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Charles Michel: 'I don't think this counteroffensive has failed'

by Oleksiy Sorokin November 23, 2023 1:01 AM 9 min read
European Council President Charles Michel speaks with the Kyiv Independent in Kyiv, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Anna Yakutenko/Kyiv Independent)
This audio is created with AI assistance

Ten years after Ukrainians took to the streets their dissatisfaction with what many saw as a nail into the coffin of the country's European future, the European Council president was in Kyiv promising that Ukraine would soon begin accession talks.

"My goal is to do everything to make a positive decision possible," Charles Michel told the Kyiv Independent on the 10th anniversary of the EuroMaidan Revolution that pushed the country back on the path of European integration.

In an interview with the Kyiv Independent, Michel talked about the need to convince Hungary to start accession talks with Ukraine, ramp up military production, the possible elections in Ukraine and the quite real ones in the U.S., and how the EU must be strong enough to continue providing Ukraine with what it needs to win the war and for the Kremlin to be stripped of its economic potential to continue the fight.

"The last package of sanctions is directly inspired by the cooperation with our intelligence services and the Ukrainian intelligence services based on what we can see on the battlefield," said Michel.

Watch the full video interview or read the Q&A below.

Kyiv Independent: I will start with the question about the main roadblocks to starting accession talks with Ukraine in December. What are they?

Charles Michel: My goal is to do everything to make a positive decision possible, but you know we need to decide on unanimity in the European Council. It's always challenging.

Still, it's very important to give a very strong signal. Why? Because it's a question of moral duty. Ukrainians are fighting for our common democratic values and principles. Also, it's because the enlargement in those circumstances, more than ever, is an investment in peace, security, and prosperity for the future.

That's why I sincerely hope that the European Council and its members will recognize the huge efforts made by the Ukrainian authorities in implementing the reforms that are needed. I hope we can send a positive signal, but it will require proper efforts to prepare this decision in the European Council.

Kyiv Independent: How will you persuade Hungary to accept Ukraine? Will you unblock 13 billion euros in frozen funds?

Charles Michel: You know, some suspicions expressed by observers that the Hungarian position could be linked with some bilateral irritants between Hungary and the European Commission.

But the most important thing for me is to make sure that the EU is acting in a geopolitical way. It means that we need to understand what's at stake and what's at stake on the European continent. This is peace, security, prosperity.

This EU project is based on those fundamental principles. Russia has decided to launch a war, a full-scale invasion not only against Ukraine. But it's also a war against security in the world, including in Europe. That's why it is fundamental that the 27 members make the right choices to ensure we prepare a better future for our children and grandchildren.

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Kyiv Independent: The European Union promised a million shells to Ukraine. Obviously, it won't be able to produce one million shells by the deadline. Do you see this as an inability of the European Union to adapt to the war in Ukraine 20 months in?

Charles Michel: Look, we have decided in a few months to mobilize more than 82 billion euros in total for supporting Ukraine. And we are going to do more. It is a proposal to increase the support with an additional package of 50 billion euros for Ukraine. But in terms of ammunition, you are absolutely right that we need to speed up. We need to accelerate.

We've already provided 300,000 rounds. These are the latest numbers by the end of October. And we are working very hard to make sure most are to come. We will increase our production, but this shows that we are right when we are making a decision to develop the European defense and capabilities to support Ukraine. But also to ensure that we will be stronger, more influential, and more resilient in the future.

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Kyiv Independent: Do you think that Ukraine should hold elections in 2024 if the war is not over?

Charles Michel: First and foremost, this debate is for Ukrainians. It's my first point. The second part, we must be realistic. It is so difficult to do an electoral campaign in those circumstances. But, it is the responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities to make the decision.

Kyiv Independent: Will Zelensky have the same credibility if he doesn't hold elections on time?

Charles Michel: I can tell you that in Europe he has very strong credibility because he's very courageous. And it's also the image of the Ukrainian people. He's extremely active in defending the Ukraine interest, he's extremely brave, and we want to support him and want to support the people of Ukraine as much as we can for as long as it takes.

Kyiv Independent: Do you think that the slow arms production and delivery to Ukraine and also the inability to choke Russia economically is part of why the Ukraine counteroffensive failed to reach its goals?

Charles Michel: I don't think this counteroffensive had failed. Two examples. Firstly, how the Ukrainian Army made huge progress in the Black Sea is extremely important. This is a major step in the right direction. Secondly, the recent progress made on the left side of the Dnipro River is also very important.

