Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov’s interview with the Mainichi Newspaper, 17 March 2015
Question: What was the idea behind the annexation of Crimea? Was it legal in today’s point of view?
Vladimir Chizhov: To begin with, the term “annexation”, coined by some in the West to deride the democratic choice made by the people of Crimea and Sevastopol, has nothing to do with reality. Following the illegal coup d’état in Kiev in late February 2014, which the EU and NATO overtly supported, power in Ukraine was seized by political forces that did not represent the interests of the population of the Crimean peninsula and of the South-East of the country. In fact, they made no secret of their intention to suppress the linguistic, political and cultural identity of those regions. Pro-Russian sentiment in the Crimean peninsula, strong ever since its acquisition by Catherine the Great in 1783, sparked off the local drive for independence from Ukraine. In a referendum on March 16th organised by the regional parliament elected back in 2010, featuring a turnout of 82%, more than 96% of Crimean voters chose freely to be reunited with their Russian homeland.
Question: President Putin emphasized that the main cause of the annexation is the threat from NATO. Do you think such a threat still exists?
Vladimir Chizhov: In our view, the relentless Eastward expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions in the post-Cold War period, which was not backed up by credible security assurances for all European stakeholders, including Russia, was the root cause of the current crisis in and around Ukraine. The process of NATO enlargement unfolded in direct breach of commitments undertaken by the West at the end of the Cold War, and thus became a decisive factor in undermining mutual trust. Ever since the 2007 Munich Security Conference the Russian leadership has been vocally emphasizing that this unilateral process is detrimental to European security and generates new dividing lines across Europe, some of which – like we have witnessed in Ukraine – do not stop at national borders and actually split countries down the middle. Let me remind you of a host of Russian initiatives, including the 2009 proposal on a Treaty on European Security, which would have helped alleviate the serious security shortfalls in Europe. Sadly, this and other offers were shot down by the West.
Question: Some western officials estimate that Russia would like to establish a “satellite state” in the Donbass area in order to destabilize Ukraine. Is this true?
Vladimir Chizhov: Actions speak louder than words. In spring 2014 Ukrainian armed forces and so-called volunteer battalions began indiscriminately shelling and blockading insubordinate towns and cities in the South-East. The actions of the Kiev authorities have resulted in horrific suffering of ordinary civilians, chronicled by the UN, OSCE and humanitarian agencies, as well as massive expulsion of refugees from the zone of conflict. The powerful emotional echo of the crisis could not leave Russia indifferent to the fate of the Russian-speaking civilian population in Donbass. Since then we spared no effort to alleviate the plight of the local population and put a stop to the crisis. Russia sheltered hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, sent convoys of humanitarian aid to the affected regions and actively participated in all mediation efforts, including the Geneva, Normandy and Minsk formats. Wild speculations about Russian “satellite states” are part and parcel of the monotonous Western propaganda chorus. Indeed, had we wanted a “satellite state” in Donbass, it is highly doubtful that we would have acted as mediator and supporter of the September 2014 and February 12th Minsk agreements which provide for the reintegration of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics into Ukraine under a special status.
Question: Is the EU a threat to Russia? Is the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the EU and Ukraine a threat to Russia?
Vladimir Chizhov: First of all, we do not consider the EU to be a threat or a potential adversary for the Russian Federation. The EU is our traditional major trading partner and the main source of foreign investment into our economy. Russia also plays an important role in the economies of the majority of the EU Member States. My country is interested in dealing with a strong and prosperous European Union that is able to speak with its own voice and effectively promote its interests but equally respects the interests and values of others.
On many occasions we offered our EU partners to discuss the correlation between the EU-Ukraine DCFTA and CIS FTA of 2011 to ensure that Ukraine could meet its obligations within the both agreements. These discussions could have taken place either within the mechanism of bilateral EU-Russia Dialogues or on a trilateral basis, which was proposed by the former Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovich.
