Bogdan Klich, Polish Senator and former Minister for Defense, actively follows our country’s events and presents his own vision of how the Russian aggression in Ukraine may be ended. Last year he co-published the article “Disrupting Putin’s Game Plan” on Project Syndicate together with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, German ex-minister for defense. In this year’s article, “Standing Up to Putin,” he asserts that “new policies for protecting NATO’s partners in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus are badly needed. The West must convince the Kremlin to roll back its intervention in Ukraine, and make it clear that further use of military force will be met with countermeasures that are more severe than the sanctions imposed thus far.” As Mr. Klich visited Ukraine to participate at Youth Kyiv Security Forum, the same question – why the strategy on how to stop Putin and make him cease his endeavors in Ukraine has not yet been conceived – became the first in the conversation with him [this interview was recorded on March 24. – Author].
“There are several reasons. One of them that the West was surprised and then shocked by the policy of Kremlin. Because the West believed almost for two decade in trying to involve Russian Federation in a new model of security that was set up in the aftermath of the Cold war. I do remember NATO summit in November 2010 when new strategy concept was adopted and in this major document of the Alliance so called cooperative model of security was named as one of three essential core tasks for the Alliance. It means that in this model use of force was rejected and replaced by a dialog. The cooperation was the major assumption as a principle for the relationship with the countries from the neighborhood of the Alliance.
“So, policy of President Putin that was officially presented in March past year was shocking for the West because it undermined completely this assumption that use of military force was excluded from international relation in Europe.
“On the other hand the other important factor is the differences of political and economical interests of European countries. For example countries of southern flank are much more afraid of what’s going on in North Africa in the aftermath of Arab Spring, what is going on in the Middle East than in Eastern Europe. And there are countries still believing it is much better for national interests of those countries to have so called good deals with the Kremlin for example to have special relations in energy security. And that’s why it is difficult to expect the West will react with the same tools that Kremlin used in the beginning in Crimea and then in eastern Ukraine. This is a challenge for both EU and NATO. I’d like to underline that according to my perception NATO behaves much better in those issues than EU that is weaker than Alliance concerning Russian invasion in Ukraine.”
-But one year has already passed after annexation, and we see that Germany constantly repeats that there is no military solution. But even Frederick the Great told that diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments. Why Germany insists on diplomatic option and is not trying to show Russia that military option is on the table if the Russia will not reverse its action in Ukraine?
“It is also the result of this wrong assumption that President Putin can be incorporated in political process of dialog, that use of military force by Russian Federation is not permanent but a temporary solution, that it is possible with diplomatic means to convince Kremlin to return to the negotiating table.
“I perceive situation in Ukraine as a kind of strategic exercise for Russia in trying to show to the world that it is in the sphere of strategic interest of Moscow. I don’t have any doubts that Ukraine right now plays in the plans of President Putin crucial role. Because without Ukraine it could be completely impossible to realize this big plan of Putin to recreate the Russian empire.
“According to my assessment Putin is going to fulfill this grey zone of security between Russian and NATO borders. Russian Federation positions itself as global power. It means that without Ukraine Russia would not have enough strength to play such a global role in global affairs. So, subordinating Ukraine to Moscow is the necessary precondition of recreation of Russia as a global power.”
-We all remember the famous phrase of Zbigniew Brzezinski that without Ukraine Russia cannot become empire. But now we hear from him such topic as finlandization of Ukraine, that Ukraine should not join NATO. Does not this look like appeasement of Russia?
“Professor Brzezinski is one of my political patrons. In this particular crucial issue I agree rather with a position of his son Ian Brzezinski, who is in favor of integration of Ukraine in Western Euro-Atlantic structures. I am polish politician and I take in consideration mainly the security of my country.
“And I am absolutely convinced that without independent Ukraine there won’t be secure Poland. That’s why I’m rather in favor of as deep integration between Ukraine and EU and between Ukraine and NATO as possible. Past year Ukrainians showed that you are a nation that can die for European integration. I remember the security forum here in Kyiv in April 2013 before Maidan. Then one of leaders of opposition Arsenii Yatseniuk told that the first time since the 17th century Ukraine had a chance to change strategic orientation of its policy towards the West.
