Rasa Jukneviciene, ex-Minister of Defense of Lithuania (2008-12) won standing applause when addressing the Seventh Kyiv Security Forum (April 10-11), saying, “Ukrainian security means European security. That is why the NATO member countries must not repeat the mistakes they made in Bucharest, in 2008, because that was a signal for Putin, allowing him to act the way he did in Georgia, the way he is acting in Ukraine, aided by Yanukovych.” She believes it is high time the mistakes previously made by the West were rectified. She ended her address saying: “Ukraine and Crimea are the beginning of Putin’s end. Slava Ukraini! – Glory to Ukraine!”
Ms. Jukneviciene kindly agreed to an exclusive interview with The Day. I started by quoting her as saying that Ukraine and Crimea are the beginning of Putin’s end and asked her to explain, considering that German politicians keep telling Ukrainians to forget about Crimea.
IMPORTANT: REFUSE TO RECOGNIZE ANNEXATION OF CRIMEA
“Talking of things that should or shouldn’t be forgotten, Russia is staging a show of strength. Russia might change its mind and withdraw from the Crimea in the long run. Many had similar ideas back in 1940 when the Soviet Union was annexing the Baltic States. Ours were small territories and some thought that such things should be forgotten. Some did forget. We gave away our gold, our territories, our embassies. It was only past year that we could resolve the issue of our embassy in Italy and have it back.
“At present, it is very important to refuse to recognize the annexation of Crimea… This doesn’t mean that Ukraine will declare war on Russia over the peninsula tomorrow, but this non-recognition policy should continue. I can’t tell you for how long, although I’m sure that it won’t last for 50 years as did our occupation [by the Soviets].
“The reason Putin is acting that way is because he is scared of having a Maidan in his country. After losing the [Ukrainian] Maidan battle, he saved his face by annexing Crimea, so Russians could cheer him as an unfailing victor. It is common knowledge that Russia’s economic situation is going from bad to worse. Its [international] ratings went down last night and its finance ministry said there would be lower economic growth. Russia is heavily dependent on its oil and gas sales. This situation will worsen if and when the United States starts supplying gas to Europe next year. I visited the US two weeks ago and attended the Senate’s committee’s shale gas hearings. Americans are prepared to change their legislation to start exporting gas. They will build terminals to accommodate liquefied gas shipments. This will surely be a positive revolution in the energy domain. Ukraine also has lots of such gas fields. By developing and using them you’ll reinforce your energy independence. When Russia starts having problems selling oil and gas, with the prices going down, this will be a repeat of the Soviet Union’s collapse.”
PUTIN’S ULTIMATE DEFEAT – BUT WHEN?
Before this happens, Russia may seize some of the eastern regions of Ukraine. On April 11, Russia’s State Duma questioned Ukraine’s withdrawal from the USSR and forwarded an inquiry to the Prosecutor General’s Office, challenging the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“You’re surely talking about the same [Russia’s] MPs who have claimed that our national independence is illegitimate. We’re in the same boat, according to them. Russia has lost friends in the West. The US wanted to be Russia’s strategic partner. That wasn’t a pragmatic idea. Obama sincerely believed that he could have such partnership with Putin. Russia is isolating itself. This spells big economic problems. Great! I believe those who say that Hitler followed a similar path before the year 1939, except that at the time the German economy was stronger than that of [Soviet] Russia. Hitler lost the game. Of course, I wouldn’t want Putin to follow in his footsteps, because there was so much blood shed, so many victims. Considering what Carl Bildt said today, what with his two- or three-year-old optimism, when he insisted that Europe would have at least 20 years of peace, I think that he is worried. I share his concern: what Putin is doing is dangerous. However, my gut feeling is that Putin will suffer a defeat, although I don’t know when and how.”
How does Putin’s isolation of Russia agree with the presence of people among the German elite who insist that they understand what Putin is doing? How about ex-Chancellor Schmidt who said in an interview that historians were still debating the existence of the Ukrainian people – and this in a country that practically tells the European Union what to do next? How could this possibly stop Putin?
“This requires talks. I think back to the year 2000 and how hard we’d had to work to have us invited to become a member of NATO at the summit in Prague. At the time our German friends and MPs told us exactly what they’re telling you. You have to listen and talk to them. The more German MPs and politicians you can make friends with, the bigger the lobby you will build for contact with politicians and various organizations; the better the opportunity of them changing their opinion in your favor. In fact, public opinion is changing dramatically in Germany. Compared to what it was like after the war between Russia and Georgia and now, many in the European Union are changing their views.”
KNOCK ON NATO AND EU DOORS, ASK FOR MILITARY AID
You must have heard about some of our politicians insisting on a new kind of security system that would actually guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Do you think that we need such upgraded instruments?
“We have such instruments, but the problem remains: which way to go to ensure NATO and EU security policy in regard to the non-member countries. This is uppermost on the agenda, but I think we’ll solve this problem, sooner or later. Back in 2010, the Ukrainian administration appeared determined to have a nonalignment status. This placed the NATO and EU member countries in an embarrassing situation because no country could be admitted unless so resolved by the people. We [i.e., Lithuania] sought that membership for 12 years, ever since we became independent… You are a nonaligned country, so how do you think those member countries that are holding the controlling interest in NATO will respond? They realize that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty will work, but I also believe that your government knows that the procedures will take a very long time. The most important thing for you is what must be done today. There are instruments. You must knock on NATO and EU doors and ask for help, for military assistance. They must realize that if and when we ask for such military assistance, the materiel will have to be in the right hands. We had a similar situation. For a long while we had no weapons supplies we badly needed before we became a NATO member. I don’t think that you will need to re-invent the proverbial wheel … because none of the NATO member states will accept a new kind of [collective] security system likely to jeopardize the inner-NATO situation. Therefore, I will answer your question by citing an example from our recent history. We joined NATO in 2004, but two years earlier we had serious doubts about this membership. Many wanted a referendum that never happened, God be praised. Russia’s policy at the time was aimed at having this referendum. Now I can’t think of the man in the street in Lithuania who would doubt the advantages of our NATO membership.”
IF YOU REALLY WANT IT, YOU’LL HAVE IT
Media people said you were the Lithuanian Iron Lady as prime minister. What role did the personality factor play in making your country a member of NATO and EU?
“We had personalities like Landsbergis. I believe that he played a very important role during his lifetime. I was fortunate enough to work under the able guidance of Andrius Kubilius, twice prime minister of Lithuania (1999-2000; 2008-12). Although he made very unpopular decisions, we knew that we were doing what had to be done. The personality factor is very important and I think that Ukraine badly needs strong and reliable personalities who can get your people united. That’s the most important thing. When I talked to Ukrainians, including young people, I came to the conclusion that you believe in yourselves less than we believe in you. You are strong, but you must believe that you are. I guess my fellow Lithuanians also have that kind of inferiority complex… Ukraine is Europe’s largest country. You won a mind-boggling revolution, you must keep up the good job. But you must also learn to trust your inner strength and be sure of it. I guess this confidence is as important as having good leaders. Without it there will be no reliable leaders.”