Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine
Signaling the inevitability of Ukraine's accession to NATO would be a great contribution to our victory
22.06.2023 18:09

As the next NATO summit, which will take place on July 11-12 in Vilnius, approaches, the always topical topic of Ukraine's accession to the Alliance is becoming more acute both domestically and at the geopolitical level.

Long before the summit, the Ukrainian side emphasized that assurances that NATO's doors remain open to Ukraine are no longer enough. Instead, Ukraine is asking its allies for security guarantees and a clear prospect of moving toward full membership in the Alliance.

Ukrinform talked to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States Valeriy Chaly about the upcoming summit, the possibility of Russia provoking new man-made disasters in Ukraine, NATO's response to Russian nuclear blackmail, why the United States does not want Russia to collapse, and the phrase "Only one will survive!".


- Mr. Valeriy, let's start with the international reaction to the Russians' blowing up the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, which was rather flimsy. Doesn't this mean, in your opinion, that Putin is not deterred from his next crime - a nuclear disaster at the mined Zaporizhzhia NPP?

- Frankly speaking, I was surprised by the world's reaction to the bombing of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and the way it was discussed at the UN Security Council.

In my understanding, the mere fact that Russia seized a technologically dangerous facility and planted explosives there, which was confirmed last year, is enough to sound the alarm bells in the world. Instead, we have seen a very strange reasoning behind how the dam was destroyed.

I understand that not all the data may be available, and there are assumptions that explosives were placed in special tunnels. But what evidence do we need to confirm that a monkey with a grenade is dangerous for Ukraine and the whole world?

That is, I was surprised by the basic narratives of the discussion, by the fact that more attention was paid to how it happened than to the fact that Russia, as the occupier, is fully responsible for this disaster, for the environmental consequences, and for everything else.

Apparently, the world is tired of the war and is getting used to the fact that Russia has violated the basic UN charter documents, and, in fact, all its further crimes are derivatives of the presence of the occupier on Ukrainian territory.

As a result, new specific Russian crimes are losing the main discussion - the issues of unprovoked aggression, the war that is being waged absolutely illegally, and the cruelty to prisoners of war.

We need to return to these principles, otherwise it will come to a point where the world will only analyze the course of the war, and, in fact, forget that it is necessary to eliminate the main cause of all tragedies, both those that have already occurred and those that may occur in the future, the presence of Russian occupation forces on the sovereign territory of Ukraine.

Are we going to launch an investigation into the explosion or man-made disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant? Or maybe we will now ask why there are Russian explosives at all the facilities there?

I mean, now this fact itself needs to be suppressed.

- What do you think the world should have done in response to the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station bombing?

In international relations... there is a lot of hypocrisy, violations of rules and little leadership

- As for the evidence in this case or in cases of other Russian crimes, there must be evidence as well. Perhaps more efficiency was really needed here.

But whatever evidence is collected, the first reaction should be decisive and unequivocal.

If, for example, a robber kills a person in the street, we don't start investigating whether the person provoked him or whether they had any previous relationship. It is possible, but it comes later.

First and foremost, we have to lock him up in a pre-trial detention center so that he doesn't commit further crimes, right?

So why did everyone in international relations start doing things differently? I'll tell you: because there is a lot of hypocrisy, rule-breaking, and lack of leadership.

Recently, all this has created certain niches for aggressive dictatorial regimes. In these conditions, they begin to break the entire system, which has weakened today.

I would recommend having a constantly filled car tank, a supply of water, and some kind of protection for the first two or three days at least.

- So, according to your forecast, Putin will continue to raise the stakes and provoke man-made disasters at Zaporizhzhia NPP and "Crimean Titan"?

- I think this is an absolutely realistic scenario that should be considered among all others.

I will say more - we need to prepare for it.

I think we need to talk to Ukrainian citizens no matter what happens, and whether it happens or not, we need to be prepared for anything. Unfortunately, this is the reality we live in.

Unfortunately, the world's reaction to everything that Putin and Russia allow themselves is sluggish, as if it were an "invitation"...