“Listening to this statement I understood that there was a gap between such a perception in the political democratic elite in Kyiv and traditional approach of Western technocrats. It means that Ukraine understood Association Agreement in strategic terms, while technocrats in the West perceived that Agreement as one of many agreements that were sighed between EU and other countries. And it was a gap that still exists. You attach to process of European integration the same value that we attached in Poland at the beginning of the 1980s when we wanted to return to the organization of European family. Then ordinary European bureaucrats understood Association Agreement only as one of the tools of better cooperation between the EU and our country.”
-You probably know that every Ukrainian government and presidents demand that EU should include perspective of membership in Association Agreement. What you think about this demand?
“I may say that for Europe this is another challenge to incorporate Ukraine into the EU. This is what you showed during Maidan and especially in January and February in 2014. If somebody is ready to be killed for the values it means that these values are alive. And they are alive today in Ukraine.
“And it is not so often in the West to be ready to die for European values. Even there are people who do not know in the West what values create this sphere of values.
“Ukrainians showed to the West that it should remember about these moral bases. This is legitimization of your aspiration to accession to EU.”
-President Komorowski told during Brussels forum that West should give Ukraine weapons to defend itself against Russia. Such position is supported by Baltic countries. But Germany is strongly against it and even persuaded Obama not to give lethal weapons to Ukraine. Is this because Steinmeier, as one of European experts told, still dreams of a return to a cooperative relationship with Putin’s Russia (which is not going to happen)?
“I mentioned before that it is impossible to return to the past to this model of cooperation with Putin. But now I would say we are wiser than at the beginning of Presidency of Putin in 2000. Because we know not only his declarations but we have seen his decisions and implementation of his decisions. President Putin, even if he is not a great strategist, created an ideology clearly expressed after the annexation of Crimea in his famous speech in which he declared that he is ready to use the military force to protect Russian speaking minority in the independent countries, neighbors of Russia. It means that he is ready to change the international order and to violate the international law not only in case of Ukraine, but also in cases of other countries surrounding Russia. So, Putinism consists not only of use of military force abroad this is one of the factors. Another factor is consolidation of authoritarian regime inside Russia in which there is no space for the opposition. And the third factor that I would underline is mechanism of the large-scale corruption. I am pretty sure that one of the main reasons for such long support of president Yanukovych was connected with fear in Kremlin that if there is democratic and reformist change in Kyiv it could endanger the position of President Putin and his elite in Russian society because it could show to the Russians that there can be another model of practicing power. And those mechanisms of the state based on corruption in Russia, would be undermined by the process of reforms coming from Kyiv.”
-General Breedlove said on Brussels Forum that not delivering weapons to Ukraine – is also a sign of inaction and that will make the situation worse and increase destabilization.
“General Breedlove is a great man. He’s not only a military commander. I had the opportunity to meet him and I’m absolutely convinced that he has a right assessment of the situation surrounding NATO. I’m pretty sure that he knows that President Putin goes as far as Ukrainians together with the West will let him go. Without creating barriers for President Putin, Kremlin will go and fill this sphere of grey zone of insecurity. It means that without much stronger position of the West we will not be able to stop President Putin in implementation of his aspirations. I agree with General Breedlove and also with other commanders of NATO forces that it was and it is still necessary to put such barriers for Russian expansion.”
- And what about Baltic Counties and Poland, is there enough assurances from Obama?
“This is a good question. In Poland we see this Russian policy as a threat but not a direct threat to our security. Fortunately we’re under an umbrella of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. The geostrategic position of the Baltic countries is worse than the position of Poland, especially of those countries that have visible Russian-speaking minorities, like Latvia or Estonia. I don’t think that President Putin would be so ignorant to invade any of the member-states of the Alliance. But I can imagine the other tools that can be used by Moscow to destabilize situation, especially in Baltic States.
“It can be domestic conflict between majority of citizens and Russian-speaking minority in Latvia or Estonia, or it can be also the repetition of such an action that we witnessed in 2007 in Estonia that the major cyber networks were destroyed by hackers. Such a cyber attack can be repeated and my country, Poland, can be one of the targets for such an attack. And for developed countries using networks can be a disaster if the administration and the market suffered from such a cyber attack.”
