WELT: The NATO summit in Madrid is about building a stronger defense in the East of Europe. Are we heading for the second Cold War?
Liz Truss: It is clearly vitally important that we build up the eastern flank. We’ve already doubled our troop numbers in Estonia where we provide support into Tapa. And I think there is a combination of things. First of all, we are working on removing this tripwire mechanism to make sure that there is deterrence by denial into the eastern flank. Secondly, we clearly need more numbers, and the UK has stepped up on that. And thirdly, I think that we need to recognize this has to be a more permanent posture. What we have seen through the appalling Russian invasion into Ukraine is permanently worse security in Europe. And the response of NATO has to be increasing its presence, but also making its presence more permanent. In the region. I think that‘s very important.
WELT: In terms of the size of that permanent presence. What do you think is an ideal size? If it is meant to send a signal to Russia, it cannot be 50 soldiers?
Truss: I am not going to put a number on it. I would say that the UK has already doubled its presence into the area. And we are also supplying more equipment to Poland. So we are working with Poland on a defense partnership. So there is also the work we are doing with the Joint Expeditionary Force, so more joint exercises for those countries too. There is a whole range of work that we are doing, and that NATO are doing, but what does it mean? First of all, it means spending more on defense, two percent needs to be a floor, not a ceiling for defense spending. It means being more flexibility in the way we deploy some of our resources in NATO. And I know, that is what we are talking about with the new strategic concept and we have got to look at the modern techniques that are being used – hybrid warfare, the weaponization of migration, the use of cyber attacks. NATO has to be focused on those areas, as well as some of the more traditional deployments. We have got to do both of those things.
WELT: Should we get prepared to fight Russians in Eastern Europe? Should we envisage this possibility as NATO members?
Truss: The number one thing we need to do is be giving all the support we can to Ukraine. The consequences of Ukraine not prevailing are very severe for the rest of Europe. So it is the number one thing we can do now is providing that support to Ukrainians, providing the training, providing the weapons, so they are able to push Russia out of Ukraine. But of course, all forces always need to be prepared for all eventualities.
WELT: What should be the outcome so that we consider to say that Ukraine has prevailed?
Truss: Ultimately, it is the Russian troops leaving Ukraine. That is what it means and as I wrote in my joint op-ed with Dmytro Kuleba. What we cannot have is some uneasy peace, where Russia is still present in Ukraine. That is not going to work. We know what happened in 2014 with the Minsk agreements, ultimately, Russia regrouped and came back for more afterwards, so we cannot allow that situation to happen again.
WELT: When you say leaving Ukraine – is that to pre 2014 or pre 2022?
Truss: Ultimately, I believe that all parts of Ukraine have been illegally occupied.
WELT: The Prime Minister has shifted his position until a few weeks ago. He was saying Ukraine has to regain the whole territory. But recently he said that basically he was happy with the borders before the 24th of February. So you are saying instead that your view is to try to regain the whole territory?
Truss: Ultimately, this is about what the Ukrainians want, and Volodmyr Zelenskyy has been very clear that they want to rightly know it is Ukrainian territory. So we need to support them in that, and not be trying to seek an early peace settlement that involves them giving up territory. And as well as ensuring that Russia is pushed out of Ukraine, we also need to ensure that Russian aggression cannot be allowed to emerge again, because it is not just a threat to Ukraine, it is a threat to other neighbours in Europe more widely. And we were far too open, in our economic approach to Russia, post the end of the Cold War, exporting technology that has been used against us, creating economic dependency on Russian oil and gas which is being used against us. So we can‘t allow that to happen again, we need to learn all the lessons of the past 25 years.
WELT: Do you think it is really realistic to regain the whole territory of Ukraine, because as we speak now, there are worries the war is not going well for Ukraine.
Truss: This is why we need to provide more support. This is why the number one thing we can do to protect European security, freedom and democracy is providing Ukraine with all the equipment. The United Kingdom was the first European country to provide those weapons to Ukraine. We are now providing MRLs, some high capability weaponry to Ukraine. But we need everybody to step up and do that, to put the Ukrainians in the best possible position.
