Swedish Ambassador to Ukraine Tobias Thyberg believes the war in Donbas is not "a marginal conflict that we can forget about." Snapshot from video of interview
In the interview to Kyiv not Kiev, Swedish Ambassador to Ukraine Tobias Thyberg had a chance to speak about his attitude to Ukrainian culture and its uniqueness, the difference between lifestyle traditions in Ukraine and Sweden, disadvantages of “lagom.” The Ambassador also revealed the Swedish approach to work as a Chair of the OSCE, things that made him revise his understanding of the conflict in the East of Ukraine and Sweden’s real potential to influence the Nord Stream 2 construction.
On the importance of Ukraine for European partners
During the interview with KYIV NOT KIEV, the Ambassador emphasized the role of Ukraine for the European Union. His Excellency noted that anyone, especially in Sweden, who works with Eastern Europe matters, understands that Ukraine is of enormous importance:
“Ukraine is the pivotal country in the EU Eastern neighborhood.”
“I feel every single day that I am living in a country which is at war,” the Ambassador spoke about whether he feels safe working in Ukraine. According to him, although armed conflict is taking place only on one part of the Ukrainian territory, it is impossible to forget about multifaceted hybrid war and Russian-backed armed formations that destabilize the situation in Donbas.
“We know that Russian aggression in Ukraine manifests itself in many different ways. Some of them are military, some of them aren’t.”
The Ambassador mentioned his visit to Avdiivka alongside President Zelensky. It is his concerns about the death of Ukrainian soldiers that made him look differently at this conflict,
“It’s a very painful experience. This really is armed aggression and Ukrainian soldiers are dying. This is not some kind of a marginal conflict that we can forget about.”
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the “book of memory” reports that as of 21 January 2021, the number of combat and non-combat losses suffered by Ukraine in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone is 4355 dead. The UN estimates that between 13,100 and 13,300 people died as a result of the war.
On the shutdown of pro-Russian TV channels
Ambassador Thyberg thinks that the shutdown of pro-Russian TV channels signifies a way of how Ukrainian authorities respond to Russian hybrid aggression. At the same time, the Ambassador noted,
“It is up to Ukraine to determine whether this was an infringement on the media freedom.”
On Ukrainian uniqueness
The Ambassador also revealed what strikes him about Ukraine. Mr.Thyberg noticed that not all Ukrainians understand the uniqueness and key advantages of the Ukrainian culture,
“I believe Ukraine is one of the greatest culinary nations of Europe. It’s about a consciousness of quality. It’s about having very high standards. It’s about expecting a lot from what you eat!”
Another thing that excites the Ambassador and his family members about Ukraine is its embroidery and fashion based on traditional Ukrainian crafts.
Nowadays, Ukrainian fashion and designers are becoming popular internationally. For example, The Wall Street Journal called dresses from Ukrainian fashion designer Vita Kin – “hit of the summer.” In 2019, at New York Fashion Week a clothing brand of Ukrainian designer Svitlana Bevza was shown. Designer Yuliya Magdych is one Ukrainian fashion designers to achieve international recognition via creations rooted in her country’s sartorial heritage. Numerous designers like Olena Dats, Roksolana Bogutska, and Oksana Karavanska have managed to create international businesses combining Ukraine’s traditional embroidery styles and contemporary tastes. They produce everything from accessories to dresses featuring signature ethnic elements that are both traditional Ukrainian and entirely contemporary.
As to the topic of lifestyle differences between Ukraine and Sweden, the Ambassador admitted that he does not admire the Swedish concept named “lagom” and what it represents.
“Lagom” is the concept of life and the harmony philosophy based on the balance of the essentials; this is an approach to a reasonable attitude to life.
In the interview, the Ambassador noted,
“I think it [lagom] denotes the lack of enthusiasm. I do not like when there is no enthusiasm. The desire to show off what you have is as much there in Sweden as it is in Ukraine.”
The interview covered historical bonds between Sweden and Ukraine. The Ambassador attended an event dedicated to honoring the Grand Duchess of Kyiv Ingegerd-Iryna, daughter of the Swedish King Olof Skötkonung (reigned in Sweden in 995–1022), in Saint Sophia Cathedral.
Mr Thyberg underlines the historical connection between Ukraine and Sweden. The Ambassador recognizes Ukrainian rulers’ historical place among the first European sovereigns, who established states in their respective countries. His Excellency states that the connection between the two dynasties positively affected other European countries.
“[Ingegerd-Irene and Yaroslav the Wise] together had a very impressive political partnership. They belonged to the very first generations of rulers who established states in their respective countries”.
His Excellency states that the connection between the two dynasties positively affected other European countries. The Ambassador reminded Yaroslav the Wise and Ingegerd managed to marry three of their daughters to kings of Norway, France, and Hungary. According to some researchers, Anna Yaroslavna brought from Kyiv to France the Reims Gospel all the French kings would subsequently use to swear their oaths.
On Sweden’s presidency in the OSCE
According to the Ambassador, during Sweden’s presidency in the OSCE, the organization will focus on the Donbas region’s peacemaking process.
“Sweden will do its utmost to contribute to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
His Excellency also spoke about the limits of possible actions of the OSCE, as the lack of consensus among members could hinder the possibility to address problems effectively.
“If one member of the OSCE simply refuses to recognize that Crimea is part of Ukraine, for instance, that creates difficulties in an organization which works on the basis of consensus.”
As a member of the OSCE, Russia can influence any decision of the OSCE, including the work of the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, thanks to the principle of consensus. The Russian Federation has been blocking constructive work within the Tripartite Contact Group (TCG) framework, demanding that Ukraine implement the political provisions of the Minsk agreements without fulfilling its obligations.
Similarly, due to Russia’s fault, the requirements on effective monitoring and verification of the OSCE ceasefire regime are not working in full force. Recently, Russia has often criticized the OSCE. For example, the Russian government believes that OSCE projects for developing democracy in the CIS countries threaten Russia’s interests in these regions.
Mr. Thyberg notes that Sweden’s approach to progress is “healthy realism” and names the two crucial areas of the OSCE work for Sweden in Ukraine, i.d. the situation of the civilians and human rights violations.
“It is extremely important that they [Ukrainian government] have improved the possibilities to cross the contact line and to pass the checkpoints.”
About human rights abuses,
“I have recently attended some of the most awful and difficult meetings that I ever had in my life. These meetings have been with the family members of Ukrainians who are illegally detained in Crimea, in non-government-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine and in the Russian Federation.”
The Ambassador stated that the OSCE is to ensure that this ongoing human rights abuses stop.
On Nord Stream-2
The Ambassador explained Sweden’s position on the construction of Nord Stream-2 referring to international law provisions. Mr. Thyberg emphasized the importance of respect for international law – meaning Sweden could not prevent the Nord Stream-2 construction under international law.
“It was not in our power legally to prevent the building of this pipeline [Nord Stream-2] through the Swedish economic zone.”
On the other hand, Sweden did make its point “on the way in which this pipeline construction respected environmental safety.”
However, the Ambassador emphasized that Swedish authorities are conscious that the Nord Stream-2 is not only a commercial or relationship project between the two companies. It is a project that threatens European security. His Excellency expressed regret because of the lack of the EU’s tools to determine the influence of projects of this kind and resist them if needed.
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