WAJAHAT KHAN, Nikkei staff writer
NEW YORK — As the pace of global diplomacy to preempt a war between Russia and Ukraine picks up, Kyiv’s ambassador to the United Nations — where the issue of Ukrainian security was finally discussed last week by the U.S. and its partners — has weighed in.
In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Sergiy Kyslytsya, a former deputy foreign minister and career diplomat, explained what compels the country to join NATO, warned about the possible political and economic costs of a potential conflict, and analyzed the role China could play in resolving the crisis.
Below are extracts of Kyslytsya’s interview, edited for clarity.
Q: What is Ukraine’s current military calculus?
A: It’s a matter of fact that 120,000 or 130,000 [military personnel] is an unnatural, unjustifiable concentration of troops. Any incursion and invasion of significant parts of Ukraine requires much more than that. It’s not a sustainable occupation because the casualties would be so high that you could easily lose half of your personnel in a week.
Q: How is Ukraine assessing Vladimir Putin’s position in this crisis?
A: Both as a politician and as a human being, it is deeply ingrained in his mindset that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was … the most tragic part of history in the 20th century. He really wants to go down in history as a leader of a nation who brought all the lands together. I still see the logic that he cannot sustain invasion and occupation with that buildup, so they need to have many more forces. If they can invade or try to invade, if they can cross the border, I think it is going to be suicidal for Putin himself, until he does understand that the calamity and the scale of losses of those killed in action could easily topple him.
Q: What is Ukraine’s position on joining NATO?
A: The choice of Ukrainians is Euro-Atlantic integration. After 2014, as Putin decided to attack Ukraine, attitudes and the polls regarding NATO membership increased. Effectively it was Putin who provided the ultimate push for NATO membership.
Q: What about Russian demands that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO?
A: It is a misleading narrative that abandoning the hypothetical membership, which is still hypothetical, is a way out. It’s actually not true. Because it’s not only that the Russians say, ‘Tell us that Ukrainians will never be members of NATO.’ They also say, ‘Return NATO back to 1997,’ which means no membership for the Baltic States, no membership for Poland, no membership for other [Eastern European] countries that are already members of NATO.
Q: Is Ukraine flexible about Russian demands?
A: None of the Ukrainian officials can work against achieving this aim [of Russian demands for barring Ukraine from NATO], for any man who wants to be the Ukrainian president or a member of parliament to say that ‘I’m against the European Union’ or ‘I am against NATO’ would effectively mean losing elections because this is an overarching agenda item.
Q: What about Russia-China relations?
A: The Russian crisis impacts China very much. It is not in the Chinese interest to have a war where a country next to the border is waging the war. The Chinese border with Russia is much longer. So if we believe what they [Russia] say about who is encircling whom, it is certainly not NATO who is encircling Russia. The extent of the Chinese border is much longer.
Q: What will be the economic impact of war between Ukraine and Russia?
A: Global food prices would go up. The economic situation would be very bad. The healthy part of the global economy would survive, paying a very high price. But the Russian economy would be devastated. The state of the global economy additionally contributes to the need for all of us to work very hard to avoid a new war in Europe.
As for Japan, even if it were not dependent on Russian gas, the Japanese economy is so deeply intertwined with European markets and North American markets. It’s absolutely impossible to imagine what the Russian attack and the war influenced by the Russians would be.
Q: What about U.S. allegations of disinformation by Russian intelligence services to trigger war?
A: You know, the Russians are very, very ingenious. They may be very poor overall as a nation, but they would spare no money, no resources, to have their intelligence, their special services, their military [be] well-equipped and well-designed. So things that are happening, they are not happening by chance, and they are not happening because they are an improvisation. They are the result of a very well thought-out sequence of events. If something goes this way, you have two options. If [one] doesn’t work, you have another option.
Q: Are there any parallels between Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine and China’s threats to Taiwan?
A: I think they are stretching the narrative beyond proportion. There is no parallel whatsoever. Ukraine, unlike the territory you refer to [Taiwan], is an independent state. Ukraine is a founding member of the United Nations within its borders, including Crimea. Nobody has ever doubted that Ukraine is a sovereign state that is subject to international laws. Using references that compare Ukraine to Kosovo or to other territories is absolutely misleading, and it doesn’t really help to address the issues.
Q: Why did Russia and China vote against bringing the Ukraine issue to the Security Council?
A: It is not in the interests [of Russia] to have any sort of meetings. Even with Chinese voting in support of Russia, they are still in the obvious minority. It is very difficult to say something in the Security Council, and then [have] the actions of your government totally undermine your narrative.