Western backers of Ukraine “should not dictate” peace terms to Kyiv and recognise that the country is in effect fighting against Russia to protect all Europe, the Czech foreign minister said on a trip to London.
Jan Lipavský, whose country holds the EU presidency, also blamed Russia for what appears to be a stray air defence missile landing in Poland on Tuesday, because it had attacked Ukraine with “more than 100 rockets”.
“We shouldn’t be in a position where we dictate to Ukraine with other conditions for peace, if they are fighting for their own survival,” Lipavský said, when asked if it was reasonable for Ukraine to demand a restoration of the pre 2014 borders.
At stake, the minister added, were the UN principles of territorial integrity and the international rules based order. “Putin wants to destroy the principle that the borders of states are not changed by brute force,” he argued.
Lipavský’s comments come as some US figures, led by Gen Mark Milley, the head of the country’s armed forces, have voiced concern that the fighting in the war is likely to descend into a stalemate over the winter and that Kyiv should consider reopening diplomatic discussions with Russia.
But many in Europe have pushed back at the suggestion, believing any halt to the conflict would favour Russia, still occupying large parts of Ukraine’s territory. Lipavský said countries across the continent were benefiting from providing Ukraine with ongoing military, financial and humanitarian aid.
“Ukrainians made the clear choice they didn’t want to be part of Moscow’s empire,” Lipavský said. It was necessary for the west to help protect Ukraine over “the long haul” because their battle against their neighbour “is also protecting us”.
Prague has been the site of pro- and anti-government demonstrations in the past few weeks amid rising prices that critics of the country’s centre-right government want to pin on the government’s pro-Ukraine policy.
Lipavský, though, said he was confident that the Czech Republic would not relent in its support of Kyiv and referenced its mid 20th-century history of being dominated by Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union.
“Freedom is not for free,” the minister said, adding that his country had suffered heavily in the fifty years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “So maybe this winter will be harsher. But the price we would pay for not being free? It’s much, much, much, much higher.”
The foreign minister said it was “quite easy to answer who’s to blame” for the deaths of two Poles on Tuesday after a stray missile – believed to be from a Ukrainian S-300 air defence system – crashed landed on a farm about four miles from the border.
“More than 100 Russian rockets on Tuesday were flying towards Ukraine with one clear aim: to destroy and cripple Ukrainian energy infrastructure, to kill people, to sow terror,” he said, arguing that Kyiv had a right to defend itself against the assault.
The Czech minister said that the EU was “working on a ninth round” of economic sanctions directed against Russia but would offer no specifics of what they could contain, reflecting wrangling among the bloc’s members about what they can agree on to target and worries about the cost of getting Hungary to sign up.
Hungary, led by prime minister Viktor Orbán, the EU leader most sympathetic to Russia, has increasingly raised questions about additional sanctions and has run a public campaign describing them as bombs that punish Europeans financially. When asked if Hungary was a problem, Lipavský paused and tactfully described the country as “a member of the EU and Nato”.
The foreign minister was in the UK to collect a Magnitsky human rights award for his part in the Czech Republic passing a law last month allowing the country to sanction Russia or other foreign entities violating human rights, supporting terrorism, or committing cybercrimes.