Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor to address you all today at the Annual Conference of Belgian Ambassadors. This is the first time the Ukrainian Foreign Minister has been a guest at this annual gathering. Or let me make it sound more celebratory. It is unprecedented in the history of our relationship.
We really appreciate that Belgium, since day one of the large-scale invasion, has kept Ukraine in its focus and made so many decisions that, frankly speaking, would have been unimaginable in our bilateral relations before the large-scale invasion began. That means that Belgium is a European country that stands by its principles and is ready to take extraordinary steps to defend them. It takes courage and commitment not only to preach but also to practice the principles and rules that make your diplomacy effective.
On the way to this meeting, we discussed the situation in the Middle East and how difficult the position that many countries found themselves in was while deciding how to balance and react to what was happening. And again, in this case, we saw the integrity in the reaction of Belgian diplomacy.
This is a rare quality in today's world. Keeping personal, political, or territorial integrity is a challenge in the world in which we live. And at the outset, I really want to wish all of you to keep this integrity cherished, further solidified, and consolidated.
As I mentioned, Belgium has stood by Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, providing military, humanitarian, financial, and diplomatic support. The recent visit of Ukraine's President, Mr. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to Belgium proved once again that Belgium is our true friend and partner, which we very much appreciate.
We discussed today that a century ago, Belgian investors and Belgian culture were present in the east of Ukraine, where the heavy fighting is now taking place. Unfortunately, Russian artillery has destroyed some of the remaining beautiful examples of Belgian architecture in the Donetsk region. But with the commitment and quality of the relationship that we have today between Ukraine and Belgium, I have no doubts that new pieces of Belgium architecture will arise in Ukraine as part of the recovery process, and you will continue the efforts of your predecessors.
Second, I would like to thank all of you, those ambassadors, who cooperate closely with Ukrainian ambassadors and Ukrainian diplomatic missions in their respective countries.
I am aware of these cases, and I appreciate them. It is very important for us to feel that we are not alone in our struggle in some of the most difficult parts of the world.
The war against Ukraine has lasted 623 days already, and these have been 623 days of terror, murder, and torture.
I understand that following the war from the outside, and even watching the war with a great deal of sympathy, is completely different from comprehending what it is like to live in the middle of the war, to live in Ukraine, in a country that is constantly shelled on a daily basis.
I want to specifically thank Belgian diplomats in Kyiv, who are very active and who share a wartime lifestyle with us Ukrainians.
I want to tell you one story. We have, unfortunately, tens and hundreds of them. One of the most recent ones took place on October 5th in a small village called Groza, which is in eastern Ukraine. This village is in the Kharkiv region. Residents got together in the village to pay tribute to a neighbor who was killed on the battlefield, a soldier, a resident of this village. His body was delivered to the village to be buried there. Neighbors and everyone who knew him gathered together to pay tribute to him. There were men, women, the elderly, and children. When dozens of people gathered on the premises, Russia shelled the building, killing 59 people in one second. 59 people who came to bid farewell to a fallen resident of their village paid a price of life for following this tradition. The overall population of the village is 330 people. By killing 59 of them with one attack, every fifth inhabitant of this settlement was killed by the Russian army.
And unfortunately, these cases are not isolated, and this is the daily horror that we live in; this is the daily news we wake up with. It’s more than natural for the world and for readers and viewers across the world to get used to tragedies, and it is more than natural for new tragedies to capture attention and cast a shadow on the old tragedies. But while we are addressing new crises and new problems that the world is facing, please remember that if there are no headlines in the news, someone in Ukraine keeps fighting and someone is dying.
I was extremely grateful to Hadja and to other colleagues. I took part in an online meeting of the G-7 Foreign Ministers this morning. They said, “Dmytro, whatever happens, we will keep Ukraine as our priority”.
This is very important because, when you say that, it is not about taking care of me. It really is about looking after those who continue to fight, continue to give their lives in sacrifice, and who, regrettably, the Russian army is injuring or killing in Ukraine.
Russia doesn’t stop, and Russian priorities don’t change. This is something that must be remembered, and of course, we should all be motivated not to allow Russian strategy to prevail. This strategy is to outset and outlast the West.
Winter is coming, and the Kremlin intends to use it as another tool of terror against the Ukrainian people. We are working with Belgium and other countries to provide the necessary assistance. We are preparing to defend ourselves, and we increased the number of air defense systems with the support of our friends. Air defense will remain absolutely necessary. And, of course, generators and transformers—this is also something indispensable. We will need to get through it, but we will. It doesn’t matter how difficult it will be. We will get through it.
Now I would like to switch to... No, no. My speaking point is better. I want to make it. I said to Hadja today, during the meeting that we had: You know, you read news, you talk to other diplomats and experts, you read all the smart analysis, and you know what I noticed?
