SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, when you took office in
February, you compared your mission to that of a kamikaze pilot. How close are
we to a crash?
Yatsenyuk: I was
recently asked the same question by Chancellor Angela Merkel. I answered that I
am sitting on a ticking time bomb. She said: "Previously, you said you are
a kamikaze pilot, and today it's a ticking time bomb, so things have
SPIEGEL: Is the situation so hopeless that one must
resort to gallows humor?
hopeless, but complicated. We are not only facing economic disaster and the
question of peace and war. Ukrainians are traumatized by this Moscow-led
aggression that has cost the lives of 5,000 people.
SPIEGEL: Is the West doing enough to support your
Yatsenyuk: The West
is doing what it can.
SPIEGEL: You don't sound satisfied.
Yatsenyuk: The West's
room for maneuver vis-a-vis
Putin is limited. It is positive that the United States and the European Union
show a great deal of unity. Putin did not expect that. He thought he could
split the EU, but the opposite happened: The EU imposed sanctions and even
scaled them up. Of course we need more financial and military aid, the supply
of lethal weapons is of crucial importance to us.
SPIEGEL: NATO stated clearly that there's no military
solution to the conflict. But you seem to think differently.
Yatsenyuk: A military
solution would not be the best. My aim is not to start a new offensive against
Russian soldiers, but to deter Russia from further aggression. The thing is
that the EU is always playing by the rules. Putin is always playing with the
rules. At the beginning, many thought that, after annexing Crimea, the beast
would calm down. But he continued by supporting the so-called separatists in
eastern Ukraine. When we started our anti-terror operation, Putin sent in
regular troops. Appeasement has never worked and it won't work with Putin. Of
course one can argue that Crimea belonged to the Czarist Empire two centuries
ago. One can quarrel over what territory, historically, belongs to whom. But
that does not give Russia the right to violate Ukraine's territorial
SPIEGEL: Is it helpful to label the Ukrainian military
offensive as an anti-terror-operation at a point when many people in eastern
Ukraine already view the government in Kiev with suspicion?
Yatsenyuk: For a long
time we have been trying to win the hearts of the people in Donetsk and Luhansk. My government was ready to devote additional
powers to the regions. In addition, taking into account the interest of the
Russian minority, we have not moved to implement the decision by parliament on
the language law and have restored the possibility for the regional councils to
grant special status to regional languages, including the Russian language. But
when we were attacked militarily it was our duty to defend our country.
SPIEGEL: Your government has stopped paying salaries and
pensions to people in the territories not controlled by your government. It
seems that you've already given up these parts of eastern Ukraine.
Yatsenyuk: That's not
true. We still supply gas and electricity. That costs us $200 million per
month. Those who register can receive the money in other regions. We are not
able to pay salaries or refill automated teller machines because the terrorists
rob the money transports.
SPIEGEL: How do you intend to make peace in eastern
Yatsenyuk: First we
must deescalate the situation, and that is only possible on the basis of the
Minsk Protocol. I am skeptical about deals with Russia, but there's nothing
else we have on the table. Russia has supported and signed it. It provides that
all Russian soldiers have to be pulled out. In exchange, we have promised to
bestow the Donbass region with a special status and
we have passed an amnesty law. The Minsk deal also stipulates that the border
will be controlled by Kiev.
SPIEGEL: Is this the reason you are planning to build a
2,000-kilometer (1,243 mile) long fence along the border to Russia?
Yatsenyuk: It is also
in the European interest that the border between Ukraine and Russia is well
protected and illegal immigrants, weapons or drugs can no longer be smuggled
via this border into Europe.
SPIEGEL: It would create an Iron Curtain between two
Yatsenyuk: I'm always
very cautious about this "brotherhood" concept. Frankly speaking, I
don't need such relatives who grab my land and kill my people.
SPIEGEL: What else would have to happen?
elections in order to create legal regional authorities as foreseen in the
Minsk deal. Then we need international donors who reconstruct our
infrastructure. This strategy can only succeed if Russia withdraws entirely
from Ukraine. Do I believe that Russia will do this? No, because Putin wants to
retain these territories; he wants to keep his hand in our belly fat.
