Edward Lucas: On the “Little Russia” Zakharchenko can only laugh

The editor of the authoritative British magazine The Economist Edward Lucas in his interview to TV channel “112 Ukraine” in the framework of the project 112 International Insight told what to expect from the mission of the special representative Walker in the Ukraine, how can we evaluate Zakharchenko statement about the creation of so-called “little” and why the Budapest Memorandum will not help Ukraine

Today we chat with Edward Lucas. He is the editor of the authoritative British magazine The Economist and also the Vice-President of the Center for European policy analysis in Washington analytical center.

Mr. Lucas, thank you for joining our airwaves! The US special envoy Kurt Volker for the first time after the appointment, visiting the East of Ukraine. He also will meet with Ukrainian officials in Kiev, this is his second visit within a month in Ukraine. What is the role Kurt Volker, the solution to the Ukrainian crisis?

– First of all, Elina, thank you for having me on the air. Congratulations to all of your viewers in Ukraine. I know Kurt Volker is already 10-15 years old, and I have the best opinion of him, given the experience and knowledge of the region, which he has, as well as the ability to bring the case to the end. This is good news for the Ukrainians, and I think that for people like Walker, is a chance to show that despite what people may say about the administration’s trump, in fact, there is a certain consistency in American foreign policy. And it will continue to increase American involvement in the security issues of Ukraine. I have to say, it’s an uphill battle. I have the best opinion on him and other people in the administration. Not this opinion concerning trump. We must be cautious in optimism. But I still think it’s better with Walker than without it.

– What is the strongest trait of Mr. Volcker, who can convince us that the Ukrainians that he can help to solve the Ukrainian crisis? Or Ukraine it is necessary to solve on their own?

– I have always said that the fate of the Ukrainians are mainly in their hands. You is a big country, and you’ve done a fantastic job to counter Russian aggression and to turn what seemed like a really catastrophic situation, one that is just serious. Ukrainians should know that the most important thing they can do is to achieve success of their country in economic, political, constitutional and social fields. And this is the best way to resist Russian aggression. But I think it is obvious that the external world must play a role as well. The signals that America is involved in the decision of the Ukrainian crisis, Ukraine has friends and that sanctions will be extended – these are all good signals to Ukraine.

– Do you think Mr. Walker can represent the United States, although the country will not be publicly present in the debate over the solution to the Ukrainian crisis?

Is a very good question. And I think that the previous administration handed over to the Ukrainian crisis, France and Germany. On the other hand they do not have to work at it. In fact, Europe should take responsibility for their own safety, but I would prefer that France and Germany have matured and become real participants in security. But, of course, if they are attracted to America, they would be more effective. But we must never forget that Russia is a small economy compared to the West. Yes, she has a lot of weapons and a large area of land. But the West is approximately a billion people, Russia 140 million people. And the West is creating about 40 trillion dollars of GDP. And Russia’s GDP is about a trillion three hundred billion dollars, so we have seven times more population and more than 14 times more in economic terms. Sometimes, I think from the Ukrainian standpoint you would think that Russia and the West are the same. No, it is not so. The West is much bigger and stronger, and it gives us a great advantage from the point of view of coordination. And I think it will be a very important part of the work of my friend Kurt Volker, to make sure that America, France and Germany, other EU countries and other institutions will coordinate their policies together.

The leader of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk national Republic” Alexander Zakharchenko announced the establishment of a new “state”, “little”, which will take place in Ukraine and will have their capital. What is the purpose of these statements, do you think?

– This is very interesting, and I think that “little Russia”, and before it was “new Russia” – this is all part of the Kremlin fantasy world where they think that the neighboring countries want nothing more but to return to the Russian Empire. In fact, the opposite occurs – the more they talk about it, the more people say, “that’s not true, I love my country.” We see this in the Baltic States, where although they say: “Perhaps we are not satisfied with the government of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, but we certainly don’t want to live under Russia”. And we see it in Ukraine. Such statements actually have a productive effect. They are consolidating the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian national identity. Even if we are talking about bilingual, twocultures national identity, people do not want to be under the control of Mr Surkov or his strange friends in the East. And how they dispose of these actors is very ugly. And their rhetoric is ugly and threatening. So I think that the more they talk rubbish the more undermine your credibility.

On the other hand, from the Ukrainian point of view, I see that there is a threat when someone says that your country doesn’t exist, and it will create a new country, and you’re going to become a part of it.

– What should be the reaction to such statements?

– I think the best way is to laugh at such statements. To check the sense of humor. After all, one of the things that they consider too heavy for the fight is a joke. So, “little Russia”, “Novorossia”, whatever else may appear, it could be a “Potemkin Russia”. Must see the amazing variety of the Russian language, to find more strange names. It is important to emphasize that this is not a real country, this is not a real policy, they don’t have real elections, they have real economies… It is a provocation imposed, created by the Kremlin to attack the Ukraine, we must always keep that in mind. I think it’s important when dealing with security officers, that they did not think that they scare you, and if they try to threaten, we must respond with laughter, things for them are the most unacceptable.

