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EU Ambassador Lambrinidis discusses the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine


As we just heard, that attack on a military base happened just miles from the border with Poland, a NATO member and part of the European Union. Earlier today, I spoke with the EU's ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, and I asked him about this attack and the EU's calls for a cease-fire and whether those talks were going anywhere.

STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS: Well, we'll have to see. You always have to hope. But I think that Putin has had his expectations shattered in terms of how quickly and how effectively he could dominate Ukraine. And because of that, he is in danger of just losing a tremendous amount of support and credibility in his own country. So I think it's very possible he will get bloodier before he sits down. But at the same time, as he gets bloodier, we are also devastating him and his economy. He's dragging himself into a black hole of his own creation. I cannot predict how this will end, but we are preparing for every eventuality.


MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, this has already become a very bloody conflict before you became - and I want to note that before you became ambassador, the European Union ambassador to the U.S., you were the special representative of the European Union for human rights. So you are very attentive to these issues. This is already a massive humanitarian crisis. I mean, civilians have been killed. Health care facilities have been targeted. We understand a maternity ward was bombed. Should Russia face consequences for these attacks already?

LAMBRINIDIS: You're absolutely right. So let me focus to two things. One is the violation of international humanitarian law, which is the law of war, if you like. It's different from human rights law, per se. And among those laws, those rules, is that you cannot consistently target civilians. You cannot, of course, target schools or hospitals or maternity wards and that, you know, you have to conduct your operations with as much restraint as possible. Putin has violated, it appears, many of these laws, which is why the International Criminal Court has already launched an investigation against him.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit more about what consequences Russia should face as a consequence of its conduct already. Now, this past week, the European Commission presented a plan to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds. That's a big reduction, but it's not a full-scale boycott. How does that help in the immediate term?

LAMBRINIDIS: Well, the sanctions we've imposed on Russia up to now, choking off its financial system or an ability to just operate internationally, ensuring its central bank reserves, 50% of which are in U.S. and EU and G-7 banks, that those are frozen, so it cannot use them to stabilize the ruble - ensuring that we stop immediately exports of aircraft or airplane parts, which means that we have - we're about to ground, fundamentally, the Russian fleet - and Russia is a huge country. If you ground it, it cannot connect with each other in that country, let alone the rest of the world - and, of course, shutting off our airspace. All these things and much more have resulted already in a crumbling of the Russian economy.

But we, as Europeans, have decided something that is much more geostrategic. We cannot any more, given what Russia has done, expect or wish to rely on Russian gas and oil for our needs. Today, as opposed to the U.S., we import about 40% of our gas needs every year from Russia and about 27% of our oil needs from Russia. So clearly we have to make sure that our economies are not immediately hit massively by cutting off everything right now. We want to make sure that Russia is the one devastated, not Europe. But at the same time, we have committed to wean ourselves away from Russian gas and oil real fast.


MARTIN: So let's talk about the refugee crisis. As you've already mentioned, about 2.5 million refugees have already left Ukraine in just a matter of weeks. Now, many have fled to parts of the EU, which has implemented what's called a Temporary Protection Directive, which allows Ukrainians to live and work in the EU for up to three years. Now, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy applied for Ukraine's membership to the EU, but EU leaders decided not to fast-track that process. They're requiring Ukraine to go through the traditional process, which could take years. What's the thinking behind that?

LAMBRINIDIS: Well, there's no real fast-tracking of becoming a member of the EU, but what there is fast-tracking of is supporting a country that belongs to the European family, such as Ukraine, to very quickly make the changes and have the strong economy that it requires and the strong institutions to be a member of the EU. And this is precisely what we have been doing the past few years and what our leaders yesterday in Versailles also announced. So if you take Ukraine, it will be receiving immediately 1.2 billion euros in macro-financial support to ensure that the devastation to its economy wrought by Putin's war will not bring the country to its knees economically.

If you look at Ukraine, you will see that we are already discussing with them a fundamental change in their energy market, decoupling their electricity market from Russia - today they're 100% coupled to Russia - and coupling them to the European Union, which, again, will be a fundamental huge change in support to the Ukrainian economy, to the Ukraine independence. So the actual aspiration to be closer to the European Union, this is happening every day. And as the European Union President Ursula von der Leyen mentioned, you know what? Anyone who stands up and fights for European values like Ukrainians do, well, those people belong to Europe.

MARTIN: That's Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis. He's the European Union ambassador to the United States. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us today.

LAMBRINIDIS: Thank you, Michel. It was great to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOFI TEMPTATION'S "TWIN CABINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.