SHOGO AKAGAWA, Nikkei senior staff writer, and TOMOYO OGAWA, Nikkei staff writer
LONDON/TOKYO — Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has urged Japan to impose an embargo on Russian oil and gas, calling on Japanese companies to pull the plug on the Sakhalin-2 project in the Russian Far East.
In an online interview with Nikkei Asia, Yatsenyuk said the real intention of Russia is “just to buy time,” expressing doubts over optimism that cease-fire talks will progress rapidly.
Yatsenyuk is a pro-Western liberal politician who has served as economy minister and foreign minister. He was prime minister when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “the war for global democracy,” Yatsenyuk said. “The free world has to ramp up sanctions [against Russia] to turn the screw every single day.”
In Japan, there is some debate over whether the country should continue importing Russian gas. Getting rid of its economic dependency over Russia “is, for God’s sake, in your national security interest,” Yatsenyuk said. He said Japan “has to impose an energy embargo on Russian oil and gas,” as the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have, and called on Japanese companies that are involved in resource development in Russia to withdraw from those projects.
When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an online speech to Japanese lawmakers on March 23, he did not make any specific requests and left a softer impression. But in fact, while many Ukrainians are grateful for support from the Group of Seven nations, they think that Japan and Europe “have to get rid of any Russian dependence,” according to Yatsenyuk.
The former prime minister was also critical of China, which is hesitant to join Western sanctions against Russia. “China is on the same side,” he continued, saying Beijing is making a historic mistake. He stressed that as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China “has to be on the right side, but not on the wrong side, of history.”
Delegates from Russia and Ukraine held the latest round of cease-fire talks in Istanbul on Tuesday. But during the interview, Yatsenyuk repeatedly expressed distrust of Russia. “I was very blunt and open, saying that I don’t trust any single word of Russians — any single word,” he said. “Well, they are masters of lies, deception, and no doubt it is a hoax, because look what’s happening on the ground right now.”
“The reality is completely different. In reality, Russia is doing a smoke screen,” Yatsenyuk said. “The real intention of Russia [with the cease-fire talks] is just to buy time.”
Yatsenyuk has repeatedly said Ukraine should not make concessions to Russia. “At the first stage, Russia has to pull back definitely [to where it was] before the 24th of February,” he stressed. Though such a move — including lifting the siege of the battered port city of Mariupol and withdrawing — is widely seen as a difficult decision for Russia to make at this point, he continued, “The next step would be that Russia has to withdraw completely from Ukraine — so, Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea.”
Yatsenyuk stressed that the demilitarization of Ukraine is “completely unacceptable under any circumstances.” To leave Ukraine unarmed means, he said, to leave it “with no bulletproof jacket, a naked country which can easily be grabbed by Russia.”
Russia in recent years has annexed Crimea, clamped down on domestic opponents and interfered in Western elections. “The problem is that the world was deaf to Putin’s messages or initiatives,” said Yatsenyuk, who still remains in his beloved country.
“Well, in the end, who is paying the price? Ukraine.”