Belarus will be welcomed into the European family of nations.
Is there a threat of Putin's troops attacking the EU? Could the West have stopped the Kremlin before its invasion of Ukraine? Charter97.org spoke to Swedish Member of the European Parliament Karin Karlsbro about it.
— In the end of 2021 Russian propaganda aired a video where a former high-ranking military official suggested that Russia could occupy Gotland. Should Sweden take these threats seriously?
— I think, we have to take all these threats from Russia seriously. Not only this, but if we look back, in a longer perspective we have a long history of Russian threats and, let me call them, interventions on how we should make our choice when it comes to foreign policy and security and defense policy and structure.
I think we have to remind us, that is was not 200 years back, but when I was still a kid, when a Russian submarine just turned up in the archipelago South of Sweden. And it was not just a coincidence. They have had military activities around our countries. They have investigated our coastline. Of course, Sweden is of strategic interest for Russia. And that's why Russia always have tried to push us in the line, which benefits them.
So, we are used to different kind of threats from Russia, but what we have seen in the latest months, it's more specific threats. In February, Russians sent a letter to our government with security demands. Also, in the beginning of March there was an incident with four Russian airplanes crossing the Swedish border close to Gotland. Of course, that was a reaction to the Swedish support to Ukraine, our steps to you improve our cooperation with NATO.
They have been acting like this for years, but it's more specific, it's more clear, and it's also backed up from the Kremlin. Maria Zakharova was very very specific: we have to understand that the Swedish approach to NATO will have consequences.
What they say and what they do — has, of course, an impact. For my party it has been so important to organize the military defense on Gotland. For some years, there was no military defense placed on Gotland, but now we have military forces again, and we also have equipment to protect the airspace of Gotland.
— Would Sweden be more safe should it join NATO?
— Yes. I've been in favor of a Swedish NATO membership since 1995. When I was the president of Liberal Youth of Sweden. And we pushed all our mother party for the same direction. The Liberal Party in Sweden was the first political party in the country to take the position in favor of a Swedish membership in NATO in 1999 as a response to what was going on in Russia with Putin who came to power. We made that analysis that this is important, this is not going in the right direction. You could see the small signals. At the same time, it was a window of opportunity; there were no threats like this at that time. So, why don't take the chance and in a peaceful time to do that? So, that's my strong position on this. And now, for the first time ever, I think, in the last opinion poll 51% of the Swedish population wants to join NATO.
— Do you think the West missed an opportunity to respond to Russian actions back then when it was war in Chechnya?
— Yes. I think so.
— What should be done back then?
— We know exactly what Putin had been doing in Chechnya, in Ukraine [in 2014], in Syria. And we know also what Putin had been doing in Russia against Russians. But, in the same time, Germany decided to close down their nuclear power plants and rely much more than ever on Russian gas. And Nord Stream 2 was built at the same time.
We can't say that we didn't see. But some countries in the EU closed their eyes for what was going on. It was, of course, very naive.
— In Chechnya it was one city, Grozny, in Syria — 2 cities, Aleppo and Homs, which Russia-affiliated troops destroyed. But what is Putin trying to achieve now by leveling down Ukrainian cities? What is the aim in doing so?
— It's so insane what we see. There is no logic. It's like a suicide bomber. It's not logical at all, because if you fight for something, you fight for a river or for a natural resource. You fight for something. It was insane from the beginning in Ukraine, a brother country, with also Russian-speaking population
It seems to be more and more clear that he wants, as my Ukrainian friends say, to delete Ukraine from the map, totally destroy it, so it does not even exist. "If I can't get it, I will destroy it," — it's very infantile, in a way.
If we turn it around and ask ourselves, "Will he be delighted with the Eastern part of Ukraine? Will he stop somewhere?" — I don't think so. This is why he is so dangerous. On the other hand, I think, it gives him appetite to eat more as he gains. And if it doesn't go his way (actually, he has really a problem now) he will destroy the country.
— Ukrainian intellectuals say, that should Ukraine fall, then Putin did not give any guarantee that he would not use a nuclear weapon…
— …or chemical, or biological weapons. So, that's why I think, Putin has to be stopped now.
— Should Ukraine be accepted in the EU?
— Yes. Yes, of course.
— But, practically speaking, how to do that?
— We have asked the Commission to set up a special plan to make a speedy roadmap for a membership. Of course, all EU members have live up to EU standards when it comes to the rule of law, the possibility to apply EU legislation and all these kind of things.
But we are in a totally new situation. We have a country which actually fights for its existence, and it's also a fight for the European values, the European Union. So, the political message "We accept you", I think, is the only message you can give. To say "No" to them, that's also a message. And that would be total betrayal of the Ukrainians, because their fight is also our fight.
Especially as a Swedish, I really feel so much about this, because they are not members in NATO, as Sweden is not a member in NATO. Sweden and Ukraine have the same level of cooperation with NATO. It means that you exercise together with NATO, you share information, you do a lot of things, but you are not protected. So they fight for us.
To accept them, if they want, as members and have a common roadmap for that — the issue is not to ask Ukrainians to fulfill their future commitments to rule of law. I'm quite sure that they will do that, and it is not the right focus today.
— Some people in Belarus think that if the West imposed proper sanctions on Lukashenka regime in 2020 there would be no such large war in Ukraine today.
— It's impossible to say. I'm not sure that it's so easy, because I think this man would've been stopped much earlier than 2020. I think, he had waited for another moment. But, the general conclusion is that we should have acted tougher much earlier, more united, stronger in the EU, in the UN, in all international organizations.
The problem is that the West, including my government, they have trusted Kremlin — you can't trust them, because you can see that they do something and say something and do something else. But the problem is that is that we have trusted them. But, of course, tougher sanction on Belarus would make it more difficult. But it's not only a sanctions. I think, we have to go back to our business relations with Russia when it comes to gas. He knows his position when he can cut the gas and put us in a quite tough situation.
— What would be your message to the people of Belarus who are against the regime? What could they do, what should they do under these terrible circumstances?
— First of all, we see, we know, we follow what's happening, and I think, all the information that gets out is so important to help us to act and to ask for sanctions, ask for more actions based on the truth, because what's going on in Russia and Belarus it's so evil, it's a hell. So, it's easier to close your eyes for it.
It's hard to see, but it's so important to spread out to the world. And I think that Viasna, for example, and all the people on Twitter, social media, the brave people who spread out the information, they really do an amazing job.
And then they should also know that the elected president Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya does some excellent work to speak to the world, to people outside European Parliament and political buildings. She really speaks to a bigger audience and presents another Belarus, not Lukashenka's Belarus. In the future, I hope at least, it's up to the Belarusian population to decide their destiny and future. But they would be happily invited and accepted in the European family — if they wanted to — and to decide which kind of relation they should have.
In the long run, it's not sustainable to have a so called "president" like Lukashenka who for decades stolen the power from the people. There is a generation who haven't seen another president but him, because he stole the power from the generation. It will end one day. They must be prepared to make that change because this will not last forever.