Vishnu Som: Joining us today is Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign affairs of Ukraine. We have seen more direct statements from Prime Minister Modi in the recent past; do you think the Prime minister of India can play a more direct role in reaching out to the Russian leadership to try and end this conflict?
Dmytro Kuleba: Definitely, India is a very important player in the global arena and the Prime Minister of India, with his voice, can make a change.
Indeed, we are waiting for the moment when Indian foreign policy will call spade a spade, and name the conflict – not war in Ukraine, but what it is, a Russian aggression against Ukraine. President Zelenskyy, speaking at the G20 Summit Bali announced a peace formula that consists of 10 steps and presents an excellent platform for global engagement of countries willing to bring peace back to Ukraine. So India is more than welcome to participate in the implementation of this formula, and we will need the strong leadership of your Prime Minister to end the war.
Vishnu Som: Let’s talk a little bit about the G20. Within this forum is there an expectation from Kyiv, that India works towards peace in Ukraine to end the war? How can the G20 platform be used to further the cause of peace?
Dmytro Kuleba: G20 brings together various countries, but none of them except one that is Russia, wants war. So to end the war in Ukraine, two things have to be done – the opinion in the Kremlin has to be changed, and powers like India can help facilitate that. And Moscow has to abandon its war plans, and switch from war-mongering to a peaceful line of thinking.
Second, Russia must withdraw its forces from the entire territory of Ukraine.
These are the starting points of a comprehensive peace dialogue, but in the meantime there are many issues that need to be addressed. They were all brought about by the war waged by Russia. Food security, nuclear security, exchange of prisoners, protecting the environment in times of war. This way the G20 can play a role right now. India’s leadership and participation will be appreciated.
Vishnu Som: You have laid down a couple of points that need to be discussed. The exchange of prisoners of war for example – is there a formula that you or President Zelenskyy has in mind?
Dymtro Kuleba: Yes, the formula that my President presented has exactly this name, ‘Peace Formula’ by President Zelenskyy. Ten very simple steps which countries can work on in order to put this war to an end. The last step in this formula is signing the Peace Accord.
Ukraine wants peace more than anyone else. Now as we speak, I am sitting in my office, and we are anticipating another massive missile strike on Kyiv by Russian forces. They will be hitting our critical energy infrastructure. I am sure you and your viewers will agree that when a country wants peace, it does not attack its neighbour with hundreds of missiles and try to knock out, try to blackout the entire country, when it’s -6 (minus six) outside, and everything is covered in snow.
So Russia has to change its approach, (it) has to choose the path of peace in order for others to be able to negotiate with them.
Now, this seems not to be not the case.
Vishnu Som: Russia has adopted a very hard-line position; do you seriously think that India and Prime Minister Modi can change that?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, if you don’t try, nothing can change. If Ukraine had given up in the first days of the war, you and I wouldn’t be talking today, so it’s definitely worth trying. We have seen some encouraging messages coming from your Prime Minister, when he said this is not the time for war. We hope that is more active, even if it is quiet, behind-the-scenes active diplomacy (that) will take place in the coming weeks. It’s worth trying anyway to end the war.
But we have to keep in mind that the starting two points are the ones that I mentioned – Putin has to change his mind, and second, he has to accept the fact that the Russian army must withdraw from Ukraine.
Vishnu Som: One of the issues raised by several countries, not least of all Ukraine, is that India imports oil from Russia, but India in fact, Foreign Minister Jayshankar has said ‘what India imports is a fraction of what the European nations import’.
Does Ukraine accept this? For example, what Mr. Jaishankar has said that ‘The European Union, from February to November, has imported more fossil fuel from Russia than the next 10 countries combined. And that even the coal imports from Russia to the EU is 50% more than what India has Imported.’ How do you look at this Indian concern?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, we are equally critical of any country in the world, be it in Europe, in Asia or anywhere else, that is buying Russian oil in large quantities. Because the money made from this trade is used by Russia to finance the war and killing of Ukrainians.
We recently welcomed the introduction of a price cap scheme on Russian oil. The threshold, the price cap itself is far too high we believe, but in principle, it is a step in the right direction.
When we are talking about oil, let’s keep it very simple and answer a couple questions which will make the picture clear.
Why did India significantly increase the purchase of Russian oil? Because Russia offered very tempting conditions, cheap prices, good contracts.
Why is Russia offering cheap prices for its oil? Because of the war it launched in Ukraine. And the problem is the supply of oil in the European markets.