So I would recommend having a constantly filled car tank, whoever has one, a supply of water and some kind of protection for the first day or two or three at least. Nothing like this will happen in the future, and thank God! And if it does, we need to warn people.

Unfortunately, the world's reaction to everything that Putin and Russia allow themselves is sluggish, as if it "invites", I would say, to use the same means in the future.

You can talk about the growing threat as much as you want, but if you don't take a step ahead, this threat will grow

Unfortunately, there are no sanctions on nuclear energy, which Russia uses as a weapon, no personal restrictions against the people who run this industry, and no tough stance against countries that still use Russian nuclear supplies.

That is, you can talk about the growing threat as much as you want, but if you don't take a step ahead, this threat will grow.

Nuclear blackmail is beneficial for Russia. Last year, there was a time when they also did this, but they were slapped on the wrist. Now they are starting to use it again, realizing that things will go very badly on the frontlines.


- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently said that the Alliance sees no changes in Russia's nuclear posture that would require a nuclear response from NATO. In your opinion, if Russia deploys tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus before July 9, the eve of the Vilnius Summit, will NATO "notice" and react in any way?

- Well, look, there are public statements and there are real things that are done for security by certain countries.

On the one hand, they did not see Russian missiles falling on the territory of NATO countries, nor did they see Russian planes entering NATO space during the very hot phase of the conflict.

That is, they did not want to see it all.

Now, as for your specific question, of course, all warheads are tracked, and there is a question of where they will be moved.

People may not know, but there are nuclear weapons storage sites right under our borders on the Russian side. Therefore, by and large, I would not say that the situation will change dramatically.

In fact, in my opinion, the danger is that tactical nuclear weapons may be deployed on the territory of a country that does not control their use, such as Belarus.

And no matter how much Lukashenko puffs up his cheeks, he will not be allowed anywhere near these weapons.

This is where the situation has changed. This is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in fact, the destruction of everything that has been done in the nuclear proliferation control system over the past decades.

The United States, if it wishes, can react very sharply... and actually put Russia on the brink of collapse in the coming years

By doing so, Putin is basically showing that he is a bully, ready to destroy everything in his path.

But this is a bluff. Not in the sense that the threat of using nuclear weapons does not exist. It does exist. But in the sense that Russia can dictate its own rules in this situation.

There is nothing of the sort! Russia's claims that it has more nuclear warheads than all NATO countries are a sign of weakness.

In fact, the United States, if it wishes, can react very sharply to all these steps and actually bring Russia to the brink of collapse in the coming years.

It's very simple: in response to the statements and actions to terminate the START III Treaty, the United States can say: "Then we are also withdrawing from this treaty and will not limit ourselves to the production of Minuteman missiles (American intercontinental ballistic missile - author)."

The Russians are well aware that, first, they do not know the condition of their nuclear weapons.

Secondly, they do not have the financial capacity to compete with the United States in the coming years.

And third, they realize that their industrial economic potential is less than that of the United States.

In fact, today everything is in the hands of the United States.

Therefore, if the United States were to make such a decision, Russia would collapse in the coming years, just as the Soviet Union collapsed, without starting an arms race.

But the United States does not do this, and Putin immediately takes a step back. After his harsh statement for the domestic audience, his mouthpieces immediately explain what he meant: "No, no, we are not refusing to cooperate with the United States."

So, in fact, today everything is in the hands of the United States.

- But you said, and this is probably the key, that the United States could bring Russia to the brink of collapse if it wanted to. President Biden recently said that the threat of Russia using nuclear weapons is very real. Why is there no such desire in the United States?

- Because they do not want Russia to collapse.

- And why don't they want it? Why do they need it?

- Why did the United States urge Ukraine not to leave the Soviet Union when it was already clear that it was falling apart?

And why did the United States disarm Ukraine and give weapons to Russia, making a huge mistake that Bill Clinton, who as president took part in this, recognized?

So the United States makes mistakes. They think it's the right scenario, and I think it's the wrong one. Sooner or later they will come to this realization. And today they simply do not have an answer to what to do with such a Russia - not just weakened, but disintegrated, with tactical and strategic nuclear weapons on its territory.

