The United States and other countries should speed up the delivery of modern weapons to Ukraine, including long-range ATACMS missiles, cluster munitions, F-16 fighter jets, and A-10 attack aircraft. After what happened with the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and due to other potential large-scale threats, Ukraine must get everything it needs to achieve a faster victory and deprive Russia of the time and opportunities to do more damage. Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador to NATO in 2008-2009 and former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, said this in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform during a meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Working Group in Washington.
- Ukrainian forces are conducting offensive operations and liberating the occupied territories. How do you assess the progress and prospects of the Ukrainian counteroffensive?
- I think it is going very carefully and going reasonably well so far. They [Ukrainian Armed Forces] are conserving their forces as much as possible. They are, I would say, rather deliberately probing to see how the Russians respond to different lines of attack. And, you know, basically, depending on how the Russians respond, they are adjusting. They're trying to figure out where there will be a significant opportunity for the Ukrainian forces to advance quickly and take substantially more territory. Thus far, they've actually had some surprising gains еven though I don't think that was their main objective right now. They've been able to take a few villages advancing here and there - that's already positive. And I think it's more than they anticipated at this stage. But I think their main effort is still somewhere off in the distance. They are trying to assess where it's gonna be most productive for them to attack.
- In your opinion, has Ukraine received enough support from the U.S. and other countries to conduct counteroffensive operations successfully?
- They have received enough to be able to have a successful counteroffensive.
This is in terms of the artillery, the precision-guided munitions, armor such as fighting vehicles, tanks, etc. Air defense is critically important. But that's not to say that we have done everything. We could be doing more. And we should have done more at this point. And I think it's a shame that we have held back in what we've been giving Ukraine because of this sense that we don't wanna provoke Russia, we don't wanna, you know, lead to a nuclear escalation and so forth. And I think that has led us to do less than we could and should be doing.
- Do you mean to give ATACAMS systems to Ukraine?
- Well, yes, ATACAMS, cluster munitions. We should have provided aircraft sooner.
I still think that A-10 would be valuable in addition to what we are now doing on F -16, which could have been faster. So there's a lot that should be out there that is not currently being done.
- Ukrainian ambassador Oksana Markarova, in a recent interview, reported that the rhetoric of the US administration on the ATACAMS missiles for Ukraine has changed from “just forget it” to the fact that this issue is already being discussed. What can you say about it? Why had the U.S. administration been holding this issue on pause for so long, and what has changed now?
- Again, it's because the US administration is trying to avoid provoking Russia. They're afraid of Russians' use of nuclear weapons. They're concerned about the possibility of escalation to other places. So they're just very, very cautious. And as a result, they haven't done what we could have done. I hope that she's right, and I hope that the US is now reconsidering this. But I haven't heard that to this point.
NEW MASSIVE AID PACKAGE FOR UKRAINE.
- Last month, you said the US administration is considering a new $60-billion package for Ukraine…
- No, that's not correct. That's not what happened. So it was misreported. I was asked my opinion, what do I think is going to happen? And I said that's what I think is going to happen. I do not say it's already under discussion.
- Ok. Does Congress have enough bipartisan support to pass the new package for Ukraine, considering that there are opposite voices from the right and the left wing?
- Absolutely. No question that there's enough support.
Only about a dozen or so votes in the House and two or three votes in the Senate are against support for Ukraine. Everything else is fully supported. So I don't see that there's a risk of a lack of sufficient support.
- Even if we're talking about the complicated negotiations in Congress around the national debt ceiling and spending cuts?
- During the course of the debt ceiling negotiations, there was no question at any time about whether there should be continued support for Ukraine or not. The support basically assumed, and no one really wanted to talk much about it because they wanted to get back to that issue later in the fall when it was needed. And they didn't wanna poison the discussions now.
DESTRUCTION OF KAKHOVKA HPP
- Why do you think the US administration doesn't hurry up to name who blew up the dam at the Kakhovka HPP even though Ukraine seems to provide comprehensive information pointing directly to Russia?
- They're just looking for the facts as to who blew up what and when. But that being said, I think you're missing a bigger strategic point that none of this would've happened except for the fact that Russian forces are attacking Ukraine.
They're the ones that controlled this dam for a year. They're the ones that put the explosives there. So it should be very clear as to what's happening. And yet the US is being, I think, exceedingly cautious in what to do. So that's just where we are.
- Today at the conference in Washington, D.C., you talked with other experts about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons. So what is the probability that Putin will take this step, and what should be the reaction from the West?
- Well, first, I think it's very unlikely. And the main reason I think it's unlikely is because it doesn't do anything for Russia militarily and doesn't help them achieve any objectives at all. Neither, you know, taking land, holding land, winning the war - it just doesn't help. And so I think the Russian military will not be supporting it for that reason.
In addition, there is a clear warning that there would be direct consequences on the Russian military if they did use nuclear weapons. And as we heard from some of the speakers today, that [consequences] may be from many countries, not just the United States. And so I think also the Russian military wants to avoid that.
Also, the decision-making, it's not Putin alone but it is several people who have to be part of that chain. So I think it seems very unlikely.
Even if it were to be done, I'm assuming it would be a tactical nuclear weapon rather than a strategic one, and I think that it would not actually make much of a difference in the course of the war either.
- What about the potential danger for Zaporizhzhia NPP?
- Well, that seems more of a possibility. The Russians have mined it, they've stored ammunition there. And I think they are prepared just as they did with the dam - that if they have to evacuate, they would probably blow it up on their way out and make it unusable for the Ukrainians.
- What should the West do in this situation?
- Hurry up, is what I would say. Speed up the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. Help the Ukrainians achieve a decisive victory so that Russia has less time and fewer opportunities to do more damage.
NATO PROSPECTS FOR UKRAINE
- The NATO summit is to be held in Vilnius next month. Do you agree that Ukraine's membership in the Alliance will be the best guarantee of security against potential new Russian aggression?
- Absolutely. I think you cannot reach any other conclusion now than the fact that Russia intends to attack Ukraine and will do so at any opportunity.
So in order to prevent that, the best solution is for Ukraine to be a member of NATO. I don't think it's gonna happen in Vilnius, but I think the Vilnius Summit needs to put Ukraine on a clear pathway.
- Can Ukraine count on a more decisive position of the Alliance rather than a simple promise to become a NATO member?
- Well, I think this is under deep discussion right now. Many of our European allies have advanced their thinking about Ukraine's NATO membership and are prepared to say more at Vilnius.
I think this was presented to Secretary Blinken at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Oslo, and I think that he has taken that message back to Washington, and people are considering what we can do.
Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington
Photos: Nina Liashonok