A number of important international events are scheduled to take place in the near future, with the NATO summit in Vilnius being perhaps the most discussed. President Volodymyr Zelensky also does not rule out that the first Peace Formula Summit will be held in July, although "we still need to push a few countries."
At the same time, June 23 marks the one-year anniversary of Ukraine's membership in the European Union and the country expects to hear an interim assessment of the implementation of the European Commission's recommendations any day now.
In order to understand in more detail the diplomatic intricacies of Ukraine's relations with international partners, its movement towards the EU and NATO, the involvement of countries in the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula and future security guarantees, the true purpose of the President's recent foreign visits, and what partners say about negotiations with the aggressor, Ukrinform spoke with Ihor Zhovkva, Deputy Head of the Presidential Office.
However, on the eve of the interview, which was recorded on June 7, Russia committed one of its most powerful terrorist acts, blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. And this issue immediately became a priority in the conversation.
ALL COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD SHOULD RESPOND TO THE KAKHOVKA HYDROELECTRIC POWER PLANT EXPLOSION
- Ihor Ivanovych, how do you think the world's reaction to the Russian troops' blowing up of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station dam was appropriate to the scale of the environmental disaster?
- I think the first reaction was sufficient, especially in the first hours, on the first day, which was very important. Literally in the morning, when the whole world learned about it, the President of Ukraine, speaking at the Bucharest Nine Leaders' Summit online, informed the leaders about the terrorist attack, and immediately the NATO Secretary General, who was participating in the meeting, reacted to these events.
Throughout the day on June 6, we received official reactions from world leaders. As we speak, more than 40 leaders have made clear statements that this is an act of aggression, that this is an act of ecocide, that this is terror, a terrorist act, clearly explaining the reasons for this act and its possible consequences. My diplomatic colleagues ask how to help, what equipment is still needed.
We have sent out our needs and these days we are receiving responses from countries.
Absolutely all countries of the world should respond, including those where attention to environmental policy is quite high. For example, Brazil, which puts the fight against environmental pollution at the heart of its policy, other Latin American countries, Asian countries, and Australia.
- But isn't this reaction sluggish, especially given the need to promptly rescue people, including those in the non-government controlled area?
- Ukraine immediately began to provide assistance to citizens in the government-controlled area. But unfortunately, we cannot, we do not have access to the occupied territories, and this part of the Kherson region suffered the most, with up to 25,000 people remaining there.
That is why we are appealing to international institutions - the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross - to urgently use their tools. Unfortunately, there is no response so far. And their representatives are not physically present in Kherson either.
During the June 6 meeting of the UN Security Council, convened at Ukraine's request, the UN Under-Secretary-General in charge of UN humanitarian policy reported on the number of people affected. That is why I believe that both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should respond very quickly and clearly.
The Geneva Convention defines the dam blowing as a war crime. The Convention prohibits the blowing up of civilian objects, including dams, in time of war. That is why we are appealing to the International Criminal Court. As far as I know, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine is already working on this matter. We expect a quick response from this international institution, which has been helping Ukraine to establish the heinous crimes of Russian aggression from the very first days.
- Given the bitter experience of the Russian terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, how realistic is the threat of similar actions by Russia at the Zaporizhzhia NPP?
- Ukraine informed the world from the very beginning, as soon as it learned that after the occupation of the Kherson region, including Kakhovka HPP, the plant was completely mined.
Similarly, we do not stop informing about threats to ZNPP. Already in the evening of June 6, Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, insisting that the situation at Zaporizhzhia NPP should be monitored very closely.
Mr. Grossi will personally visit ZNPP next week to see with his own eyes what is happening there. He also considers it necessary to increase the IAEA team that will work permanently at Zaporizhzhia NPP.
Unfortunately, in Ukraine, we probably won't be surprised by any more Russian actions. But the international community should be ready to react very quickly.
All our other nuclear power plants may be under threat. Earlier, we talked with Mr. Grossi about the need for his experts to be permanently present at all Ukrainian NPPs.