However, the EU chose a different scenario, trying to force Ukraine to make an unambiguous and self-destructive choice between the EU or Russia and the CIS countries. And when the Ukrainian government took a decision to postpone the signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in order to reflect on its potential impact, the EU chose to support violent opposition protests and an unconstitutional coup d’état in Kiev, which led to civil war, thousands of victims and economic collapse in Ukraine.
In September 2014 we finally launched a trilateral discussion on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and agreed that the application of DCFTA would be delayed until 31 December 2015. On 3 March 2015 Russian Minister of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukaev discussed with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström in Brussels bilateral economic relations against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine and agreed to hold the next trilateral Russia-EU-Ukraine meeting on DCFTA at ministerial level as soon as possible. It is our hope that this trialogue will lead to positive results.
Question: The Minsk peace agreement seems to have been implemented. Some western officials estimated that this is a pause for the next step, namely to attack other major cities in Ukraine, especially Mariupol. Is this true?
Vladimir Chizhov: There are indeed tangible signs, confirmed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, that the provisions of the Minsk agreement related to establishment of the ceasefire, exchange of prisoners and pullback of heavy weaponry in Donbass are in the process of being implemented. This gives ground for cautious optimism. However much more remains to be done. It is up to Kiev to swiftly commence dialogue with the authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as foreseen by the Minsk agreements, on the conduct of local elections and constitutional reform, comprising such elements as decentralization and elaboration of a special legal status for these regions. Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities should immediately cease the social-economic blockade of Donbass, which runs directly counter to the letter and spirit of the February 12th agreements. The local banking system should be restored as a matter of priority, and pensions as well as other social payouts channeled to the population of Donbass. Moreover, Kiev is obliged to declare full amnesty for all the combatants involved in the fighting and begin disarming the paramilitary “volunteer battalions”, some of which are implicated in gruesome acts of violence against the local civilian population.
In short, this is only the beginning of a comprehensive process of reconciliation and national dialogue in Ukraine. Russia stands ready to use its available influence to pursue the timely implementation of the Minsk agreements, but we expect the EU and US to persuade Kiev to abide by its respective commitments. So far, it seems, the Ukrainian authorities are not very enthusiastic about this prospect.
Question: NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said “Well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery are over there, I would say that Mr. Putin has already set the … ante very high”. Is this true?
Vladimir Chizhov: Locating mythical divisions of Russian troops and armadas of Russian tanks in Ukraine has become a favorite pastime of NATO and US officials for almost a year. Of course, despite the arrival of the digital age with its smartphones and handheld cameras, not even a single decent photo nor any other piece of evidence has been produced to corroborate these accusations. I appreciate, of course, references to the Russian Army as a modern and effective fighting organism. But certainly its progress has not gone so far as thousands of its soldiers to become invisible. Nevertheless, NATO can be proud of having attained the real objectives of this smear campaign: namely, to rally its European member-states behind a confrontational anti-Russian policy and restore dwindling raison d’être following the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Russia has never denied that its citizens have crossed into Ukraine to volunteer their help to the locals in repelling the assault by the Ukrainian forces. So have citizens of other countries, including from EU and NATO Member-States. It is questionable that their involvement has made the civil conflict in Ukraine any less of a civil conflict. The relevant experience from the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 indicates otherwise.
Conversely, scores of Western volunteers and mercenaries have been fighting on the side of the Ukrainian forces in Donbass. Foreign Minister of Croatia Vesna Pusic recently admitted this.
Question: The G7 countries (including Japan) made sanctions against Russia. The G7 would like to change your course and to give Crimea back to Ukraine. Would this be acceptable?
Vladimir Chizhov: To put things straight, the only international body empowered with adopting sanctions is the UN Security Council. The measures undertaken by Western countries, which you are referring to, are unilateral in nature and have no basis in international law. It is self-revealing that countries that profess to be champions of modernity and “soft power”, utilize 19th century instruments of economic coercion to achieve their geopolitical objectives.
