Fareed speaks with former Swedish Prime Minster Carl Bildt, now the country’s foreign minister, about the recent tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
You don’t buy the argument, I notice from your speech, that the Europeans in some way are responsible – or NATO is responsible – because over the last 20 years the European Union and NATO have expanded to Russia's borders. This is, of course the Russian claim, made by Putin in various speeches.
I don't buy anything of that. I mean the reality of it is that Ukraine, for all of its problems – and they are fairly massive – has been throughout its period of independence, has been a democratic country. And it has itself expressed the wish to have free trade and closer cooperation with the rest of the European countries, notably in the European Union. And we have answered that particular call. It would have been very difficult to refuse the Ukrainians. We have, perhaps, done less than they wanted – they want a much clearer European perspective from us.
They have free trade with Russia. We have no objections to that. And we’re now giving them free trade with the European Union. So we have answered the wishes of the Ukrainian people and the Moldovans and the Georgians and others. And that’s the thing you do in order to try to help a democracy that is trying to build a better future.
And your argument is, in the speech, that the European Union and NATO similarly answered requests from the countries of Eastern Europe to join, rather than some kind of imperial expansion eastward?
Yes, absolutely. I mean the reality inside the European Union, sorry to say, is that enlargement and expansion and free trade of this particular sort isn’t necessarily that popular. You would find the same sentiment concerning free trade in the U.S. Congress. So it's been a fairly slow process of actually opening up to these countries, much slower than the Ukrainians or the Moldovans or Georgians have actually wanted.
But of course, we have an interest in the prosperity and the stability of our neighborhood. And to just close the door to the wishes of the Ukrainians for closer cooperation also with us – without in any way wanting to impair the economic and whatever other cultural relationship that they have with Russia – that would have been irresponsible and unthinkable.