Do you even see small signs that the ice between Ukraine and Russia will start to crack in the negotiations?
Russia has started a war in Ukraine. And it is a war that Vladimir Putin has chosen. Between February 24, the Biden government attempted serious diplomatic negotiations to avoid war. And repeatedly the Russians have told us that they have no intention of attacking Ukraine again. So the context here matters. We see Russian attacks destroying Ukraine. We see Ukrainians dying every day. Foreign Minister Blinken wants to be sure in these negotiations that we can rely on what the Russians are saying. So it seems to me that if Russia is serious about the deal, it has to start with a ceasefire.
You may have answered me now, but what does it take on the ground to see meaningful progress in diplomacy?
The United States fully supports its Ukrainian partners in negotiations with Russia. We reaffirm that there should be no “about us, without us”, that is to say about Ukraine without Ukraine. We therefore support Ukraine’s efforts and we want this war to end. We want to help Ukraine win this war. We will see what emerges from these negotiations. But I think if Russia wants to send a signal that it is serious, it is very important that it declares a ceasefire.
Do you or can you trust Vladimir Putin? At least to a limited extent?
It would be very difficult to say now that we trust Putin. Thus, each transaction with him will have to be verified. It was even difficult to force Russia to respect the humanitarian corridors it had accepted. We must not lie about what Putin is doing in Ukraine. All agreements must be verified and implemented.
How can you negotiate these issues with someone you have minimal trust?
This is always the case in international relations. You don’t just do diplomacy with people you trust. In fact, diplomacy can play the most important role where trust does not exist or where there are even conflicts and wars. It is the art of diplomacy.
However, trust will be needed when negotiating international guarantees. The Budapest memorandum failed, it didn’t prevent what it had. Ukraine has been invaded. How difficult will it be to negotiate guarantees with someone who is currently killing thousands of people in Ukraine?
We do not have a clear idea of what the various elements of the negotiated agreement that will resolve this war will look like. Once we have a framework agreement, we will need to figure out how to check the different parts. We probably won’t want to ease the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Czech Republic and other EU and G7 members until the deal can be implemented. Again – in the beginning it’s not so much about trust as how to check that the agreement is being honored by the parties.
Could this be the time when the sanctions could or should be lifted? Not before?
This will be part of the negotiations. But let me lose the word on these sanctions and export controls. This is very different from what was envisaged after 2014. The measures we have taken against Russia are unprecedented, such as the sanctions against the Russian central bank. We never imposed them on the G20. The sanctions also affect many Russian financial institutions, senior officials including Putin, Lavrov and other representatives of elites and oligarchs, members of the Duma, etc.
I think we are still not able to fully monitor the impact this will have on the Russian economy. We saw the value of the ruble fall, hundreds of companies left Russia, the stock market closed. I am sure the impact on the Russian economy will be severe. I do not think that all the sanctions will disappear if an agreement is reached. Their cancellation will be linked to the implementation of this agreement.
You said the current sanctions couldn’t be compared to those after 2014. But wasn’t it just that they weren’t tougher then to avoid what we see now?
In the distance, it is always very difficult to say what she did or could have done. In 2013 and 2014, I was in the US government, working for the National Security Council at the time. There are a number of differences between what happened now and what happened then. This time it helped us a lot that the United States had convincing intelligence, from which it was clear to us that there was a high probability that Putin would invade Ukraine with all his might.
As you know, we have shared this information in an unprecedented way with our allies and partners. This helped us prepare for these export sanctions and restrictions in the months leading up to February, and we imposed them on Russia very soon after the invasion began. So there are a number of differences. I was impressed by the speed and unity with which the United States and its partners decided.
We will raise the price of war until Putin ends it
Let’s go back to the guarantees and the future agreement. I know that it is very difficult today to estimate what this should look like, but we hear a lot of talk in the world media – for example, in the sense that Ukraine would not become a member of NATO, but would request the adhesion to European Union . The guarantees could also be that certain countries would help Ukraine, like NATO, if it were attacked. This would be acceptable for the United States, but perhaps less so for Russia.
It’s tempting to talk about the future, how it’s going to be, how we can end it. But I have to tell you, my crystal ball is foggy. But there is one person who can end the war in Ukraine. And the man’s name is Vladimir Putin. We must constantly call for an end – an unprovoked war that kills innocent Ukrainians every day. He must end the war. And before he does, he will pay for it. There was a first package of sanctions, then we imposed another one. We will increase the price he will pay for it until the end of the war.
The US government complains that communication between the US and Russia is virtually non-existent. Are you in contact with Russia?
How? ‘Or’ What?
Diplomacy means you are in contact with every country in the world – for the most part there are a few exceptions. But I will not encounter any of the internal talks that the United States is conducting.
I see. However, is this conversation enough to prevent further escalation, or is it the basis for future negotiations? What’s going on?
Again: I want it to sound very clear. The ability to end the war in Ukraine does not belong to the United States. Vladimir Putin chose this war. He started this war, he can end this war. It’s just his responsibility. Ukraine in no way provoked it. It is unjustifiable. He is brutal. The UN General Assembly has already voted twice, once 141 to 5, the second 140 to 5. For the first time, the UN condemned the invasion and called for an end, and the second time, it adopted a resolution on humanitarian issues. The world is truly outraged by what is happening in Ukraine. We all need to push Putin to end the war.
If China helps Russia, it will pay for it
The Russian and Chinese delegations are negotiating right now. Are you convinced that you can prevent China from becoming an even greater ally of Russia?
This is a very important dimension of what is happening in Ukraine. This is tragic for Ukraine and we are doing everything we can to defend Ukraine. Then you have implications for European security. NATO is strengthening its eastern wing, and the Czech Republic plays an important role there as the country that will lead the battle group in Slovakia. And then there are the effects on global stability.
Before the Chinese Olympics, the Russian and Chinese presidents met and agreed on a strategic alliance. The Chinese president spoke on European security issues. As you know, the United States has engaged in talks with China – our national security adviser met with his counterpart in Rome, President Biden spoke with President Si for about two hours, including an hour and 45 minutes concerned Russia and Ukraine.
The president has said very clearly that if China helps Russia in the war in Ukraine, it will affect our relations and China will pay the price. This is an important part. It reminds us that this is a struggle between democracy and autocracy. And it reminds us, Americans and Czechs, Americans and Europeans, of the values and principles that unite us. Namely that we want to live in a democracy and decide our own future.
Countries must decide their own foreign and security policy, borders must not be changed by force. These are the principles we stand for and for which Ukrainians fight every day.
During a trip to Europe last year, President Joe Biden spoke of unity, especially within NATO, and emphasized it many times. Do you think this unit will survive and not start to break with the huge economic impact of the war on different countries?
President Biden took office with one of his top priorities – revitalizing alliances and partnerships. There was a lot invested in the first year. And now it’s paying dividends. The unity in NATO and the EU is extraordinary – in the sense that we stand up for the values in which we believe we are helping Ukraine and we tell Putin that this aggression will cost him dearly.
I think it was strong enough that President Biden came to Europe on the anniversary of one month since the start of the war to encourage allies and partners in this fight. The past five weeks have shown that the unity is deep and persistent.
A colleague from the EU said to me, “Karen, it was 9/11 for Europe. Many Europeans were shocked by this full-fledged and unreasonable Russian invasion of Ukraine as a smaller neighbor. The vulnerability and the conclusions people are drawing – including that we need to be less energy dependent on Russia – all have many implications. I think this cohesion will last.