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Ukrainian politician discusses Ukraine's relationship with the world

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

At this particular moment, across the street from the Verkhovna Rada - this is Ukraine's Parliament. It's a big, hulking, white, beige-ish (ph), grayish building - snow just starting to fall on it and us. I should mention, by the way, that they are changing the work schedule for Parliament here because COVID cases are spiking. So many MPs are testing positive on top of everything else going on. But 450 seats in the legislature - we have come to speak with a person holding one of them. Let's go meet her.

IVANNA KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Hello. Hi.

KELLY: Good morning.

This is Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, member of the opposition, first elected in 2014. We settle in around her conference table. She is sipping coffee from a NATO mug. This is her thing - Ukraine's relationship with the wider world, a relationship she and many others here are counting on as their country stares down a Russia threatening to invade.

We're sitting in your office, and I noticed you have a big EU flag on...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Well, because I'm chairing the Committee of European Integration of Ukraine, so obviously there would be a European flag, exactly...

KELLY: The flag is on the table beside her coffee here. I wonder, how confident are you that the allies that Ukraine has forged over this - Europe, the U.S., beyond - that they will stand with you in the event of a of another attack?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Well, we hope they will. I do not hear exact understanding from any of our partners in this particular moment what will be that triggering point for the West to enroll, for example, sanctions.

KELLY: What's the red line for sanctions?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Exactly. And also, you know, we are watching very closely some of the statements of some of the politicians, for example, in Germany or some of the politicians, for example, in Croatia and so on. And we see that, unfortunately, you know, they are still very much interested in appeasing the aggressor rather than deterring the aggressor and...

KELLY: Well, and sanctions, of course, only work if everyone is on board.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Absolutely.

KELLY: I wonder if - you mentioned Germany. When you look at Germany, which has seemed less enthusiastic about certain sanctions than maybe France or some other countries, just...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: I thought you're a journalist, not a diplomat (laughter).

KELLY: Does that worry you?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Yes, it does, because we believe that Germany should not be blocking weapons from coming to Ukraine. For example, if they don't want to give us any weapons or access to buying weapons, then they shouldn't block this. For example, when Estonia was trying to give us some weapons, they blocked that transaction.

KELLY: You're talking about Germany has cited historical reasons for not...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Exactly.

KELLY: ...Shipping weapons to Ukraine in a way that some other allies have.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Exactly.

KELLY: This is maybe impossible to answer, but one year from now, what do you believe is the most likely scenario for where Ukraine will be, how all this will play out?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Oh, boy. You know, I'm not going to take chances to try to predict. I think it all will depend on how strong and united is the response both from within Ukraine and also how strong, united is the resolve to act and actually actions from the Western partners.

KELLY: We in America are very familiar with domestic political divisions and disagreements. And I'm curious here in Ukraine, how united or not are the country's elected leaders in this moment of crisis?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: You know, I think that it's extremely important that the country would be united in this particular moment because I think that it was the unity that helped us to push back Russia back in 2014.

KELLY: But my question is not...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Yes, I know.

KELLY: ...Whether you should be united but whether you are.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: I know. I know.

KELLY: And I'll mention you're a member of the opposition here in Parliament.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Yes, I am member of...

KELLY: Not in President Zelenskyy's party.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Definitely not. And I think we are not enough united at this particular moment. And I think the problem is that, unfortunately, the call for unity and, basically, the elections for unity are not coming from the Ukrainian authorities in this particular moment. And that's a very worrisome thing. Our leader of our party, the former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was just, we believe, on totally political motives, being accused of high treason, which is nonsense.

KELLY: He has just returned to Ukraine to face those charges.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: And he - yes. But notwithstanding this fact, we are calling for unity in this particular moment and kind of all of our political differences we have to sort out kind of on a later stage. It's normal that we have political differences if we are intending to be a democracy and if we are aspiring democracy.

KELLY: But the enemy outside is...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Exactly. So...

KELLY: ...Far bigger than the enemy within right now.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Exactly.

KELLY: I read you have two kids, two daughters.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Yes.

KELLY: May I ask, how old? Are they adults? Are they little?

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: They are kind of adults. One is 19, and another one is 15. So they are...

KELLY: Oh, OK. I have two teenagers as well. I wonder how you're talking to them about what's going on right now.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: You know, my younger daughter, she was asking me, Mom, could you promise me that, first and foremost, you are not a politician, but first and foremost, you are my mom, and you will - if something is happening, you will, first and foremost, take care of me? And that was the toughest conversation I've had up till this particular moment because I had to explain that, listen, I have responsibility. And she said, but you have responsibility in front of me. So yes, we have this tough conversations.

KELLY: This was about her wanting you to be there, to be home, to be with her, and you needed to be here? Or...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: No. It was about - it was rather about understanding that what if something - because we were talking to her that maybe we have to be also kind of separated if we as grown-ups will have to take weapons and try to defend the country. So you would be kind of with your grandparents and so on. So for her, it was important not to be kind of separated from the parents and seeing how she can ensure that she's nearby or we are nearby.

KELLY: Have you taken precautions just for you, for your family to...

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: No, not yet. Not yet. No. But what we did, I think most of the Ukrainian families, what they did - so we kind of gathered the documents together, gathered the things that you would have to have at hand if you would have to leave. So that's probably all the precautions. And I am thinking right now of actually trying to see whether I can get enrolled also to the territorial defense if I am needed there, for example, or if I should get a permit for a full weapon because maybe each one of us will have to take this.

KELLY: You're looking at whether you need a gun to defend yourself, your home.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: The country - well, I'm not a military, so I hope I can do something else that I can do professionally. But if that will be the only last resort for us to defend the country, then we also need guns at home.

KELLY: Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, thank you.

KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Thank you very much.

KELLY: She's an opposition member of Parliament, and we've been speaking with her at her office here in central Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.