We spoke with Gianni Cuperlo, former president of the Italian Democratic Party, about the politics of supporting Ukraine militarily, whether supporting Kyiv is tantamount to entering the war and how likely is regime change in Moscow.
Mr. Gianni Cuperlo, Italy has decided to send weapons to Ukraine. Do you think this is a wise choice?
A war is the antithesis, the negation of wisdom. In this case, we are faced with the invasion of a sovereign state by an army that is striking cities and civilians. Casualties are in the hundreds, perhaps thousands. The Ukrainian people and government are resisting in the face of an imbalance of forces and means. Europe and Italy have reacted with economic sanctions, sending medicines, welcoming refugees. A request for military support came from the government in Kyiv, and, faced with that, there were two ways one could proceed. Either refuse that support in the name of the principle that rejects the logic of arms because it always leads only to a spiral of more intense warfare, or accept the request of the attacked country and help it defend itself. I do not have any political or moral authority to proffer truths, but I can say that, as we are dealing with innocent victims, I consider the second path a legitimate one, because it is part of the right of a people to protect itself and preserve its independence and sovereignty.
These days, the line of the PD is very hawkish. Former Minister Pinotti said that the Allies also gave weapons to our partisans. But in that case, the Allies were explicitly at war with the Germans.
I would let history rest and not drag it into the tragic events of nowadays. In order to reach a ceasefire, which is the main objective, we must not give up on the path—which is a very narrow one today—that aims at a ceasefire and at negotiations leading to the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country. Offering every support to Ukraine with a wide range of actions is also the way to press Moscow to desist from the strategy they have followed so far.
Can it be said that by sending arms, Italy is a co-participant in the war?
I believe that everything that Europe is doing is part of the attempt to reach a ceasefire as soon as possible. The sending of weapons is an instrument of pressure that is used in an absolutely exceptional set of circumstances. After the vote the other day, it’s up to our Parliament to monitor the application of those decisions, starting with the destination of those weapons, knowing that openly neo-Fascist group are operating in Ukraine; and together we are asking the European institutions to work towards the resumption of negotiations.
Letta referenced the former Yugoslavia: “This time, we will not look the other way.” Do you consider that an appropriate comparison?
The Balkans are a dark and indelible stain on Europe’s conscience. It is enough to go back to Srebrenica, July 1995, and the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men. The blue helmets urgently asked for a deterrent action by NATO against the Serbian troops of General Mladic. There was no reaction, and the question of whether thousands of lives could have been saved remains with us as a warning not to repeat those tragic mistakes.
Our country and the EU are struggling to find a diplomatic role in facilitating a ceasefire. Could anything more be done?
I believe that the path of diplomacy should never be abandoned, and the unity with which Europe has moved at this juncture is something of value in itself. Having said that, I also think that more could and should have been done before, when we knew about Putin’s tendencies towards authoritarian neo-nationalism that had already led to the annexation of Crimea and Georgia. We knew who Putin was, but economic interests came first.
You have just published Rinascimento Europeo (“European Renaissance”). How does this conflict affect the process of European construction?
February 24 of this year has changed Europe and the perception of its security, and this changes the meaning of the “after,” because the order that we have known is the one which is imposing ambitious choices in the immediate future and the long-term, but this must be done in the spirit of a new Helsinki, not a new Cold War. Europe will not emerge weaker if its leaders have the same courage as those who, after the tragedies of the 20th century, were able to change the categories of history and conceive economic integration as a lever for progressive political unity around common values. Today, the challenge comes up again in relation to a European defense and the reconstruction of a relationship with Russia beyond the nationalism embodied by Putin.
Has NATO’s expansion to the east been reckless? What have been the major mistakes of the West since the collapse of the Soviet empire?
While it’s a fact that the entry of Ukraine into NATO was not on the agenda, the recklessness was in not having taken into account the drives and impulses coming from Russia, also in terms of security—and this is not something coming from those who are friendly towards Putin, but from the main analysts talking about that scenario, also in the United States.
Do you think a regime change in Russia is realistic, also as a result of the sanctions and the difficulties of the military operation?
I think the sanctions will have a heavy effect, although, regarding the decision to ban Russian banks from SWIFT, it must be taken into account that at least since 2014, Moscow has equipped itself with alternative circuits. I am struck by the fact that during the dramatic days of the invasion, there were well-attended demonstrations of dissent in Moscow and other cities. If people are taking to the streets at their own risk, it means that an opposition is there and it should be supported.
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