- By James Landale
- Diplomatic correspondent in Kiev
Countries that “mistreated Ukraine” will be held accountable after the end of the war, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned.
In a BBC interview, he said that the choice made by each country after Russia’s full-scale invasion “will be taken into account in building future relations”.
He also warned that delays in Western arms deliveries would cost Ukrainian lives.
“If a delivery is delayed for a day, it means someone on the front line dies,” he said.
In an extensive interview, Mr. Kuleba also how he thinks the war will end, China’s role in the war and his disappointment that Pope Francis has yet to visit his wartime country.
Kuleba spoke to the BBC in the imposing Soviet-era Foreign Ministry in the heart of Kiev, now protected by sandbags and armed guards.
While Ukraine has received military and economic support from Western powers since Russia’s invasion, many countries in Africa, Asia and South America have remained on the sidelines.
Some are historically sympathetic to Russia, some worry about the economic cost of the war, and others feel the West is unnecessarily prolonging the fighting.
But Mr Kuleba made it clear that countries that did not support Ukraine now – those, he said, who had “misbehaved and mistreated Ukraine during the course of this war” would pay a price in the future.
Ukraine may well depend on Western aid and military support in the medium to long term, so its diplomatic disapproval may not be of concern to some countries. But in peacetime, Ukraine’s massive grain exports bring considerable economic influence, particularly in parts of the developing world.
“If anyone in the world thinks that the way this or that country behaved – or treated Ukraine in the darkest moment of its history – will not be taken into account in building future relations, then these people simply do not know how diplomacy works.” he said.
“War is a time when you have to make a choice. And every choice is recorded.”
Kuleba said Western allies were not giving Ukraine military support quickly enough because they were not ready for a conflict on the scale of World War I. And what he needed were artillery shells.
“We want partners to act faster,” he said. “And if one delivery is delayed for a day, it means someone on the front line dies.
“It means that someone who could have been alive will die.”
Nowhere is the demand for ammunition greater than in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian troops have held out against repeated Russian attempts to take the city for more than seven months.
This, Mr Kuleba said, was “very emotionally challenging” because of the losses incurred.
But if Bakhmut fell, other cities would be next: “So to save lives there…we have to fight in Bakhmut as long as we physically can.”
There was no sign, he said, that Russia would be willing to negotiate an end to the fighting, but he added: “Every war ends at the negotiating table… But my goal as foreign minister is to make sure that Ukraine comes to the table.” after a decisive success on the battlefield.”
And that includes building the strongest possible coalition of support, an alliance he says doesn’t include the pope. Mr. Kuleba said it was not for him, but for God to judge the Holy Father, but he said: “We deeply regret that the Pope has not found an opportunity to visit Ukraine since the beginning of the war.”
China, too, has so far resisted lobbying Ukraine for a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, though the Chinese leader is expected to visit Moscow soon.
Mr Kuleba said his president was ready for a phone call with Mr Xi, adding: “I don’t think China has reached the point now…when it is ready to arm Russia.”
As for the United States, some analysts have speculated that support for Ukraine could wane after next year’s presidential election. But Mr Kuleba said: “I think we can outlast any Republican vote”, emphasizing “the greatest luxury Ukraine enjoys in the United States is its bipartisan support in both Democratic and Republican camps”.
As his country’s top diplomat, Dmytro Kuleba remains quietly convinced that Ukraine can maintain the support of the allies that matter: those who offer tangible support.
And, he says, Ukraine has one crucial factor on its side: “Historically, Ukraine has been unfairly undervalued, and I regret that it took bloodshed and a devastating war for the world to realize how cool we are.
“And we’ll always be cool. But it just took you too long to realize that.”