Radek Sikorski interview: The Polish foreign minister on Vladimir Putin’s recklessness in Ukraine.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on Putin’s Recklessness

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on Putin’s Recklessness

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April 18 2014 1:37 PM

“The Risks Are Enormous”

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on Putin’s reckless course.

Radoslaw Sikorski
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski speaks in Paris on March 5, 2014.

Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

WARSAW, Poland—Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw "Radek" Sikorski, has been intimately involved in the Ukraine crisis, including in the negotiation of an agreement in February that then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
walked away from, further fueling the Maidan protest. Sikorski spoke with Lally Weymouth Wednesday, ahead of the diplomatic talks in Geneva aimed at defusing hostilities, about the crisis, U.S. global credibility, and what Vladimir Putin has his eyes on next. Excerpts:

What do you think is going to happen in Ukraine?

I think President Putin wants to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful European/EU-associated country. To that end, he needs to destabilize Ukraine and to upset its electoral calendar and make it more difficult to carry out economic reforms.


You worked hard to make Ukraine an EU-associated country, didn't you?

It was under the Polish presidency that the text was agreed, and we had persuaded most of the EU to say officially that the association agreement would not be the last step in our collaboration. If Ukraine had carried out the reforms, it would eventually have been able to lodge an application to the EU.
Of course, Ukraine wasted a lot of time. For 20 years the country was bled by corruption, by stealing of assets, and by a populist economic policy. Twenty-five years ago, Poland and Ukraine had the same standard of living. Today we are three times richer. They also wasted the public enthusiasm after the Orange Revolution, 10 years ago. So, over time it gets harder. But I think this is the best team in Kiev we are likely to get. Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk is honest, competent, and knows what needs to be done.

Do you think he will be able to get things done with the Russians at the door and Russian agents occupying these 10 towns in eastern Ukraine? Aren't those Russians in the 10 towns?

Of course they are Russians. They have equipment that only Russian armed forces possess. And we had seen the pattern in Crimea. It’s an extremely hard task to reform the country, introduce an [International Monetary Fund] adjustment program, and defend its territory at the same time.

How would you explain why Ukraine matters to Westerners?

It matters because for the first time since the Second World War, one European country has annexed a province from another European country. And that matters because it is a rejection of our entire legal system and international norms and treaties that we have regarded as the foundation of peace.
Remember, there is not a country in Europe that does not have national minorities. If we went back to protecting them through changing borders, we would be back in the hell of the 20th century and before. This is why what President Putin has done in Crimea and is now doing in eastern Ukraine is so threatening to all of us.

What would you like to see the United States do?

The United States is in the lead on sanctions and hopefully can tell it like it is to the Russians. And the United States is helping Ukraine, too. A $1 billion loan has just been passed in Congress.

It is a $1 billion loan guarantee.

Yes, a guarantee. Which is the same thing. ... And then the United States should reassure those allies in Central and Eastern Europe that have been warning about this sort of thing for years. We have an American base and a brigade in Germany, we have American bases in the U.K., in Spain, in Italy, in Turkey, but only a very small presence in Poland.

So the U.S. should move troops to Poland?

Yes. I have talked about it to [Secretary of State] John Kerry and the supreme allied commander of Europe [Gen. Philip Breedlove]. We believe that after 15 years of our membership in NATO, and in view of the events in the Ukraine, this region deserves a reassurance package.

Do you think the U.S. should arm the Ukrainians?

These are difficult decisions. And the risks are enormous. These calculations have to be done by the Ukrainians themselves because they will bear the consequences of any such actions.

How can they fight the Russians if they do not have any arms?

Actually, Ukraine has an arms industry, which is, I think, the fourth-largest exporter in the world.

So they do not need to be armed by the West?

They need to get their army functioning again. I think Ukraine is paying the price of 20 years of strategic illusions of being able to be neutral and of not paying enough attention to their security sector.

What happened the night you and the German and French foreign ministers made that deal with former president Yanukovych? Why did it fall apart?

Point one of the agreement was that the previous constitution would be brought back, with less presidential power and more parliamentary [power]. The president and the parliament had 48 hours to sign on. The parliament voted it through the same day, within two hours. Then the next day the president announced on TV that he would not sign it into law. So the parliament voted him out of office.

That was how the Maidan started?

The Maidan started when Yanukovych refused to sign the association agreement with the EU back in November. And then it became an anti-Yanukovych movement. ... The snipers killed about 100 people while we were there, literally outside the building.

Do you think U.S. credibility is at stake?

Or Russia's credibility is at stake because Russia was a signatory of the [1994] Budapest Memorandum, and it is not the United States but Russia that broke it. But yes, if you were North Korea or Iran thinking, "Should I trust Western security guarantees if I give up my nuclear ambitions?" ... That is why what President Putin is doing is so dangerous.