-Everybody sees that the Minsk agreements are not fulfilled. What actions should the EU and US take on this stage?
“First of all, I would underline the role of sanctions. It means that the EU should maintain sanctions as long as involvement of Russia in politics and military in Ukraine is not over.
“Secondly, I would emphasize the role of delivery of weapons to Ukrainian army. This is rather the role of the group of countries creating so-called club of friends of Ukraine. It means that the willing states belonging to NATO should decide to re-arm Ukrainian forces. Of course the responsibility for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is in the hands of Ukrainian President, government, and citizens. But without such transfer of capabilities to Ukraine, Ukraine in this conflict with Russia would be in much weaker position. That’s why even limited transfers of arms to Ukrainian Armed Forces would be an important political message sent both to Ukrainian citizens and to the Kremlin, that Ukraine is not alone and not doomed to a failure. That’s why I’m still waiting for the decision firstly of the White House to go ahead and to deliver to Ukrainian Armed Forces significant equipment. Once again, it is understood in the terms of political message more than the practical, technical support to Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“Such a decision of the White House would be crucial because it could create series of decisions of some other governments. And among them is our government in Poland. We’re waiting for the initiative coming from Washington. As far as I know we’re waiting together with the Brits and Canadians and maybe, some other countries of Europe.”
-You know better what Poland is doing now – does it supply some defensive equipment to Ukraine?
“Polish government now is considering this option. And I agree with President Komorowski and our ministers from the government that this option should be on the table. That we shouldn’t forget about such an option because if we forget, we’re sending the wrong message to the Kremlin that Ukraine was abandoned.”
-What you think about possibility of joint production of some weapons and military equipment?
“Yes, it’s absolutely possible. There are no obstacles to do it and Polish companies can do it together with Ukrainian defense complex.”
-Are they cooperating now or not?
“I’m pretty sure that we could play on variety of pianos. One of my concepts that I began introducing since 2008 was a Ukrainian-Lithuanian-Polish Brigade. Not to create a tool for interventions in one of our countries but a tool for opening the window for Ukraine to be closer and closer to the West. This Brigade plays a similar role that the North-East corps played before our accession to NATO. So, as far as I remember from my experience of minister of defense, it was strongly supported by Ukrainian military, even during the Yanukovych term. And we were ready to complete the process of its creation but President Yanukovych was reluctant to take the final decision. That why only after his collapse there was the next window of this opportunity for returning to this project and completing it right now. Not only ministers of defense but the commanders of Ukrainian Armed Forces believed that it could help Ukrainian Armed Forces to import some skills, procedures important for the modern military.”
- When this Brigade would be completed?
“According to the recent decisions it will have the initial readiness by the end of this year.”
-I have found out that 27 percent of Polish are ready to fight for your country. How can you explain that?
“I’m afraid that only one third of our society expressed such a strong willingness. Maybe we, the Poles, believe that our independence is guaranteed forever. But I hope if there is a direct threat, according to Polish experiences and Polish tradition there would be a much broader readiness to do that.
“But of course this is one of those signals that were taken seriously into consideration and forced the Polish minister of defense to create new forms of activity of civilians – large-scale military training of volunteers. Past weekend Congress of pro-military organizations in Poland was a kind of response to those numbers.”
-Mr. Klich, you have come to Kyiv to take part in Forum “The role of young generation in keeping peace and security.” What will you advise them?
“You are not alone. You’re supported by many people. From my contacts with colleagues from other European states and from the US, I see that there is a big family of those who support Kyiv in this democratic transformation. We’re ready to support you not only morally, but also politically.
“When I visited the US three weeks ago, I had a chance to speak about Ukraine not only with my friends, but also with those congressmen that yesterday decided to vote in favor of Ukrainian armament. I had a feeling that they understand the role of Ukraine better than they understood three years ago when I discussed with them the visa program for my citizens. They understood this challenge better. I’ve seen in the US Congress the evolution of opinions comparing with my former visit one year ago during the beginning of the process of Crimea annexation. Then my counterparts were not ready to discuss the Russian involvement in Ukraine. They didn’t know too much about it – how serious it was. Now everybody – in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, understands the role of Ukraine for American interest.”