Interview with H.E. Oleksandr Karasevych, Ambassador of Ukraine to the Netherlands

July 2024

Maurits Foorthuis

THRI Research Fellow 

H.E. Oleksandr Karasevych

On Monday July 8th, the day Russia attacked the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv with missiles, I met with Ukrainian ambassador to the Netherlands Oleksandr Karasevych. As I met the ambassador at his embassy in The Hague, he had just returned from a business trip to Kyiv and Odesa with the newly appointed ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense of The Netherlands.

Mister Ambassador, you came back from a trip to Kyiv and Odesa with the newly installed Dutch ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, how was your trip?

My trip to Ukraine with the Dutch ministers of foreign affairs and defense was very special, as this was the first foreign visit of the newly installed Dutch government. It was a really good and timely visit and a very strong and clear signal from the new Dutch government to Ukraine and to the world. The ministers met with their counterparts and with president Zelensky.

Last week the new Dutch government was installed. I believe you recently had a conversation with PVV-leader Geert Wilders. Could you tell us a little bit about how that conversation went?

After the elections in November 2023, I visited almost all Dutch political parties. My idea was to personally engage with them and to explain them what is going on in Ukraine. I emphasized to all parties that the Netherlands is playing a crucial role in Ukraine, and that it is important for Ukraine that this role shall be continued. I was very happy to see that in the coalition agreement, which was released a couple of weeks ago, it is stated that the support for Ukraine will be continued under the new government. I assume therefore that my meeting with mister Wilders went well. It was a very constructive meeting and I saw that mister Wilders is following the developments in Ukraine, that he understands them and that he is very knowledgeable about what is going on. That was important for me to see.

What is your message to the new Dutch government?

My message to the new Dutch government is to continue supporting Ukraine at least at the same level as the previous government. It is a well known and appreciated fact in Ukraine that the Netherlands are amongst our top supporters. Despite the Netherlands being a relatively small country, your assistance is really great. Your people have a very big heart and you led almost every significant change in the provided assistance to Ukraine after the start of the full-fledged aggression. Every change that lifted the support of Ukraine by our allies to the next level, was initiated here in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
That is why our message to the new government is to continue supporting Ukraine since your support is so important. Supporting Ukraine is also important for Europe and the Netherlands because if this evil is not stopped on the borders of Ukraine it will move forward.

Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte will be installed as Secretary General of NATO coming October. In what ways do you expect him to contribute to Ukraine in this capacity?

Unfortunately I can not comment on this, as this is the responsibility of my colleague in Brussels. However, I can reflect a bit on the fact that I met Prime Minister Rutte a couple of times, amongst which in Kharkiv and Odesa. What I admire about him but also about Dutch politicians and Dutch people in general is that they know how to talk to each other, how to sit around the table, how to discuss and debate and how to come to a mutual acceptable agreement. I was told by some of my colleagues here that it is really in your history. I saw that in your Prime Minister as well, and that is why I think that his future appointment is so important because the unity of NATO is essential. That is why the appointment of former Prime Minister Mark Rutte at this crucial time is something that NATO will really benefit from.

“If Putin understands that Europe is weak enough to again allow Ukraine to fall, he will move forward to other European countries”

The frontlines in the east and south of Ukraine seem to have stagnated. Neither Ukraine nor Russia is making any significant advances, and the front is not moving. How do you see the future of the war in Ukraine? Do you think Ukraine will make a breakthrough in the near future? Or do you fear another Russian assault? Or perhaps you believe the front will remain the way it is for a long time?

I agree that the situation on the frontlines in terms of it moving back and forward is relatively stable. This doesn’t mean however that the hostilities are at a low level. They are many attacks from the Russian side, and the fact that our defenders manage to hold the line is actually a huge achievement. We have the capability, the knowledge and all the possibilities to move forward and to force the Russian invaders out of our borders, but there is one problem. We have enough men but we don’t have enough weapons. What we are provided with now and even what is promised to be provided in the future is enough just to stay where we are now. As soon as we have enough weapons, materials and supply from our allies we will be able to not only move forward but also to push the Russians out of our territory and keep them there. We know how to do it, because what we have done since the start of the full-fledged invasion was a great exhibit of it (pushing the Russians out of northern Ukraine, Kharkiv and Kherson, red.). What we need the most right now is long range capabilities.

