WORLD: The war in Ukraine has been going on for more than two months now. What do you expect for the coming weeks?

José Manuel Albares Bueno: We all admire the courage and dignity of the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian army and the people of Ukraine. What we want, both in the EU and in NATO, is for this war to end as soon as possible. It is a war that is not only illegal but also irrational, against a country that has not posed any threat to Russia’s security. Neither Ukraine nor the EU nor NATO did anything to provoke this war or contribute to its escalation. It is therefore entirely up to Russia to end it tomorrow. We really hope so. But given the current situation, I’m not optimistic. I rather think that the war will continue.

WORLD: Some even fear a third world war – you too?

Albares: I don’t want to make fictitious politics and I don’t want to scare people in Spain, Germany and Europe unnecessarily. The international community has sent a very clear message to Russia. On the one hand because of the very unusual and therefore historic vote in the United Nations General Assembly, and on the other hand because of the unity that we have reached in the European Union and with our transatlantic partners. I hope our sanctions will be enough to prevent Russia from repeating illegal wars. But of course you have to be prepared for every scenario.

WORLD: NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said in the WELT interview that the West should intensify arms deliveries to Ukraine. How do you feel about this?

Albares: The EU provides military assistance to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility. At the meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels today, we will be discussing another 500 million for the supply of arms and equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces. Spain is for it. This aid has proven effective and we must continue it.

WORLD: That also means heavy weapons, in the long term?

Albares: The EU foreign ministers are discussing this today. It’s about weapons that only have one function. Namely, to ensure the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and the protection of the defenseless civilian population. They are not weapons to wage a defensive war, but weapons to be able to defend oneself so that a free and sovereign Ukraine has a chance of survival.

WORLD: In Germany, the delivery of heavy weapons is controversial. What is it like in Spain?

Albares: Everything we do is aimed at restoring peace in Ukraine and pushing the Russian soldiers back into the borders of the Russian Federation, which they should never have left. All measures, including the delivery of military equipment, are geared towards this. One thing needs to be clear: there is a lot of talk about whether it is a defensive or offensive gear. The Russian army only has offensive weapons, while all the material of the Ukrainian army is used for defense. That’s why I want to send a clear message to all European citizens, the Spaniards, the Germans: nothing the European Union or NATO is doing is aimed at escalation. Neither does the delivery of military equipment.

WORLD: Spain will host the NATO summit at the end of June. Then the strategic direction for the next ten years will be decided. How are the preparations going?

Albares: In Berlin we made progress in developing the “strategic concept”. Spain has always advocated a clear and powerful response to ensure security on the eastern flank. But also for the fact that the southern flank is more involved. Because Russia is becoming more and more present on the southern flank of NATO and could also exert pressure there. On the one hand by means of energy supplies and on the other hand by means of illegal immigration flows. These threats come not only from the east, but also from the south.

WORLD: Because Spain is geographically more affected than by the war in Ukraine?

Albares: Of course we have a greater awareness of this, just as the Baltic countries have a greater sensitivity towards the East. But that doesn’t mean these threats don’t actually exist. We have seen how illegal immigration from Belarus has been used as a bargaining chip against Poland and the EU, how Russia threatens to turn off the gas supply and how disruptive this can be for Europe. Exactly these two types of threat also exist on the southern flank – and increasingly from Russia, which is also represented in many countries in the Sahel zone with the Wagner troops.

WORLD: You mentioned unity in the EU. Unlike other crises in recent years that endangered European cohesion, this time the threat comes from outside. Is that the reason?

Albares: The unity within the EU is one of the results of the Ukraine crisis. Just like the unity with our transatlantic partners. For the Europe project, this means a step forward – as we already experienced during the corona pandemic with the joint procurement of vaccines, for example. The fact that we are using the peace facility to supply arms to Ukraine for the first time, and that we decided so quickly on this, as we did on the sanctions, shows that we have become aware of the geopolitical importance of Europe and that together we are really making a difference on the international stage can cause.

WORLD: Isn’t that a natural reaction? So far, the crises in the EU have always come from within.

Albares: So far, it hasn’t been natural. So far, the EU countries have reacted rather laxly in terms of foreign policy. But this time, the European response to this unexpected crisis is coordinated and unified. We also want to respond quickly and vigorously. I think that’s very positive.

WORLD: But that also means that the common security and defense policy would have to be strengthened in the future.

Albares: Many decisions must be made by qualified majority, and we must make progress on the interoperability of our armed forces. In other words, the EU must be able to survive. That is, it must defend its objectives and ensure the defense of its citizens against any threat, military or otherwise. That’s doable. Because there are no alternatives. The Ukraine crisis shows us that and the Covid crisis has also shown it.

WORLD: For majority decisions in foreign and security policy, however, reforms of the European treaties are required.

Albares: Of course, today’s world with its changes and crises demands more mobility and flexibility from the EU. Thanks to our unity in this crisis, this is possible, we must keep it that way.

WORLD: Wouldn’t it be better to also move forward in defense and foreign policy?

Albares: The fact is that the EU imposed the largest package of sanctions in history, and without any difficulties. And in record time we used the European Peace Facility to deliver military equipment. So I wouldn’t say what to do. I would say: It is incredible what we have done and how the EU, which is always accused of being slow and uncoordinated, has reacted with enormous speed. The EU is always accused of being slow, bureaucratic and disconnected from the needs of the citizens. But now we have reacted to a completely unpredictable and unexpected situation, in the interests of the citizens. So I think we have shown that we are already on the right track in the EU.