Q: In a recent article written for New Europe, the Foreign Minister of Russia Mr. Sergei Lavrov said that this is decision time in the relationship between the European Union and Russia. He also referred to the Russian vision of a Eurasian space. A space that would start from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific. Of course there are many difficulties in such a project and at this moment we have a very particular development, the situation in Ukraine. How does this influence the relationship at this moment?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: Well, if we look at the potential impact of the political crisis that is unfolding in Ukraine, we understand that the EU is closely watching the developments and you will easily understand how concerned Russia is with those developments.
The Russian people and the Ukrainian people are brotherly nations I would say. There are millions upon millions of family ties, historic ties, cultural, linguistic I would stress, and of course economic and other ties. We all know that the European Union at one point developed its Eastern Partnership Initiative which included Ukraine. From the outset it did not include Russia and we never sought a place among those “focus countries” of the Eastern Partnership. Though we viewed the whole initiative with an open mind and were prepared to look at possible specific projects that might be of equal interest to the EU, focus countries and Russia. Unfortunately, the EU never came up with a single such project in all those years. On the other hand it promoted the idea of association agreements with some of the focus countries, though not all. For example, Azerbaijan was not interested from the beginning and Belarus was never offered one. Ukraine was offered one and they actually negotiated for several years and initialed such an agreement and it came to a possible signature at the Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership at the end of last November. Shortly before that, however, President Yanukovich had second thoughts, because evidently he understood the possible implications of the entry into force of this agreement on the dire economic situation in Ukraine, which since then has only worsened. That was his choice.
Those who immediately started blaming Russia and still continue to blame Russia are totally unfair and incorrect, because Russia did not interfere in this situation. The only thing we did was to outline to our Ukrainian colleagues the implications that association with the European Union would have for the Ukrainian economy and its relations with other countries, including Russia.
Q: Russian sources have blamed the European Union for fuelling this situation.
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: In fact they were correct, unfortunately. There were some initial public reactions which are easily explained because the Ukrainian society had been the object of certain preparatory indoctrination. Even schoolbooks were changed to promote association with the European Union, and of course those people who came out to protest against that particular decision by President Yanukovych were eager to see Ukraine closer to the European Union. Most of them had no idea what the Association Agreement is all about. I would claim very few people had read it. They mostly thought that immediately after signature they would have a visa-free regime, which was never intended. That the EU will open up its limitless coffers and pour huge amounts of money into Ukraine, which was never the intention. But eventually those protests evolved into something different. If you compare pictures from the Maidan square, the Independence square in Kiev, in the first days and weeks to what happened towards the end of the sit-in, they look completely different because the popular protest was sidelined and then almost eliminated by thuggish-looking armed people, well-equipped with steel helmets, with flak jackets, with bats, and ultimately with firearms. The flags that were seen were no longer EU flags, but those red and black flags of the ultra-nationalists, and the portraits were not of Van Rompuy or Barroso, not even Ashton. They were of Stepan Bandera, a well-known Nazi collaborator and war criminal who is still considered a hero among the ultra-nationalists.