WELT: Are therefore we ready to accept that we might be supporting the Ukrainians fighting the Russians for 10 years?
Truss: We have been very clear, we are in this for the long haul. But of course, the more we do now, the sooner we are likely to see Ukraine prevail. And the sooner we will bring to an end some of the problems that have been created in terms of cost of living by this war. There is no reason to prevaricate at this stage. The best thing we can do is provide the Ukrainians with everything they need: the training, the weapons, so that they are able to succeed earlier. And so it does not drag out into a very long war.
WELT: Can I ask a linguistic question? When you say prevail, does that mean to win?
WELT: So do you think that this situation in Donbas can be reversed in favor of Ukraine?
Truss: Yes, absolutely. And that is what we need to support Ukraine to do.
WELT: Reports overnight from G7 in Elmau talk of the meeting of the Prime Minister and French President Macron. There were reports that Macron said, we need to put Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the best position to strike a deal’. But how big is the risk for Ukraine that this deal will be actually really bad for Ukraine?
Truss: What we need to do is make sure that the Ukrainians have all the capabilities they need, at the same time as degrading the Russian war machine through more sanctions. That is important as well, cutting off their supplies to weaken the Russian forces. But what I am saying here is that it is by the Ukrainians successfully pushing Russia out of Ukraine, that they are going to be in a good position to get peace. And the idea that we can push for an early peace when Russia is still occupying a territory, I think is not right.
WELT: So putting Ukraine in the strongest position to ultimately reach a peace deal? Or do you not even contemplate the idea of a deal until Russia is pushed out of Ukraine?
Truss: That is why I say we should be doing all we can to help the Ukrainians push Russia out. And there does need to be accountability as well, for the appalling war crimes that have been committed. I think one of the mistakes that was made in the 1990s is there was no proper accountability for what happened before. And Putin has been able to create this narrative about greater Russia, looking back to the days of the Soviet Union, and those war crimes that were committed then nobody was held accountable for. So I do think there is an important point here, about, yes, regaining the territory, but also holding to account for war crimes that have been committed, and making sure that Russia is not in a position in the future to show that aggression to its neighbors. We have to learn the lessons of Minsk, which was a failure, and which has led to the situation we are in now.
WELT: Do you feel unity of the West in these circumstances?
Truss: I would point to the Baltic States and Poland, who have got long experience of dealing with Russia, and who are very, very clear about their support for Ukraine, and making sure that Russia is held to account. So there is very strong support for Ukraine across Europe. And I had a call with my G7 foreign minister counterparts last Friday, and we are all very aligned, in terms of giving Ukraine the support they need in terms of putting new sanctions on, and every country has its own policy, every country has its own internal debates. I think what has been very significant throughout this crisis is the absolute unity we have shown in backing Ukraine and now what I am urging is we continue to stick to that and we absolutely don‘t show any signs of fatigue or tiredness or giving up we have to.
WELT: So you still see this unity?
Truss: Yes, definitely.
WELT: How seriously do you take the threat on Kaliningrad? Could this be an escalation of this war?
Truss: I support the Lithuanians in the stance they have taken on Kaliningrad.
WELT: And do you think Putin could go further with this?
Truss: What we have to focus on is supporting the Ukrainians and pushing the Russians through sanctions and that is being effective in the Russian economy has been pushed back 15 years. Russia has now defaulted on its government debt. And there is all kinds of rhetoric that emerges from Russia. I think what you should look at is what Russia actually does, rather than what they say. And the way to influence what they do is through measures like sanctions and weapons.
WELT: Do you think the sanctions are effective? Because there is always the directive that we as the West, we are just a small part of the world. There are other countries like India and China, many others, that still deal with Russia.
Truss: The G7 is 50% of global GDP. And there are other countries as well who have allied themselves with our sanctions such as Australia, South Korea, so more than half of the world has put sanctions on Russia. And there were some goods like gas, that Russia is only able to supply to Europe, they do not have the pipeline capacity to supply that gas eastwards. So Russia has had a lot of markets in Europe that are now closed to Russia. And that has had a significant impact on the economy. We have seen a lot of companies disinvest from Russia, as well. And there is no doubt that the economic position of Russia has been significantly pushed back. But of course, we always need to do more. I am very clear, we need to ultimately set a date by which there is going to be no more gas supplied by Russia to Europe, because I think that is absolutely crucial. And it is a key part of funding the war machine. But I think the sanctions certainly have had an effect and we can see that in the supply lines of Russia into this war.