I repeat, this is the story of the Soviet Union, which will eventually end up with something similar.


- Let's talk about the NATO Summit in Vilnius. It has already been officially announced that the invitation for Ukraine to join the Alliance will not be discussed. At the same time, President Zelensky has said that he sees no point in participating in the summit if member states do not give us a clear signal that they want Ukraine to join NATO. What will Zelensky's participation or non-participation in the summit mean?

- This is not just a misstatement, but some strange statements.

The leader of Ukraine should be at the Vilnius summit. After all, in my opinion, we want to become NATO members, or am I missing something?

I mean, every step in this direction is a positive step. We should not blackmail our partners with our attendance or non-attendance at the summit - it will not do us any good.

Another thing is President Zelensky's rather decisive position to obtain NATO membership, not some so-called alternative mechanisms. I fully support it.

That is, everything else, all these workarounds, are nonsense, we have already been on these paths for a very long time.

We should be talking about inviting Ukraine to NATO, and this should be done either at this summit or at the next one in Washington.

This summit should be a clear bridge to such a political decision, if not now, then next year. After that, I think it will be much more difficult.

As for the other issues of support for Ukraine - continuing to supply weapons, types of weapons, financial assistance, what is called security guarantees, but in fact it is the development of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex, and intelligence sharing - very well, these issues will be clearly defined for a fairly long period, and clear messages will be sent to the Kremlin.

Therefore, there is no need to build a structure with high expectations now.

- Aren't they already formed?

In many countries, there is support among their citizens for Ukraine's accession to NATO, which was not the case before

- No, I don't think so. I think everyone understands everything.

The political decision in Vilnius to invite Ukraine does not look realistic to me today.

That is, all the countries that have confirmed this decision so far have contributed to the spin that is happening now and will continue until the Washington summit.

Ukraine has already done a lot on its way to NATO since 2003. But the problem was that we often took detours and made steps backwards.

Now, it seems, we have a situation where Ukrainian society, the Ukrainian government, and various political forces are united on this issue.

Moreover, in many countries, there is support from their citizens for Ukraine's accession to NATO, which was not the case before.

There is a question of understanding that a procedure without a Membership Action Plan can be applied to Ukraine.

So, by and large, all the puzzles are being put together and, in my opinion, there are two key issues left.

The first is the results of the hot phase of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

And the second is the success of Ukraine in carrying out reforms of the security sector and law enforcement system in the coming months or a year, so that none of the countries that will ratify our accession to NATO will accuse us of being unprepared in internal issues, such as democracy, the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

Because the Armed Forces of Ukraine demonstrated compliance with NATO standards very quickly. In fact, this issue can be removed, and only a political decision will remain.


- The NATO Secretary General expressed confidence that a good solution will be found in Vilnius to bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance. What do you think it might look like?

- As I said, if not at this summit, then at the next one in Washington, a political decision should be made.

How will the Alliance formalize this? I don't care what diplomatic vocabulary is used. Nowadays, a set of words cannot solve anything. Sometimes, if there is time, there is a long distance, phrases are important. But actions are much more important.

If a political solution is difficult to achieve at this point in history, then, frankly, I don't know when it will be possible.

If NATO countries believe that a buffer zone between them and Russia is more effective for them than Ukraine's membership in the Alliance, and that we will always be fighting to protect their eastern flank, they are very much mistaken. And I'm afraid that they are making a wrong calculation of the European security strategy.

And one more important point. NATO member states may have the latest weapons, they may have more powerful production. But they definitely do not have a million men and women today who are professional, trained, motivated, and ready to die for their country and for European security. This is what we have seen in this war.

Some say it is a war of artillery, some say it is a war of HIMARS. But I will say that this is a war of people, of the ability of nations to organize and concentrate. In fact, our partner countries are definitely not ready for this now.

Since 2014, under pressure from Russia, I'm not talking about a century of confrontation, we have been trying to rebuild our army, and as a result, we have a significant part of the very professional Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Defense Forces. No other NATO country has this. If they underestimate this, they are making a huge mistake.

