Viktor Orban is the only European leader who sees the situation in Ukraine realistically, world-renowned American economist Jeffrey Sachs said in an interview with our newspaper. The Columbia University professor spoke about the possibilities of peace in Ukraine, Kiev’s NATO membership, and the death struggle of the world order led by the United States.
− In your publications you frequently mention that the main reasons behind the war in Ukraine are the NATO-enlargement and the non-compliance with the Minsk agreements. Do you think we could have avoided the war if the US and the Western countries had seen Russia as a partner rather than an evil adversary regarding these issues?
− Without question this war could have been avoided. US diplomats warned Presidents from Clinton onward against NATO enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia. As late as December, 2021, Russia put forward proposals to avoid the war in a Draft US-Russia Treaty on Security Guarantees. At the core of the draft treaty was an end to NATO enlargement. There were other issues raised by Russia, involving the placement of troops and military bases, and the deployment of nuclear weapons. These too merited negotiations, though the US clearly would not have accepted some of Russia’s draft proposals. The bottom line for Russia was US respect for Russia’s national security, which was threatened in Russia’s realistic view, by NATO enlargement.
Unfortunately, the US refused to negotiate over NATO enlargement. NATO policy holds that no third country, meaning Russia, can interfere with NATO enlargement. That is an arrogant position that definitely contributed to this war.
− Jens Stoltenberg made two recent statements stating that Ukraine belongs to the NATO. How does this kind of rethoric affect the risk of escalation?
− Stoltenberg has been the lead cheerleader of NATO enlargement, together of course with the UK, which is historically filled with Russophobia, and alongside US hardline neoconservatives. Stoltenberg seems to believe that such cheerleading is his job as NATO Secretary-General. In my view, Stoltenberg has been deeply irresponsible. Russia will never accept NATO enlargement to Ukraine.
Either it will defeat Ukraine outright on the battlefield, or it will continue fighting a long war of attrition, or it will escalate to nuclear weapons if threatened with military defeat.
In short, there is no realistic path to NATO enlargement to Ukraine.
− How could lasting, long-term peace be achieved in Ukraine?
− Long-lasting peace could be built on the following six principles. First, the US would make clear that NATO will not enlarge to Ukraine and Georgia. Second, Ukraine would declare its neutrality. Third, the UN Security Council plus other countries (including possibly Germany, Turkey, Brazil, and perhaps Hungary) would co-guarantee the peace arrangements. Fourth, there would be strict limits on Ukraine’s rearmament by NATO countries. Fifth, Ukraine would be given a clear timeline to EU membership, but as a neutral non-NATO country (e.g., such as Austria). Sixth, sanctions against Russia would be removed, and trade between Russia and the European Union would be restored. Of course, we are nowhere near this kind of arrangement, but it is not impossible. Such a settlement, while seemingly impossible today, would be in the interests of the EU, Ukraine, and Russia. Such agreement would most likely be phased in over a prolonged period, on a step-by-step basis.
− However, this is not in line with the Ukrainian peace plan, which, according to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is the only possible path to peace…
− Zelenskyy’s peace formula is not a real peace formula.
It is basically a formula of Russia’s defeat. It is for „narrative” purposes only, not for a real peace settlement. That’s a shame.
Ukraine is the greatest victim by far of the failure of negotiations. Ukrainian leaders should be the first to be looking for a negotiated peace deal to end the killing and destruction.
− Although Hungary is a NATO member, it is trying to remain neutral, a position which is frequently attacked by it’s European allies…
− Prime Minister Orban is just about the only European government leader who is making sense right now about Ukraine.
PM Orban understands that this war was unnecessary, provoked by NATO enlargement, and a tragedy and dead-end for Ukraine as long as the war continues. He recognizes, unlike the other European leaders, that Russia will not accept defeat on the battlefield, at least not without escalating to nuclear war.
− Most of the world’s countries doesn’t agree with the Western – or US – narrative on Ukraine, more and more countries want to join BRICS in order to oppose the US. Are we witnessing the fall of the US-led world order?
− Washington is fighting for US hegemony even though there is no longer any realistic prospect of US dominance globally. The rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – ed.) and of course especially of China and India, has fundamentally changed geopolitics. We are already in a multi-polar world, but US politicians don’t yet understand that.
They are stuck in a mindset and world view that have been out of date for at least thirty years.
We should remember that the US is only 4.1% of the world population, at a time when many giants – China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and others – don’t want US hegemony and are becoming technological and manufacturing powerhouses, not to mention nuclear powers.
− What can the United States do to preserve its position as a relevant superpower?
− The US should accept multipolarity, abide by the UN Charter, help to fight the global environmental catastrophe threatening the planet, and face up to the huge inequalities undermining the quality of life in the US. US life expectancy has declined to the levels not seen since the 1990s, because of poverty, inequality, obesity, drug addiction, violence, and many other social problems. The US needs to stop pretending to run the world and start solving its many very serious internal problems.
− Is there any chance to revive cooperation and trust between the West – especially Europe – and Russia after the war?
− Yes. We should remember famous words of President John F. Kennedy sixty years ago this year, in a speech to the Irish Parliament. He said, “Indeed, across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies. Hostility today is a fact, but it is not a ruling law. The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.”
Russia is certainly not a permanent enemy.
Russia helped its European allies to defeat Napoleon, Prussian militarism in WWI, and of course, Naziism in WWII. Russia is a country of great culture and science. Of course, Europe should aim and plan to re-establish normal relations with Russia. And Europe of course should stop the double-standards and triple-standards. The US has launched more wars of choice than any other country in recent history. Does the EU still deal with the US? Yes, of course. Should it plan to deal with Russia once again? Yes, of course.
Cover Photo: Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Sachs examined China’s economic slowdown and the impact of the U.S.-China trade war on the global economy (Bloomberg/Getty Images/Victor J. Blue)