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Yanis Varoufakis: Europe Must Stand with Ukraine, Condemn Putin & Roll Back NATO to Restore Peace

StoryFebruary 24, 2022
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What does the Russian invasion of Ukraine mean for the rest of Europe? We speak with Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, about the failure of international bodies like the European Union and United Nations in preventing war. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres implored Russia to withdraw all troops in a speech immediately following Thursday’s attack, and the U.S. and allies are moving swiftly to impose sanctions as retaliation against the aggression. Varoufakis warns these threats are “like a pea shooter trying to stop a tank.” The only hope for a peaceful resolution is for NATO to declare Ukraine will not become a member, says Varoufakis.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

As we continue to look at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we go to Greece to see what this means for the continent of Europe. We’re joined now by Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece, latest book titled Another Now. He’s also founder of Progressive International with Senator Bernie Sanders.

Yanis, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your response as you saw what unfolded over the last hours with this broad Russian invasion of Ukraine?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: What can I say? It’s a dark, bleak day for the world, for Europe in particular. War is back on the continent, that was promised by our European Union that war would never be back on our soil. Vladimir Putin is to blame entirely for taking this step. But at the same time, NATO must be condemned for creating the circumstances leading to Putin’s escapade in the Ukraine.

We have to stop this war right now. And we have to work very hard to stop any NATO escalation. We have to create international solidarity in order to ensure that the people of Ukraine live in peace, not under the boot of any army, and for NATO to keep out of Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, as, let’s not forget, George Bush — the senior George Bush — had promised Mikhail Gorbachev.

AMY GOODMAN: What should be the European Union response? The EU has promised unprecedented sanctions, holding an emergency summit in Brussels. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said sanctions will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking the access to technologies and markets that are key for Russia, and, if approved, will, quote, “weaken Russia’s economic base,” “its capacity to modernize.” She said, in addition, “We will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.” Your response?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Believe me, Amy, that Putin is not trembling in his boots listening to all this. Allow me to preface my answer by saying that the European Union is the greatest loser from what’s happening, apart, of course, from the people in the Ukraine who are suffering the slings and arrows of war. The European Union is discredited. It has failed completely in its mission, which is to keep our eastern flank free of war. And now what we have is essentially adopting the NATO language, as if the European Union is simply an appendage of NATO, and also huge amounts of hypocrisy.

You mentioned all those threats of great sanctions. It’s like, you know, a pea shooter trying to stop a tank, because there is one sanction that could work, one sanction that Putin fears, and that is ending the purchases of natural gas from Gazprom. As we speak, Nord Stream 1 — it’s a gas pipeline — is feeding the German industrial machine with 40% of its energy from natural gas. They’re not going to say anything about that, because this is a sanction they are not prepared to make. And therefore, we have this combination of diplomatic atrophy and hypocrisy.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the possibility of this escalating into a nuclear war? You have the very ominous threat of President Putin, who oversees the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, saying in his speech, “No one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.” You have the major nuclear power plants in Ukraine. We already know what happened with Chernobyl. That was when it was a part of the Soviet Union. But the possibility of one of these plants being hit, or workers not going to work out of fear, or a cyberattack on them, what it could mean? Possibly another Chernobyl? How do we deal with this around the world?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, when the beast of war is unleashed from its lair, then all sorts of catastrophes are possible. I don’t believe that Putin or the United States are planning to go that far, but you never know, because this is the great uncertainty that is liberated the moment the hawks begin to fly menacingly over the heads of European peoples and peoples all over the world.

The number one priority now is for a serious diplomatic initiative that sorts this mess out by giving Putin something that he can present the Russian people with as a victory. And that’s something that would not have any costs for anybody around the world, would be for a declaration by NATO, by the United States, that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, in exchange for troop withdrawal from the side of Vladimir Putin, that he takes back his — that he stops, ceases all hostilities and removes all troops from Ukrainian soil. I believe that that would be potentially the foundation for a peace deal that would be in the interest of humanity, not just of the Ukrainians. Both sides need to take a step back. Of course, the major step back must be Putin’s.

