Q: What is the practical/political impact of the sanctions taken by the EU and the US?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: Legally speaking, only the UN Security Council is authorized to adopt sanctions. What the EU and the US have come up with are “unilateral restrictive measures”, which are not supported by the rest of the international community. In a rapidly globalizing multipolar world the political impact of these measures should not be overestimated. Their hurried adoption is yet another mistake by the US and the EU in a protracted chain of blunders that have aggravated the political crisis in Ukraine and contributed to a deterioration of relations with Russia. Obviously, my country reserves the right to adopt retaliatory measures against the EU and the US on a reciprocal basis.
Q: Did these sanctions and the political pressure have some influence in defining the Russian position towards Ukraine and Crimea? Has Russia done something differently because of the West’s reaction?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: The Russian position towards Crimea was defined by the clear will of the Crimean people who acted in line with international law and democratic practices. In a referendum on March 16th, featuring a turnout of 82%, more than 96% of Crimean voters chose freely to be reunited with their Russian homeland, from which they had been unfairly detached for six decades. Their decision was met with jubilation by the Russian people who overwhelmingly support Crimea’s return home. This is a historic moment for my country. No amount of outside political pressure can change this.
As for Ukraine, the EU and the US carry full responsibility for the obstinate attempts to impose on Kiev – through political pressure, sanctions and direct interference – a false geopolitical choice between Russia and the EU. The result was a violent coup d’état, a vacuum of central power, the rise of far-right extremist forces and a severe social and political rift across the country. Following the debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, isn’t it time to finally put an end to clumsy geopolitical adventures under the banner of “democratization”?
Q: Are you worried that these sanctions might reach what the EU calls the 3rd level, hitting some economic areas?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: I am worried that EU’s misguided preoccupation with “punishing” Russia for respecting the democratic choice of the Crimean people might impact the longstanding Russia-EU economic partnership, which provides jobs and growth across Europe. It could also undermine our joint efforts to mitigate the mounting crisis in Ukraine as well as conflicts in other parts of the world. Both Russia and the EU would lose out as a result.
Q: In Moscow and Crimea everybody says that “Crimea is home”. What does Crimea represent to Russia? Are there other regions that you also consider that should “return home”?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: Crimea is indeed a unique symbol of Russian identity. It is the birthplace of the Russian Orthodox Christianity, where Great Prince Vladimir was baptized in 988 AD. Since Crimea’s acquisition by Catherine the Great in 1783 the peninsula has become home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In the mind of every Russian the fortress-city of Sevastopol evokes powerful memories of the valiant defence against European great powers in the Crimean war of 1854-1856 and then again against Nazi forces in 1941-1942. The majority of the peninsula’s population are ethnic Russians, who live harmoniously alongside Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and other ethnicities. In other words, Crimea has always been and will remain an intrinsic part of Russia.
In his address to the Federal Assembly of Russia on March 18th President Vladimir Putin referred to Russians as the biggest “divided nation” in the world in the wake of the Soviet Union’s breakup. Some scaremongers have used this to accuse Russia of harbouring revanchist and imperial ambitions. This is deeply misleading. Russia is firmly committed to upholding the rule of law in international relations. At the same time my Government has consistently championed the rights of Russians and Russian speakers across the post-Soviet space, using international legal and political instruments, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe. This policy is set to continue.
Q: Russia evoked the Kosovo precedent to justify the referendum in Crimea and all the process that led to its integration in the Russian Federation. Is Russia now willing to recognize Kosovo’s independence?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: Absolutely not. Kosovo’s “secession” from Serbia was the direct result of 78-day unlawful bombing campaign by NATO, which claimed more than 2 thousand lives. Numerous civilian casualties were cynically labeled “collateral damage” by the alliance. In 2008 Kosovo’s rulers – composed largely of former terrorists and criminals – unilaterally proclaimed independence without holding a referendum and having suppressed the political rights of ethnic Serbs. Moreover, unlike Ukraine, there was a democratically elected stable government in Serbia in 2008, which at the time did not pose any threat to Kosovo. Thus, in comparison to Crimea, Kosovo’s case is exceptionally weak. However, the 2010 ruling of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo remains valid: international law contains “no prohibition on declarations of independence”.
Q: How do you evaluate the recent events in Ukraine (death of a Pravyi Sektor leader, arrest of other members), what would be necessary for Moscow to recognize the new authorities?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: We are deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, which is beginning to bear many symptoms of an internal civil conflict. The so-called government of Ukraine, which came to power through a violent coup d’état, is strongly influenced by right-wing extremists from the “Right Sector” and “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) movements, whose armed thugs parade across cities in Ukraine under Neo-Nazi banners. Historic monuments are routinely desecrated, media outlets are harassed and clergy, including Jewish rabbis, are intimidated, even physically assaulted. An atmosphere of fear, xenophobia and hatred has descended upon the country. A couple of days ago a leading Presidential candidate even vowed to use armed force against Russian minorities in Ukraine. No wonder the Eastern regions of the country feel under threat.
We propose to immediately create a “Group of Friends of Ukraine” composed of key international stakeholders with a view to initiating dialogue with all political forces of the country. In our view, elements of a final settlement should include, among others, the dissolution of illegal armed formations, a comprehensive constitutional reform leading to federalization of Ukraine, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a guaranteed status of the Russian language. These proposals remain on the table.
Q: Do you think it’d be possible to avoid more “Crimeas” in Ukraine, especially in the South-East?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: It is clearly in the interest of Russia, the EU and other responsible international actors to assist Ukraine in engaging in an inclusive and constructive political process, which would reflect the interests of all regions of the country. I see this as the only way towards restoring stability and avoiding a dangerous split of the country, both political and geographical.