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The revelations of more mass graves in Ukraine and potential Russian war crimes have horrified many. Ukrainian forces are running an effective counteroffensive in the east and south as we near seven months since the start of Russia's invasion. Nick Schifrin sat down with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the tenuous state of the war.
The revelations of more mass graves and potential Russian war crimes have horrified many, a new and revolting scene in an already brutal war.
It is now nearly seven months since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, whose forces are running an effective counteroffensive in the east and the south.
Nick Schifrin is finishing two weeks of reporting in the country. And he sat down this morning with Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."
We have spent the last week in Kharkiv, where we have gone to villages and towns liberated from Russian occupation for the last six months. And we have met a woman who had to witness the exhumation of her own son, who was tortured and murdered by Russian soldiers. We visited a room that Russian occupiers used for torture. And now police in Izyum have announced a mass grave with 400 soldiers and civilians.
Can you talk to Russia diplomatically when its soldiers are committing the crimes that we see?
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs: It's a very painful question to ask, because, as a diplomat, I have to be ready to talk even with the devil if the national interests of my country require so.
But I am also a human being. And the last thing that I want to do is to talk to them. After everything Russia has done, and it has become apparent that war crimes and atrocities always follow the Russian army. After seeing all of that, I have a strong feeling that the best negotiating table with Russia is the battlefield.
But, again, this is two parts of me fighting each other, struggling with each other inside of me. Of course, I know how to take emotions under control. And if I face a need to engage in serious negotiations, I will. But I do not see any interest or any indicators from Russia that they are seeking serious negotiations, for many reasons.
Look at the latest missile attack by Russia on the river dam…
Yes, outside Kryvyi Rih, the president's hometown.
Absolutely. It had no military objective. It was a deliberate attack on a piece of critical infrastructure, with only one aim, to cause flood and mass death of civilians.
So, when a country behaves like this, the corridor for negotiations is basically closing.
The battlefield is dynamic. And the U.S. certainly wants to give you the most progress militarily, so that you have the best position at the bargaining table.
Are the gains that you have had in Kharkiv enough in order to consider negotiations, just from those gains that you have had already?
The moment we will hear from President Putin or someone from his entourage that they want to engage in talks, we shouldn't rush to respond positively to it. First, we have to answer a question why all of a sudden Russia is seeking negotiations. Maybe because it is in a condition when it cannot defend its gains militarily, so it tries to buy time and defend these gains diplomatically.
Has Russia been reaching out to Kyiv formally and informally throughout this process?
But, if this is the case, if they call for negotiations when — at the moment of their highest weakness, then why should we be interested in negotiating with them? Definitely, our goal will be to kick them out of the country entirely.
Despite the territory re-seized from Russia in Kharkiv, the ability of the Ukrainian military to re-seize territory in Kherson in the south, Zaporizhzhia, even in the Donbass, let alone Crimea, is difficult, according to the analysts that I speak to.
Will there come a point where, if Ukraine admits that it's impossible to re-seize all of that territory, negotiations can begin?
No, we will never come to that conclusion. We will never come to that point. This is our country. We will fight as long as it is needed to restore territorial integrity of Ukraine.
But the recent achievements in Kharkiv region, they are very visible, remarkable. We also have achievements in the south near Kherson. They prove that we can win.
It sounds like what you're saying is that the military success, the ability for the military to prove that Russia cannot necessarily hold ground it seized, is important for your political support in the West.
Definitely, and not only political, but I also think public support.
I mean, we all know the story. People like to support the winners. Every gain that we make is important to inspire our partners in the world to continue supporting us and to step up the support.
Ukraine's government needs $5 billion a month in order just to pay its bills. Is the West giving you enough economic support?
But I want to make one point. The numbers you have mentioned are absolutely correct. There was not a single month since February where we would receive this $5 billion. Though we didn't receive this $5 billion per month, we still managed to survive and adapt our economy to the new wartime reality.
Our life will not be getting better financially in the coming months. So this $5 billion is needed.
Have the Europeans promised economic support that hasn't been delivered?
Yes. Well, most of the governments were committed to stepping up to continuing the support.
But E.U. requires consensus. They make promises, but then making, building a consensus to get things done appears to be more difficult than promising something.
Let's talk about weapons.
The U.S. continues to resist Ukrainian requests to deliver the longer-range munitions for the critical multiple-launch rocket system, the HIMARS. Publicly, at least, the U.S. says that it is not delivering those longer-range munitions because Ukraine doesn't need them on the battlefield.
Does Ukraine need them?
We do. And our generals have excellent line of communication with American generals. They are discussing this issue.
We appreciate everything the United States have done. But there are some specific types of weapon which are needed to, again, get things done on the battleground. I do not exclude the option that the United States will make a positive decision on this specific type of weapon.
So you're saying that negotiation continues? That's not a closed…
Has Ukraine used U.S. weapons to strike Crimea?
Do you think the explosions that have happened in Crimea have almost called Putin's bluff? Putin claimed that Crimea was under Russian nuclear…
The psychological effect of these incidents in Crimea is far more important than the military effect.
As you mentioned, there have been critical infrastructure attacks in Ukraine in the last couple of days.
Do you believe that you would have been able to stop those attacks had you received the air defense systems that in fact the U.S. and Germany, among others, have promised, but not yet delivered?
We need air defense systems to shoot down Russian missiles targeting our cities and our civilian infrastructure. And the sooner we get them, the more civilian lives will be spared.
Dmytro Kuleba, thank you very much.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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