July 13th, 2014

Swedish FM Carl Bildt: POTUS handle on Ukraine crisis ‘better than he’s given credit for’

CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt.  Bildt speaks with Fareed about Russia’s continued tension with Ukraine and how the West- particularly President Obama- has responded to the situation. In addition, Bildt also reveals his thoughts about how this crisis may play out over the next two years.

While discussing President Obama’s handle on the Ukrainian situation, Bildt said to Fareed, “…nothing is perfect, but I think it’s been better than he’s given credit for.”

A transcript and a web exclusive video from the interview are available after the jump.

VIDEO:

Bildt on Russian- EU relations: Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt explains the dynamics between Europe & Russia. And where does Ukraine fit in?

TRANSCRIPT:

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: As things heat up in Israel and elsewhere, at least we can take some solace that Russia has been easing up on Ukraine, right? Wrong. On Tuesday, after leaving a meeting with President Obama, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that Russia was playing a double game. Despite parliament revoking President Putin’s authority to invade Ukraine, despite an on-again, off-again ceasefire, Russia continues to mass troops at the border and aid the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, according to Rasmussen. Another voice speaking out loudly, publicly, and damningly about Russia this week was my next guest. Carl Bildt was Sweden’s prime minster.  He is now the Scandinavian nation’s Foreign Minister. Carl Bildt, thank you for joining me.

CARL BILDT, SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: You gave a very tough speech at the Atlantic Council this week in which you said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea, uh, has only one parallel in modern history in the last 30, 40 years, and that was Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. That was, of course, met with a massive, uh, international coalition that repulsed that intervention. What is one to, uh, to conclude from the fact that there is no such — no such, um, forceful counter-measure in this case?

BILDT: Well, I mean in — in the case of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, of course, there was a resolution by the U.N. Security Council. Now, Russia is a member of the Security Council so that’s never going to happen. I mean they’re going to block everything that it is related to this. But I think it is important that we are extremely firm on how grave the violation of international law is that Russia has undertaken in — in the case of Crimea and that we make very clear to Russia that the invasion, the occupation and the annexation of Crimea will have consequences. We will never accept it. And it will be a burden on our bilateral relationship for as long as it lasts. We are not going to undo the occupation immediately, but we must be very clear that it is not acceptable. It was not acceptable in the Kuwait case. It’s not acceptable in the Crimea case. It is not acceptable in any future other cases, either.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe that the West has responded with enough, uh, in terms of, uh, putting costs on Russia for this? There have been some sanctions, uh, from the United States, even fewer from the EU. Uh, it seems not a lot compared with the gravity of the situation you describe.

BILDT: No, but I think there have been other indirect costs to Russia that have been and are going to be even more substantial. It’s true that the — the formal sanctions or restrictive measures have not been that extensive. But there is no question it has unsettled Russia.  And it has also made — and that is made by President Putin, he has made Russia an unpredictable country. And if there’s anything that…that a businessman wants to have it’s predictability. I think virtually all decisions to invest in Russia are on hold for quite some time to come. And — and Russia desperately needs technology and capital and trade with the West in order to undertake the modernization that Russia needs beyond just the military sphere.

ZAKARIA: I was in Sweden, your country, last week. And I was struck by the fact that in Sweden and in Finland even more so, there is a conversation taking place that would have been unthinkable two years ago, which is should Sweden be a part of NATO, should Finland be a part of NATO?  These are conversations being had, of course, because of various Russian statements and actions which have made people worry about their security in that region.

BILDT: That’s true. I mean there is no doubt that we are facing — the strategic environment is not only Northern Europe, we see it all over, that is more fragile, perhaps even more — more threatening, perhaps even more dangerous. And that has lead to debate, also, about eventual membership of NATO, or Finland or Sweden. I don’t think that’s going to happen in the — imminently, as it requires a very wide consensus in our countries that is not there at the moment.  But the very fact that the debate is there is a significant sign.

ZAKARIA: Do you think President Obama has handled the Ukrainian, uh, situation well?

BILDT: I think so. I — I think there has been leadership coming out of Washington on — on these issues.

I mean the — the perspective of the world from Washington is, of course, a fairly complex one at the moment. Everything is very, very complex at the moment.  But, uh, the Ukraine-Russia situation is a… is one where it’s fairly clear-cut. What’s happening is fairly clear-cut, what our policies should be and — and it was being fairly clear-cut that we can only be successful if we act together, the Europeans staying united and acting together with the United States.  And nothing is perfect, but I think it’s been better than he’s given credit for.

ZAKARIA: Tell us where you think this will go two years from now. Where will we be?

BILDT: I don’t know. But I think the number one thing that we need to do is to concentrate to help Ukraine. They have a very difficult security situation with the destabilization that is going on in the easternmost parts. We need to support their peace efforts. We need to try to engage the Russians in that. We need to help their economy, which is in miserable shape, both because of the corruption under President Yanukovych and because of mistakes during a long period of time. I think there is the readiness among the people of Ukraine, who are more united now than ever, to accept the very deep and comprehensive, the certainly painful reforms that are going to be necessary. And — and I think two years from now, there’s a realistic possibility of us having turned the corner with Ukraine in terms of the economy, in terms of political stability. And I hope that one would then see in Moscow, as well, that this, as a matter of fact, is in their interests, as well.

ZAKARIA: Carl Bildt, a pleasure to have you on, as always.

BILDT: Always a pleasure.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the great burden of student debt in America.  Washington hasn’t been able to figure out a way to fix the problem. But I’ll take you to a place that has found a novel solution…that gives kids a jumpstart on college, as well.

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