Diplomats are trying to cool tensions between the U.S., Russia and Ukraine. Former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering, talks to NPR’s Scott Simon about what’s at stake for all sides.
Listen to the interview online: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/01/284338442/u-s-ambassador-on-costs-of-russias-moves-in-ukraine
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And we are joined in the studio now by Ambassador Thomas Pickering. He has served his nation in many different posts, including U.S. ambassador to Russia. He was also, of course, the U.S. representative of the United Nations. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.
THOMAS PICKERING: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: You just heard our correspondent on the ground in Kiev. President Obama said there will be costs. What could that be?
PICKERING: It’s a worrying and difficult situation. I think that the costs at the moment that we see being postulated are that the president would not attend a summit meeting of the G-8 in June, and that there would be some slowdown, termination or otherwise a gap in trade talks taking place with Russia. It seems to me that the concern in Ukraine that these are not enough is at the moment an important factor that needs to be looked at. The really interesting question, Scott, is what’s the other source of leverage here? Some of that in the past has been military confrontation. I can think back at the crisis in the Middle East right after the end of the Yom Kippur-Ramadan war when we went on alert. I could think back to the Cuban missile crisis. It, hopefully, will never get to that stage. The president has postulated diplomacy. President Putin had just a few days ago suggested diplomacy. My own sense is that if the Black Sea fleet is really at stake here and not the takeover of Crimea, which we’re all worried about and the breakup of Ukraine, which would be very, very difficult maneuvers.
The president needs to do the kind of job that’s been in the past of mobilizing the Europeans and the rest of the world community, beginning to think about what other kinds of steps we might take in effect to reinforce diplomacy, whether it is possible to curtail movements or the outlet of the Black Sea fleet into the Mediterranean. That would be a blockade, a quarantine…
SIMON: Yeah, (unintelligible) step.
PICKERING: …that would be a tough move. Whether in fact the Europeans can undertake to deal with Russia at a time of very cold winter weather on the supply of gas and petroleum. In the past, the Ukraine itself has in fact taken steps when the Russians sought to raise the price of fuel to Ukraine, to block those movements of gas into Western Europe. Whether there are tougher steps here that need to be taken, and I would say to reinforce diplomacy, you have to be very careful as you move here. No one wants to see a military confrontation. No one wants to see the breakup of Ukraine. One does want to see fair treatment, if you could put it this way, to all Ukrainian citizens. And no one that I know of now is threatening the stability or the security or the Black Sea fleet, seemingly the basis on which Russians have moved forces into Crimea or indeed mobilized Black Sea fleet forces to control airports, perhaps to protect Russian military housing and things of that sort.
SIMON: Let me – in the minute we have left, Mr. Ambassador, the United States has hoped to make Russia a partner in brokering something in Iran, brokering something in Syria, perhaps, even tamping down North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. Does whatever’s happened over the past 48 hours, past few hours, maybe even past few weeks, make Russia a less trustworthy partner?
PICKERING: It begins to raise the stakes. One has to look at what the interests are here. It is also possible that the stakes on the other side are significant to Russia. That is they don’t want deep disturbance with Iran or the collapse of the nuclear talks. They have serious interest in Syria. Indeed, the Black Sea fleet may be one of their connections to Syria as we go ahead. So, we need to look at how this leverage plays out on both sides. I think the early decision to send some kind of U.N. mediator to Ukraine is important but I would even think it’s more important and I hope this is taking place, and I suspect it is, that direct bilateral context with Russia, with our European allies and with those who can influence Russia are even more significant to get the diplomacy working.
SIMON: U.S. Ambassador Tom Pickering. Thanks so much.
PICKERING: Thank you, Scott.
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