Victor Pinchuk Foundation held YES Online Conversation with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and President of Estonia 2016-2021 Kersti Kaljulaid

27 January 2022

Victor Pinchuk Foundation in partnership with the Yalta European Strategy (YES) continues its series of online discussions on global challenges and what they mean for Ukraine. During the recent YES Online Conversation, held on January 26, 2022, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and President of Estonia 2016-2021, YES Board member, Kersti Kaljulaid focused on the unprecedented escalation along Ukraine’s eastern border and latest diplomatic engagements by the U.S., NATO allies and Russia.

In her introductory remarks, Wendy R. Sherman said: “As we speak, Russia is escalating its threat towards Ukraine. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders in an unprovoked buildup of military force and has sent additional troops to Belarus, allegedly for large scale military exercises.”

“There is no defensive justification for Russia to amass so many troops in such a short time on Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine poses no threat to Russia. It bears repeating that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014 and occupies Crimea to this day. It is Russia that continues to fuel a war in eastern Ukraine,” she added.

“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, and we remain committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity,” Wendy R. Sherman stressed.

She noted that since 2014, the U.S. has allocated more than 5.5bn U.S. dollars in security and non-security assistance to Ukraine. In December, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized 200m U.S. dollars in security assistance to Ukraine, the first shipments of which have started arriving in Kyiv already.

“All of us hope that Ukraine will not need to use these arms, of course. But if it comes to that, Ukraine will be better able to defend itself from further Russian aggression thanks to these efforts. The United States and our NATO allies and European partners are fully committed to the principle of nothing about you without you. That is to say nothing about NATO without NATO, nothing about Europe without Europe and nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Wendy R. Sherman said.

Kersti Kaljulaid thanked U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for reassurances that nothing about Ukraine will be decided without its involvement. She asked her interlocutor what Kyiv allies in the West can do to make this message more clear.

Wendy R. Sherman answered: “Russia should choose diplomacy. There is no way that Russia with the largest conventional military in Europe, on Security Council as a permanent member and enormous land mass with tremendous energy resources, a country that is one of the two largest nuclear powers in the world could possibly be threatened by Ukraine - a smaller and still developing country. And in addition, there is no threat by NATO. NATO is a defensive alliance.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State mentioned that NATO invoked Article 5, which says “an attack on one is an attack on all”, only once by coming to the defense of the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks.

NATO “Has not taken any offensive action in Europe or elsewhere, no coercion, no subversion. Russia should likewise: no taking countries by force, no changing borders by force, no coercion, no subversion. So, pushing for diplomacy with solidarity in every form that we have, and secondly, preparing for the worst,” she stressed. 

Answering Kersti Kaljulaid’s question about possible imposition of sanctions against Russia, Wendy R. Sherman said: “We think about the risks to Europe, but we also think about the risks to Russia. They need to sell the energy, they need to put it on the market in Europe and get payment for it. They need it for their economy, and it’s very critical for their economy. So this is interdependent.” 

She quoted a senior U.S. official commenting on the issue in the following way: “Moscow needed oil revenue as much as Europe looked to Russia for energy supplies. The energy issue should be looked at as more of interdependency rather than pure advantage for Putin.

Kersti Kaljulaid asked about possible scenarios that could be unfolding around Ukraine in terms of Russia’s threat. 

Wendy R. Sherman answered: “We are preparing for all kinds of scenarios. A full-on invasion, any troops… The Secretary of State said the other day that even one Russian troop further invading Ukraine is a very serious matter, because it breaches all the principles of international security and says that another country can act with impunity, which has tremendous consequences for Ukraine and Europe. But it also sends a message to the entire world that other autocrats can act with such impunity and go past long-held international principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“I don’t know what’s in President Putin’s mind. There is only one person who knows that and that’s President Putin. I suspect that even the people around him don’t know what he ultimately will do,” she added.

Wendy R. Sherman stressed that “we speak about the further invasion of Ukraine, because indeed they have illegally attempted an annex of Crimea and they have constantly pressed in east, in the Donbas region.”

Kersti Kaljulaid said that many Ukrainians are occupied about the prospect of an air attack on their country and asked about military help to Ukraine with weapons from its allies and partners. 

Wendy R. Sherman answered: “President Zelensky is in a tough position, because he wants his economy to move forward, and all the talk of military strikes and conflict create not the best investment environment. So we have to help in every way we can economically to Ukraine, so that they can get through this difficult time, and we have to help them prepare militarily in every way we can so that they know they have support going forward.”

She continued addressing Russia: “Whatever you do, know that this is not Ukraine of years ago. This is Ukraine with a military that is capable. This is a country that’s going to stand up for itself.

Kersti Kaljulaid, in turn, appreciated Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts on reforming the country at such difficult times: “I do appreciate what President Zelensky has been doing in reforming the healthcare, staring the land reform, which should have been done already long ago, also trying to fight corruption and make Ukraine a better investment climate. And this is despite a country being at war. Show me another country global in the world that has managed to do that.”

The ex-president of Estonia quoted a recent survey commissioned by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and YES that indicated a growing support for Ukraine against Russia in six European nations. Western public support is based on broadly positive attitudes towards Ukraine, and to the idea of the country joining the EU and NATO, the survey revealed.

Commenting on these findings, Wendy R. Sherman brought up the issue of propaganda being disseminated by Russia: “During December, Russian-language content escalating tension increased to nearly 3,500 posts per day - a 200% increase over November. So in Russia they work really hard to create these false narratives to say to Russian people that it’s all Ukraine’s fault, when of course this crisis has been completely manufactured by Russia.”

In her closing remarks, Wendy R. Sherman said: “Russia has no right to decide for Ukraine or any other country what its borders will be and what their future will be. We believe in the sovereignty of Ukraine, in the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the right of Ukraine and Ukrainian people to choose their own future.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Kersti Kaljulaid thanked Wendy R. Sherman for reassurances and reiteration of US support to Ukraine: “We do feel slightly reassured, but we are still waiting for US to continuously daily or twice daily, whatever it takes, efforts to convince Russians that we do mean the business of protecting Ukraine, protecting the right of the free world, including NATO to protect itself and to be united as always.” 

YES and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation remain committed to integrating Ukraine with the world and put the country on the international agenda. Since 2004, Yalta European Strategy has been the main non-governmental platform for connecting the world and Ukraine. The YES Annual Meetings have brought together world political, business and thought leaders to discuss Ukraine’s future and pressing global challenges.

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David Rubenstein
David Rubenstein
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman, The Carlyle Group, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«If you do things that can make the country a better place, you’re more likely to achieve personal happiness than through anything else you’re likely to do in the short term.»