There is no excuse for the pretexts used to introduce so-called “sanctions” against Russia. Suffice to say that the EU and some other countries attempted to punish the population of Crimea and Sevastopol for voting in favour of separation from Ukraine, and Russia – for honouring this democratically expressed choice.
The restrictive measures adopted by the EU at the behest of the USA (which was publicly confirmed by US Vice-President Joe Biden), have had a measurable impact on Russia-EU trade and investment flows. The result has been lost jobs, stunted economic growth and forfeited business opportunities in both Russia and EU countries. Time will tell which side has incurred larger economic damage. But it is beyond doubt that the misguided Western “sanctions” policy has failed to sway Russia from its principled commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.
Question: The EU commission proposes the idea of an “Energy Union”. It says: “when conditions are right, the EU will consider reframing the energy relations with Russia”. Are you afraid that you would lose the energy cooperation with the EU in future? Do you think the EU would weaken Russia’s power?
Vladimir Chizhov: Relations between Russia and the EU in energy sphere are determined by the fact that the EU is one of the world’s largest consumers and importers of energy resources and Russia is one of their largest producers and exporters. Geographically Russia and the EU countries are close neighbours and this facilitates their cooperation in the energy sector.
In future, even in the long-term perspective the need for energy resources in the EU as well as the Russian ability to provide these resources will endure. This establishes a strong basis and incentives for maintaining Russia-EU energy cooperation.
However the situation is evolving. The role of fossil fuels in the EU economy is gradually decreasing due to new technologies as well as the proclaimed intention to combat climate change. In its energy policy the EU has opted for diversification of sources, suppliers and routes of supply of energy resources, as well as for developing new types of resources, including renewables. This course along with the integration process, which never stopped in the EU, has resulted in the elaboration of an idea to create an Energy Union. Most of the European commission proposals aimed at creating such union are not new. The proposed Strategy may be considered as a codification of measures, a large proportion of which have already been adopted or agreed upon and ideas discussed previously. In this context the Energy Union does not create surprises for Russia but rather encourages us to accelerate the process of diversification of geography of Russian export routes. In any case it will take time to finalise processes which we are now witnessing in the EU and in Russia, and both Parties will be able to adjust their policies and needs to the changing situation. We may assume that ultimately the share of Russian energy resources in the EU import and consumption would decrease (this is already happening for a couple of dozen years and as such the process is not linked exclusively to the Energy Union). At the same time the role of the EU as the main vector of Russian energy export would also decrease. But it is quite improbable that the Parties would totally abandon their energy cooperation which will continue to be mutually beneficial. And to conclude – I do not see how the EU could weaken “Russia’s power” (to use your expression) by means of an Energy Union, as energy resources are only one and perhaps not the most important of the components, which make Russia an influential participant of international relations.
Question: An expert said that Russia restores its “sphere of influence” which was once built during Cold War times. Is this true? Do you think the EU and NATO would like to build its own “sphere of influence”?
Vladimir Chizhov: Contrary to accusations levelled against Russia, we are firmly committed to the principles of the sovereign equality of states and the indivisibility of security, laid down in the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE Charter for European Security. The latter document adopted in 1999 contains a key provision that “within the OSCE no State, group of States or organization can have any pre-eminent responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the OSCE area or can consider any part of the OSCE area as its sphere of influence”. Tellingly, our EU and NATO partners often seem to overlook this principle in their efforts to extend geopolitical influence within exclusive zones of “vital national interests” or “neighbourhood”. In pursuing this detrimental unilateral path across the post-Soviet space these Western countries are disregarding the legitimate interests of regional stakeholders and the wishes of large parts of both their own and local population, and are willfully undermining centuries-old economic, social and cultural ties among countries of the region.
We offer a win-win alternative that would deprive countries bordering on Russia and the EU, of the artificially imposed choice between the two. This calls for establishing channels of dialogue between the supranational bodies of European and Eurasian integration, paving the way for a mutually enriching process of convergence of these platforms of cooperation in the region.