Patrick Chauvel, senior reporter, met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister for an exclusive interview.
Paris Match. Will the Russians keep their promise and allow grain ships to leave Ukraine?
Dmytro Kouleba. We hope so. This Ukrainian initiative does not only concern Ukraine. It is about global food security. If Russia were to break the agreement, it would endanger the lives of millions of people, victims of rising food prices or even hunger. The future of these people is now the sole responsibility of Russia. The first boat left the Ukrainian port, reached the Bosphorus without damage and crossed it.
What kind of man is your Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov?
Our last contact was March 2022. I have a feeling he believes all the crap he says when he talks about denazifying Ukraine. He represents the entourage of the Russian president, who imposes his will as absurd as it is inhuman.
Putin accuses Ukrainians of being Nazis, when you had over 7 million dead in WWII…
It’s absurd! We suffered from the Nazis and then we suffered from the Red Army which, by “liberating” us from the Nazis, occupied the country. Under the Soviet regime, life was not a paradise, far from it. The SS had been replaced by the NKVD.
The forecast in the West was that the Ukraine would fall in seventy-two hours. We are six months into the conflict and Ukraine is still holding out.
Let’s talk about the battle in the Donbass. Soldiers have told me that you have lost 60% of your men, and they wonder where the modern weapons they are promised are. The most sophisticated would be kept in reserve for the offensive to the south. What about?
Of the 2000 kilometers of front, there are fights with the enemy for almost 1300 kilometers. We will never have enough weapons. I understand the frustration of our soldiers who are heroically defending their land and their compatriots. We try to bring in as many arms and ammunition as possible. The Russians had been preparing for this war for a long time. They have the advantage, in volume, for artillery, rocket launchers or ammunition. We must maintain the flow of arms deliveries, otherwise we will pay for it with the lives of our soldiers and civilians. No one knows how long we will last. On the eve of the aggression, the forecast in the West was that the Ukraine would fall in seventy-two hours. We are six months into the conflict and Ukraine is still holding out. You must understand that this is not just a war against Ukraine, but a war of Russia against the West, Europe, North America, Australia and Asia-Pacific countries like the Japan, which share the same values, the same principles as European countries. Putin attacks Ukraine with missiles, artillery, tanks, but he also attacks Europe, North America and other countries, with energy prices, inflation, propaganda . So not everything that is given to Ukraine in arms and ammunition is out of charity. It is an investment for the security of donor countries. This is why France decided to supply us with weapons, and this is why Germany, which was against this idea, changed its mind.
What do you think of President Macron’s sentence, when he said that Putin should not be humiliated in order to continue negotiations?
If Putin had wanted to negotiate, I think he would have already done so. He is a ruthless man whose mission is to destroy. We don’t worry about the emotions of a “serial killer”, we protect ourselves from his actions.
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Do you think you are a target for the Russians?
Worrying about my safety and that of my family would take up too much of my time. How to help my country in the current circumstances is what I focus on. Everything else is in the hands of fate. We’re both sitting on the sixth floor of a building high on a hill. From the right bank of the Dnieper, you can see it: it is one of the highest, a perfect target. However, we are here, we work, because we think of victory, of the defense of our country. Not to our personal safety.
There are rumors of troop movements in Belarus. Are you worried?
Belarus allowed the Russians to use its territory to attack Ukraine. Not only its territory, but also its airspace. And she continues to do so. Belarus is an accomplice of Russia in the crime of aggression against Ukraine. We understood it well. The only line they haven’t crossed yet is direct invasion by their army.
Do you have any idea what happened in the prison where more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners were killed and 75 injured?
The file of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the hands of the Russians is very painful. Russia is waging an illegal war. It respects neither civilians nor humanitarian convoys. His goal is to conquer at all costs, nothing else matters. We know that the lives of our prisoners are in danger every second, whoever they are, wherever they are. We mourn these men but we know what can happen to any POW in Russian hands. Some of my colleagues here at the department have family members who are prisoners of war. I feel connected to their situation. Besides, someone here spent two months as a prisoner of war. A civilian, captured by the Russian army in the early days. When we managed to get him released, he told us what he had suffered. It’s unbelievable.
We know what can happen to any POW in Russian hands
I have a more personal question. This is the case of Ukrainian photographer Maks Levine, who was captured and coldly executed by Russian soldiers. I am taking part in an ongoing investigation initiated by the NGO Reporters Without Borders. Did you know this journalist?
A close associate of mine knew him well. He is not the only Ukrainian journalist to have been killed by the Russian army. This once again demonstrates how little respect the Russians have for the laws of war. Ukrainian diplomat’s father killed at roadblock early in war; he was an elderly man, they shot through his windshield. In kyiv or anywhere else in the country, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t suffered from the Russians, who hasn’t lost a family member or a friend.
Putin often cites historical reasons to justify his action. What do you think?
Putin claims his right to this territory by invoking our common history. For starters, kyiv existed long before Moscow. There have been Vikings, Icelanders, Danes and even Swedes here… They could all attack us under the pretext of our common history! Neither our history nor the explanation that Ukraine is a threat to Russia should be taken seriously. We’ve never been a threat, we’ve never had plans to attack Russia, we don’t even have the capability. The problem is that a lot of people end up believing it, and not just in Russia. There are also some in countries like France…
Do you think the Chinese want to open a second front to help Putin?
No. I am more worried about what is preparing in Bosnia. I am aware of the work that the Russian secret services are doing to provoke tension there. I don’t think the Chinese are ready to enter into open conflict with the Americans over Taiwan.