Espreso. Global

US, Poland should help Ukraine export grain — American expert Fried

24 September, 2023 Sunday

Daniel Fried, one of the creators of the US sanctions system, former coordinator of the State Department for Sanctions Policy speaks about the new grain deal and sanctions against Russia on Espreso TV


Our guest today is Daniel Freed, one of the creators of the American sanctions system, former coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department.

Extremely important meetings took place in the United States. We understand that there were several cases that we were all trying to resolve at the same time, including an extremely important message from President Zelensky, meetings between our Ukrainian and American political establishment. And so the key stories are about serious long-term assistance to Ukraine, but unfortunately, we have not received any signal regarding the allocation of long-range ATACMS missile systems.

I agree with you that the visit of president Zelensky to Washington as well as to New York at the UN General Assembly is important for two reasons. Firstly, president Zelensky will want to strengthen American support for Ukraine and its struggle for its survival. This is the right cause, Zelensky is right and he needs to impress on Americans from light right to left, Democrats and Republicans that Ukraine's cause is just and that Ukraine can actually succeed. That's one message.

The second message is that he is going to push the Biden Administration for more weapons. The Biden Administration has been debating internally about ATACMS, which you mentioned. I hope the administration will decide to send them to Ukraine soon. Zelensky is right to push for American weapons so that Ukraine can push back the Russians and retake its territory.

Penny Pritzker, who will coordinate and oversee large-scale economic assistance from the United States. We have heard about certain signals from the State Department and beyond, including the fight against Ukrainian corruption. I would not want certain concepts to be mixed up, but in any case, we understand that deeper cooperation is being held back by Penny Pritzker. What is the strategy of cooperation going to be like?

First, I think that naming the senior experienced American politician Penny Pritzker is a very good thing. This is not a mid-level bureaucrat. She is a political force. She has a high rank. She will be able to do things that I couldn't have done had I been in that position. And that's because of her political stature. That's very good.

You raise the issue of corruption. I would put it this way. Ukraine needs to fight for its life. And it needs an internal transformation to make the country part of the European family of nations. Ukraine will succeed in both but this is difficult. It's difficult, but not impossible. Ukraine knows the way because Poland, just your West, successfully transformed itself starting in 1989. And now they are a member of the European Union, a member of NATO and a much wealthier society.

So Ukraine will need physical reconstruction after the war but also systemic transformation. And I think Penny Pritzker can support Ukraine in both of those tasks.

The grain deal. There is a very serious mutual political, not just economic, misunderstanding between Ukraine and Poland. We understand that Ukraine has to sell its grain, and this is a strategic story for us. On the other hand, we understand that Poland would like to protect its own market, and there are a lot of different speculations and emotions which can take us very, very far. I see this as a huge, colossal danger. At the same time, when we are talking about the so-called grain deal, I would like to ask you why the position of the European Commission is so sluggish, unconvincing and ineffective, because it could have used its own funds to buy Ukrainian grain if it was about helping the starving countries of Africa, Asia, etc.

Unfortunately, you are right that in the last two three days the rhetoric between Poland and Ukraine has been harsh, and it has pleased the Kremlin which is not a good thing. Both the Polish and Ukrainian governments ought to step back from the rhetoric and understand that they are allies, and that this is no more than a quarrel within the family. Within a family emotions can be very high. And then we all know how to step back from family quarrels. That's important.

Poland as far as I know is allowing Ukrainian grain to transit Poland on the way to Africa and the Middle East. It has not blocked all Ukrainian grain, and you scarcely know this from some of the media commentary. So Poland has not blocked all Ukrainian grain. It is concerned about the selling of Ukrainian grain at low prices. and grain prices have been pushed down because of the large Russian harvest and the Russians flooding the market.