SPIEGEL: What are you planning to do in order to bring
Putin to a compromise?
closed doors we have long thought about an exit strategy for Russia. It's clear
that Putin has to find a way to save face. On the other hand, it's clear that
his policies turn Putin into a drug-addicted person. His survival depends on
land grabs of foreign territories. He needs new annexations. The annexation of
Crimea has gained him much applause at home. But that will not last forever.
The Western sanctions are beginning to take hold and the people are suffering.
In order to maintain his popularity, Putin has to commit further international
crimes. Otherwise he will be dead politically.
SPIEGEL: But the problem isn't just Putin -- many
Russians seem to think like him.
worries me, yes. If 85 percent of Russians support the annexation of Crimea and
the aggression against Ukraine, that is a very bad sign. The post-Soviet legacy
is a heavy burden: Most Russians want to have the empire back. The only way it
is possible to make that happen is to seize foreign territories.
SPIEGEL: Putin has always made clear that he objects
having NATO troops located at the Russian border. Would Ukraine be ready to
give up accession to NATO in order to placate Russian security needs?
Yatsenyuk: We stand
firmly behind the decision made at the summit in Bucharest where it was decided
that Ukraine could one day become a member of NATO. That is not only in the
interest of Ukraine, but also in the interest of Europe and peace on our
continent. But we also know it will take a long time until Ukraine fulfills the
standards for NATO membership.
SPIEGEL: Are you not escalating the situation yourself
by constantly meeting with NATO leaders, like Secretary General Jens
Stoltenberg, last Monday in Brussels?
Russians will always find a pretext for their aggression. It was Putin who said
in 2005 that the biggest geopolitical disaster of the last century was the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin wants to bring Ukraine back into the
Russian sphere of influence. That is why he tried everything in order to stop
the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
SPIEGEL: Will Ukraine ever join the EU given the fact
that the free trade agreement was put on hold?
Yatsenyuk: The EU
remains our dream. We must not give it up. Otherwise Putin would win. His goal
is to undermine the EU. This is not only about a conflict between Russia and
Ukraine. Russia is fighting against the West and its values. Therefore, the
European project of Ukraine must not fail. We know that this aim requires
successful reforms in Ukraine, even if they hurt now.
SPIEGEL: You have cut social security benefits, you have
fired one in 10 government officials and you have raised taxes. Don't efforts
like that increase the risk people will want an authoritarian leader in your
Yatsenyuk: I was
elected despite all these measures and I am doing everything possible in order
to cushion the effects of the reforms. But serious reforms are our last chance
-- we have no other option. Our strongest card in that game is a Ukrainian
youth that wants to belong to Europe.
SPIEGEL: How much money does Ukraine need in order to
Yatsenyuk: This year
we received $9 billion from the IMF and individual donor states, but we paid
back $14 billion in old debts. The Ukrainian economy is shrinking this year by
7 percent and our industrial production by 10 percent. But you also have to
take into account that 20 percent of our industrial production was lost due to
the annexation of Crimea and that we do not yet control parts of eastern
SPIEGEL: Let's come back to Chancellor Merkel. Are you
happy that she is leading Germany and not one of her three predecessors --
Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl or Gerhard Schröder?
They have all demanded publicly that Germany and the West should be more
respectful of Russian interests.
Yatsenyuk: Merkel is
a flagship of the EU. Not everything depends on her, but much does. I have been
shocked in a positive way by how Merkel is defending international law so
openly and strongly. She wants to have peace and stability in the EU, and she
knows that Russia is a problem in terms of security. It seems to me that many
Germans are led by a certain fear of Russia. So you hear things like,
"Let's avoid conflicts with Moscow, let's appease
SPIEGEL: So Schmidt, Kohl and Schröder
Yatsenyuk: Let's put
it this way: Merkel is right. The chancellor cares about the whole European
project and not a special relationship with Moscow.