When you speak to anyone in the world who is trying to make the point that the situation in Ukraine is a stalemate and that it doesn’t make sense to step up support for Ukraine and that, instead, alternative solutions must be found, they compare the current situation in Ukraine with the First World War.
I want you to know that we, in Ukraine, see the whole situation through the prism of the Second World War. And specifically, events that were taking place on the Western front. Between the landing of the Allied forces in France and the defeat of Nazi Germany. Many things did not go according to plan. Offensive operations by the allied forces were not successful in an instant. Some were slow. But none of the allies said: “Okay, it didn’t work as planned. We can’t defeat Germany in one month, so let's try something else.” They remained committed because they realized that they were fighting evil and that it must be defeated. This is the main principle.
Everywhere I go, I remind people of a few simple facts. Between 2014 and 2022, almost two hundred rounds of diplomatic talks at various levels took place between Russia and Ukraine. Facilitated by Germany and France as members of the Normandy process, and by the United States, who were having another separate track of engagement with Russia, by the Minsk process and the OSCE. Almost two hundred rounds of peace talks.
In this period of time, 20 official ceasefires were announced. Russia broke them all. Weeks ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the whole vertical of Russian authority, from President Putin himself to diplomats in Russian embassies, were telling their respective counterparts that they were not going to attack and that this was all American attempts to throw the world into the war. Putin said to Scholz, to Macron, and to other leaders: “I am not going to attack”.
So the question is: What makes those who believe that talking to Russia today is the way out believe that Russia will behave differently? Where does this concept come from? Is it fact based? It is not.
I will switch to the grain issue and export of Ukrainian products, which was also discussed with Hadja this morning. I am grateful to Belgium for its participation in the Grain from Ukraine summit in Kyiv a year ago, which Prime Minister De Croo attended. I want to emphasize that Belgium was the first country to support this initiative, donating ten million euros to help us send large batches of Ukrainian grain to a number of African countries suffering from hunger. We will soon hold the second “Grain From Ukraine” summit because the first one was a big success.
We invite all countries that want to help maintain global food security to attend. So I also understand that Belgium will be represented and will continue to sport this initiative.
And now, some point on the African continent, probably my favorite one among the continents of the world. Life made me fall in love with Africa; I’ll put it this way.
I`m just back from South Africa. It was my fourth visit to Africa this year. I visited 12 countries in one year. We are going to open a number of new embassies in Africa. Despite all our economic hardships, the President of Ukraine has made the decision that we will reinforce our presence on the continent.
I have a story here about a former Belgian ambassador to Angola, Mr. Josef Smets. He provided extraordinary help to our embassy in Angola. Our Charge d`Affairs told us about very specific cases in which Mr. Smets was helping get some doors open and some things happened. So we would appreciate your support on this very special continent. And please convey my gratitude to Ambassador Smets.
Bringing me to the last part of my remarks, you`ve asked me to be specific on where else you can assist us with, and I will mention three points here.
The first one is the Ukrainian Peace Formula. This is a big story, and the good thing about the Peace Formula is that it makes everyone discuss the vision for the peace settlement proposed by the country that suffered from the aggression, not by the third party, not by the aggressor itself. And there is one fundamental and not negotiable principle in the Peace Formula, which is the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The first attempt to bring countries together around Peace Formula took place in the summer in Copenhagen, and it gathered 15 countries; the second meeting in Jeddah brought together 42 countries; and at the last meeting in Malta, we had 66 countries with us. So the number is growing, but we still need more. We have some countries joining, but we need more African, Asian, and South Asian countries to join. So, Ambassadors in those countries who are working in those regions, you are most welcome to make a contribution to expand the circle of countries that already sit at this table and begin getting familiar with the details of what the Peace Formula is about. It will allow us to move further in its implementation.
The second issue is weapons. You know, I’ve spent the whole first year of the full-scale war working on bringing weapons to Ukraine. Some of the steps were taken by countries that would never publicly admit them. Which gives one the understanding that there are opportunities even in countries that are politically not aligning with us or not supporting us. Everything is possible if you find the way to do it. And together with other partners in the EU, I encourage you to continue this effort.
But this year I’m engaged in a completely different thing: ramping up the production of weapons. And I do believe that the only way to strengthen strategic security in Europe is through the creation of a common policy for the production and coproduction of weapons. For the G7, EU, and EU-candidate countries, and all those who share common values and principles.
Third, the diplomatic support for UN resolutions. Belgium's influence within the United Nations is well-known. And we appreciate it. I appreciate your involvement and promotion of Ukrainian resolutions and encourage you to keep up the support.
This is the world that we live in. But we have to be realistic in our assessments and our real capacity. We have to be stronger than our enemies. To defend rules that we believe in, principles that we believe in, and the people who entrusted us with the duty to defend them and who entrusted their future in our hands.
And I’m sure we`ll be able to do it. All we need is unity and stamina.