Ukrainian Defense Minister 'I Am Prepared to Die for My Country'
Acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh says he doesn't believe that war with Russia is imminent. But in an interview with SPIEGEL, he says that many Ukrainians are prepared to serve just the same.
Editors Note: This interview was conducted prior to the Crimea referendum and originally published in German on Sunday.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Admiral, are you concerned about a possible war between Russia and Ukraine?
Tenyukh: The situation is serious. But our government is doing all it can to find a peaceful solution. I am proud of our officers and our soldiers on the Crimean peninsula. Despite the blockade imposed by Russian special units, they haven't allowed themselves to be provoked into firing a single shot.
SPIEGEL: Could that not also be a product of the Ukrainian army's weakness? Your ministry recently informed interim President Oleksandr Turchynov that only 6,000 soldiers out of a total of 41,000, and just one in six airplanes, are available.
Tenyukh: Of course Russia is vastly superior. But we stand with our weapons at hand ready to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Many young men are now reporting to bear arms. I too am prepared to die for my country.
SPIEGEL: Might Ukraine attempt to take back the Crimea if it is annexed by Russia following the referendum?
Tenyukh: That is a question for the political leadership of our country. This so-called referendum won't just be seen by Ukraine as a violation of international law, rather by the entire world.
SPIEGEL: Yet many people on the Crimean peninsula sympathize with Russia.
Tenyukh: But there are more people there who are opposed to being annexed by Russia.
SPIEGEL: In the case of war, are you hopeful of NATO support?
Tenyukh: I don't think that it will come to war.
SPIEGEL: Should Ukraine join NATO?
Tenyukh: I have long been of the opinion that my country should belong to the European security system. Already we are working together with NATO. Twenty-eight Ukrainian soldiers are deployed with the ISAF operation in Afghanistan and 163 are in Kosovo.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't joining NATO provoke Moscow to take even more drastic measures aimed at further partitioning Ukraine? Russia could, for example, foment unrest in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.
Tenyukh: How we want to live is not decided by Russia, but by the Ukrainian people. And they have made their choice: in favor of Europe.
SPIEGEL: Many people in Europe are wary of having to provide financial support to a Ukraine that is facing significant economic challenges. Are you concerned about being disappointed by the European Union?
Tenyukh: Our dream of Europe is not dependent on prosperity. We want European values; we want an independent judiciary and freedom.
SPIEGEL: What do you think of the proposal made by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the Crimea should remain part of Ukraine but that in return, your country would never join NATO?
Tenyukh: The search for compromise is important. But the future path of Ukraine will be decided by the people and the government.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley