Carl Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden between 1991 and 1994, lived through the annexation of Crimea by Russia in his last stage as Foreign Minister of his country, a position he held between 2006 and 2014. Since then, Bildt (Halmstad, 73 years) has spent much of his time traveling around the world, now with a particular focus on the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. From his extensive diplomatic experience and his many contacts, he draws resounding conclusions about the war in the former Soviet republic. Bildt, who received EL PAÍS this Wednesday at a farm in Rascafría where he has participated in the board meeting of the international consulting firm Kreab Worldwide, of which he is vice president, predicts that the Russian offensive will end when the Vladimir Putin regime falls. Until that end comes, he warns “not to underestimate the desperation” of the Russian president, whom he sees as capable of ordering a nuclear attack imminently. The former leader of the Moderate Party of Sweden – who has just returned to power after reaching an agreement with other conservative formations and the extreme right – defends the toughening of immigration laws in his country and affirms that Turkey “has not been wrong at all” by noting that Stockholm has not been “vigilant enough in the fight against terrorism”.
Ask. Putin is raising the risk of Ukraine allegedly using a dirty bomb, in what looks like a pretext for escalation. He was also feared when he illegally annexed four Ukrainian provinces. Do you think this time it could happen?
Response. Yes I believe it. Clearly, the war has not gone particularly well for him. The Russian army has failed and is now forced to mobilize civilians. That probably won’t help much either. But Putin will continue to climb [el conflicto] until it collapses. And the worrying thing about what he’s doing now is that it could be some kind of pretext for using nuclear weapons. I can’t be sure, but it’s sending very worrying signals. The political atmosphere in Moscow is changing. There are more and more skeptical people towards the war. I wouldn’t say his position is at risk right now, but things are moving in the opposite direction for him, on the global diplomatic front, on political support within Russia, in Ukraine, and certainly with the cohesion of the West. .
P. You recently said that the evacuation of Kherson could be a withdrawal or a sign of an impending nuclear attack. What do you believe now?
R. I’m not so sure. Many people interpreted that it could be that the Russians were withdrawing from Kherson completely. Also that they were clearing the way to use a nuclear weapon against the Ukrainian troops advancing in the area. What happens in Kherson can be interpreted in different ways, but we must not underestimate Putin’s desperation.
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P. So do you think a nuclear attack could be imminent, at any moment?
R. I honestly hope not. But with Putin’s desperation and everything moving against him, it cannot be ruled out.
P. How will the war end, in your opinion?
R. It will end when Putin disappears from the Kremlin. I think he also sees it that way and has said it in several speeches. He says this [la guerra] it is a matter of life or death for Russia. It is not like that, but it is a matter of life and death for him and for his regime. And he’s so committed to this war that I don’t think the conflict will end until his regime collapses.
P. Do you see it possible for that to happen?
R. Russia is a country that collapsed twice in the last century. In 1917 and in the collapse of ’91. And, basically, for the same reasons: it had not been modernized; he was too authoritarian; her finances were under severe pressure; many people had stopped believing in the powers of the state. Those are usually the recipes for collapse and I would say it goes in the same direction. But predicting when is impossible. At the same time, when the regime falls it is going to be quite a difficult time for Russia. There will be factions that will compete in different ways.
P. There have been some moves between Democrats and Republicans in the US questioning military aid to Ukraine. If the US considers whether it is sustainable to support them militarily until the end, how does the EU position itself as a neighbor?
R. Opinion polls in the US show that there is very strong support among both Democrats and Republicans for aid to Ukraine. But politics is politics, so some begin to maneuver. Even so, US support will remain strong. I am concerned that a year from now we will find ourselves in a situation where Americans say, “We have supplied all these things, but what have you Europeans done?” Because right now it is the Americans who are doing the most in military and financial terms. I can understand the military part because they are a military superpower. But I think that the Europeans should do more on the financial side.
P. What else should Europe do?
R. Ukraine has a budget deficit. Between 3,000 and 5,000 million euros per month are needed. If we force them to pay for that by printing money, there will be hyperinflation and a lot of problems. It is a lot of money, but relative to the European economy, it is a very small sum. The European Council has now spoken of 1.5 billion a month. I think we should at least double that amount.
P. Is there any indication since the new government took office in Sweden that Turkey is ready to approve the country’s accession to NATO?
R. I think our new prime minister [Ulf Kristersson, del Partido Moderado, el mismo que Bildt] and the president [de Turquía, Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will meet in the coming weeks. Erdogan has complained that we have not been vigilant enough in the fight against terrorism. On some points he has not been entirely wrong. We have strengthened the legislation and I hope that will pave the way for the situation to be resolved.
P. What do you think about the government agreement with the extreme right of the Sweden Democrats?
R. It is an agreement on seven areas. Broadly speaking, there are quite a few open points. The agreement puts Sweden on the same path as Denmark on migration. Not as far away as Denmark, which is tougher. But it was a necessary adjustment because we have had one of the most open and liberal immigration policies. This has brought many advantages for Sweden, but also disadvantages. Now it is necessary to pause and correct course. And that is what is going to happen.
P. In Sweden there was a cordon sanitaire with respect to the extreme right since 2010. What has changed so that this agreement now takes place?
R. What has happened is that they have obtained 20% in the elections. That cannot be ignored. And then there were some tough negotiations that allowed an agreement to be reached that was considered correct by the different parties. It is an agreement very similar to what we have seen in other Nordic countries: in Denmark, approximately since the year 2000, in different versions. We have also seen it in Norway. Let’s see how it works in Sweden.
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