The world has been holding its breath, since the Russian operations in Ukraine started in the early hours of last Friday.
Everybody around the globe follows the events moment by moment. Political positions have, meanwhile, rolled over after the Ukrainian crisis began.
We have seen political and economic sanctions pouring onto Russia, while statements and positions kept filling the atmosphere.
We see pictures and videos coming from the Ukrainian side and others coming from the Russian side.
This puts those closely watching the crisis in a race to know the truth and scrutinize reports coming out of the war field.
We insist on listening to all points of view. This was why we had a series of interviews with the Russian ambassador to Cairo. These interviews were followed by another interview with Ukrainian chargé d’affairs in Cairo.
Russia always talks about the importance of the presence of American guarantees. It also expresses fears from NATO’s expansion to the east.
The ongoing Russian operation in Ukraine aims to protect Russian national security against American ballistic missiles, Moscow says.
This is exactly why we cannot miss listening to the American point of view. We listen to it in this exclusive interview with Samuel Warburg, the regional spokesman for the US State Department in the Middle East.
Will the US and NATO succeed in excluding Russia from the international system through the latest set of sanctions?
Thank you for hosting me through this important platform, al-Bawaba. It is not NATO that has isolated Russia. It is rather Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who took his country away from the international community. What we find now is that Russia has been isolated from the international community, and there are also indications within the Russian society of protests and things like that. There are also other indications that President Putin is isolated from his people. If we put the responsibility in the right place, Russia is the one that should carry this responsibility for its invasion and attacks. It is the party that started the war. If we ask who isolates Russia from the international community, it is Russia itself.
Why did Ukraine seek to join the European Union and NATO? Russia says it will take US ballistic missiles five minutes to reach Moscow and this threatens its national security.
So now we must agree on the international principles that we agreed on decades ago. Is there a country that has the right to tell another country to be part of this alliance or not to be part of it? Is this true, of course, not true? Decades ago, we agreed around the world that there should be a free choice. Each country is free to choose its allies, partners and friends. We hear discourse from Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and President Putin about Russia’s concerns and security guarantees. This is a very strange thing. We must also take into account some facts. The facts before us are very realistic: Who invaded Ukraine? Russia. Who invaded Georgia? Russia. Who used trade and energy to intimidate European leaders? Russia as well. And who made an illegal recognition of these places within the Ukrainian borders, the Donbas region? Russia. After all that, who is also carrying out these brutal strikes and attacks against the Ukrainian people? It is Russia.
Now you see videos and pictures daily about civilians dying, suffering and displaced by the thousands. So, who did all this? Is it NATO? Is it Ukraine? Is it any country in the European Union? No, but it is Russia.
The sanctions the US and Europe impose on Russia now will affect the supply of Russian gas which is necessary for heating homes and making your factories run. This means that you impose sanctions, knowing that they will negatively affect your peoples.
Like President Biden said, we will take all necessary measures to protect ourselves from any damages and sanctions. We will work closely with our partners in the European Union and elsewhere, and in the Middle East, Africa and North Africa region as well.
We will work closely with them and the American economy will not be harmed. Any if any harm befalls the international economy as a result of the sanctions, this will affect everybody, the Americans, the Europeans, the Middle East and especially the Egyptians. Egypt imports wheat from both Russia and Ukraine. President Putin chose this war which will affect the international economy, including the Egyptian economy of course.
When America invaded Iraq, the Iraqi people suffered and were displaced. These displaced Iraqis became refugees in other countries. Iraq’s education was affected and jobs became rare in it. You blame Russia now, but why did not you blame yourselves when you invaded Iraq? Do not you think you are applying double standards here?
I was in Baghdad and worked for a year there from 2009 to 2010. I know the Iraqi people. We have done everything in our power and we now have strong relations with the Iraqi government. We work hard to confront terrorism and ISIS, in addition to combating Covid-19.
Today, the Ukrainian people are annihilated, and Russian missiles strike civilians and attack a sovereign country in Europe. There is no similarity between what happened in 2003 in Iraq and what is happening in Ukraine now. If we want a similarity between two wars, then the invasion of Ukraine is like Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq in the 1990s.
How does America defend freedom and human rights while at the same time shut down Russian media platforms and besiege them on social media?
I do not know anything about this issue. The US does not interfere with freedom of opinion and expression and human rights as some governments do in the Middle East. This is a matter of private companies, such as Twitter and Facebook. We must differentiate between facts and the lies funded by Russian government.
Has the Ukraine crisis put relations between the US and the EU back on the right track after the rupture that happened in these relations due to the French submarine crisis and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan?
President Biden’s administration has aimed from day one to restore relations with Europe, the countries of the Middle East, Africa and every country in the world. We have achieved that, and we have already distinguished historical relations with Europe for decades. As ever, Russian President Putin united the international community against him.
After the Ukrainian crisis, will America’s policy toward the Middle East change?