But the United States — and I’m mentioning the United States because the European Union is nonexistent. It has rendered itself nonexistent. The United States has to make a deal that involves a kind of neutrality for the Ukraine. The United States is never going to send troops to the Ukraine, will never prevent Putin from trampling upon the rights and lives of the Ukrainians. At least declare that and make this part of the bargaining process by which the people of the Ukraine will be liberated from Russian troops.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the role of the U.N. I want to play the speech of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking last night at United Nations Security Council in New York.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: This is the saddest moment in my tenure as secretary-general of the United Nations. I started this meeting of the Security Council addressing President Putin and telling him from the bottom of my heart, “Stop your troops from an offensive to the Ukraine. Give peace a chance, because too many people have already died.” During the meeting, President Putin announced a “special military operation” into Donbas and required the Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms.

So, in the present circumstances, I must change my appeal. And I must say, President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia. In the name of humanity, do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century. …

What is clear for me is that this war doesn’t make any sense. It violates the principles of the Charter, and it causes, or will cause, if it doesn’t stop, a level of sufferings Europe has not known since at least the Balkan crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking last night at the U.N. Security Council, an emergency meeting that was called as Russia then began the invasion of Ukraine. Yanis Varoufakis, your response to his comments? Do you think the U.N. has any more power than what you’re saying is now an eviscerated European Union?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Afraid not. António Guterres made a moving speech, a good speech. But he mentioned the Charter of the United Nations and the need to respect it. Well, there is no doubt that Putin is not respecting it. And we should do our utmost to make sure that he does respect it or that he pays a price for not respecting it. But at the same time, let’s not forget, Amy, you know, now, we are old enough to remember how the United Nations Charter was absolutely violated, turned into a piece of paper with no value whatsoever, by George W. Bush when he invaded Iraq without any permission or any due process involving the United Nations. Even before that, 1999, NATO bombarded Yugoslavia, and the Clinton administration back then dismissed the United Nations, bypassed the United Nations, effectively rendered it inoperative. So, the United Nations is a fine idea. Internationalism is the only way forward. But I’m afraid that António Guterres is, you know, the chief in an empty tent.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a tweet from a New York Times reporter: “Anti-war solo pickets like this are popping up in cities across Russia. It’s not much but they’re arrested almost immediately, often upon leaving their homes when the cops know to expect them. Here’s Sofya Rusova, co-chair of Russia’s Trade Union of Journalists.” And “A handful of anti-war protestors has gathered outside Ukraine’s embassy in Moscow aaaaaand they’re arrested.” What about the population inside Russia? Who stands to gain from this, and who loses? In fact, won’t the sanctions strengthen the hand — even though some of Russia’s billionaires are targeted by the sanctions, if they are cut off from the rest of the economy outside, it is those billionaires’ businesses inside that Russia will have to depend on.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, I’m ever so glad that you mentioned the antiwar movement within Russia, because our best comrades, our best friends and collaborators in bringing about peace are the democrats in Russia, the democrats in China, the democrats in the United States of America — small-D democrats. I’m not referring to the ruling party. And it is always important we ask ourselves the question, whenever we do something or suggest something or propose a policy: What effect is this going to have on the democrats in Russia? And I very much fear that the West is behaving as if with the sole purpose in mind to strengthen Putin against the democrats in Russia, because when you encircle Russia with NATO troops and NATO nuclear weapons, you are giving Putin very powerful arguments within Russia to effectively continue the oppression of democrats in Russia. This war is the result, on the one hand, of NATO expansionism and, on the other hand, of course, crucially, the great glee with which Putin grabs the opportunity that the United States and NATO and Europe give him to have this war in order to enhance his authority, his brutal, cruel authority, over the good people, the good democrats, of Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Yanis Varoufakis, for joining us. We were hoping also to be joined by a peace activist from Ukraine, but he had to make his way into a war underground shelter in Kyiv. I also want to say, about the peace movement in the United States, I know that CodePink has Saturday called for an emergency rally online to demand no war in Ukraine. I think it’s particularly important for the corporate media to pay attention. They’re going to be featuring peace activists from the U.S., U.K., Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France. How important it is to hear those voices, as well. Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece, founder of the Progressive International with Senator Bernie Sanders. Thank you so much.

That does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! has job openings, a human resources manager. Learn more and apply at

Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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