WELT: Germany is looking at existential problems because of Russia cutting gas supplies. Come the Autumn, people in the West will stand up and say: We do not want this anymore? Because it means too much sacrifice on our part?
Truss: First of all, I know the German government is looking at all kinds of solutions, such as floating LNG terminals. The point we have to make to all of our populations and this is true in Britain, the United States, Germany, the cost to us long term of not supporting Ukraine, and not ensuring that Ukraine wins is much, much bigger. It is a cost to our future, peace and security and the very basis of our societies. And that is the point that we have to make to people. And of course, we are also undergoing the massive aftershock of the COVID pandemic. We have to level with our populations, that times our hard, that we have had the biggest pandemic in 100 years and the aftershocks of that are causing inflation. They are causing hardship. And likewise, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has also piled on pressure. But we have to be honest with people that this is the case. But the alternative of continuing to buy gas and oil from Russia and allowing this war continuing, allowing Russia to prevail, is going to be hugely damaging.
WELT: Do you think that the Strait of Baltiysk towards Kaliningrad can be the weak point for the Western Front?
Truss: I don‘t think we should base our strategy on Putin’s rhetoric. We should base our strategy on what is actually going to work to help the Ukrainians prevail.
WELT: Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership and of course, in that case, Kaliningrad will be basically circled and by NATO forces. As you went to Turkey recently, and President Erdogan is the one who might block their accession – how is the situation? You think that is possible that he is more open now?
Truss: So there are talks currently taking place. I am positive that those talks can be successful, and the issues can be resolved. And I think it is very important that Finland and Sweden join NATO. I think they add huge value to the Alliance for everybody in the Alliance. Those were the points I was making when I was in Turkey, but it is certainly the case that talks are taking place. Those issues, in my view, are resolvable. And we as the United Kingdom want to strongly, strongly encourage this to happen. And we are doing all we can to support our friends and allies to do that. And I was also in Turkey talking about the grain situation and how we, how we get the grain out of the Ukrainian ports and what is necessary to do that.
WELT: Do you think that this situation looks really disastrous? Because even if there was a deal now, today, still the harvest is coming up. This can be a really disastrous event for the whole world. Do you think we can fix it?
Truss: One thing we have today announced is new money the UK is providing into rail infrastructure to help open up more of the rail routes. And I know more grain is being exported by rail at the moment. But clearly, the seaports offer the very major capacity. So we are doing all we can with our allies, we are discussing practical solutions with the Turks. The UK is willing to support maritime insurance through technical support. And it is another issue that we discussed with the G7 Foreign Ministers. And they know we will be talking more about this week. But we need to do all we can to get the grain out. It is a very precarious situation, as you say, we have about a month to do this before the new harvest arrives.
WELT: And what would be acceptable for Turkey then because obviously, they are the key player in this? Could there be ships being sent to protect the vessels?
Truss: We need to make sure the Ukrainians are protected. And this is back to the issue of weaponry, making sure that Ukrainian ports like Odessa are fully protected, is an important part of the solution, as well as making sure the vessels have safe passage. And these are commercial vessels. We are not talking about military vessels. But that is exactly what we have been talking to Turkey about.
WELT: There has been talks about a possible engagement of the Royal Navy to export. Can these ships possibly bepart of this?
Truss: We are looking at safe passage for commercial vessels.
WELT: So the Royal Navy might be a possibility?
Truss: That is not exactly what we are looking at at the moment, no.
WELT: And do you think that a deal on grain can be possible without compromise with Putin? If that is the next step?
Truss: Well, certainly what we should not do is let up on any of the sanctions, that we cannot have Putin holding the world to ransom. There will be no quid pro quo like that.
WELT: Your recent speech about China was really strong. The Ukraine war is linked to the Indo Pacific as well. In case China decides to attack Taiwan, will the UK support the US in trying to stop them?