So the opportunity for India to buy Russian oil at a cheap price comes from the fact that Ukrainians are suffering from Russian aggression. Dying every day. And they are living in houses without heating, without hot water, without electricity. And this fact we hope should be appreciated by those who make decisions on purchasing Russian oil.
It is not enough to point fingers at the European Union and say, ‘Oh, they are doing the same thing,’ because the core of India’s opportunity, the core reason of India’s opportunity to save money on oil and to buy more cheap oil and to solve its economic problems, is not the fact that Europeans are buying the Russian oil. It’s the fact that Ukrainians are suffering from the Russian war and dying because of it.
If you integrate this element into your thinking, of course then your foreign policy has to be adjusted accordingly towards the support extended to Ukraine.
If you benefit because of our suffering, it would be good to see more of your help addressed to us.
Very simple and very clear picture and I want all of you to understand how this big politics and big macroeconomic things work.
Vishnu Som: Mr. Kuleba, the point mentioned by India, and our Foreign Minister for example, is that oil is finite, and that he has to seek something which is a finite commodity in the interest of Indian citizens. India has completely said that the violence in Ukraine has to end and that the war has to end. But the oil formula is being pursued in India’s national interest. That is the argument that New Delhi makes, how would you look at that?
Dmytro Kuleba: In exactly the way I looked at it 10 seconds ago. We understand that the Indian government acts in the best interest of the people of India, there is nothing wrong about that. But while doing so, we expect the Indian government to remember,and to keep in mind that it has the opportunity to provide the Indian population with cheaper commodities, because people in Ukraine are dying.
Vishnu Som: Right …
Dmytro Kuleba: And, therefore, it should balance its acts, its policy and trade policy with Russia/ with respective active policy on the Ukrainian track.
It is completely wrong, once again, completely wrong, to explain the purchase of oil from Russia by the argument that Europeans are doing the same. I think it is morally inappropriate, because you are buying cheap oil not because of Europeans but because of us, of our suffering, of our tragedy, and because of the war that Russia launched against Ukraine.
I think there should be a very honest and straight conversation about that. Instead of pointing at someone else, let’s be clear about the causes and the reasons why one can benefit from Russian aggression.
Vishnu Som: And Mr.Kuleba in your conversations with India’s Foreign Minister Mr.Jaishankar or President Zelenskyy’s conversation with Prime Minister Modi, when this topic came up, and it is a key issue, what was the response from New Delhi?
Dmytro Kuleba: We had a constructive meeting with your Foreign Minister at the summit of the Asian countries, a couple of weeks ago. It was more focused on the issues of food security and a broader discussion about the dynamics of the war and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But when this issue of oil is brought up in different forms, we usually hear the argument that you referred to. That we are doing it, the Europeans are doing it, so what’s the problem about it?
But as I said, this is a misleading logic because this is not about who buys what. This is about answering the question ‘why do we have the opportunity to buy something cheaper than the others?’
The answer is not the fact that Europeans are buying the oil. The fact is that because Ukrainians are fighting a war against Russia. Europeans are taking measures against Russian oil to get Europeans together with the G7. Russia is put on more difficult conditions on the global market and is forced to offer better conditions for its potential clients on the oil market. The litmus test for the Indian government will be, of course, the way they will be treating this price-cap mechanism, introduced by G7 countries. But again when you ask yourself the question why India is buying Russian oil, do not look in the European Union for the answer. Look at Ukraine. And if you buy cheap Russian oil, do more to help Ukraine today and also to end the war tomorrow. It’s very simple.
Vishnu Som: You were talking about impending missile strikes once again on Kyiv. Russia continues to target the power plants including those outside Kyiv and other infrastructures across your country. What are the implications of this for the people of Ukraine, from a short-term and a long-term perspective. And also in terms of revival of the Ukrainian economy?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, I can share with you my own experience – Two days ago when the latest massive missile attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure occurred.
First, you have to understand that all of these attacks target only civilian energy infrastructure, so it’s a deliberate attempt to create unbearable conditions for the civilian population to survive during the winter. And as I said, it is -5 (minus 5) in Kyiv, it’s very cold, windy, a lot of snow and two weeks ago, when the entire Ukraine was blacked out, when I came to my home, to my apartment, there was no light, there was no water supply, there was no heating. So we used candles to light up the apartment. We bought fresh water to have something to drink, and to use for cooking purposes. And this lasted for… and it was extremely cold in the apartment I must say…and this lasted for a little bit more than 30 hours.
