The West Block – Episode 10, Season 12: Read about the Conversation of Host and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna

Guests:

  • Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
  • NATO Military Committee Chairman Admiral Rob Bauer
  • Place of Origin: Nova Scotia, Halifax

Starting From The Mercedes Stephenson-

An impassioned appeal from Ukraine to the world’s most influential military and political leaders meeting in Halifax. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and I’m reporting live from the Halifax International Security Forum, where many of the world’s top leaders have gathered to discuss war, peace, democracies, and the destiny of the human race. And more than anything else, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been at the forefront of debates.

Millions of people in Ukraine have no access to electricity or heat as winter approaches, according to the country’s government. Russia is blamed for this. What Ukraine needs from its Western friends at the moment is discussed in depth in this profile interview with Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.

The missile attack on Poland last week served as a sobering warning to NATO of how fast the alliance may be dragged into Russia’s war. I intend to inquire as to the stakes involved and the future steps for Ukraine from the highest-ranking military official in NATO.

Russian efforts to weaponize food, heat, and power have Ukrainians bracing for a harsh winter. Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, sat down with me to discuss what her country needs from its Western partners in order to survive the upcoming winter, the ongoing war, and the challenge of toppling Putin.

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Conversation Between the Host Mercedes Stephenson and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna!

Host Mercedes Stephenson and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna
Host Mercedes Stephenson and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for being here today, Deputy Prime Minister Stefanishyna, and welcome to Canada.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna: I appreciate your kindness and your time very lot. For Mercedes Stephenson: Give us a sense of how the Ukrainian people are faring right now. Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: As victims of several violent incidents, my family and I had been accustomed to living in the shadows, so the abundance of light upon my arrival in Montreal came as something of a shock. What we have is different from this. However, I believe that the spirit is more vital.

This will not be dampened no matter how much Russia tries to demoralize Ukraine by bombing hospitals, shooting up apartment complexes, torturing civilians in large numbers in seized territories, or employing hybrid warfare as a primary means of aggression. The dominant mentality in Ukraine, I believe, is that defeat is not an option. The population will suffer and be decimated, but there is no other option if you want to see the Russian Federation disintegrate for good.

Mercedes Stephenson: You mentioned how dim it was earlier. There is a lot of weight to it because of how easily we dismiss it. The lights really are on in the streets now. We now have functioning power grids. It gets chilly in Ukraine, just like it does in Canada, and the Russians are attacking your power and energy infrastructure. That poses a significant threat to the general public. As a person, how do you handle that?

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: The fact that we are not tackling this issue in isolation is, in my opinion, the single most crucial fact. Approximately 90 rockets were fired in the initial barrage four weeks ago, and since then, the shelling has continued weekly across the entirety of Ukraine. In this, we have not been alone.

About 40 percent of the critical infrastructure elements across Ukraine, mostly in the central part of Ukraine that is not affected by military warfare, have been damaged, and it is crucial that we are restoring the infrastructure as quickly and as prioritized as possible, as the president has already stated publicly.

It wouldn’t be feasible without a strong mobilization of our partners throughout the European Union and a wider set of allies, but in a sense, all of our technologists are also the heroes, save from the fact that they’re not with a gun on a battlefield. Nonetheless, the fact that Russia has been unable to breach any part of Ukraine’s essential infrastructure using hybrid or cyber means is a very positive development. This has left no room for them to try to violently destroy what we have.

Mercedes Stephenson: In your opinion, what does Ukraine require from the West and nations like Canada at the moment? So, what are our options?

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna Added-

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna
Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna

To aid in the restoration of the electricity systems, we have naturally disclosed the barest minimum of our requirements, and we urge the enterprises active in the electricity market to rally behind our cause and supply us with everything we need. Such a detailed specification of technical requirements is uncommon. Generators are a necessity for everyone, and the more of them there are, the better. It has the potential to safeguard networks and maintain their stability.

It can guarantee the reliability of power in homes, but it can also guarantee the reliability of the state itself since infrastructure like wiring and electricity supply is essential to any country’s ability to function. For this reason, it is crucial that we have sufficient generators and other technical elements to deal with and withstand this attack. However, this is secondary to the power to shut down the skies in order to protect our citizens, our buildings, and our infrastructure. More anti-air defense systems are necessary to repair the war-ravaged country’s infrastructure and ensure the safety of its people throughout the conflict’s duration.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is that something you think you can get from NATO countries? Do they hear us?

