Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament and former Prime Minister, visited Ukraine a few days ago and saw with his own eyes the destroyed buildings, destroyed military equipment of the occupying forces and mass graves being unearthed. He has initiated a global network of politicians to convince countries that the war is not just a war on Ukraine. Kubilius believes that the war in Ukraine has taught the Western world a painful lesson about what it means to be friends with authoritarian regimes, Vilmantas Venckūas writes in TV3.lt.
In an interview with the news portal tv3.lt, Mr Kubilius talked about his visit to Ukraine and his planned trips to other European capitals to convince state leaders to support Ukraine in both military actions and support the process of integrating the country into the European Union.
A few weeks ago, you visited Ukraine. When you see those images in the pictures on social media, it is one thing. It is quite another thing when you see it with your own eyes. What did you see in Ukraine, and what were your feelings?
We saw a lot of destroyed houses and a lot of destroyed Russian military equipment. We saw those graves. In Bucha, which they started to dig up. The images are horrible, and you can only imagine what the people had to go through.
On the other hand, you come to the simple conclusion that, in reality, what not only the Ukrainians are facing, but also the whole of Europe, the whole world, as far as Russia is concerned, is really what the world had witnessed during World War II in the behaviour of Nazi Germany and in the behaviour of Imperial Japan.
In that sense, the atrocities, war crimes, murders, and rapes of the Russian army
are not much different from the atrocities witnessed in the Second World War. Therefore,
it is necessary to talk about new fascism or a new Nazism in the Kremlin regime.
There is a lot of debate about who is responsible for all these atrocities. In your opinion, is it the Russian people, or are Russian soldiers equally responsible for those atrocities as the highest top Kremlin officials?
Here, I am making a very simple analogy with the crimes of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.
The fact that people, whether Russians or earlier Germans and Japanese, supported those Nazi atrocities of their own regimes is a known phenomenon. But I would not conclude from the fact that all of society, which is really brainwashed and zombified by all that television propaganda, should be given the same responsibility as Putin is now.
If we do that, we will have to conclude that Russia will never become a democracy. And that is Putin’s dream, that the West should look at Russia in this way and not even think, not even try
to help the Russian people to free themselves from such a Nazi regime.
That would be a huge victory for such an ideology in Russia itself. So Europe must care about democracy and the prospect of democracy in Russia. That is the only way to make that major threat to European security, the Nazi regime in the Kremlin, disappear.
Coming back to your visit, you also had the opportunity to interact with the Ukrainians themselves. What did you hear from them? Did you get a sense of their continued determination to fight on? We are counting the second month of the war, so is there a sense of emotional and physical fatigue in the Ukrainian ranks?
They are determined to fight very seriously and to achieve a significant victory. For that, they need the support from the West, serious weapons, which have already moved a little. God grants that there is at least a fraction of the determination to fight against the Nazi Kremlin regime that the Ukrainians have.
Arms supplies are one of the priority areas identified in the United for Ukraine (U4U) global network of parliamentarians and members of Ukraine’s Supreme Rada joint declaration. In addition to arms aid, the declaration mentions humanitarian aid, sanctions against Russia, Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction and Ukraine’s integration into the European Union, and an international tribunal for war crimes committed in Ukraine. What should be the first steps to see a breakthrough in these priority areas identified in the declaration?
We have identified these six priorities, some of which require immediate solutions, such as arms
supplies, sanctions against Russia or humanitarian aid. Others are longer-term but also important.
That network of ours is looking for the most effective ways to help Ukraine. We have said that we see two fronts to fight on. One is the Ukrainian military front against Russia. There we need
to help them with weapons and anything else they need.
The second front is in the Western capitals. This is the political front. Where we need to make sure that in all of Europe, European Union capitals have the same understanding of the importance of Ukraine’s victory in this war and that it is our common war, not just Ukraine’s war. We have to organise our resources in order to help Ukraine. First of all, with weapons. Here we are seeing momentum.
In our U4U format, we did an internal meeting with Ukrainian military experts and members of the Ukrainian government on what is needed next in this particular area of arms supply. Bearing in mind not only the shortest term, everybody is counting on Putin’s objectives before 9 May, but also bearing in mind that this war could last even longer.