Do you see these weapons coming to Ukraine any time soon?

What we see at the moment is that weapons are coming. It is just enough not to let us loose however, and it is not enough for us to move forward. I do not put into question support coming from the Netherlands. I want to emphasize that you are overperforming. We understand that your material available in stock is limited, and you provided a lot. All allies together however have more than enough in stock.

How do you think the war in Ukraine will end?

What we have on the table at the moment are two options. Either we receive enough weapons to push Russia out of our legitimate borders and end the war this way, or we are not provided with weapons and in that case Ukraine may lose this war. Without the continuation of the assistance our partners are providing we will lose this war, so the support is vital. Ukraine losing this war however will not be the end of this war in Europe. The war against Ukraine started ten years ago but the Russian war against Europe or the Euro-Atlantic community in general started with the war against Georgia in 2008, or perhaps even before that. Georgia was step 1, step 2 was the illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas. Step 3 is the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. If Putin understands that Europe is weak enough to again allow Ukraine to fall, he will move forward to other European countries, definitely.

In terms of diplomatic effort, we have Orban now visiting Kyiv, Moscow and Beijing. Do you see any role for the Dutch government in any form of diplomatic effort to win this war?

We have a clear understanding of what kind of diplomatic efforts are needed to end this war. We have the peace initiative of President Zelensky. The global community, not just a couple of countries but almost a 100 countries came to Switzerland to the peace summit. The Netherlands is playing a very crucial role over there, by participating actively but also by leading one of the important tracks of President Zelensky’s peace formula. You are co-leaders with Ukraine on accountability.

What kind of efforts is the Ukrainian government doing to maintain a high morale amongst the Ukrainian population?

I came to the Netherlands around one year ago, so the first 1,5 years of the full-scale invasion I spent in Ukraine. I visit my country on almost a monthly basis so as not to loose my ties to my country. I see that people are tired, but if you ask if everyone is ready to surrender or give up, the answer is no, not in any way. Why? Because after the terrible things that everybody saw in Bucha, in Kharkiv, and in other places of Ukraine, people understood that Russia’s war is not just about war or geopolitical influence. It is a genocidal war. The intention is not only to dismantle our state, but also our nation. Everyone who believes that he or she is Ukrainian is being killed or deported or forcefully integrated into the Russian society with their identities being wiped out. That is why it is not very difficult for the Ukrainian government to contribute to the sustainability of the morale. People understand what they are fighting for. They are fighting not for the government, but for their democracy. The government is our government, the parliament is our parliament and the country is our country. We are fighting for ourselves.

My last question is about your views on Russia before the start of the full-scale invasion. Before the invasion started, did you expect the Russians to behave in such a horrific and aggressive way?

No, personally I didn’t. But if you would have asked my grandmother about this, her answer would be yes. Because she survived the Holodomor in the 1930’s and she saw what they did to the Ukrainian people. They were killing people en masse. As a child, she and her siblings were not allowed to leave the house because they could be caught and eaten. This was done during the Soviet Union, by Russians. I knew that they are capable of doing it, but I was not expecting such a full fledged invasion. I assumed that they knew Ukraine and our state of the military, but they really underestimated our readiness and the resilience of our people. We grew up in an independent Ukraine for 30 years already and we did understand that if a Ukrainian is Russian speaking, it does not mean that he or she is pro-Russian. Your identity is Ukrainian, and you are ready to go and protect your country. Before the start of the invasion I expected something to happen, but I believed it would be a deterioration of the situation in the Donbas, not a full-scale invasion of our entire country.


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