Now there is a way and you suggested that there is a way forward. In a situation like this the European Commission could probably broker some understanding that would protect Polish farmers and the Polish market allowing Ukraine to transit Poland on its way to world markets. That would be the best outcome. I'm not an expert in the details, but it seems to me that there is a way forward. I've been in touch with US and Polish officials today and they want a way forward. So it's a question of how Ukraine's friends can help it resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

There are fears that the Ukrainian-Polish misunderstanding may reach an even more unpleasant emotional level. In your opinion, is there any chance to establish this cooperation and return at least to the state that existed before the grain misunderstanding? The war is still going on, and Ukrainian-Polish understanding and the Ukrainian-Polish alliance have been a nightmare for the Kremlin since 1920.

You are absolutely right. Poland and Ukraine share a strategic interest in defending Europe's Eastern flank from Russian aggression. The Poles are well aware of the fact that in the 17th century they should have embraced Ukrainians and the Cossack Sich, and that Russia benefits when Poland and Ukraine quarrel. The Poles are well aware of this, and Poland has done a great deal for Ukraine because of humanitarian and strategic reasons. They know that friendship with Ukraine is in their interests, which it is. It's in all of our interests.

It is the Kremlin that wants to see Poland and Ukraine fighting. It's the friends of Poland and the friends of Ukraine, such as myself, who want to see Polish Ukrainian relations rise high to fulfill the dreams of leaders on both sides who understand that together they can be more secure than they can be if they are separate.

Last week, I spoke with Matthew Bryza, a former adviser to the Secretary of State, a mutual friend of ours. He said that the grain deal, in particular Russia's attempts to interpret it in its favor, its attempts to distort it, also indirectly indicates another process. Under the guise of this Russian version, they would like to push through the intensification of Russian gas supplies through Turkey and Bulgaria using the so-called Turkish Stream and then involve Serbia and Hungary. According to Ambassador Bryza, the European Commission is currently preparing to investigate this hidden case.

Matthew Bryan is a wise and experienced person. We have known each other for 30 years, and I think his advice tends to be good. He's got a point. The task we all face is how this helps Ukrainian exports reach world markets in the face of Russian war and aggression. This vision is possible. It involves transit through Poland, transit through Romania, some limited transport through the Black Sea, there's been some recently, and this will require also pressure on Russia. This is all possible and let's not forget the Ukrainian offensive is still continuing. It is possible that Ukraine will gain enough territory to be able to put Crimea at risk and change the strategic balance of the war.

The deals behind the scenes of big politics that President Zelensky mentioned in his speech at the UN General Assembly. The President of Ukraine said this out loud, that there are certain manifestations of what is called backstage politics, when some forces would like to solve the issue of Russian aggression at our expense.

President Zelensky is right and his point is that security cannot be divided. It is the aggression against Ukraine, and it will not just stop. This is a lesson we learned in the 20th century and we must not forget. Security for Ukraine is security for all of us. Under Putin Russia has returned to being an aggressor nation. We must be realistic about this. Russia is not our friend. Russia is an aggressor and it started wars to advance its imperial aims. This is a cause not just for Ukraine and NATO. It is a cause for the world.

Support for Ukraine is strong in Europe and the United States and among other countries, and I like the fact that the president Zelensky addressed the world at the United Nations. He is not the first leader to make these points, and he is right to do so.

Putin is counting on certain supporters of his version of how to end the war. He hopes that some Western elites will put pressure on the Ukrainian political establishment to either drag out the conflict as long as possible or freeze it. How determined will the American and European political elites be to help Ukraine win as soon as possible?

You are right that Putin is counting on a long war to exhaust American and European support for Ukraine. I think he is counting on that. He may be counting on the US elections next year to bring to power a US government. If Trump becomes president, that is more favorable to him than to the cause of freedom. This is what Putin is counting on. Therefore, the proper policy is to help Ukraine as much as we can right now, so it can push back the Russians, change the strategic balance of the war and put Russians as the British say on the back foot.

