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Ukraine need the iron-clad international mechanisms of guaranteeing security before any negotiations on neutrality

Ukraine need the iron-clad international mechanisms of guaranteeing security before any negotiations on neutrality

Posted April. 04, 2022 03:00,   

Updated April. 04, 2022 03:53

Interview with Dmytro Ponomarenko Ukraine‘s ambassador to Seoul
Gaving up nuclear arsenal in exchange for Budapest memorandum was naive
Now we have learned our lesson from then
No negotiations on possible neutrality before the iron-clad security guarantee
Koreans do understand our situation from the bottom of their hearts
Hope Korean government to consider supplying military equipment as well
Trying to invite BTS and other K-pop stars for the peace concert in Seoul

“If we decide not to join NATO, Ukraine will need the iron-clad international mechanisms of guaranteeing our security before we begin any negotiations on possible neutrality. Such guarantees can be provided by the UN Security Council Member States and Ukraine’s neighbors, similar to the mechanism envisaged by the North Atlantic Treaty.”

Ukraine‘s ambassador to Seoul, Dmitro Ponomarenko, stressed that clearly no ultimatums would be accepted on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in peace talks with Russia.

“If we should give up NATO membership, we can compromise it only on the premise of strong security guarantees.” Ambassador Ponomarenko, who started his official tenure in South Korea on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine, said.

“Imagine, some country illegally occupies Jeju Island at first and then moves to mainland Korea. How would the Korean people and the Government feel? Would they be able to give up on their people residing on these territories or their country’s territorial integrity?” he added.

Ambassador Ponomarenko sat down with Dong-A Daily on April 1, to talk about the future of Ukraine, including the prerequisites for the peace talks, and how the South Korean government can cooperate with Ukraine. Our discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

―As president Volodymyr Zelensky has shown his intention to compromise its NATO membership, what security guarantees would the Ukraine government seek for?

It must be strong enough to prevent any further attempts by Russia to attack Ukraine, because one of the very reasons for Ukraine‘s desire to join NATO was Russia’s military aggression and encroachment on Ukraine‘s territorial integrity since 2014.

It is true that under the Budapest memorandum Ukraine gave up the world’s third nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees by the US, UK, Russia and others of our sovereignty and territorial integrity. Regrettably, due to the character of the document, those guarantees were not legally binding to the parties. It was just a memorandum and our then government was very naive. So now, I think we have learned our lesson.

―What can end this war?

For us the war started much earlier, in 2014. Back then Russia occupied Crimea and Donbass. Despite our constant appeals and warnings, due to incessant Russian propaganda, the world mostly preferred to conduct ‘business as usual’, calling this war ‘a civil conflict’, turned a blind eye to Russia‘s aggressive acts and illegal occupation. Had the world reacted more decisive then, this full-scale war most likely would have been prevented. I think no one can change the situation. The only person who can do it is the president Putin. He started it and he has to stop it. We will resist and defend our values till the end. Norway’s UN Mission recently posted on Twitter that ‘If Russia stops fighting there will be no more war. If Ukrainians stop fighting there will be no more Ukraine’ and this illustrates how we feel.

―President Zelensky is expected to address the Korean parliament on 11th of April. What kind of message is to be delivered?

The Korean people do understand our situation from the bottom of their hearts. Koreans understand what it means to defend their own country from aggression because they had absolutely the same situation 70 years ago(Korean War). 90% of the territory was occupied by the aggressor. Only with the help of the international community, was Korea able to take the occupation off the territory of Korea. So many historical parallels and similarities can be drawn between the two countries.

President Zelensky is the one who spent the most of his time in communication with the audience. So definitely he will pay a lot of attention to the messages he would like to deliver. The presidential office and staff of the embassy definitely proposed to him some kind of a structure of the speech but I think the president will give a big touch to this from himself. He is the person with the heart and the person who tries to be involved in every issue he is involved or needs to be involved in. And definitely the president will try to touch the hearts of Korean people.

―What can the Korean government do more for Ukraine?

I think Korea has already made a lot of assistance to us. The Korean government provided us with financial assistance of about 10 million dollars. And they announced that they will add it significantly. And we are working closely with the minister of defense to receive humanitarian aids which include medicines, tents, blankets, bullet proof helmets.

We thank the Korean government for providing us with this kind of equipment but definitely, to defend ourselves, we need military and lethal equipment as well. So we hope that the government will change the decision that rejected the direct supply of military equipment and provide us with at least some kind of military equipment.

I already met President elect Seokyeol Yoon when he was a candidate. I also told him what we need and he definitely agreed that the country that will defend itself needs the equipment to defend itself.