We, therefore, need to think about stable and systemic solutions to help Ukraine secure itself
modern weapons, perhaps by buying them directly from Western military industries, without having to be so dependent on the willingness of individual countries to help or not.
You mention the need to make European capitals realise that it is not only Ukraine’s war that is being fought but all of ours. So why do some countries in the European Union not understand this or do not want to?
There are many different reasons. Some simply live further away from Ukraine, which is naturally less understanding of what is happening and how important the Ukrainian victory is. It is a natural law. We are maybe less aware of what concerns the southern countries, the Mediterranean countries. Syria or other problems are less clear to us. That is natural. For them, we think that Ukraine is less understandable, which is why we created the U4U network to unify our vision.
It is good that a number of parliamentarians from those very countries have joined it.
The important thing is that across Europe, societies have a very similar view that it is very important to support Ukraine today. Recent polls in Italy, France, Germany, and Poland
show that even in old European countries such as Germany and France, the public’s willingness
to support Ukraine is at a very high level. 70-80% of people say that we need to supply arms to Ukraine and impose tough sanctions on Russia. A significant number also are in favour of giving Ukraine membership in the European Union.
So, the electorate has a correct understanding of support. However, there are all sorts of misunderstandings and business influences among politicians. Naturally, it is not easy for some countries to give up their energy supplies; they are heavily dependent on Russian gas and Russian oil. But we see all this, and we are doing everything we can to get those countries to move closer to our position. That is why, after we visited Kyiv, we are planning another trip, this time to Berlin. It will be a visit to Berlin by parliamentarians from many countries to talk, negotiate and reason with each other on the most effective and rapid support for Ukraine.
In your opinion, is this criticism of Berlin, both in terms of weapons and in terms of dependence on Russian resources, always justified? Or do we sometimes criticise Germany too harshly?
That criticism is very heated and very strong within Germany itself. The criticism that we are making in that regard is much milder. Both experts and politicians have very critical remarks about the current Chancellor within Germany itself. Criticism is also coming from within the coalition itself, from senior members of the coalition, who, at least if you read the German press, are actually very critical of the Chancellor; the Chancellor’s performance, the Chancellor’s style, the Chancellor’s inability to explain the German position.
At this point, the Germans themselves have realised that Germany’s position could be different. Germany has a special place in the leadership of the European Union. That is why people and politicians alike in other countries are looking to Germany for leadership that is at least somewhat similar to that of Boris Johnson and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this is somewhat lacking, which is why we are planning to go to Berlin.
Are we not talking too little about the leadership of the other major European power, France? Is France and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, doing enough?
I am not tabling who is doing what and who is not doing what. It is not so easy to compare. Another thing is that France is in a special situation because of the presidential elections. It would be very important for Macron to have a successful outcome in these elections.
President Zelensky has been in constant contact with President Macron throughout this war. In a sense, we are hearing that those calls from Macron to Putin were coordinated with Zelensky, or even sometimes at his request.
Could France have done better and provided more weapons or something else? Of course, I do not make such comparisons, but that does not mean that any country can say, or that Germany, for example, can make an excuse that, look, France is doing less than we are, so we are not going to do anything more. That would be wrong.
And what do you make of Macron’s call to Putin? Or the Austrian Chancellor’s visit to Moscow? What benefits from such direct dialogue between Western leaders and a dictator?
In my view, it is a mistake to continue that. We are not informed why, for example, the Austrian Chancellor went to Moscow and whether he coordinated this with the foreign policy leaders of the European Union. I believe that certain conclusions will have to be drawn from this war and the geopolitical crisis in the European Union. First of all, the common foundations of the European Union’s foreign and security policy need to be significantly strengthened.
We are seeking here for the European Parliament to be able to play a more active role and call on countries’ leaders if it considers that their activities are contrary to the general principles of the European Union’s foreign policy.
There is not a sufficient basis for a common policy in the European Union’s foreign policy, and that is what has led to this whole crisis. The willingness of individual countries to be friends with Putin, the unwillingness of individual countries to understand how important it was to speed up Ukraine’s integration into the European Union even before the war has, in a sense, enabled Putin to think that the European Union is very weak and that he can attack Ukraine aggressively.
