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Prime Minister Yatsenyuk: Concern over Russia is about global security, not just Ukraine

March 25, 2014 at 6:39 PM EST
In an exclusive interview, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner sits down with acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev to discuss Western sanctions on Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-term intentions and a growing sense of unity among Ukrainians.
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GWEN IFILL: Now our exclusive interview with the interim prime minister of Ukraine.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner spoke with Arseniy Yatsenyuk this afternoon in Kiev.

MARGARET WARNER: Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, thank you so much for having us.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Interim Prime Minister, Ukraine: My pleasure.

MARGARET WARNER: You have major Russian forces amassed on your southeastern border. Are you prepared to fight them there if they start to cross, or will you give way, as you did in Crimea?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: First of all, on Crimea, what we did in Crimea, we refrained from use of force in order to prevent the bloodshed, and in order to show to the entire world that it’s Russian military and Russian regime who occupied the Ukrainian territory and who has made a real aggression.

Look in the international community. At the U.N. Security Council, 14 out of 15 actually supported Ukrainian independence. On the question you just raised, what is going to happen in case if Russia crosses the border of the mainland, this is the duty of every Ukrainian citizen to protect our country. We will fight.

MARGARET WARNER: Is your military up to the job?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: My military was deliberately dismantled by the former government.

And what we are doing today is, we tried to maintain a capability of Ukrainian military to fight. We made a number of steps in order to prepare the military to defend Ukrainian territory. But, in any case, what we need, we need support from the international community. We need technical and military support to overhaul the Ukrainian military, to modernize it, and to be ready not just to fight, but be ready to win.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you need in the way of military assistance right now from the U.S., from NATO, from the West that you are not getting?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: You probably do remember this so-called notorious Budapest memorandum.

MARGARET WARNER: Of 1994.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Absolutely, when Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapon. And, at that time, we possessed the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.

And they were given towards the U.S., the U.K., and Russia that signed the Budapest treaty and guaranteed Ukrainian independence. One of these key signatories, Russia, have violated the deal.

And so today, we need not just the statements, not just the declarations. But we ask our partners to undertake real steps in order to support Ukrainian independence. And independence and military strength is so tightly correlated in this world.

I’m not sure I can dwell into details on this particular issue, but we have started a dialogue with our American partners and with the U.K. government how to support Ukraine to defend its independence.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel betrayed by the U.S. and Britain, which did sign that 1994 memorandum? Do you think that the U.S. and NATO owe Ukraine more?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: I do believe that every G7 member also owe it to the world, because this is not about the Ukrainian case. It’s about the global security, which was heavily undermined by Russia.

And Russia actually undermined the nuclear nonproliferation program, as we gave up our nuclear weapons and didn’t get anything instead. We got Russian tanks, artillery and barrels.

On the U.S., I truly appreciate the U.S. support. The House, the Senate, and, personally, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, made bold and strong steps. Is it enough to secure the world? It’s a good step forward.

MARGARET WARNER: But President Obama said today in The Hague again, though, that, essentially, the U.S. and the E.U. so far are counting on sanctions and the threat of more sanctions to restrain President Putin from further moves.

What level of confidence, if any, do you have that that would be effective?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: We have just two options on the table how to tackle this kind of crisis.

The first one is a military option, and it’s crystal-clear that no one wants another Third World War in the globe. So, the second option is to implement another type of non-military measures. The world is so interrelated and interdependent that economic measures are much stronger than even military ones.

MARGARET WARNER: But those are long-term measures. Don’t you face a very short-term emergency, potentially?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Yes, we face. And that’s up to us to fix it, then. And in case if it happens, I believe that we will get an additional support from our partners and from the entire international community.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean if Russia invades?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, meanwhile, your big portfolio here is to respond to the demands of the Maidan, to get this economy up off its back and revamp it and retool it.

How much does this threat from Russia also undermine the prospects for that or your ability to tackle that?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Russia has two options, too.

The first one is to invade military, and another one to undermine Ukrainian stability, misusing, for example, austerity measures that will be employed by Ukrainian government, because we need to do this. We need to undertake tough reforms in order to survive and in order to get the IMF loan and international support from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Investment Bank.

And they will definitely play with this, saying that, look, the so-called progressive government imposed a number of hardships for you, and look at your living standards. They are going down. In case if you go to Russia, you are going be in another world, which looks like a real happy world, with free cash, with higher living standards.

And we’re already prepared for this, because what we rely on, we rely on Ukrainian people that, after Maidan, started to be the Ukrainian nation. This is the process of nation-building. And Ukrainians are ready to face these troubles, and they are ready to overcome them.

MARGARET WARNER: How are you going to keep the Ukrainian public with you, though, the momentum that you have now, once you start instituting some of these tough measures, especially cutting back, say, on energy subsidies, but all of the things you just talked about?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: We had to do it 20 years ago.

You know, how can you get the support? It seems to me the key problem of every politics is a lack of every politics is a lack of trust and lack of honesty. I want to deliver real changes in this country. And in order to get these changes, I have to be open, frank, honest. And in this case, people will support or approve or disapprove these measures.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the Russian pressure has in any way affected your ability to do that, or maybe perhaps even made the public more willing or ready to support the government?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: I believe that, in a few years, we will decorate Russian regime with a special medal for the unity of my country.

MARGARET WARNER: Really?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Yes. They did a lot.

MARGARET WARNER: You have met Vladimir Putin a few times. What do you think — had you do you read him?  What do you think his intentions are?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: His intention — his intention is very clear, to reinstate the Soviet Union, to become not the president of Russian Federation, but an emperor of new type of USSR, version 2.00.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, do you think that Ukraine and Russia can ever have a normal interdependent relationship, as they have had for the last 20 years, if — as long as Putin is president?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: It depends.

It depends whether Russia is ready to negotiate and whether Russia is ready to have a level playing field in our relations. It’s clear for me that they are not ready, because we extended the hand for negotiations, and, instead, they extended a barrel of a gun.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you very much. Good luck to you.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: You, too.

GWEN IFILL: During her reporting trip, Margaret and NewsHour producer Morgan Till visited former President Viktor Yanukovych’s lavish home outside Kiev. You can see the opulent estate, complete with a panoramic view of a multimillion-dollar staircase, in their online photo gallery. That’s on the Rundown.