Dear Bogdan, dear Nicu!
Ladies and gentlemen!
I sincerely regret not joining you in person in Bucharest today because working tasks have kept me in Kyiv. But it is still a pleasure to join you online. I began my workday with the same tasks as my dear colleague Oleksii making calls, texting messages with an aim of speeding up the deliveries of weapons to Ukraine. This is what we are doing on the daily basis 24/7 for speeding up the preparation for the counteroffensive of Ukraine and, of course, we were all devastated yesterday by the horrible video and we spent the whole last day mobilizing international reaction to this horrific crime.
First of all, I thank Bogdan for supporting the initiative to call together this forum and give a closer look at the present and future of the Black Sea region.
The International Crimea Platform has proven to be an effective mechanism. It has brought together peace-loving nations which oppose aggression and occupation. We are united by UN Charter principles and the shared conviction that Crimea is Ukraine and it will return under Ukraine’s control. Every time you hear anyone from any corner of the world that Crimea is somehow special and should not be returned to Ukraine as any other part of our territory, you have to know one thing: Ukraine categorically disagrees with these statements. There is no difference between Simferopol, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson or any other Ukrainian city – they all must and will be Ukraine again, like Kherson did.
I think we all agree that Russian aggression has broken our region’s security into many pieces that need to be put together anew.
Many of us thought the 21st century would be one of peace, development, and cooperation. Unfortunately, Russia traveled the opposite way and arrived in the nineteenth century of colonial conquests.
Now there is a bleeding wound in the middle of Europe. A dark and surreal time. But, as they say, dark times bring forward good people.
There is a lot of light, courage and power in those around the world who support Ukraine. I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you – present here or not – for standing with us in the darkest hour.
We are a community. United not only by common values, but also by a common sea. We all want it to be an area of peace and prosperity, not a war zone. Black Sea is instrumental for making the whole of Europe peaceful and future-oriented.
Sadly, Black Sea is also a showcase of how rapidly things can deteriorate if one neglects threats. For years, Russia has been saber-rattling and militarizing in front of us.
Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and Ukraine again – Moscow was launching one brutal attack after another. Many in the West chose to believe that Russians had “their own truth”. But the one and only truth is that Russia has always prepared for a big imperialistic war with an end goal of holding another “Yalta” conference to divide Europe into spheres of influence.
I regret to say, but the West had no consistent Black Sea strategy, while Russia has always had one: aggressive, revanchist, and barbaric. By the way, I would like to recall to everyone that the first assault of Russia on the territorial integrity of Ukraine took place on the Island of Tuzla in the Black Sea. If we trace this aggression back to its very origins, it was the Black Sea – the place where the first attempt of aggression began 20 years ago. But Russia did have a strategy. Every step of the way, Russia acted where the West doubted. When fear-driven cautiousness closed NATO doors to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, Russia quickly responded with attacking both. Russia was becoming a maniac, but some leaders decided that the best strategy was to keep the maniac happy. Including by keeping his potential victims defenseless.
The upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius is the right time to correct mistakes or the past by taking resolute steps forward on the path to Ukraine’s NATO membership. To show that the door is not only open, but there is a clear plan on when and how Ukraine will enter it.
I assume we all understand now that fear is not a strategy. It’s time to work out a comprehensive security network for all nations of all the region that feel threatened by the maniac on the loose. It’s time to turn Black Sea into what the Baltic Sea has become: a sea of NATO.
This war has proven that the security of the region is indivisible. A threat to one is a threat to all. Missiles launched by Russia at Ukraine have threatened neighboring Poland, Romania, and Moldova. Russian strikes on Ukraine’s power grid provoked blackouts in Moldova. Millions of Ukrainians fled the war. And I take this opportunity to thank you Bogdan, your colleagues, the Romanian government and the people of Romania for embracing Ukrainian refugees. Trade routes were disrupted. And I equally thank you for playing active role for keeping these routes of solidarity working to help bypass Russian blockade. Black Sea ecosystem was damaged. Russian-occupied Crimea keeps posing a threat to everyone. Today, Russia uses all of its hybrid tools to destabilize Moldova. We in Ukraine commend Maia Sandu’s leadership in countering these attempts and reiterate Ukraine’s resolute readiness to stand with Moldova. Together, we will thwart Russia’s malicious plans to sow chaos and instability in our region.
We need to address the common Russia problem together. For instance, I support the expert idea to integrate the air and missile defense systems of Ukraine with the ones of the Black and Baltic Sea NATO allies. It also makes sense for Ukraine to be part of the European Defense Initiative and I`ve been raising this issue with Josep Borrell recently.
All these steps are important now, but even more so – after Ukraine liberates its territories. Ukraine’s victory will be a victory for all of us. To bring this day closer, we need to have strategic endurance and take principled decisions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is the first anniversary of the sinking of the Moskva cruiser. An event that occurred in the Black Sea and enhanced Black Sea security in practice. The formula is simple: the less Russian military, the safer our region is. There will be a day when other Russian warships will follow in the same direction, one way or another. We are working to bring this day closer, with the support of our friends and partners.
April 13th also marks another sad anniversary. Exactly nine years ago Russian military groups that infiltrated Ukrainian Donbas spilled the first blood. On this day in 2014, a Russian special operations group led by an FSB veteran attacked a group of Ukrainian officers near the city of Slovyansk.
Ukraine’s security service captain, 41-year old Hennadiy Bilichenko, was killed on the spot, becoming the first combat victim of Russia’s war in the Donbas. Back then, the Ukrainian forces still had an order to avoid opening fire because the common belief was that the war could still be averted. But when you are shot at, there is no other way than to shoot back. So a 29-years old lieutenant Vadym Sukharevsky opened fire in return and deflected the attack. This moment set history in motion. Vadym is now 38, a colonel, a brigade commander decorated with the highest award, the Hero of Ukraine. He now leads units in the hottest spots of the frontline.
I tell you this old story for two reasons. First, to remind that Russia’s war on Ukraine started not last year but nine years ago. And second, to make the point that you can wish for peace, but you can not pretend it’s peace, especially when someone attacks you.
We all want peace. But a just and lasting peace, like the one envisioned by President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula. It’s not only in Ukraine’s but in all of Europe’s and the world's interests to have and to see this Formula implemented. If the history of the past century and the past decades is to teach us anything, it is that the world needs real peace, not appeasement.
Real peace means restoring the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. Real peace means a safe homeland for the Crimea Tatar people in the Ukrainian Crimea. Real peace means grain ships in the Black Sea, not warships. A world under the rule of international law rather than force is what real peace means.
That is what we are fighting for — not only to win the war but to win a real, lasting peace.
If Russia keeps Crimea, once it has rebuilt its strength, it will use it as a launchpad to invade Ukraine once again and take full control of the Black Sea. We will not allow this to happen. That is why we will liberate every inch of our territory and every last one of our fellow citizens.
And that is why we are today calling for a demilitarization of the Black Sea, so that peaceful, law-abiding countries can once again use the shared sea to trade, travel, and live freely without fear of Russian warships. Let us persist on the way to this common goal.
Thank you for your attention, and I wish you very productive discussions today.