We have to draw this conclusion and draw institutional conclusions from it, too, and think about how we need to change the principles of foreign policy-making. This crisis must force the European Union to understand its weaknesses and correct them.
Turning a little to the French presidential elections on Sunday, how would a Marine Le Pen victory change the situation? Can one politician really make such a difference, especially given that France is about to hold parliamentary elections, where Le Pen’s party is not predicted to be very successful?
You know, in France, to have a leader who went to the Kremlin after the occupation of Crimea and took out loans and clapped shoulders and made friends, I think that is very bad not only for France but for all of Europe. I have nothing more to add. In France, the system is set up in such a way that the President plays a large and important role. That is what distinguishes France from many other European countries. And here, without any great exaggeration, it would be very important for Macron to win this election.
If we talk about Ukraine’s prospects for membership in the European Union, Ukraine has filled out the questionnaire handed over to Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. What next? How will Ukraine’s accession process continue? When can we expect Ukraine to become a full member of the European Union?
The most important thing now is that Ukraine is granted candidate status by July by the summer. The Commission promises to publish its conclusions in June, and I hope that this will be a positive conclusion.
Next, there will be a particularly important and not very clear process – the approval of candidate status by the European Council. There are all sorts of countries there. There is Hungary, which is opposed to everything about Ukraine, and there is the Netherlands, which has all sorts of preferences.
So that’s where we see a big challenge with the U4U network that we have put together, and we will do everything we can to make sure that those countries that may not have demonstrated a clear enough position on Ukraine as a candidate so far, that they do so before all the deliberations. After our visit to Berlin, we will probably go to the Netherlands, I do not know about Hungary, and we will look for a way to talk to them as well.
This is a very important matter of responsibility. It is not only about Ukraine. It is also about the European Union’s long-term policy towards Russia itself. Ukraine’s success in integration can have a very important impact on Russian society in terms of bringing about change after the war.
What will happen after candidate status? I do not want to say today. A lot will also depend on how the war itself develops. If, as is predicted, Russia may experience a painful defeat in this war, I think a lot will change after that result.
There will be changes in Russia itself, changes in the European Union, and changes in Ukraine’s opportunities and prospects. In that case, it will also be possible to revise the European Union’s development philosophy, which has been characterised by complete stagnation over the last decade, in a much more profound way. Both for the Western Balkans and for the Eastern Partnership countries. The European Union has not been able to create real opportunities for integration with its enlargement philosophy or its enlargement instruments.
This is not just a problem for Ukraine, the Balkan countries, Moldova or Georgia; it is a problem for the European Union itself. It is a problem with the philosophy itself, with the institutional set-up itself. This needs to be reviewed.
Is this a door for the European Union to open wider in the future?
It will all end with Russia losing, and the one factor that has been present all along will be gone.
That is, the European Union institutions did not want to have a more ambitious strategy to speed up Ukraine’s integration into the European Union even before the war, during the last decade, after the Maidan Revolution.
There were unpublicised but obvious fears that a more ambitious integration of Ukraine towards the European Union would allegedly provoke Putin’s anger and aggression.
In my opinion, it was precisely the fact that the European Union did not show ambition that created the illusion for Putin that the West was leaving Ukraine in a grey area and that Putin could do as he wished here. The result is this war. This also implies the need for ambitious, courageous solutions, especially if this war ends in Putin’s defeat.
Last Friday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who was in Vilnius, admitted that Germany had made a mistake in developing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia. So has the war in Ukraine finally taught the European countries a lesson that they do not have to deal with the devil for economic gain?
The problem was that the West, and Germany in particular, was completely wrong in thinking that it was possible to increase its dependence on energy resources from Russia indefinitely. This would not have some geopolitical impact, and it would not create an opportunity for blackmail. This is what we have been saying all along: Russia sees energy as a political instrument, that it is not just a business, that it is big geopolitics.
Unfortunately, we have failed to convince them, and it is now Putin himself who has convinced them. Putin’s activities are the best instrument to convince the West of the truths that we tried to explain before the war. I hope that there will be a lasting conclusion from this. That dependence on authoritarian regimes, whether it is Russia, whether it is Belarus, or whether it is, after all, China, always carries great dangers. The lessons from this behaviour by Putin are obvious. I do not know what other lessons Western politicians and leaders need to learn in order to understand these simple truths.