, actually. But I guess it’s too early to sum up on how efficient they will be.
Whether Turkey is tired of playing such an of such an active role in the mediator in the Green Deal? I don’t think so. But still, they need some time to sum up and to understand how efficient they can be. And first of all, as I mentioned, they will pay their own interest first not to do any harm to their clearly very good relations with Russia. But still, I guess that this role of the mediator will continue, but we will see in which form exactly it may continue in the future.
Ukraine and the Global South
Okay. You mentioned something which makes me ask additional questions. You said that Ukraine develops its ties to the Third World or the global South, as it is called now. And we all remember that in the first months of the war, there was a lot of talk about how the global South doesn’t seem to take a clear side or doesn’t take an open anti-Russian side in the war in Ukraine. I was wondering what if it’s a give and take relationship with the global South, what does Ukraine give and what does it take with its ties with these countries? And to what extent economic dynamism can be generated from the global South in the current conditions of Ukraine, where transport relations through the sea are more difficult?
Well, it’s a hard question. First of all, I can’t name any country from the Global South, for example, or from the countries that are not any Western countries, and that didn’t declare a clear position towards the Russian-Ukrainian war since the very beginning of the full scale invasion. But actually, I guess it’s very much important that Ukraine makes some attempts to clarify its position to these countries. And for example, for me, a little bit saddening is now that most countries of Latin America are trying to keep their neutrality concerning that. And for example, Ukraine is now an attempt to encourage countries like Brazil that we know that Brazilian President de Silva made some additional claims on how he would like to see this interpretation of peaceful formula, but in his own interpretation, in the interpretation of Brazil, that doesn’t clearly serve the interests of Ukraine. So we have to be very much careful with such recommendations and we have to be very much careful with any of these ideas of peaceful negotiations with Russia that are also encouraged by President Lula.
But at the same time, the good thing is that, for example, talking about Latin America, I know that this year the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared a year of Latin America. So they are trying to find communication points with the countries of Latin America. And what is also important is that in these countries previously there were no Ukrainian embassies that are now filled by the personnel and now they are filled by the embassies.
It is very important because Ukraine has to have its own representation in this region. That refers also to Africa, for example. It is also the important work that is done in this direction. It is the very hard work ahead of Ukraine because in Africa (it is also very much visible in Latin America as well) it is very much visible that the Russia used its time to provide African countries with its narratives, not talking about, for example, Russian weapons or etcetera, but with the concepts of Russian propaganda and etcetera. And now Ukraine has to do much work to expand its presence in these countries, in the media of these countries. And it is very, very important.
And talking about some countries in Asia here, we have to also to keep in mind that this is, I guess, maybe one of the most complicated regions because there are very different countries where the different positions concerning the Russian Ukrainian war, for example, if you take Japan, it is one of those countries that is supposed to be the part of the Western countries. If we only take into account the statements, the help that is provided by Japan. Of course, Japan doesn’t isn’t ready now to give Ukraine some weapons, but they help, for example, with some humanitarian aid or etcetera. And it’s also a clear sign of a clear position towards the war. At the same time, we have China that also represents a very ambiguous position concerning Russia and Ukraine. And we understand that the Chinese view on the peace in Ukraine also has to be carefully paid attention to. But at the same time, it definitely doesn’t play for Ukrainian interests. And there are also some other very difficult countries that we have to deal with.
What also sounds pretty optimistic for me is that now Ukraine is trying to work closely with India. And there are also some clear signs that India is now trying to expand and diversify its weapon supplies and generally its relations with the Western countries. And we’ve seen, for example, the visit of Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the so-called the biggest democracy in the world to India, one of the most populated countries in the world, to the United States in summer. And it was also a clear sign that not everything in the closest ties between India and Russia is now very good. India is now seeking some support and common interests with the Western countries. And this is where Ukraine has also earned its place in India’s understanding, India’s view on the world and India’s view on Europe as well. And Ukraine, hopefully, as in the future, at least as the part of this Western world that has to be also that can be actually a very good partner in different regards.
Thank you very much, Olena. It is important to hear knowledgeable voices from Ukraine and to understand Ukrainian perspectives towards the region and the world. I invite Cross-border Talks’s listeners and viewers to subscribe to our various platforms. We are at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, Substack and others.