Sputnik: You made a reference about the Kurds and the US recently. What Greece has to wait from the US? Could you specify?
Vladimir Chizhov: I understand the tension of the Greek public opinion, keeping in mind how the Kurds suffered betrayal from the US with whom they had been allied for several years. What I actually said is that this is an unfortunate experience of the Kurds whom, by the way, my country, Russia, had warned from the outset that they might find themselves in this situation eventually. So, having this experience of the Kurds as a background, it could be only wise to think twice for other countries, including Greece, which has just signed a defence cooperation agreement with the US. I haven’t seen the details, but as far as I understand, this agreement increases the US military presence in Greece in terms of bases and numbers of exercises. Whether that will increase the security of the country remains to be found by the Greek government. Greece is ahead of most NATO member states, fulfilling the famous 2% benchmark even before Donald Trump became US president.
Sputnik: Do you believe that the Americans have used the Greek Church for the recognition of autocephaly of the new Ukrainian Сhurch?
Vladimir Chizhov: Well, this is a very sad story of schism upon schism, and I am sorry to see how things developed in the Ecumenical Church and of course in the Greek Сhurch. As far as I know there is no consensus within the Greek Сhurch of this issue, there are different views. Of course, this move doesn’t promote the unity of orthodoxy. Being an Orthodox Christian myself, I am bothered how things turned out. Actually, this should be a matter of concern for all orthodox Christians.
Sputnik: Vladimir Putin spoke about destabilization of the Balkans, some days ago he blamed Western countries for it. What is your opinion on this?
Vladimir Chizhov: Well, it’s up to the press office of the President to produce comments on his speeches and his pronouncements. But personally I believe that what we are seeing now in the Balkans is a picture that raises a lot of concern. Look what is happening for example with the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue which was launched initially by the European Union. It has reached a dead-end, let’s face it. As far as I know, UN Security Council is about to have debate on Kosovo, and that will provide us an opportunity to express our concern on that particular situation. I will limit myself to this at this point.
Sputnik: Jens Stoltenberg told that Russia can’t prevent the decision of Ukrainian entrance to NATO. What do you believe?
Vladimir Chizhov: The Ukrainian people have not expressed their view on this. Ukraine will need to hold a referendum on NATO accession. This has not happened, and, as far as I understand, the chances of a positive vote on this issue are quite slim. Well, Ukraine, as any other country including those that joined NATO recently, is a sovereign state free to choose its alliances. But Russia as a sovereign country is also free to express its concerns over NATO expansion, which is an attempt to address security challenges of the 21st century with means and mechanisms of the mid-20th century. I would remind you that NATO had been created for a totally different purpose.
Sputnik: What is the position of Russia regarding the Turkish operation in Syria?
Vladimir Chizhov: Well, the position on this issue was expressed by President Putin and by Foreign Minister Lavrov. You know, speaking about Syria in general, we cooperate with Turkey and Iran in the “Astana” format to promote a political solution. I think everybody agrees today, that there cannot be a military solution to the problems that the Syrian Arab Republic faces. Objectively, we have succeed in launching a political process some days ago in Geneva. The first session of the Constitutional Committee took place, and it is working. This were heated debates – naturally that was to be expected, but we hope that the process will continue.
We keep in mind a number of factors. First, Kurds are an internal part of the Syrian society and the Syrian Arab Republic, and they have a right to be part of whatever solution regarding Syria. On the other hand, of course, Turkey has its legitimate interest in securing its southern border. We know that this particular area was for decades a hotbed of tension and mutual recriminations.
So, what Russia has done in the situation is to bring together all the interested parties and produce a way out of this crisis. The Turkish operation which was called “Source of Peace” has been stopped. It was reflected in the Sochi memorandum, which I am sure your readers are acquainted with. This document provided an arrangement where the Kurdish elements cooperate with the Syrian government army and in parallel with Russian military police. You know, some western media, as usual, confuse the terminology: we do not have ground troops in Syria. Russian military police (no tanks, no artillery) is conducting joint patrols with Syrian army in some areas and with Turkish army in other areas.
Of course it’s all fragile enough. It will be difficult to maintain the position for a solution, but we hope that it will hold, preventing loss of lives and bloodshed.
Sputnik: We have heard a lot about the anti-missile system S-400 that Turkey has obtained from Russia. Is that a possibility that they could hit Greece as NATO propaganda claims?
Vladimir Chizhov: Never trust NATO propaganda (smiles). I would also say that the S-400 is not an attack weapon. It is a purely defensive, anti-aircraft defence system. You cannot attack anyone with a defence missile, only an intruding airplane or helicopter, or a cruise missile. Greece knows that well because it has in its possession the S-300 anti-missile system, which is an earlier version of the same system.
Sputnik: Do you believe that Russia could stop the tension, large or small scale incidents between Greece and Turkey or Cyprus and Turkey?
Vladimir Chizhov: Well, Russia is maybe in a position to provide political assistance as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. As you know, the Security Council every six months “remains seized of the matter”, regarding the Cyprus problem. We have yet to hear any appeals from the three countries that you mentioned to Russia to provide some sort of assistance, beyond what is taking place at the UN Security Council.
You know, I have been dealing with the Cyprus problem for over 40 years now, and there have been a number of initiatives from many directions including from my country, which among other contained a proposal to hold an international conference on the Cyprus problem, but not in the form that was tried in Switzerland (and failed). Our idea was to bring the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Greece and Turkey and the two Cypriot sides to the office of the United Nations to deal with the external aspects of the Cyprus settlement. Having in mind that the internal aspects should be formed from the two Cypriot communities themselves, based on Security Council resolutions and the agreements of 1977 and 1979.
Sputnik: What about the Greek-Russian relations and the visit of the Greek minister Nikos Dendias in Moscow?
Vladimir Chizhov: Well, I do not deal every day with current issues of the bilateral relations, you will have to ask my friend Ambassador Maslov in Athens. But basically my strong belief is that Russian-Greek relations have a solid base that cannot be destroyed or diminished by any attempt from any international factor. Problems that arise in our bilateral relations are surely not insurmountable, and the two countries are able to overcome any difficulties.