– You said that France and Germany need to grow up. Follow-up telephone negotiations, “Norman Quartet” will take place on July 24. Conversations can bring peace to the Donbass?

Well, any discussion can bring peace to the Eastern part of Ukraine, because there’s a very simple reason why there are still there is a conflict – a Russian aggression. If Russia had a phone conversation or two – Putin and the Russian commanders and separatist leaders – the war would be over. And this is the main point here. Diplomacy works as a way of building confidence and helping people to reach agreement about what both parties want. While discussing the economic, political and military aspects helps the parties reach this agreement. Yet we don’t click on Russia, they’re not going to reach agreement, because while they themselves do not want this. And I think at that point, the negotiations in “Norman” format will become even more useful.

You said there is not enough pressure on Russia. What else can be done?

– First we need the pressure on Russia. We need people who can go to Putin and say: “Look, boss, it’s really expensive. And we didn’t get those things that you promised. We have a huge bill for the annexation of Crimea, the war in the East of Ukraine, the business is suffering”. It would be the right message to Putin. I would urge you to make such a message. There are many things that you can do – not only from the point of view of commercial sanctions. What I would like is a tougher personal sanctions. I wish those thousand top people in Russia thought their savings at risk, their children will not be able to learn from the West, and they will receive all those personal consequences for how they behaved. And there is a lot to do. The other thing I mentioned is a concentration on what can make Ukraine attractive. And if the people in Crimea, Luhansk or Donetsk, or other occupied territories say that the Ukrainians have more freedom, live better, treat them better, they have a good relationship with the authorities, and in General they live a modern European life. The more of this will be in the next 10-15 years, the more empty are the promises of Russia and the separatist leaders. This is what, in the end, win the “Russian Empire”. The more successful Ukraine is, the more Putin’s story looks like a defeat.

– We often hear from national experts about the Budapest Memorandum and its guarantees of protection of Ukraine. The UK is one of the countries that signed the document. Why didn’t it work with Ukraine, and Ukraine should insist on this Budapest Memorandum?

You are right when talking about the Budapest Memorandum, but, of course, one of the key points is exactly the word Memorandum, not a Treaty. When the guarantee was given, nobody thought that they really must act. I am ashamed as a British citizen that my country is not doing more. And I think, maybe, the Ukrainians have more to bargain with in order to get more legal obligations, and then to resolve disputes in the event of economic or other aggression. Perhaps not the Memorandum, but an “obligation of care”. Because the Budapest Memorandum is not a single item that must do to the other parties in case of violation of this policy. So, it is a painful lesson that is painful for you. You suffered a lot, including from my country, because we didn’t protect you. But I think, as we say in English: “the Train left”. Don’t think I can get more out of this situation, because at this stage it is a good basis to ensure that we continued to apply more sanctions against Russia. And I think we will use it, and we always have to remind the Russians about it. But I don’t think it’s some kind of magical document that we must use to was OK again.

Defense Minister Poltorak said that the Russian military exercises in Belarus “West-2017” can result in aggression against countries, which border with the Russian Federation. In a recent interview you spoke about the threats of these exercises. What are they?

“West” is, incidentally, one of the few Russian words that appeared in the English language… it is Obvious that any country that has an army, must have doctrine, and we have no objection to Russia had them, we regularly conduct such exercises. But we need rules, transparency, predictability, you must have observers. The main thing in the exercise is not to intimidate other countries, and to practice its own army to improve its capabilities, but Russia, it seems, sees this “event” as a deterrent. This was evident in 2009, when the exercise took place, “West”, which really threatened the Baltic States. But we have seen that over time, things got much better. Now they very well move a large number of soldiers and equipment very long distances, and they do it very quickly, it was something that previously they were not very clever, now do it well.

But what does this mean for neighbors? Many troops on your border – it is not easy. If you are in Ukraine, your Northern border is very transparent and poorly protected. You have never engaged in planning for the possible threats from terrorists. And if suddenly on your border appear 10, 20 or 50 thousand Russian troops in the North, in Belarus, of course, you must somehow react to it. This, of course, would be a burden for Ukraine, because you are trying to win the war in the East.

This is also the danger of an attack on NATO in Poland, the Baltic States, but I think it’s less threatening than it was a few years ago. Because now we have a thousand soldiers under British command in Estonia, a thousand under canadian command in Latvia, together with the French soldiers. One thousand under the German command in Lithuania and thousands of Americans in Poland, and also a lot of special forces, aircraft, ships and the like. Now if Russia attacked the Baltic States, it could only be done by the loss of hundreds and hundreds of soldiers from various Western countries, including three with nuclear weapons. So, I believe that the Baltic States, Poland is in good hands. It’s not perfect, but it is not an easy quick win for the Russians as it was 5 years ago when they could send a few tanks in the street, a few Baltic States, and we could do very little. I’m not very supportive of the panic concerning the “West”, but I’m worried in relation to privacy and how Russia is using these teachings to frighten people.

Interviewed By Elina Beketova