UKRAINE IS ALREADY VERY CLOSE TO IMPLEMENTING SEVEN RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
- One of the first statements regarding Kakhovka HPP came from our European partners. For almost a year now, Ukraine has had the status of a candidate country for EU membership. What are the most significant achievements during this time on the European integration path? And where are we slipping up so far?
- There are several tracks on which we are moving towards the EU. Candidate status is the so-called political track, in which we have made significant progress this year and are already very close to fulfilling all seven recommendations of the European Commission.
The other track is sectoral integration. We are moving towards the EU not only politically, but also gradually into specific sectors of the EU's common market, without waiting for accession. There are many achievements on this path. We already have several so-called "visa-free regimes" in various sectors of the economy: "energy visa-free regime", when our power system is fully connected to the ENTSO-E energy system and now there is a free flow of electricity between Ukraine and the EU common market; "transport visa-free regime", which seemed unrealistic a year and a half ago; the process of preparing "industrial visa-free regime" in the context of signing the ACAA agreement is being dynamized; we are confidently moving towards a common roaming, single digital space.
We have duty-free trade between Ukraine and the European Union, which was initially concluded for a year and has just recently been extended until June 2024. This means that our goods are traded in the EU markets without duties and quotas.
- Several EU countries have blocked the transit of our agricultural products.
- Yes, there is a well-known story with restrictions. We are not satisfied with the decision of the European Commission to extend these restrictions until September 15. At the same time, we note that according to the EC regulations, this will be the last extension.
- Is there any hope that the restrictions will be lifted after September 15?
- This is not hope, this is confidence, which we heard from the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen when the President of Ukraine met with her in Chisinau.
None of the five countries that artificially blocked the transit of Ukrainian goods had the right to do so. Now, according to my information, there are practically no such blockades, but they are periodically renewed, albeit locally.
THE BLOCKING OF UKRAINIAN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS BY SOME COUNTRIES IS A PURELY POLITICAL DECISION
- What really caused the blocking of exports and transit of Ukrainian products?
- This is a political decision of some countries, which, unfortunately, was followed by the European Commission. We understand that electoral processes are underway in certain countries. But Ukrainian farmers and the Ukrainian economy should not be held hostage to any electoral processes in any country.
There was a clear violation of EU law when Poland, Hungary and other countries imposed their own national restrictions on the transit and export of Ukrainian products. An EU member state cannot implement its own trade policy with Ukraine. This is the competence of Brussels and the European Commission. If there was a problem, they would have to conduct an investigation. Ukraine would have to provide its arguments, and only then would the EC draw conclusions.
The European Commission is clearly aware of this position, and the economic bloc of the Ukrainian government must continue to negotiate very rigorously with the European Commission and the relevant European commissioners, and the Prime Minister must take an active position.
Overall, the dynamics of sectoral integration into the EU is very positive. And this is before the accession negotiations have even begun. We are also screening legislation, because without adapting legislation in a particular area, we cannot enter the single market.
- Speaking about the political track and the seven recommendations of the European Commission provided upon obtaining the candidate status, when and how will we see an interim assessment of their implementation?
- The interim assessment will be made within the next two weeks. It will be announced at a meeting of the General Affairs Council, and we expect that it will also be approved at the European Council meeting in late June under the Swedish presidency. It is very important for us that Sweden, as a result of this presidency, makes its contribution to bringing Ukraine closer to accession, to the start of negotiations.
The final assessment will be made in the October package, which will be available to all candidate countries.
- How do you assess the progress in implementing the European Commission's recommendations?
- Almost all the necessary laws have already been adopted. On June 9-10, the Venice Commission will hold a plenary meeting to give its conclusions on the law on national minorities, the so-called anti-oligarchic law and the law on the selection of judges to the Constitutional Court. There is every reason to hope that all the conclusions will be positive for Ukraine.
After the Venice Commission has made its assessment, the European Commission will take them into account and assess the fulfillment of the relevant criteria.
But, of course, there is still time until October, when we will receive the final assessment of the European Commission. In December, the European Council will meet to decide whether to start accession negotiations with Ukraine.
THERE ARE NO POLITICAL OR LEGAL PROHIBITIONS ON JOINING THE EU WHILE THE WAR IS ON
- What will the process of starting negotiations look like in practice?