But you are absolutely right that we need to support Ukraine with more military capabilities. This is what we want to do. For instance, we've already trained more than 30,000 soldiers and will do more.

This is also true if you mentioned the production within the European Union. The current situation shows that we need to speed up and ramp up our production to support Ukraine. And also because in the future, we understand that the EU, which is a very strong economic actor, is very strong and powerful in terms of spreading common standards and internal norms across the world. We need to develop more defense and security capabilities in the future.

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Kyiv Independent: Europe always says it will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, but every new military and financial aid, sanction package takes longer and longer. Will Europe still be able to produce this amount of support for Ukraine in 2024 and 2025?

Charles Michel: I'm quite sure. If you observe what we have been doing since the start of the full-scale invasion, we succeeded in deciding on 11 packages of sanctions, and the 12th package is currently being discussed.

We reacted very quickly, and we always remember the hours following the full-scale invasion when we were at the European Council meeting in Brussels, we decided on the strategy, and we are following this strategy of fully supporting Ukraine as much as we can.

We know that sanctions take some time before they have a real and sustainable effect on a country. Can you imagine what the situation would be without this united support by the EU, the Americans, and other partners?

It's very clear that in terms of financial support, for instance, at the beginning, we made decisions case by case, then we decided to work on a multi-annual approach to provide more predictability to the Ukrainian authorities who are working closely with the IMF, for instance, to make sure that we support in terms of macro-financial assistance.

In each meeting I have with President Zelensky, each phone conversation, we have discussed in-depth what are the additional modalities and what are the additional concrete elements we can decide on and put in place to strengthen our support for Ukraine and to maximize the impact of sanctions against Russia.

Including by addressing the circumvention of sanctions and making sure that we convince many countries not to allow Russia to escape those things.

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Kyiv Independent: Sorry, is it possible? Because Russia is able to obtain, for example, Czech parts or U.S. parts for its missiles.

Charles Michel: The last pack of sanctions is directly inspired by the cooperation with our intelligence services and the Ukrainian intelligence services based on what we can see on the battlefield.

For instance, we are now targeting more and more what we call dual-use goods because it is so important to consider how Russia is trying to adapt its industrial base.

That's why, in terms of certain sanctions packages, we constantly need to adapt our framework to try to reduce the possibilities for Russia to escape these sanctions.

Kyiv Independent: You also mentioned the U.S. Is it fair to say that the U.S. elections will directly impact the European Union and support for Ukraine?

Charles Michel: I want to be clear. We are very important partners and allies with the United States. But we have our own destiny, and we need to demonstrate that we are able to make our own decisions. And I sincerely hope that we can count on the full support of the United States in the future. I'm very grateful to (President) Joe Biden and his administration for this very close cooperation and this common approach to Ukraine on the security of the European continent.

One thing is absolutely certain for the European Union, Ukraine, and candidate countries in the future, it's very important to make sure that we have more domestic tools with more capabilities to be more resilient and to have more influence in the future.

Kyiv Independent: Is the EU preparing for a potential Trump victory in the U.S. right now?

Charles Michel: We are determined to strengthen our support for Ukraine together with the United States. Last time, when I met with Joe Biden, we agreed on this principle that it is important for Congress and people in the United States to feel the support coming from the EU. And it is also important in the EU that we feel this strong commitment expressed by Joe Biden and his team.

There will be elections in the United States. There will be elections within the EU. Okay, this is clear. But it is our duty today to make sure that the public opinion, our citizens in the United States and Europe, understand the seriousness of the situation.

They have to understand that the support for Ukraine is a strategic investment for peace and security. And the world will be safer if we can support Ukraine and ensure the world's best order is protected and defended.

Kyiv Independent: Do you think the European Union, the U.S., and Ukraine have failed to persuade the Global South to support Ukraine?

Charles Michel: I have a nuanced answer.

I remember the bit of the war that was difficult because you were right that Russia started to develop a very aggressive narrative. As always, Russia was trying to persuade the Global South, giving the impression that it was provoked and that it had no other choice but to react to the 'NATO provocation,' etc.

I think we did a lot, which successfully convinced a big part of the Global South that Russia is making troubles across the world. And that Russian behavior has a dramatic and negative impact on the most valuable countries in terms of food and security, economic crisis, inflation, etc.

The situation in the Middle East is also used by Russia to try to attack the Western part of the world, trying to spread the idea that there will be double standards, which is not true. We defend international law always and everywhere.

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