Vishnu Som: Right
Dmytro Kuleba: Now imagine that every new massive missile attack will cause a blackout that will last more and more days. And it will take more and more time to recover the system and to restart the supply of electricity. And while there is no electricity, people die in hospitals, because they do not have access to their basic needs. For example, artificial lung ventilation. We have one case which became particularly noticed on social media, about a little girl, 4 years old, 4-5 years old. She has asthma, has issues with breathing, and she needs lung ventilation, where you put on the mask and plug into the electricity and it pumps up air for you. But because there was no electricity in her apartment, her mother took her to the nearest gas station where they had generators, and while this gas station was already packed with people they found a plug in and connected this ventilator. And this girl is standing there holding her mask close to her face and breathing the air necessary for her to survive. Because there was no other place in the vicinity where they could get access to electricity. So this is the reality that is happening in the capital. Not only in the capital of Ukraine, it’s a formula – but also all across the country.
And once again, these missile strikes, despite Russian force claims, have nothing to do with military targets. It’s a way to terrorise civilian population.
Vishnu Som: Mr. Kuleba, a lot of those missile strikes have come from the Russian warships in the past, in the Black Sea. Now we have this drone attack on Sevastopol and we have seen the Russian fleet by and large being silenced back in the port. Do you believe that you have been able to control the operation of the Russian navy in the Black Sea?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, as long as the Russian vessels and Russian ships will be used to launch rockets on Ukraine, it won’t be possible to say the situation is under control and their military potential is gone. No, unfortunately, the occupied Crimea and the Black Sea fleet of Russia is active. They are both active participants of the military aggression against Ukraine. Crimea is being used as a territory, as a huge military base and of course the Black Sea fleet is used by Russia to launch missiles to hit targets across the entire Ukraine.
Vishnu Som: Mr. Kuleba, the drone attacks have come to define this war, but certainly in the last few weeks, as you mentioned, attacks on your cities. I’d like to talk a little bit more on how these attacks have been indiscriminate because it’s not just infrastructure which is being hit, but parks which are being hit, residential buildings which are being hit as well. So the entire argument that Russia has been targeting military facilities, has always been incorrect.
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, as of now, Russia is targeting specific civilian infrastructure. The military, there is an active fighting taking place on the frontline and you have to imagine that the active combat zone in Ukraine is 1,500 kilometers long.
Vishnu Som: Yeah.
Dmytro Kuleba: So, this is the frontline and along which the fighting takes place. And there are air attacks, some missile attacks along the frontline to destroy the military positions. But, this is the only area where military targets are being hit. But look at the map of the missile strikes over the last weeks and you will see that Russian missiles and Uranian drones, they were used to hit targets all across the country. And in all of these cases, they are targeting our critical energy infrastructure, very specifically. Our problem is that our electricity grid was built during the Soviet times and, therefore, Russia has all the maps and technical documentation necessary to identify precisely the most critical elements of our energy infrastructure. And they hit it one by one, knocking out one transformer after another, one compressing station after another. They do it in a very systematic way with only one purpose – to terrorise the population of Ukraine, to create unbearable conditions for civilians and to break us down. But they are not going to break us down. Whatever they do, we will survive and we will prevail.
Vishnu Som: Mr.Kuleba, there has been an incredible military victory in Kherson, to the south of your country. Will winter lock down Ukrainian forces as you attempt to regain control over other cities including eventually Melitopol or even Mariupol?
Dmytro Kuleba: We will not stop for a single day because every pause means more time for the Russians to dig into the ground, to build fortifications and to strengthen their defensive lines in the occupied territories of Ukraine. So, we will continue our operations but of course we are also human. Soldiers get tired. They are fighting for their land, they understand how high [the] stakes are and we will continue moving forward in every direction we can.
Vishnu Som: Mr. Kuleba, the world is worried, not just obviously about the war, but the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia. Do you believe this is a threat or do you believe [the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons] becomes a more realistic possibility, given the territory that Ukraine is recapturing?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, of course, when you fight a war against Russia, you have to be ready for any scenario because Russia is fighting in a tricky, treacherous way, if I may put it this way. But recently, we’ve heard some important statements coming from China and other places on the inadmissibility of the use of nuclear weapons and we notice that Russia suppressed its own rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons. So, as of now, it seems that the issue of nukes is used by Russia as a leverage, as a bargaining chip. While we have to take it seriously, we should in no way exaggerate this threat and allow the Russians to blackmail the entire world.