- We are not going to reinvent the wheel, the EU was joined before us, so everything is spelled out. After the decision of the European Council, the so-called pre-accession negotiations begin. Ukraine and the European Commission will formulate their negotiating positions and approve delegations. Then, in fact, the negotiations begin. There are 35 parts of the accession agreement, and 35 negotiating groups will be formed within the general delegations to negotiate in different sectors.
Some negotiations will be faster. Some will probably be very intense, such as in the agricultural sector - we all realize how powerful Ukrainian agricultural products are and that long negotiations will be required.
This will take some time.
- There have been repeated statements that Ukraine will not be able to become a full member of NATO as long as the war unleashed by Russia continues. Is there such a threat to EU membership?
- No, there are no such legal or political prohibitions on EU membership. No EU official or spokesperson has even said such things.
THERE CAN BE NO ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR UKRAINE IN THE NATO ACCESSION ALGORITHM
- Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly emphasized that he expects a clear accession algorithm and security guarantees from the July NATO summit. What should these documents look like and is there a decision to sign them in Vilnius?
- Everything is very simple. On September 30 last year, the President, together with the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and the Prime Minister, submitted an application for Ukraine's accession to NATO [in the center of the side wall of Ihor Zhovkva's office there is a photo of the moment when the leaders of the state signed the application]. An official response to this application is required. Of course, the ideal response for us would be to invite Ukraine to join, as Finland and Sweden received at the Madrid summit last June, having submitted their applications in May.
This would be followed by negotiations on an accession protocol. Our Finnish colleagues told us that they negotiated the protocol in a flash, in just a few days. Then the protocol is signed, ratified by the parliaments of all NATO member states plus the applicant state. And, in fact, the accession.
Finland has already become the 31st member of NATO, and we all hope that Sweden will soon become the 32nd member of NATO. Ukraine is the 33rd. And this, by the way, is not a fantasy at all.
At the same time, we understand that we will not complete this accession process until the war is over, until we win. But this does not prohibit member states from making a political decision in Vilnius to start the process. We do not need any Membership Action Plan. We needed it in 2008, when NATO member states made a big mistake: having said "A", they did not say "B". Now, simply referring to the Bucharest Summit decision is outdated for us, just as we do not need to talk about "open doors" for the tenth or hundredth time.
- Can this decision impose additional requirements on Ukraine?
- There can be no additional requirements for Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty defines two criteria for a country to become a member of the Alliance.
The first criterion is to share Euro-Atlantic values. There is no question about it, more than 90% of Ukrainians, an unprecedented figure for all the years of independence, support joining NATO.
And the second criterion is to contribute to the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO's Strategic Concept, adopted at the NATO Summit in Madrid last year, identified the Russian Federation as the main threat to the Alliance's security. Today, Ukraine is at war with the Russian Federation, and it is waging it very successfully.
Ukraine is proving its interoperability with NATO countries on the battlefield, mastering the most modern equipment sometimes better than the armies of some NATO member states. This is the assessment of the Pentagon and other relevant agencies.
- Will this algorithm be approved at the summit?
- I think it will be. Otherwise, it will send another very strong but negative signal from the Allies to the aggressor country: you see, more than a year of war has passed, a year after the Madrid Summit, and there is no response to Ukraine.
- Security guarantees should be adopted in parallel...
- In the decision of the Madrid Summit there was a line: "Invite Finland and Sweden to join NATO" and then, after a period: "Already today, even before accession, the security of Sweden and Finland is important to all Allies." This is not Article 5. We are not demanding Article 5 before membership. The best guarantee of our security is NATO membership. However, until the moment of membership, the relevant clear security guarantees should be put on paper in a multilateral document, in parallel with bilateral agreements.
- A document like the Kyiv Security Treaty presented by the Yermak-Rasmussen group?
- Yes. The multilateral framework document will serve as a basis, and bilateral security agreements can be strung on it. For example, the United States has many such bilateral agreements with other countries.
However, the summit should adopt just such a multilateral framework document with those NATO countries that are willing.
SECURITY GUARANTEES ARE GUARANTEES BEFORE THE VICTORY, DURING THE VICTORY AND AFTER THE VICTORY, SO THAT RUSSIA WILL HAVE NO DESIRE TO RESUME AGGRESSION.
