Russia must leave Ukraine or no talks - US envoy

The US ambassador to Uganda, Ms Natalie E. Brown, during an interview in Kampala at the weekend. Photo | Isaac Newton Kasamani

What you need to know:

  • February 24 marked one year since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched “a special military operation”—an all-out invasion of its former Soviet territory—Ukraine— by sea, land and air. The Ukrainians pushed back hard unexpectedly and one year on, a full-blown war is raging. Washington, UK, Germany and other European states continue to extend military support to Kyiv. The US ambassador to Uganda, Ms Natalie E. Brown, told Monitor’s Frederic Musisi that they support a peaceful resolution to end the conflict, but any effort has to start with Moscow withdrawing its troops from the Ukrainian territory.

It is one year now since Moscow launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. It has not been an easy sail for the Russians; the Ukrainians continue pushing back hard, and the conflict continues to polarise the world. What do we make of this state of affairs?

I think the world is devastated by what has happened over the past year and one week; the destruction across Ukraine, the devastation, the loss of life. And all of this is completely preventable. It can be stopped right now. It just takes for President Putin to stop the aggression.

In his address a year ago, President Putin described it as “a special military operation”, what in your/Washington’s view is his endgame?

I am not going to speculate on what President Putin’s endgame is. But I mean, we can look at the reality and see, this was an aggressive act of war against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. It was a violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. It’s a violation of the UN Charter. It’s an attempt to grab territory. And all of that needs to stop right now, again, the devastation, the destruction, the loss of life, these are things that could have been prevented. These are things that can stop right now. And it just takes President Putin to put an end to it. And you saw when the UN General Assembly came together, member states were highly critical of what Russia has done under President Putin’s leadership. And you see more and more the world coming together to support Ukraine and Ukrainian people, and to call for an end, and immediate end to the brutality of the past year.

All attempts to negotiate a peace deal seem to be going in circles. Often times we hear Moscow pointing fingers at the United States and its European allies of being part of the problem?

I 100 percent disagree with that characterisation. You know, again, Russia launched an attack against an independent sovereign nation; the Ukrainian people were forced to defend themselves. They have been doing that and the United States and other partners have stepped up to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and as long as the attack continues, the United States and our allies, we need to continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Assuming there is the prospect of negotiating peace. What is the opportunity cost?

I think, well, certainly the United States and Secretary [Anthony] Blinken said this last week in the UN, we support, you know, serious, committed efforts for peace. President Zelensky has a 10-point peace plan. But unfortunately, from the Russian perspective, they want to control territory, and that cannot be part of the package. You know, Russia needs to stop the aggression, stop the attacks against Ukraine. And then, you know, perhaps then with support from the international community…can really sit down and have a lasting, enduring peace, but it has to be a peace that respects Ukraine sovereign territory.

An AFP tally last week showed the US topping in [military] aid to Kyiv followed by UK, and Germany, among others. Isn’t this arms-race raising stakes for prolonging the war rather than channeling all efforts to a peace deal?

I don’t consider it an arms race. And I, you know, reject any position that the United States is, you know, fuelling and trying to extend this, again, Ukraine has been attacked, the Ukrainian people can’t continue to suffer. I mean, the tens of thousands of Ukrainian people have been killed. 6,000 Ukrainian children have been removed from their families, I mean, the devastation to schools, to businesses, to the infrastructure. I mean, all of that is costing Ukraine and its people still very much and as long as Russia continues with its aggression, Ukraine needs to be able to defend itself. And the US and its allies are providing the Ukrainian people with the resources to do that. But if you know, if Russia is serious about putting it into this, President Putin can make that decision. And we can sit down Ukraine with Russia. I mean, and this has to be a decision that involves Ukraine, we can sit down and talk about an enduring peace, that again recognises Ukraine sovereign territory.

Russia’s deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, last Friday floated the idea of Moscow pushing back the borders even as far as Poland—a Nato member. A day or two earlier, President Biden in Warsaw vowed to defend “every inch” of Nato territory if it was attacked. With Russia’s resolve to “protect its borders” don’t you see the conflict prolonging?

I mean, I think you referred to Russia’s borders in quotes. I mean, there are borders between Ukraine and Russia and other countries. Those have been demarcated, and again, Russia has violated Ukraine’s territory, that’s a violation of the UN Charter. And it’s imperative that Russia withdraws forces and that the world comes together and supports Ukraine and Ukrainian people so that they can rebuild and get on with their lives.

This is not just about Ukraine; this affects all of us. You know, Russia is a member of the Security Council. It’s a member of the United Nations, if it is allowed to violate the UN charter, to violate the borders of another country, that’s a dangerous precedent for all of the member nations in the world. And it has to stop now. And what we’re seeing and I think what’s so important that perhaps not all Ugandans recognise is what this [conflict] costs other countries in the world. You know, certainly since the start of this war, we have seen fuel prices go up, we’ve seen the cost of food go up. And that is something that affects the average Ugandan citizen, and not just today, I mean, the lasting impacts. So, this is not just about what’s happened over the past year or what’s going on today, this has long term ramifications not just for the Ukrainian people, but for the rest of the world.

