Radio Free Europe on March 23, 2014, published an interview with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been one of the European Union’s most active voices when it comes to the bloc’s eastern neighbors over the past eight years. On the sidelines of the German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum on March 23, he sat down with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak to talk about the latest developments in Ukraine, his thoughts on possible Russian involvement in Transdniester, and what role the West can play in countries who find themselves pitted between Russia and the EU. Excerpts below:
RFE/RL: We have already seen Russia seize control of Crimea, which prompted a limited response from the West. Should broader economic sanctions be imposed on Russia and, if so, when?
Bildt: I don’t belong to those who believe that economic sanctions are necessarily that effective. They can certainly have disrupting effects on the economy, but whether you have the desired effect on the politics of the country is somewhat more debatable. I think it is important to deny Russia the objectives that it is seeking. [It is] difficult in the short-term to deny them Crimea, but I think this is a game for the future of Ukraine. This is what it is all about.
Then it is very important for us to do whatever we can in order to help Ukraine succeed because that is going to be decisive where Ukraine is two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now.
RFE/RL: The OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] has received the green light to send an observer mission to Ukraine. Do you think there is any chance of them going to Crimea and, if not, should the EU also send a mission?
Bildt: We were pressing for [a] mission very early. An EU mission could have been there by now, but an OSCE mission is good and now the decision has been taken. The Russians were delaying, delaying, delaying and, of course, they have restricted it so it is not able to go to Crimea. That is regrettable but now I hope it can be deployed as soon as possible — primarily in the east and the south, although the Russians are sort of insisting that it should be in other places as well.
RFE/RL: are you worried that Russia will try to annex Transdniester?
Bildt: I am worried by the overall situation. From March 1 [Editor’s note: a reference to the Russian Federation Council’s March 1 unanimous vote approving President Putin’s request to allow use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine], the president of Russia has the authority to use Russian armed force throughout the territory of Ukraine and we know that there has been a very significant build-up of Russian forces along the borders of Ukraine. We must ask ourselves why this is the case.
We also see signs in Transdniester. There were reports in Odessa’s media this morning about them catching some people that they consider to be Russian special forces in Odessa. So the south, the entire stretch from Crimea to Odessa should certainly not be neglected.
RFE/RL: The EU recently signed the political part of an Association Agreement with Ukraine with an eye on signing the rest of the agreement later. Could you not do the same for Armenia? They have been asking for an Association Agreement to be signed without trade provisions since September 2013.
Bildt: I think they are in a different league. The Association Agreement also sort of signals a sort of political affinity that is there in a number of areas. We saw, for example, the Armenians now coming out in support of policies versus Ukraine. So I don’t think they would qualify to be in the same league in terms of political affinity any longer.