Several arguments have been advanced for and against the current Russia invasion of Ukraine by many International Relations scholars and diplomats. But Ambassador Joe Keshi, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at various times Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Nigeria in The Hague, Netherlands and Nigeria’s Consul-General in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, looks into the various issues involved, the domineering dispositions of superpowers and the impact on global peace and security
How would you assess the current aggression of Russian President, Vladimir Putin against Ukraine?
You know, it is honestly very unfortunate that President Vladimir Putin had to declare an unprovoked war against an independent country. And there have been lots of arguments back and forth as to the rightness of his action. Some have attributed it to the expansion of NATO too close to the Russian border.
There have been all kinds of reasons offered and President Putin himself has not given any credible reason for his action beyond describing the regime in Kiev as packed full of Nazists and drug addicts.
Now even if you go by Putin’s argument, is that enough for another country whose people simply want to be on their own make their own decisions and run their government to be subjected to this inhuman bombardment that we are witnessing today in Ukraine right now?
Of course, it is not. Now, there is no doubt about the fact that what is happening is against international law, peace and security in the world. But we must also be quick to say that Russia is not the first to violate the global accord enunciated by the United Nations. The US has used the same reason to do the same thing all over the world.
But none of this in the case of the US can be justified while the rest cannot be justified.
But the point I’m trying to make here is that the rest of the world will have an obligation to challenge the world powers that they cannot between them try to threaten global peace and security, because for me when we listen to all the argument being made by Putin, he is simply saying America and its Western allies have done this before and I can also do it.
So we the rest of the world have an obligation to let the world powers know that the planet does not belong to them alone, but to all of us. And they have no justification to disturb the peace and tranquility of the global system
How do you see the effects of the war?
As you can see, the Ukrainians are taking the bulk of the beating by the Russians. And here we are in the third or fourth week, they are bombing every infrastructure and facilities.
They have bombed the hospital and maternity wards in Mariupol which served as shelter to displaced people which is against the Geneva Convention. You have also seen bombing of apartment building and the like
. And one way or the order it is also affecting global economy. It is also creating some disruptions. Look at the number of foreign students, Nigerians inclusive, that have been forced to abandon their studies and there is no guarantee that they are going to get into any university this year. Is it with ASUU on strike?
You see, their lives have been disrupted for nothing. But by the eg in my view, or some nostalgia and the power and place of the old Soviet Union, and the last point I want to make for those talking about Russia’s security is that there was no time Russian security was threatened by Ukraine. Volodymyre Zelensky was not the first President who mooted the idea of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO.
It was Viktor Yanukovych and NATO rejected it as far back as 2010 or something like that, but Yanukovych was removed from office by the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. Look, we need to go back into history to see how Zelensky came into power. It was because Russian compelled one of the former presidents to drop his applications both to join NATO and EU.
But you know what, before the war, if Ukraine had applied to become member of NATO or EU, it will take it about 12 years to actualize that because there are criteria that must be met.
And Ukraine cannot comply with these immediately. So it has to take a couple more years before Ukraine can become a member of EU or NATO. So what justification really does Russia got to do the invasion he has done in Ukraine.
And another point in this regard is that for those who think that Ukraine should have maintained the 1991 agreement by not coming to NATO, the question is that a number of countries that were members of the former Soviet Union have all applied to join NATO. Why?
It is because of the fear of Russia, when Russia began to threaten all these countries like Georgia, annexed Kremia and deployed troops to Belarus. Look at what it did recently in Kazakstan.
The people voted for a particular candidate but he sent troops to the country and forced them to abandon the election and restore the president to power despite the fact that he was losing the election.
So these other countries decided that they needed protection from NATO because Russian was threatening them. So let us be fare about that.
The most hearth-rendering of these all is the massive bombardment of everywhere you can think of. It leaves us to question the game plan of Putin and the competence of the Russian military itself
Why has the NATO or the UN not intervened?
They are assisting, but you also want to understand that U S and its allies are being cautious not to escalate the crises into a global war, or a World War 3. For example, if they go ahead and declare no flight zone over Ukraine, just as they did in Libya, NATO will have to enforce it and that will bring them into contact with the Russian military.
Now with Putin’s frame of mind now, nobody can predict what he would do nextwhether he would be so furious such that he would confront the West as is, and you know in the first week of the war he even threatened to use nuclear power.
So, I just think the West is being careful, but as of today, they are providing Ukraine with more effective and mire dangerous weapons that can actually take out Russians tanks and the likes.
Does that include the $350million military aid U S President Joe Biden promised to provide to Ukraine?
You see, when you hear that the US has given, for example, $400 million aid to Ukraine, it is not as if they are giving that money to the country. Every penny will be spent in the United State. What happens is that the U S government will quickly send some weapons in their arsenal to Ukraine and send the money to arms dealers to quickly produce these weapons so that they can replace them.
