West was naive about Putin, says Juncker
By Jeff Wiltzius and Heledd Pritchard
Luxembourg’s former Prime Minister and EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, is "hugely disappointed" in Russian President Vladimir Putin and says he was "naïve" to think Russia would not invade Ukraine.
"I've known him for 22 years. We talked to each other for countless hours,” Juncker told RTL during a radio interview on Saturday. “But it is as if his nature has changed today. I'm hugely disappointed in him."
The former politician did not believe Russia would invade Ukraine. "Were we naive: yes," he said.
On Saturday, Ukraine and Russia agreed on a partial ceasefire to allow civilians to flee the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha in the south of the country. But hours later, Ukraine called off an evacuation attempt, accusing Russia of violating the agreement and continuing to attack the area.
Diplomacy is only the way to bring the crisis to a halt, Junker added, saying only one "idiot" is needed to start a war, but "50 geniuses" to end it.
Early on Friday morning, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine came under attack from Russian shelling, Ukrainian officials said. There was no change reported in radiation levels.
“Europe must wake up,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video message on Friday. “If there is an explosion, it is the end of Europe. Only urgent Europe actions can stop Russian troops.”
Guaranteeing the safety of the 35 nuclear reactors in Ukraine is an urgent matter, Juncker said. "If something happens there, it could take on significant proportions - also for Europe."
'Not on equal footing'
Politics in Europe and the US over recent years could have contributed to the current situation and Russia should have been more involved in political decisions, Juncker said. "During our talks, it always seemed to me that the Russians didn't feel that they were on an equal footing.
"We now need major diplomatic efforts on the part of the US, Europe and Canada for a solution that I don’t yet see."
For Juncker, excluding Russian artists and athletes from international events is the wrong approach.
Sanctions against Russia have been effective, but their impact could have an effect on Luxembourg, the Grand Duchy’s Finance Minister Yuriko Backes told RTL in a separate interview on Saturday.
Luxembourg will roll out a €75 million support package to help households pay for increasing energy costs, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said last week. Backes reiterated Bettel’s message that companies may also get support. The government is assessing what exact measures it would take.
Putin probably did not expect such a strong reaction to the invasion, Juncker said. He does not think Russia will attack other countries because NATO is not a threat to Russia, he added. "It exists solely for our defence,” he said. “Putin likes to claim that Russia is surrounded by NATO. But that's not true." Only 6% of Russia's border is surrounded by NATO countries.