- How many countries have agreed to become our guarantors?
- Many. We are working with four: The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Some other countries are also willing to join. But let's not reveal our cards.
Guarantees are exactly the actions that are already being taken in relation to Ukraine, including the provision of weapons, macro-financial assistance, and the maintenance and strengthening of sanctions against Russia. They should be clearly defined and systematized.
These are security guarantees before the victory, during the victory, and after the victory. After the victory, the aggressor should not even want to resume aggression. And if they suddenly have the desire - we can expect anything from Russia - they should understand the price of such aggression.
- In parallel with the preparations for the NATO summit, are the preparations for the Peace Formula Summit also underway?
- It would be ideal to hold it in the summer. The recent visits of the President helped to make significant progress on the Peace Formula over the past month compared to the beginning of May. But the work is still ongoing.
- As Volodymyr Zelensky said, we need to "push a few countries".
- That is what we are doing. Only from April 3 to June 1, the President and his team made four visits to ten countries. We found a mechanism where we gathered representatives of several countries in one country at the same time, for example, the Nordic Summit in Finland.
These visits were based on three goals. The first was arms, i.e. a new security assistance package or, if arms announcements had already been made, to speed up the delivery of the promised. And I believe that the visits generated several breakthroughs on military weapons. One example is the formation of an informal coalition of fighter jets at the Chisinau summit.
The second target is NATO. They talked about intensifying the process of Ukraine's accession to the Alliance, and relevant declarations were signed. For example, for Italy, it is a very serious breakthrough to record support for Ukraine's movement towards the Euro-Atlantic family. The same is true for Germany and France.
WE ARE READY TO LISTEN TO EVERYONE, BUT THE FORMULA FOR PEACE IN UKRAINE WILL BE ONLY UKRAINIAN
- How many such declarations have been signed?
- As of June 9, there are 19, and I can announce that by the end of this week, the 20th country will have signed.
The third goal of the foreign visits was the Peace Formula. At all meetings, the President discussed this issue. More than 20 countries have already chosen the item or items that they are ready to coordinate or co-chair.
The President's speech in Saudi Arabia at the Arab League was important from the point of view of involving the Arab countries of the Global South in the Formula.
Saudi Arabia, for example, is interested in coordinating food security. So are other Gulf countries. We met with the leadership of the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Iraq. They are all interested in food security.
I can cautiously say that we will see some leaders of the Arab world at the summit.
- Which points of the Peace Formula are most popular among the countries? Won't it happen that many will join one, while others will be left out?
- No, I think we will share responsibility, and the "division of labor" will be fair. As for popularity, it depends on the region. Some people are interested in food security, and others in the environment.
After what happened at the Kakhovka HPP, I expect that Latin American or Asian countries will show interest in point eight, which deals with the environment.
- Was there any feedback from China on its possible participation in the Peace Summit?
- When Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with Xi Jinping [on April 26], he clearly emphasized certain points of the Formula, in particular, nuclear security, territorial integrity, and the return of children illegally deported by Russia. During the visit of China's special envoy to Kyiv, the Ukrainian side provided even more clarifications. So far, the Chinese side is apparently thinking it over.
- During your foreign visits, did you feel pressure on Ukraine, perhaps to negotiate with Russia?
- There was no pressure. A well-known thesis was repeated, and it was voiced both in official, open and closed parts, that it is Ukraine that will determine what victory means for it and when it is ready to sit down at the negotiating table. Also, everyone clearly agrees that Russia should not be present at the Peace Formula summit, there is nothing to talk about with them at this stage until they withdraw their troops from the territory of Ukraine.
There are ideas about individual peace plans. Brazilian and African proposals. Recently, the Indonesian defense minister proposed something. But the peace formula for Ukraine should be Ukrainian only, because the war is ongoing on the territory of Ukraine. We are ready to listen to everyone. And if something coincides with our understanding, we are ready to accept it. But there will be no separate, Brazilian or African plan. There will be only the Ukrainian formula as the best, most effective plan for peace in Ukraine.
Photo: Hennadiy Minchenko