‘American hearts bleed for Ukraine, but we also bleed for all Russian families affected by this war’

An interview with Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

On the anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Novaya Gazeta Europe editor-in-chief Kirill Martynov has spoken with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.

What is the reaction of the US to Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty? Does the US have plans for a “strategic defeat” of Russia? What are the main outcomes of the year of the war?

What do you think about the suspension of the New START treaty by President Putin? Will the United States somehow respond to this?

I’d like to remind you that this suspension is frankly not new. It’s new that President Putin announced it to the country. But in fact, Russia has not allowed inspections, nor has it come to inspect us since 2020, and it has not agreed to sit down at the table for the bilateral commission to go over mutual implementation. We tried very hard in 2023 to re-establish that contact and to allow for Russian inspections, and it was the Kremlin that said no.

So we think it’s highly irresponsible for us not to be implementing the New START treaty. We do not plan any changes to our posture. We are not planning to test, we are not planning to build new weapons. But the US and Russia have a responsibility to the world to be good stewards of nuclear weapons. So we urge Russia to reconsider and allow the implementation of the treaty fully.

Putin insists that the United States wants to strategically defeat Russia, and that is why he needed to raise the stakes with the nuclear weapons. Does the United States really have such plans against Russia?

The only thing we want is for Russia to get out of Ukraine and allow Ukraine to be a free, independent country, a good neighbour to everybody. This war is completely Putin’s decision, 

and it’s based on his own vain ideas of conquest. And it’s tragic. It’s tragic for Ukraine, obviously, but it’s equally tragic for Russia. 200,000 of Russia’s sons dead or wounded in this war. A million of the best and brightest, including yourself, have fled Russia because they don’t want to participate in this. And sanctions that we’ve had to put on are mortgaging Russia’s future. The complete end to your energy and economic relationship with Europe. It is really sad. I want to ask President Putin, what are the Russian people getting out of this? Nothing.

What do you think is the main result of the year of the war — when it comes to Europe, Ukraine, Russia, United States?

Well, obviously, for Ukraine, it has been the most difficult year in its history, or at least since World War Two. But the response from the Ukrainian people has been unbelievable. You know, I remember those first weeks of war, where we really thought a hundred battalions of Russian forces encircling Ukraine would conquer Kyiv, would topple the government. And the Ukrainians’ brave resistance on the battlefield, but also every Ukrainian family that has worked to sustain the country, including in the context of brutal attacks on the heating system, the water system… Their ability to stay united and to fight back has been truly amazing. I will say that this war has also united the allies and partners of the Western nations. It’s made NATO stronger. Putin thought he would break NATO, but instead we have more money, more troops, more unity than before this war.

I think the saddest part, apart from the destruction of Ukraine itself and its difficulty, as I said, has been what’s happened to Russia from Putin’s choices.

You know, he’s been in power for 20 years. He could have spent that time building his own country, its economy, its education, its technology, its integration with us, moving from being simply an energy and weapons power to being the diverse power that Russia should be. And instead, he spent all this money on a military that is now almost half destroyed in Ukraine alone. And the taxpayer money of Russia that was saved in the sovereign wealth fund, more than half of it is frozen overseas and will now be spent on the reconstruction of Ukraine. Will have to be, because Russia will be held responsible. So it really is a very, very sad situation which didn’t have to happen.

And you remember when President Biden met with President Putin in Geneva, just less than six months into the beginning of the term, I was there as well, and we offered a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia. And President Putin rejected that. We offered in January of 2022, when we saw this war coming, we offered to try to hear Russia out, negotiate its concerns. We had one round and then Putin pushed back from the table. So this is about one person’s evil choice of conquest rather than doing his job, which is taking care of the Russian people and Russia.

Can the United States recognise Russia as a sponsor of terrorism and how it will affect the country and its citizens?

Well, we do have legislation that allows that. The question is it usually is designed for states that support other organisations that are terrorist. I think instead what we see is a Russian military that is itself behaving in barbarous ways. Mass graves, the exfiltration of Ukrainians, including children, the rape and torture of people on the battlefield. So it is Russia itself that is committing war crimes, not sponsoring somebody else.

What do you think, can China be the real ally for President Putin in this war?

You know, China continues to tell the world that it is neutral in this conflict, that it supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, including Ukraine, that it supports the UN Charter. So our message back to China is, if you want to maintain your credibility on that front, do not get into the arms business with Putin. Do not accelerate this bloody war. Work for peace. We have already seen examples of Chinese companies starting to aid the Russian war effort. As you may know, we sanctioned one Chinese company a couple of weeks ago, Spacety, because it was providing geolocational data for the Wagner Group. And our sanctions package will also seek to close sanctions evasion by China. And our warnings have been very, very strong. So we hope that China will, in fact, live up to its word and stay neutral.

What is your message for the Russian audience, for those who are against the war or those who don’t understand how to react to this situation?

What I would say is that American hearts bleed for Ukraine, but we also bleed for all the Russian families who are affected by this war, who have lost their sons on the battlefield, who are squeezed economically, who have had family and friends, feel like they have to flee, and whose kids' chances are so constrained by the choices that Putin has made. But understand, this was Putin’s choice to start this. Nobody wanted this war except for him. And it’s time for Russians to tell their government: it’s time to go home and tend your own gardens.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.