What does Putin’s increased bombing of civilian population indicate about his mission?
When Putin started moving troops to Russia’s border with Ukraine, very few people through it was a joke. But I have personally have said in some interviews I granted that Putin is not a reckless fellow and that he would not take such an action. The worse I expected was that he would move into the two separatist regions, take over them and be satisfied.
But today, Putin is behaving like god that loves blood and is never tired of it. So the more you appease him the more blood he wants. Now there is no justification for the massive military bombing of Ukraine.
It just shows you that they have no clearly defined game plan in this operation. In a situation like this, if you actually wanted to take out the Nazists and drug dealers as you call them, all you needed to do was to focus on bombing the military institutions.
But all the bombing they have been doing are at civilian populated areas and it does show you that this guy has a far more ulterior intention. Look, why would you order your war planes, I mean, let assume you say that you plot misfired.
Did they misfire on the first day, the second day and on the third because they could not locate the military installations? No. What we are now witnessing is deliberate destruction of lives and property in Ukraine. It just shows you that this guy wants to destroy Ukraine for whatever reason. Don’t forget that Russia first attacked Ukraine on February 20, 2014 and again on February 24, 2022.
Like I said before, President Zelensky did not start the move for Ukraine to join EU or NATO. As a matter , Zelensky came into power as a result of Russia’s miscalculate intervention in Ukraine’s politics. If Russia had not intervened in Ukraine’ politics in 2013/2014, this guy would not have come into power.
The former President withdrew the application to join NATO at the insistence of Russia and that brought down that government and so in the election that took place, Zelensty won.
But the fundamental thing is that Ukraine, a country of over 40 million has the right to determine its own future and we must not deny it of that, irrespective of whether it share borders with Russian or anywhere.
And for those saying there should be no extension of NATO membership towards the former members of the Soviet Union, why have other states who were members of the former Soviet Union apply to become members of NATO? Why have they not received the same treatment from Russian?
Is it because Ukraine is a bigger fish? Look the survival of Ukraine, the freedom of Ukraine and the right of democracy, the Westernisation of Ukraine is a major threat to Russian than the issue of security.
U S has declared Putin a war criminal. What do you think the rest nations should do in this case?
No, the White House has taken back that statement made by Joe Biden the other day. You know it is very interesting because at his press conference he was asked and he did not really give an answer, but somehow as he was going out, somebody just repeated the question, and he carelessly made the statement.
But the truth of the matter is that the prosecutor of the International Court of Justice has said that the bombing of civilian locations for no justification and the use of some weapons that should not have been used literally constitute a war crime. So we just wait to see.
You made reference to that 1990 agreement that former members of the defunct Soviet Union should not be admitted to the NATO. Do you consider the move by Ukraine as a violation of that agreement?
Let me answer this way, if my son says to me ‘I want to go and watch a football match’ and I say to him, ‘we have an agreement that you should not go and watch a football match today’.
Must I beat him so mercilessly because he expressed the intention to go and watch a football match? Does the fact that Ukraine has expressed a desire to join NATO or EU constitute a threat to Russia when it has not been formally admitted?
I mean, I just think that Putin has a far more ulterior motive, not this issue of security. If it was simply to change the regime, do you have to destroy a country to do that? Why don’t you just blow off the State House or the military establishments, move your troops into the country and install your preferred person as President?
The way the war is going, Putin has a far more ulterior motive than what we are seeing and it is very difficult to actually say what is in his mind or what he intends to achieve. But here is the good news for Ukraine and the bad one for Russia. At the end of this war, it will largely through negotiated settlement, and I can tell you that Russia will pay for all the destruction it has cost Ukraine.
There is this allegation of double standards on the part of the U S, and reference is made to the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 between the U S and Russia over Russia’s secret installation of missiles in Cuba to attack US cities…
The faultiness of that argument is truly this. In October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane took photographs indicating that Russian had built its nuclear missiles sites in Cuba. But in this case, the US has not moved a nuclear armament into Ukraine. So they are two different things.
For your information, the account of the Cuban missile crisis was the subject of one of the books I used for one of my masters degrees. You know, the difference between then and now is that Russia had actually landed some nuclear stuffs in Cuba and what the US President then, John F Kennedy wanted them to do was to remove it. And in this case, NATO has consistently said that it will now move any dangerous thing into Ukraine, and come to think of it, if Ukraine is not a member of NATO, there is no way they can move anything into it.
In any case, Russia has opened up itself into global opprobrium. In a way, Putin has put himself in a mess. If the President has been part of the negotiation, especially when NATO said it had not admitted Ukraine into it, he should have followed that path but ensured that an agreement was reached between the West, Ukraine and Russia.