The US administration has maintained its relations with Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Morocco, for decades. These relations are not linked to governments only. They extend to peoples. Now we have an opportunity to work and improve relations for the better politically, economically and popularly. We must work and unite against the Russian aggression. We are waiting for the Arab position to condemn the Russian brutality and the invasion of Ukraine. What is your comment on demands by the Ukrainian chargé d’Affairs in Cairo for real support for his country in the crisis?
We have two tracks to deal with this crisis, the first being support to the Ukrainian people and the government. The second track is to hold the Russian government accountable. This year, we provided defense military aid to Ukraine worth $650 million. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, announced another aid package worth $350 million. This brings the total aid to $1 billion.
We also work to alleviate the humanitarian crisis inside Ukraine by providing $54 million in addition to working with Ukraine’s neighboring countries to receive refugees. We stand by the Ukrainian government and people in addition to the European Union and every country in the world that supports them, except Russia.
Will the US or NATO intervene on the ground in Ukraine?
I cannot speak on behalf of NATO, but like President Biden said we will not interfere directly and work closely with the Ukrainians. We will provide them with all capabilities and military resources by cooperating with the neighboring countries of Kiev to deliver aid to the Ukrainians. The US President has taken a decision to transfer thousands of American soldiers to the eastern part of NATO, in Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We will defend NATO countries.
The Arabs accuse the US of applying double standards, when it comes to the way the US treats the Palestinian and Ukrainian crises. How do you comment on this?
I am not happy with this matter. The administration of President Trump cut off ties with the Palestinians and deprived them of aid. We are now working on the return of those ties. We have returned aid to the Palestinian people through UNRWA and provide them with all support in cooperation with Egypt.
If we want to compare, we must compare between what is happening in Ukraine and what the Syrian regime is committing against its people with Putin’s help. The US opposed normalization with the Syrian regime and the return of relations with Bashar al-Assad.
What is your comment on remarks by the Russian ambassador in Cairo that the US refuses to provide guarantees to Moscow that Ukraine will not join NATO?
Nobody, including Russia, the US or other countries, has the right to impose diktats or conditions on Ukraine or prevent it from determining its fate, whether by joining NATO or any other alliance or even the EU. It is impossible for Washington to force Kyiv to join NATO. When we hear this talk about American guarantees and Russian fears, I say once again who invaded Ukraine in 2014. It was not NATO or any country in the EU that launched this brutal war against Ukraine or placed their armies inside Ukrainian borders. It is Russia that did this. So when we hear this talk and these lies about security guarantees and Russian fears, the analogy of the executioner being afraid of the victims always comes to mind.
The Russians say they intervened to protect ethnic Russian citizens who speak Russian, who suffered persecution, being burned alive, and so on.
This is international law now. Countries cannot say that some people in other countries speak their own language and this is why they have the right to change borders. Is this the new international law? I know of no country that has approved this new law.
How do you view President Putin’s orders to his country’s officials to make the nuclear forces in Russia ready? Do you see this as opening the door for the threat of nuclear intervention by Russia in Ukraine? Who can bear the consequences if this nuclear war occurs?
It was President Putin who started this. So there is no question about who bears the responsibility. The person who started this should bear the responsibility.
The US views this as another hint of escalation from the Russian side. There is no room here for any discussion about nuclear weapons. This discussion is impossible on the part of the US and the international community, in general. There is a very broad condemnation of this discourse and these words that we hear from President Putin and other Russian officials.
As an American diplomat, how do you think this crisis can come to an end? What if an all-out war erupts in Ukraine?
I am not a political analyst and I do not speculate on the outcome. However, the US is ready for any scenarios. We would have preferred the diplomatic track, but the Russian government closed this door and started war on the Ukrainian people. So, now the US is working closely with the Ukrainian people, NATO and other countries. We are taking all measures and sanctions to send a very clear message in coordination with the international community against President Putin, against his close circle and against the Russian government.
We want the international community to convince Russia to immediately stop the attacks and withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territories. We want Russia to reconsider its aggressions. So this is what we want. We want to hear from Arab leaders, from the Egyptian government, and from other governments in this region. We want to hear a clear and strong condemnation of this war which chosen by President Putin.
A round of Russian-Ukrainian talks took place on the borders of Belarus. Do you think these talks will open the door for a diplomatic solution? Do you think President Putin will roll his military operation in Ukraine back?
Russian does not respect the law and violates the sovereignty of other countries. The US, on the other hand, respects the sovereignty of other countries. It respects the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state. If Ukraine’s democratically elected president chooses to be in negotiations with the Russian side, let him do this. The US, the EU and other countries cannot tell the Ukrainians whether they should negotiate or not. It is very difficult to imagine that there will be any benefit from negotiations during the war.
Now every day there are pictures and videos of missile attacks from Russia on the Ukrainian people. This is our view, but the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian president should take the decision because we are a country that respects the sovereignty of other countries.