Truss: We absolutely support Taiwan‘s territorial integrity. And, as I have been saying, we need to learn the lessons of Ukraine, in making sure Taiwan is able to defend itself. That is the absolute crucial, crucial work we need to do.
WELT: By arming Taiwan or be more active in engaging?
Truss: By supporting Taiwan, in being able to defend itself and working with allies to do that. And we just launched with the United States, more support for the Pacific a couple of days ago. So we are very actively engaged in this.
WELT: Could we just ask one question related to Northern Ireland protocol, two questions, very simple ones. First, how fast do you want the bill to go through the legislative process? And then your government is constantly saying that the EU has to change its mandate. But that means that meetings with Mr. Sefcovic are not enough now. You should maybe take these to a higher level and maybe engage with with some governments in Europe and trying to convince them that the mandate has to be changed. Do you have that in mind?
Truss: The bill has its second reading today, then we will go through the next stages. I cannot give you an exact time table, but there is the process that then has to go to the House of Lords once it clears Commons. So that will take the normal period of time. In terms of this point about the mandate, I have spoken to all of the member states, as has the Prime Minister and made exactly this point for several months. We have been very clear, the problems that we have in Northern Ireland, are baked into the protocol. So, they are in the text of the protocol itself, the issues with the customs procedures, the businesses who are just transferring goods, from one part of the UK to another – which means Great Britain to Northern Ireland –, have to fill in all these customs forms and customs codes, that is baked into the protocol. So are the VAT rules. So this is when the Chancellor makes a change to the VAT rules in Great Britain, we cannot implement it in Northern Ireland, and that is also baked into the text of the protocol. So I have had those discussions with my German counterpart, my French counterpart, you know, with the Commission, the Prime Minister has talked to President Macron and von der Leyen, with Chancellor Scholz. We have made this point continuously, the reason we are having to legislate is there has been a firm no, from the EU, to making those changes. And those changes are needed to get the political institutions in Northern Ireland back up and running. Tha is where we are. That is why we are doing what we are doing. Believe me, if I could get a negotiated solution to this, I would, because it would be preferable to having to take this bill through Parliament. But we have been trying for months. When I started, I took on this brief at the beginning of the year, I said to Sefcovic: These are the four things that we need to change in order to make it work in Northern Ireland, in order to restore political stability in Northern Ireland. And he was very clear with me, he made some proposals, which everybody has seen around, changing the operation of that protocol. But he was very clear to me, that he does not have the mandate to change the protocol.
WELT: So you are ready to risk a trade war for this?
Truss: I don‘t think there is any reason for that, because this does not make the EU any worse off. Our solution makes sure that the EU has all the information about all the goods that are crossing the Irish Sea, all the commercial data will be shared in real time, there will be penalties for anybody seeking to violate the green and red lane. So if any goods are going to red lane into the Republic of Ireland, they have to go through the full customs procedures. So there is no reason for the EU to undertake any action, because they are not worse off as a result of this at all. I mean, but the problem here has been that up front, they have ruled out changes to the protocol. And from the EU‘s point of view, the issue is protecting the single market – they should not be protecting the protocol itself. The protocol was designed to protect the Belfast Good Friday agreement, but what we have found out in two years after it being put into operation, it has undermined the Belfast Good Friday agreement. So it is right to change it. But as I have said, if we could negotiate these changes, that would be our preferred solution. But what I cannot do is allow the situation to drift, allow the Northern Ireland institutions not to function. Essentially, we have got no government in Northern Ireland at the moment. I just cannot allow that to drift. And this is a point I have made frequently to European counterparts. I have said all this to them.
WELT: Do you think that the EU really understands how serious the situation is in Northern Ireland?
Truss: No is basically the answer. The Good Friday Agreement was a result of years of negotiation. And it is a very delicately and carefully crafted compromise between all the parties to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and the Northern Ireland protocol really has undermined that. And I don‘t think that is fully understood just how serious this is for the United Kingdom and it has to be our priority to protect peace and political stability. And we have sought in the way we have crafted this bill to protect the EU single market and we really are trying to make sure there is no negative consequence for the EU in doing that.