Ukraine is now a very valuable member of NATO for these reasons. But if some countries believe that Ukraine will always be in this position and will look for only one way, I don't think they are right here either.

We will then be forced to seek alliances, perhaps not with the whole of NATO, but with countries that are ready to share collective defense with us.

I don't think it would be right to split NATO into any groups in the future. But it is possible if they make the wrong decision regarding Ukraine in the near future. And not only Ukraine, by the way.


- But President Biden recently said that the US would not relax the requirements for Ukraine to join NATO. What do you think of this statement - is it principled or cautiousness on the part of the US leader?

- We all understand that the key is a political decision. There were countries that joined NATO, to put it mildly, not quite meeting the Alliance's standards, and there are countries that may have moved away from them.

Therefore, this statement may be aimed at using the time when there is no political decision to take concrete actions for Ukraine's internal development.

My position is as follows. We still have to do serious things in reforming the security sector and law enforcement.

These commitments are written in the national program and agreed upon in common goals. We took them on ourselves, so there is no need to react emotionally to this.

According to my estimates, it will take a year of intensive work to resolve the issue of a political decision. And then another period to "finish" everything we have left. And we had plans to complete everything by 2025. This is realistic.

Now, as a citizen of Ukraine, I will say this. I believe that joining NATO as a security mechanism is, of course, a key priority now. But the second issue is the development of the country.

We know from history that when there is consolidation of power during martial law, it leads to the fact that after the war there may be an authoritarian model.

If we follow this path and Ukraine becomes a corrupt authoritarian country, then what are people fighting for and giving their lives for?

So I believe that this (Biden's statement - author) is an external mechanism of pressure for the success of internal transformations in Ukraine. And if we are offered not some NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) to drag us out for years, but an intensive action program for a year, I take it normally.

- Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was very optimistic about the change in the format of official meetings between Ukraine and the Alliance from the NATO-Ukraine Commission to the NATO-Ukraine Council. Do you share his optimism?

- If it was a calm time and we had years to prepare the issue of joining NATO, I would tell you for a long time what institutions and mechanisms were used in Ukraine before, how we gradually gained new opportunities. But I will not do that now.

I believe that the format change will not affect Ukraine's accession to NATO in any way.

- Then perhaps it will affect the resolution of some current issues?

- We have one current issue right now - joining NATO.

- What about winning the war?

- These are related issues. In general, I believe that a signal about the inevitability of Ukraine's accession to NATO would be a great contribution to our victory.

After all, Putin blackmailed the NATO countries with this very message-that they were weak and should take a step back and not only not support Ukraine on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, but also withdraw their troops from those countries that are already NATO members.

They did not fall for this blackmail. So be consistent and don't just say now that Ukraine will one day be a NATO member, but extend an invitation to Ukraine, and that's it.

What will Putin oppose then? With escalation? He's already done everything he can! What's next?

He swallowed Finland's accession to NATO, and he will swallow Sweden's accession now. So why not take a historic step forward to demonstrate the Alliance's capability and strength?

Yes, there are risks, we are a country at war, but no one is saying to accept Ukraine into NATO tomorrow. Make a political decision, and you will send the right signal to the whole world, and first of all to Putin.

Put yourself one step ahead, and you will win, and we will win together. But this requires courageous political leaders, historical figures.


- The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has recently predicted that peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are unlikely to start before the US presidential election scheduled for 2024. Do you think there is such a connection?

- There is the issue of the dynamics of the war and the impact of its results on the US elections and vice versa. This is one thing.

Any agreement or start of negotiations with Russia will instantly remove the issue of the Hague on Putin, sanctions will be lifted, and then we can forget about any payments to Ukraine

And the second question is about negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

In my opinion, there is a scenario where there will be no negotiations.

I think the most realistic scenario is that there will be no formal bilateral negotiations, that some issues can be resolved, relatively speaking, if by mediators, then it will be the United States and a group of nuclear countries, not by those we see now, such as African leaders or even the Pope.