You know, what he wanted and he told the French President, is for President Zelensky to speak to the separatist leaders to allow them to become independent states and this man has failed to allow them to do that. So it was like ‘so you refused to listen to me, then I will deal with you.’
And you are calling the man a Nazist, the man is of Jewish descent. I have also read some materials where they said the guy is a former comedian. We should be careful in categorizing people because of what they did before they became president.
The fact that he was a comedian does not mean that he has no ability to rule a nation, and he has done far better than some president I know who had left their countries in a worse state than they inherited. You know he has courage in leadership.
He has articulated his plans, mobilised the people. Look, growing up in Ibadan during the Nigerian civil war, I knew how the Yakubu Gowon government mobilised the people to support the war efforts. Look at the insecurity we faced in the last many years now, we have not been able to mobilise anybody at all. And that is why even though we are not at war, look at what is happening to our nation. The number of lives that have been lost at peacetime is unbelievable.
Right now, NATO member nations have imposed sanctions against Russia. What impacts are these likely to have on Russia?
You know, one of the reasons I think that this was a miscalculation on the pact of Putin is the fact that, in the past after the occupation of Kremia, Germany was reluctant to impose sanctions as a result of the linkage between the German economy and that of Russia.
Germany gets a lot of its gas and petroleum from Russia, but because of what Putin has done now, the current leadership in Germany has taken an action that nobody expected. When NATO was trying to rally its members, everybody was a little worried about what the Germans would do. But the Germans were the first to take a position, that what Putin was set out to do was unacceptable to them.
So you see this is one action that would have serious consequences on Russia in the long run. It is not true that sanctions don’t work. The truth about the matter is that sanctions do work, but it takes time before it does. Look, the Russian Ruble has lost its value by about 30 per cent in the first three days of the war, and it continues to lose its value.
Today, to show that sanctions do work, President Putin has promised to increase salaries in order to enable the people to cope. Now, the banks cannot pay. They are defaulting on their loan. How would they pay? They cannot pay in Ruble, neither can they pay in dollars because their ability to pay has been blocked. It is a big problem in addition to other unforeseen consequences.
Look, I listened to Nigeria’s Minister of Trade this morning (Thursday), Chief Niyi Adebayo and he said the Nigerian government is trying to see how the impact of this war will affect Nigeria, and other things that go with it. It goes to show that these are all unforeseen consequences which was why I started by saying that the superpowers should not take the rest of the world for granted.
How do you see the humanitarian impact of this war?
It is unimaginable because I had been a refugee myself. I was lifted out from Sierra Leone by the American war boat. I left the country with only a T-shirt, a trouser and a can- vass that I was using for two or three days, while trying to help the Nigerian troops in one way or another until it became challenging and we had to leave. I had also helped to organize evacuation of Nigerians again in Sierra Leone and all these, I saw Sierra Leonians becoming refugees in Guinea. I saw Nigerian refugees in the most horrifying conditions in the country.
So it is not going to be easy for those who are going to be refugees in another country. It is not what you wish for your enemy. I can tell you very frankly. For folks like me, the rule of engagement when you serve in a country that is at war, you should be taken to the next country.
But even if taken there, you are lodged in a hotel that is far different from your own house. You can imagine somebody living in his own house, and his family members have to leave with just one bag to live in tents. It is dehumanizing to be a refugee.
Look at the refugee problem that Europe has been having in the last few years. They were caused by the dislocations in places like Libya and Syria as a result of the actions of the superpowers. And when you look at those refugees, they are living in some of the worst conditions you wouldn’t want to live in. I sincerely pray that somehow, the situation will improve and people will be able to return home to rebuild their lives.
How do you see the way the Nigerian government handled the evacuation of our nationals?
They started late, but the truth of the matter is that they have at least done very well in bringing a substantial part of the students home, but I can tell you that it is just the first problem.
I heard that some Nigerians in Russia are beginning to show signs of wanting to come home too because things are becoming very difficult there, and many are beginning to say that the best thing to do is to return home. You know that some Russians are also leaving Russia because they are against what the President is doing and they know that if they stay at home and oppose what the man is doing they will be in deep trouble.
But Putin has been in power for more than 20 years. Who does that?
You see that is the problem about staying too long in power. You begin to think that you are invincible. That everything is under control and that is where many dictators miscalculate, because they think that everything is under control.
You have everybody in the hierarchy working for you, they obey you and fear you. Some even respect you because you have made some of them very rich.
But the truth of the matter is when you embark on this kind of adventure, not everybody is on the same wavelength as you. And this could create discontent whose outcome cannot be predicted.
How do you see the swearing in Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as governor?
His inaugural address was very impressive, visionary and my hope is that he will be able to galvanise the people to work with him and change the narrative, not only in Anambra State, but in the South-East and to some extent the entire Nigeria.