The US and your allies refer to the UN charter as a document so sacred that it must be protected in Russia’s case but some experts have pointed to past examples when other super powers have acted unilaterally. A case in point is US on Iraq, Nato on Libya, and Britain on Falkland islands in 1982. How do we reconcile these facts much as two wrongs don’t make a right?

Well, you refer to Libya, and at that point, there was a request of the UN to activate a no-fly zone over Libya to support the Libyan people. And that is what happened. In this case, Russia violated international law. It didn’t go to the UN Security Council, it didn’t talk to other members, it took unilateral action, and then violated the borders of Ukraine, you know, completely unprovoked. I mean, this was an act of aggression.

US President Joe Biden (left) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. PHOTO | FILE

So, but you know, as you said, these were different situations and historians, experts, you know, we can debate all of these things, for years to come. But I think the important thing is to look at the situation where we are right now. And where we are right now is that you have a country that is under duress, its people are suffering, and this was completely unprovoked. And we know how to stop that. And that is with President Putin and Russia putting an end to this.

Don’t you think this is a continuation of the West-East bad blood which has been burbling below the surface since the collapse of the USSR in 1991?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, you know, American companies, Western companies, went in and set up companies in Russia, relations between the two countries were flourishing. So, I don’t see this as a continuation of this. This was a decision, you know, by President Putin. And I think, you know, the world has certainly become more interconnected. You know, technology has facilitated that over the years. And the more we work together, the better we all are. And, again, you know, what has happened over the past year that’s happening now. It undermines all of that progress. And the ramifications are lasting; just think about what it’s going to cost to help rebuild Ukraine.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sort of reinforced this point—in their peace plan on February 24th that: “abandoning the Cold War mentality; that the security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries”?

But no one was threatening Russia’s borders when they launched this attack against Ukraine. So, I think that that position is meritless. You know, Ukrainian people were and Ukraine developing relations with all of their neighbours when Russia launched this attack. And I would love to see all of us getting back to when countries live in harmony with their neighbours, where there’s trade, where there’s tourism between countries because those kinds of relationships, economic investments strengthen all of us and everyone benefits. And again, as a result of what’s been happening over the past year, that’s undermined the food security, economic security of not just the people in Ukraine, but for everyone around the world.

There have been several votes at the UN General Assembly and I am sure you have followed closely. African countries have been careful not to be directly drawn in the conflict even with the clear violation of international law, while some like Uganda have elected to remain neutral. President Museveni has argued that he doesn’t believe in becoming enemies with other people’s enemies. What do you make of that?

Well, for the most recent vote in General Assembly, you saw an increase in the number of countries that voted in support of the resolution, including from this region; Kenya voted for the resolution, DR Congo and Rwanda. I think it’s possible to maintain relations with countries and still say that this action was wrong. I was really pleased to see that President Museveni spoke with President Zelensky; I hope those kinds of dialogues continue. And I hope it leads to something concrete. President Museveni has often emphasised, as you just said, the importance of having good relationships with other countries in the world. And I hope he uses his good offices to encourage President Putin to put an end to this war.

How significant is President Museveni talking to President Zelensky if Kampala has vowed to remain neutral?

So, I don’t know the substance of the conversation. I know what was reported in the media and certainly what President Zelensky shared. But as you said, any solution to this situation, as we often say nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So, it’s important that you can’t be part of this conversation. And you have this first time conversation; that’s an important step. I hope it’s not the last conversation and again, and I hope it leads to something productive that contributes to an enduring peace, where Ukraine’s borders are respected.

Don’t you see this—the conflict if it prolongs—as the beginning to deconstructing and reconstructing multilateralism. Look at how deeply and dangerously divided the world is?

I don’t know if I fully follow your train of thought. But what we have seen over the past year is UN member states come together in support of Ukraine and against this aggressive act against the destruction, against the loss of lives. And so, I think, the past year, we’ve seen really how important the UN is, as a forum for countries to come together to talk about shared values and to work together towards a more, you know, for peace around the world, not just between Russia and Ukraine, but globally. You have seen member states come together to ensure that you know, grain and fuel reach countries that were so reliant on what was coming out of both Russia in terms of fuel and oil, and Ukraine in terms of grain. So, I think it’s extremely important to have this UN system and a mechanism where countries can come together and work together for shared goals that benefit us.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo | AFP

A day or two to the Russian invasion anniversary we saw an interesting development; from the BRICs strategic alliance to the trilateral— China, Russia, and South Africa— joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean. Did it mean anything?

I am going to talk a little bit just about the benefits of strong relations between African countries and the United States and certainly African countries with their neighbours. Last December, President Biden hosted the US African Leaders summit, bringing Heads of State from across the continent to come together to talk about economic prosperity to talk about good governance, accountability, all of the things that are going to help countries prosper and grow and support their citizens. And you know, it’s important to have strong relationships we believe with between the United States and certainly Uganda, or other countries on the continent, we want to see those strong relationships grow between countries.

This is something President Museveni has talked about, strengthening the East African countries in most relationships; you know, the trade, the tourism, the partnership on these things that contributes to the growth and the stability in the region. And, you know, countries need to develop relations with other countries in the world whether it’s as a trading partner for other alliances. But I think countries also need to, to look closely at all of their relationships to make sure that it’s benefiting their citizens.


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