That is, it is possible that we will not have any agreement with the Russians.

I'll tell you more: any agreement or the start of negotiations will immediately remove the issue of The Hague against Putin and a few other people, sanctions will be lifted, and then we can forget about any payments to Ukraine, except for what will be frozen at that time.

So we need to understand what peace talks are, which everyone there tells us about, and what a just peace is. These are completely different things, absolutely!

No one knows how long the war will last, but Ukraine has no other choice. That is, the de-occupation of our entire territory is necessary simply as a step that will seriously reduce Russia's desire to try to do the same in the future, if not make it impossible.


- How decisive do you think the issue of helping Ukraine in its war with Russia will be during the upcoming US presidential election?

- In fact, foreign policy issues have never been among the top ten key issues during US elections.

It is only now that the topic of Russian aggressive actions, Russia as an opponent, as an aggressor, has begun to enter the political discussion more, and now we can say that it is in the top ten.

Moreover, this topic is still in the second or third position in the American media.

So I don't think this issue will disappear from the media, but will it become part of the candidates' election programs?

It is one thing for journalists to raise this issue at debates, but it is another to include it in election programs.

Therefore, it is very important how it will be formulated: as you say, "helping Ukraine" or preventing Russian aggressive actions or fighting for democracy in the world.

Today, I do not yet see this topic being used in the tools of those candidates who have already declared their desire to run for the US presidency.

However, a successful outcome of the war for Ukraine next spring or sometime in the summer may encourage even Joseph Biden's political strategists to use this more actively in their election programs. After all, he has already made a huge contribution to this, so I do not exclude that on the eve of the Washington summit, under the right conditions, this issue may give him a plus in the context of the results of countering Russia.

As for spending, this is a broader issue. Americans always discuss spending abroad and their priorities. Here, I don't think Ukraine can be singled out much from any general group.

Unless, of course, someone here comes up with a way to "fuel" the election campaign in the United States - to buy eggs again at UAH 17 a piece or something like that.


- There is still time, so they may come up with something.

- It's annoying, I'll tell you! It needs to be stopped very quickly.

We see that there is evidence of the beginning of the war. I understand the complexity of the situation, that it was necessary to ensure the speed of the supply of weapons.

But believe my experience, I see the level of not even corruption - in a war, it is looting. These are terrible things, to be honest, I'm just shocked! We need to close these issues very quickly, because the risk is very high.

Believe me, I have been and still am receiving a lot of questions from around the world, not only from the United States, about whether there is really pressure on volunteers in Ukraine, whether there are corruption deals here.

For many months, I managed to explain that we were keeping the situation in the right direction. But now it has become very difficult. On the one hand, the authorities have provided more information because the relevant authorities have started working and investigations have been conducted.

But on the other hand, the scale is frightening because it's about the people who run the country, the middle management.

Therefore, these things must be categorically suppressed. Now the Armed Forces of Ukraine are on the offensive, and it seems to me that this is a good time to quickly clean out these Augean stables and radically address the issue of corruption.

Then no one will bring a single "shell" to those who will say abroad that something can be stolen in Ukraine.

This is a serious issue that should not be underestimated.

- And finally, commenting on Putin's latest speech to Russian bloggers on Facebook, you called it "an overt desire to seize a large country in the center of Europe and destroy people who do not want to be enslaved." I was struck by your phrase at the end that "Only one will survive!" Is this your prediction or just a figurative expression?

- No, this is an analysis of the situation, that our confrontation between Ukraine and today's Russia is an existential issue.

"Only one will survive!" is a saying from the famous movie Highlander, but it means that, unfortunately, there can be no intermediate result in such a situation.

Until Ukraine de-occupies all of its territory, shields itself from Russia, begins to live by the rules we are all trying to come to, and as long as the discussion about "good Russians" continues during the war, the risk of our disappearance as a state remains.

Therefore, Ukraine must win. And to win in such a way that no one doubts that Vladimir the Great stands in the right place, and no one creates simulacra near the Kremlin.

Nadiia Yurchenko, Kyiv


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