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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott to seek fourth term

EU trade official calls the economic impact of defending Ukraine a price worth paying

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Higher prices at the gas pump and at the grocery store - those are two ways that many Americans are feeling the economic impact of the conflict in Ukraine. Granted, the war is just one of several factors affecting global prices, but it's having a big enough impact that world leaders are worried about the lasting impact on the global economy. That was a big focus of conversation this week for trade leaders from around the world who gathered in Washington, D.C., for meetings at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. One of those leaders is European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. He is also the European trade commissioner and a former prime minister of Latvia, and he is with us now. Mr. Executive Vice President, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

VALDIS DOMBROVSKIS: Good afternoon.

MARTIN: And as I think many people know, I mean, the U.S. and Europe are spending billions of dollars on the effort to support Ukraine, both financially and militarily. Just this week, President Biden announced two new aid packages, totaling more than $1,000,000,000. And both Washington and Brussels have announced round after round of sanctions against Russia and a host of wealthy supporters of President Vladimir Putin. But the Russian assault on Ukraine continues. Is any of this working?

DOMBROVSKIS: Well, it's clear that we must put maximum pressure to stop Russia's aggression. And as we see, if the aggression is continuing, we need to continue to put more pressure on Russia because Russia's propaganda and also many Russian officials are making no secret of this, that it's not only about Ukraine. They are ready to wage further aggressor wars, invade further neighboring countries. So it's not only about Ukraine's security. It's about broader European security. So therefore, it's very important that we are stopping this aggression and putting maximum pressure now.

MARTIN: But are you? I mean, is there any evidence that these efforts taken so far are having any impact on the decision-making of President Putin and those who support him?

DOMBROVSKIS: Well, Putin will go as far as we will allow him to go. And it's clear that the support provided to Ukraine so far, including military supplies, helped to change the situation on the ground, helped to liberate cities and towns around Kyiv. And Russia withdrew from that part of Ukraine and now is concentrating primarily on Donbas. So we must continue to provide the support for Ukraine to defend its territories, which are currently under Russia's control.

MARTIN: And obviously, one big issue hanging over the response to the Russian invasion is Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas. Several major European nations import energy sources from Russia. Forgive me, but some see Europe's refusal to stop those imports as basically writing a blank check for Vladimir Putin and the Russian military. How do you respond to that?

DOMBROVSKIS: Well, it's very much an issue, and it's very much on the EU's agenda. So we are rapidly moving away from the dependence on Russia's fossil fuels. Already now we have put a ban on Russia's coal imports. We are currently discussing possibility to put some kind of oil embargo as part of the six sanctions package, which is currently under preparation. And we are also working to rapidly phase out dependency on Russian natural gas. Already we have put forward plans how we can reduce our dependency by two-thirds already by the end of the year.

MARTIN: And forgive me for pressing you on this point, but are you concerned that as this war goes on, you know, goes on longer, as it lasts far longer than, certainly, the Russians seem to indicate that they thought that it would, are you worried about a fissure in the coalition? Are you worried that the solidarity that the allied nations and the United States and other nations who support sort of democratic principles, are you worried that that solidarity will erode as these economic impacts continue?

DOMBROVSKIS: Well, clearly, there is going to be some economic impact, but this is a price worth paying for defending democracy and peace. So I very much expect that this solidarity is here to stay because the Western democratic world was able to react in a coordinated and forceful way, in a sense surprising Russians, which were banking on a weak Western reaction, as it was, by the way, after Russia's invasion in Georgia in 2008, and also not so forceful a reaction after Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014. But this time, we see clearly it's different. And it's clear that as a Western democratic world, we need to defend our values, and we need to be ready to pay a certain price for this.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, this is obviously a complex question, which doesn't lend itself to a simple answer. But as you mentioned earlier, your own country, Latvia, has a border with Russia. It's one of the former Soviet republics whose membership in the NATO military alliance has been seen as a threat by Putin and Moscow. How do you see this tension being resolved or managed in the long term? I understand it is a complex question, but what are your thoughts at this juncture?

DOMBROVSKIS: Well, first of all, it's completely a artificial problem which is invented by Putin as an excuse for his aggressive actions because if you look at the facts, there is a none of the Russia's neighboring countries which has been invading Russia. But there is Russia, which has been invading several neighboring countries and creating frozen conflicts in yet another country. So it's clear that the decision of the Baltic states of central eastern European countries, after they got rid of the Soviet dominance to move fast toward joining European Union, to move fast toward joining NATO was the right decision in the interest of their own security because we clearly see that it's Russia which is aggressor, which is invading neighboring countries, and not other way around.

MARTIN: That was European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. Mr. Executive Vice President, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

DOMBROVSKIS: OK. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUEWERKS AND OTIS UBAKA'S "ATMOSPHERIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.