China's diplomacy is in another phase of increased activity. But what will be China's position now? Will China play to support Russia's aggression against Ukraine, or will Beijing try to restrain Putin and persuade him to end his aggression in one way or another?

I believe the Chinese do not want to see Putin defeated, but they are uncomfortable that he has started this war and even more uncomfortable that he started work that he cannot win. He cannot win and he cannot stop. This puts the Chinese in a difficult position. They don't want Putin to lose but they don't want to be dragged down by his loss or tie themselves to Putin too closely. We shouldn't expect a break between China and Russia but China's enthusiasm for supporting Putin's war is probably limited. This is a partnership with limits after all.

To what extent will President Biden be willing to pursue the cause of supporting Ukraine until we win? Or will he still use the formula to ensure that Ukraine does not lose? In my opinion, this is not just a semantic difference, it is an extremely significant change in the formula.

It is important to call for Ukraine to succeed, to win. Americans did not expect Ukraine to be able to fight as successfully as it had. The US government knew the war was coming. They were right about that. But they believed that Russia could overcome Ukraine quickly. They were wrong about that. And it took them a while to realize that Ukraine could actually succeed on the battlefield.

The US Administration, they don't want to over-promise. We all hope for Ukrainian victory. And I think it is a realistic possibility. It's not inevitable, the battlefield will decide much. Therefore, in my view rather than argue about semantics, we ought to be giving Ukraine the weapons it needs as soon as possible so that it can succeed on the battlefield.

We hoped once that the Russian economy would collapse. By some miracle, they managed to stabilize both the ruble and the overall domestic economic situation in Russia. Perhaps there are still some sanctions mechanisms that could help the Russian economy return to the state it was in, for example, in the late 80s. I understand that this process is ongoing, but I have a feeling that it is not going fast enough.

You are right that sanctions could be intensified. The sanctions will never work perfectly. There will always be evasion of sanctions. However, that doesn't mean sanctions don't work. It means that they are imperfect. Imperfect sanctions are reality, but they can hurt the Russian economy as they are doing. And we are to increase the sanctions. I've written an article recently which suggests how. Basically there are more financial sanctions. We should enforce the oil price cap more than we are. We should go after those who send banned technology to Russia. Enforcement is slow. It is difficult. It is imperfect but we need to do this. Let's not forget the experience of the Soviet economy. The sanctions against the Soviet economy were inconsistent and flawed but the Soviet economy failed. It failed. We must not forget this lesson.

On the other hand, Russia can go on like a lame duck for quite some time. It resembles a slightly damaged Soviet T-80 tank, but it still keeps going and killing, and there is a feeling that Putin is not going to end the war and withdraw his troops. We understand that President Zelensky’s formula has been accepted on all international platforms, and the key story is the withdrawal of Russian troops from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. For all that, there is Putin's position and the mutiny, or pseudo-mutiny of Prigozhin, which did not bring down Putin as we all hoped.

I will put it this way. When economy is under pressure, the Russian political system is under pressure. We know from Russian and Soviet history. We know that when Russia starts wars and doesn't win them, political pressure mounts and sometimes change occurs. We know this. Russian failure in Ukraine, Ukrainian success on the battlefield may mean a failure of putinism. I certainly hope so.

Can the US election campaign affect what is called the consolidated position of the Republicans and Democrats?

Democrats are united in support of Ukraine with the exception of a very small group on the far left. The situation with the Republicans is more complicated. President Trump does not support Ukraine. He supports Putin. Many of his followers in the Republican party also are against support for Ukraine. They are not the majority, but they are growing and they are very loud these days, and in our politics that has caused difficulties for President Biden's assistance package to Ukraine.

President Zelensky can help. He's met with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. McCarthy, who's a Republican and he can have an impact. I hope so. We need to put pressure on Russia on the battlefield. We need to help Ukraine and I think we should not assume that Putin is invulnerable.

Thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Slava Ukraini.

Heroiam Slava


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