Prague: If Russia crosses Ukraine’s border, it will face economic war
Since January 2014, Lubomír Zaorálek has served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. He was also the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies between 2002 and 2006. Zaorálek is a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party. He spoke to EurActiv's Adela Denkova.
When you look on what is now happening in eastern Ukraine, do you consider it to be another part of the Russian strategy to exert pressure on Kyiv, or is it a spontaneous development?
I think that what is now happening in Ukraine is not accidental. I had already warned that we could expect a destabilization in the eastern part of the country. Russia has no interest in a successful presidential election in May. If Ukraine manages to organize a successful presidential election now, and a parliamentary election in the autumn, it will be very difficult for anyone to question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian leadership. Which is not appropriate today either. The Ukrainian Parliament was elected one and half years ago, and I would not like to see Russia question the results of Ukrainian election. It was the State Duma who adjudicated the military action in Ukraine, and that is exactly the fact that enables anyone in Ukraine to declare the will to become part of Russia.
Has the EU already agreed on an exact sequence of sanctions for the case that the situation escalates? Or is there still a need to negotiate?
The member states have been holding talks about their united action constantly. The EU decided on three phases of reaction. We are now at the second stage, and we have agreed that if the Russian troops cross the borders of Ukraine, the EU will adopt economic sanctions. So the member states have a general idea about the common steps that would follow any further escalation.
And there will be no state, as for example the Czech Republic, that could further hesitate to impose economic sanctions, because it could harm its own economy?
I do not think this is probable. No member state wants to surprise the others and avoid the imposition of sanctions. That is why the EU established working groups which operate constantly, and each country is represented there. We know which sanctions to launch after a certain point is crossed. I talked to representative of various EU countries, including those which are economically tied to Russia. They will not weaken the common position. Each of them understands how important it is for the EU to react unanimously. If we decided to impose economic sanctions, we would naturally also look for measures to reduce the economic damage which some of the member states could suffer.
Do you think the EU is prepared for this?
The impact would be dangerous for the EU; nevertheless, it would be far more troublesome for Russia. Moscow must count on the risks of a potential economic war. Russia cannot expect the EU to crumble and member states to leave the common position because of internal interests. Thanks to the united position of the EU countries, the risk of an economic war decreases, because Moscow takes the responsibility also for the consequences that the situation could have for Russia itself. I think the EU is much better prepared for this than Russia. Putting it simply, you can sell your oil somewhere else if you lose a customer. But you cannot build new gas pipelines in a short period of time. If Russia wanted to export gas to China instead of Europe, it would take few years to start with the supplies. If Russia decided to occupy Ukraine, the situation would be more difficult for them than for us.