―Different from other global corporations like Apple which had announced that they will withdraw from Russia totally, some Korean major corporations couldn‘t follow those movements.

Yes. Unlike Apple has paused all sales of its physical products in Russia, restricted Russian access to digital services including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay is still working in Russia. We are working with Samsung trying to explain to them that they should stop providing these services to Russia at least until Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine. We know that many companies have their production bases in Russia like Hyundai Motors and Orion snacks. They decided not to stop business with Russia. I personally issued letters to the CEOs of these companies and asked them to reconsider the decision. We understand they definitely will have some losses. But the moral cause of this action is much more than just financial losses.

―Recently there was a concert for Ukraine broadcasted from Poland TV Channel and many global musicians participated. Some fans are wondering whether BTS would participate in those efforts, too.

We would like to hold a big concert here in Seoul with K-pop stars to attract attention to what’s going on in Ukraine and make some donations. We will try to invite them as well. We are thinking of having it in the Olympic Stadium. We hope to manage it within the end of April, possibly.

Also, the mayor of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, proposed to Mayor of Seoul, Sehoon Oh, to sign the memorandum of friendship between Kyiv and Seoul. I sent his letter with the draft of memorandum to Mayor. Oh. I expect that if we sign this memorandum, and we will establish the friendship relations between our two cities. There has been a campaign to rename the street where the Russian embassy is located to Ukraine hero street. We have just start this campaign and only a few countries supported us so far due to lack of time and other legal difficulties. I don‘t think it’s an easy procedure but definitely but if Kyiv and Seoul became a sister city, we will do something in commemoration for one another. It could be renaming of the street or all the square celebrating the friendly relation.

―It‘s already been more than 40 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Contrary to the estimation that Kyiv would collapse within 4 days once the Russian invasion is started, Ukrainians are showing the modern David vs. Goliath battle against Russia. Could you tell us what on earth has brought the desperate resistance of Ukrainians?

The answer is quite simple actually. For centuries the Ukrainian people were striving for independence, nurturing their language, culture and identity. Now that we have our independent state, we will protect it with all we can and we will not give up. This is the struggle for our state’s very existence against the ruthless fantasies of one man about the restoration of another Soviet Union.

In the history of Ukraine, we have never invaded any country which neighbored us. The history of Ukraine was defending its land from the countries which were trying to occupy Ukraine because Ukraine has such wonderful land and resources. Freedom is in our blood. We have no place to withdraw. This is our land and this is what we have to defend. And we finally got our independence 30 years ago and we don‘t want to lose it.

We will resist and defend our values till the end. We fight for ourselves and we protect the entire Europe from this horror spilling over.

―Especially when it comes to women, Many Korean men are impressed by those brave women who try to learn their military training in their 40s and 50s, and even some grandmothers.

When an Ukrainian family has a son, this son is considered as the defender. Mothers teach their sons that they should defend their country. That’s why women themselves should be the defenders. To defend their own family, we all defend our country, the place we live in. That‘s why women, men and the olds all have the brave heart and the desire to defend the country from invaders.

―When this war is over, another international cooperation would be important for the restoration of Ukraine.

Definitely. International community should be united with the understanding that now Ukraine defends not only for itself but for the whole europe. I know for sure that President Zelensky discussed this issue with President Jaein Moon when he had the telephone conversation with him.

We will need significant support from the world in rebuilding our country from Russia-brought destruction. And this is where Korea can play its role. Before the war started we had been negotiating the implementation of some major infrastructure projects and investments. We hope to be able to restore our cooperation quickly in the future for after-the-war reconstruction of my country.

―It seems Korea and Ukraine share a lot in common in their history such as the movement for independence after the experience of the tragedy of fratricidal war, the vulnerable location in between strong powers, which makes strong diplomacy essential to its existence. Even now, it seems two countries are quite similar in their security issues as we all should get through the so-called ’peace process‘ with Russia and North Korea. We both should deal with a strong man whose word cannot be trusted.

As long as these countries remain stable, democratic, economically strong and well defended I have no doubt their future is bright. I think Korea can provide a good example for us.

Both Ukraine and Korea had to go through their trials on the way to building democratic institutions. You have started earlier than us. We still have some way to go. Ukraine is currently in the final stages of forging its political nation. I have no doubt that we will defend our statehood and emerge from this tragic experience stronger and more united. Then, learning from you, we will have to rebuild and develop our economic potential, which is considerable, and find our place in the world economy. And speaking of strong untrustworthy men, I think we are all aware that men like these understand only strength and deterrence. So we must boost our defenses as well. I hope Korea will be our reliable partner on the way to achieving these goals.

임보미 bom@donga.com