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: Yeah, they are. That’s because they do. It’s a big deal that countries like Spain, which wasn’t there before the first large bombardment, are now giving Ukraine [00:06:36 anti-air] defense measures, to use a makeshift word.

This is the time to go above and beyond what is expected of us, and that is exactly what the people of Ukraine are doing every day, whether it be in the form of the Ukrainian military and armed forces, the humanitarian aid workers in the country, or the politicians and ministers who are doing everything in their power to think outside the normative parameters. If some of the allies are still under the impression that they have exhausted all available options, let us tell them that they have not. Many lives are being lost, and many more families are grieving.

Mercedes Stephenson: If you’re watching the people you care about perish in front of your eyes, it must be frustrating to know that your allies have the power to save you, but they’re scared about what they may do if they did. Worries about a possible escalation with Russia are weighing on their minds. They are concerned that NATO may get dragged into it. I’m curious as to what it’s like for you to advocate for your people while juggling so many opposing demands.

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: At the beginning of the war, I experienced a great deal of frustration because, being from Kyiv, Ukraine, I could see things more clearly than many leaders and many politicians across our partner countries because we’re not buying, and our ultimate aim is to survive and save our people. We don’t have any other checks and balances that need to be maintained.

There has been much anguish on an individual level, but from the start, we were aware of a couple of major problems. If there is something we need to safeguard our people, we will not take no for an answer, and experience has shown that our allies will come to the same conclusion eventually. As a result of this, we now have highly coordinated military support, delivered through the [00:08:33]. Although this is a monumental choice, more needs to be done if we are to save the lives of our dying people.

The very good coordination processes which have been established, we hope, will enable us to make decisions more quickly, plan our military theatre, to use an analogy, with greater ease and precision.

Mercedes Stephenson: A nuclear attack is a real possibility, are you concerned about that?

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna!

Of course we are, and we are quite concerned that this nuclear threat may become real if there were to be a large-scale provocation against the Ukrainian nuclear objects like the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant or the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

The Russians would never take such a drastic step as to simply shell Kyiv with a nuclear bomb. They’d use a combination of conventional and unconventional tactics, and we think it’s crucial that the international community responds in kind to any nuclear blackmail or threat posed by Russia, even if it’s carried out with the help of Ukrainian nuclear objects like the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. On the other hand, we’re realistic about the fact that this nuclear menace will follow us around.

Whether we respond forcefully or not, we will continue to face such a threat. This danger will persist as long as Putin is in charge, as long as the war continues, and as long as Russia has any desire for aggression toward Ukraine, Poland, or any other country. Here’s the thing: what we’re doing. If we act in a way that would anger Russia, the nuclear threat will remain, as will Russia’s desire to avoid punishment. We should take immediate steps to halt Russia and bring an end to this war. We need to act in unison, and I believe that after the battle is done, it will be the Ukrainians and their allies, not the Russians, who will have the final say.

Mercedes Stephenson: How do you settle on a course of action?

Mercedes Stephenson
Mercedes Stephenson

Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: At this point, it’s beyond any shadow of a doubt. The Ukrainian president has outlined the entire 10-point peace plan, of which negotiations are just one part. This is a condensed list of tasks that must be completed, and I believe that everyone should work from this premise.

Everything listed here will be progressing on the Ukrainian side. After the nuclear danger has been removed, the grain corridor has been repaired, all prisoners of war have been exchanged, Russia has been brought to justice, negotiations have begun, and security guarantees have been made to the Ukrainian government. As such, they are the cornerstones toward which we will strive no matter what, and we ask that our partners remain committed to working with us. And then we’ll be in this position, with the victory file in hand.

For Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you very much for your participation today, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister.

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Assistant Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna: It’s much appreciated. Much appreciation.

Mercedes Stephenson: Next, I have a chat with Admiral Rob Bauer. When it comes to discussing Russia and the alliance’s future, he is the highest-ranking military official in NATO.

[Break]
Mercedes Stephenson: At the forefront of the minds of those who must make life-or-death military decisions is the precarious scenario that Russia has created in Ukraine. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was among those there and delivered a speech at the event. NATO and allies, including us in Canada, are also at risk, he warns, not simply those bordering Ukraine.

We can expect to hear from eight cabinet ministers and the prime minister about the use of the Emergencies Act and their defense of its constitutionality. Next week on The West Block, we’ll examine that and all of their testimonies. For the time being, my name is Mercedes Stephenson. Have a wonderful week, and we’ll see you again on Sunday.

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