Vishnu Som: One or two more questions. Can you share with us the experiences of Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline who often come or have come across Russian recruits being willing to surrender?
Dmytro Kuleba: Well, there are Russian recruits willing to surrender but there are also Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group. It is a private military company who are mostly recruited in Russian prisons. So, they are criminals serving their sentences in Russian prisons and recruiters in [the] Wagner group come to prisons and since they work undercover over the Russian state and they say if you agree to fight in Ukraine as a stormtrooper in the first line and you survive the 6 months of war, you will receive amnesty. And some people agree and they come in the front line. If you are a Ukrainian soldier, in the trench, in the very first line of defence, you are being attacked during the day and night. Russia sends one wave of soldiers after another, [and] covers the trench with artillery fire. And there are 2 main ways how Russian army can capture the Ukrainian trench. These mercenaries with criminal past, many of them died, but as I said, Russia sends one wave after another. Either they capture the trench after waves of attacks and kill Ukrainian soldiers who defend the trench or this trench gets completely destroyed by the Russian artillery. There is literally nothing else to defend. But if this happens and we lose the trench, then after some hours we launch an operation to retake the trench. And then we retake the trench and the story repeats again. Russia sends one wave of attackers after another. And this is how the war goes on. The most heated part of the frontline is near the city of Bakhmut.
Vishnu Som: Yes.
Dmytro Kuleba: And this is the place that reminds me of the First War of World.
Vishnu Som: Yeah, it has been completely obliterated. The Russians have destroyed it completely.
Dmytro Kuleba: Absolutely. Everything is destroyed. Religious towns, they do not exist anymore. They are turned into rubble by Russian artillery. Many forests do not exist anymore because trees got destroyed by the Russian artillery. But we are still holding every trench, every hole, every square metre of our land. And sometimes Russian attackers and our defenders, they fight for one trench for weeks. And this just gives you an understanding of how fierce this fight is.
Vishnu Som: Mr. Kuleba, two more questions. One, your message to Indian students who had to leave your country because of the war. To them and their families because they are ultimately some of your best friends. You know, they have come to your country to study, they have had the love and support of their teachers and their Ukrainian friends. What is your message to these young men and women and their families?
Dmytro Kuleba: Come back when Ukraine wins. You were always an integral part of our society and together with you, we want to celebrate Diwali together in the city of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine where Diwali became a part of the local tradition. So come back when we win and in the meantime, pray for Ukraine and support Ukraine by all means available to you.
Vishnu Som: And my last question sir. You know, when we started this conversation, you had listed out a couple of grounds which you believe can pave the way for peace. For example, the exchange of prisoners. Could you once again list those points which you believe need to be fulfilled in the path to peace?
Dmytro Kuleba: Yes, this is the peace formula by President Zelensky. So we have to begin by ensuring the nuclear safety of nuclear power plants operating in Ukraine because they also become vulnerable to Russian attacks and exclude the possibility of nuclear weapons. This is step number 1 because nuclear issue, nuclear energy has no borders. If anything happens, the entire world will fall victim of it. Then we have to ensure food security of the world despite the continued Russian aggression. And therefore the export of Ukrainian agricultural products to the global markets has to continue. For example, now it’s only possible to export Ukrainian grain through the grain initiative facilitated by the United Nations in Turkiye. But we are also ready to export sunflower oil and India was our biggest consumer of Ukrainian sunflower oil. Then it’s about the exchange of prisoners. It’s about solving problems, environmental problems [unclear] by the war. On the political track, restoration of respect to the UN Charter and Ukraine’s territorial integrity is another step. Full withdrawal of Russian armed forces from the territory of Ukraine, this is also a step that needs to be made. So these are very reasonable decisions which will restore peace and which will ease the pressure this war is causing, this Russian aggression against Ukraine is causing on the global economy. So it is not only in the interest of Ukraine to achieve it, it is indeed in the interest of the entire world.
Vishnu Som: Alright, Mr. Kuleba. Thank you very much for speaking to us. Do stay safe you know in the crisis that you are facing. And sooner than later, hopefully, there will be peace in your country. Thank you very much for speaking to us once again.
Dmytro Kuleba: Thank you. All the best to you and stay safe.