Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin's interview with New Europe

Submitted on Thu, 12/04/2014 - 00:00

Minister, you are here in Brussels, in the European Parliament, in order to participate in a conference entitled “The Second Cold War - Hotting up?” It seems to take the existence of a second Cold War as granted. Do you believe there is in fact a second Cold War?

Well, first of all, it’s important for us to come and listen to the public opinion and to politicians, from the European Union included, on the development of affairs over the recent years.

Obviously there is a growing tension in the air. It is the intention of the European Union and the United States to have more geopolitical influence on the post-Soviet states – the so-called programme of Eastern Partnership is still underway.

You know that from the very beginning we were very sceptical about such a project because of its unpredictability. The people living in the Russian Federation, in Ukraine and Moldova and other countries have certain historic perceptions and fears, and, if you want to expand in the immediate neighbourhood of Russia, you should understand that it is better first to discuss it with people living in the region to avoid dramatic developments. Simplistic approaches may be fatal. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened with this Eastern Partnership.

You remember, exactly a year ago when the Kiev drama grew into a catastrophe. The trigger was the postponement of signature of the Agreement of Association with the European Union. Exactly the same thing was successfully agreed upon recently – by EU, Ukraine and Russia – the postponement of the practical implementation of the economic part of this agreement until January 2016.
Nobody will ever understand, what prevented those responsible of making the same sort of decision a year ago, that would have actually escaped the tragedies – the coup d'etat in Kiev itself, a lot of hatred and fear, 4,300 dead, deep political crisis in one of the major countries of Europe.

Recent history showed that “cold war” was based on ideological differences and we don’t have it now. Largely “cold war” is an open question – a philosophical question. So, probably what we have now is not “cold war”, but a sharpening of geopolitical conflict of interest and intentions. It’s as Mr Martines said today in the session: it is very good to do things in Europe with Russia, it is a bit difficult to do things without Russia, but it is damaging to do things contrary to the interests of Russia. I totally agree with that.

No one is interested in the tragedies and sufferings. We should not put the seeds in the political ground that will later grow into a huge geopolitical problem of the type we have now in Ukraine. Whether we may call that a “cold war” I doubt. Cold war means confrontation in ideological perceptions. Our present ideological perception is clear: the interests of our people to live in peace, prosperity and good neighbourhood relations with the entire world including Europe and to implement the concept of integration. We have progress in a constructive process of Eurasian integration. From January, 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union will be in existence. Of course, there will be problems – the devil is always in the details. But it is important for people to understand that we should live together and have a new feeling of common aims, united but not divided.

Speaking about our relations with the European Union. They pass difficult period, there is gross misinterpretation of our policy on Ukraine. But the facts are on our side. We do not want cessation of any part of Ukraine. We sincerely want a peaceful resolution of this very dramatic problem, but not to the detriment of people living in the South East. They should be equal among equals. Their economic and social rights should be preserved. The new Kiev administration is capable of doing that. They will have to make a new attempt to tackle the problem and we are there to assist. We have a set of principles which was formulated in the Geneva Statement on 17 of April and then we had a number of other important meetings. Now we have a set of agreements of the Protocol of the 5th of September.

We have to follow that road-map of implementation together. We are prepared to act in cooperation with European Union and the United States. OSCE mission is doing quite a constructive contribution on the ground.

So do you think Ukraine is the problem or that it is a symptom of the problem?

I think that the Ukraine crisis, in a wider sense, is the result of gross miscalculation of the West after “victorious” nineties. The Western Europe and Washington thought that everything was possible in the post-Soviet space. But everything should have sensible limit. You must always weigh the repercussions of what you decide, think of perspective. Of course the 1990s was a period when Russia after collapse of the Soviet Union was at a crossroads. It was looking around trying to understand the new role in the international community. Then we ceased being a big problem, but we continued to be an influential international player.

Today’s Russia is a new and different country. We finished with inertia and would like our partners to respect not only their distant friends and instructors. We do not want to press or frighten, but wish to be heard in the questions of mutual concern.

You said that each country should not listen to far-away powers, distant friends and instructors, as you put it.. I have the impression that you are mostly referring to the United States and not so much to the European Union

Generally, I have to agree with you.

It seems the European Union understands problems close to it better. But EU is not one body. There are 28 states with different records and different histories of relations with Russia. Some of them are more serious and responsible than others. But some are adventurous and want to be more Catholic than the Pope.

That creates problems. But we have to be optimistic. I do remember a quote by W.Churchill who said that he is an optimist because any alternative is worse, so we should be optimists. We should work to find a common language that will bring us to solutions. There is no other way.

I was reading the remarks made by Foreign Minister Lavrov during the Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, last week (at least the English translation) and at some point he said that the EU is treating Russians as sub-humans.

I do not recall such a statement. Probably the meaning is that they want to dictate to us. You know we have to choose our words carefully to avoid mistakes. One example. A politician from the European Union have recently said that Russia is not a partner in solving the strategic problems, but is itself a strategic problem. That needs some explanation, otherwise interpretations may be rather wide.

In the West there is the view that Russia is a revisionist power. Is this true?

No, no. The word revisionist in my country means something else. 

I am speaking in the context of international relations.

We are not going to have any revision of our principles. Russia want to see all its neighbours as stable and predictable partners with territorial integrity and sovereignty respected by everyone. Probably they should be less receptive for the winds from outside and not rely only on decisions taken on their part. Of course you have to be politically self-sufficient and rely more on your own experience and vision. I think that now the international community understands that. Everybody understand that there is no military solution to the problem of south-east Ukraine – there should be a transparent, peaceful, inclusive dialogue with the participation of the South East people themselves. Without them all formats will be eventually waste of time.

Russia has been accused lately that it is doing what the Soviet Union once did, financially helping different groups and movements within Western countries…

We have already mentioned that the Soviet Union was a different state. At that time our ideological basis was a communism for all. It is no longer there. Russia became pragmatic and flexible, but didn’t forget the lessons. We want security and economic prosperity. We want integration with others. We also have the right to be heard. We can’t accept a situation where we are dictated by someone. Expansion is not our practice and you have to consult Russia if you want to do something serious near its borders.

There has been a lot of talk about Russia helping Eurosceptic parties like Marie Le Pen's Front National in France.

Rumours. I do not believe it. The truth is that some of the parties including Eurosceptics are interested in trying to understand more of our philosophy, but this does not mean that we are helping them.

We are prepared to meet with anyone who is prepared to listen to us be it rightist or leftists or centrists. We are open for dialogue. Russia is an open and democratic country.

During the Conference here at the European Parliament, there was a reference to the prospects of Hot - as opposed to Cold- war. It was also mentioned that Russia cannot stand idle if there is genocide of Russian-speaking people.

Ukraine is a very close relative – not just a neighbour. It’s both a problem of our foreign policy and a feature of our internal policy. Practically, all our families have relatives in Ukraine and vice versa. And we saw, after the coup d'etat in February the central authority in Kiev was not fair to a part of its own population, which is closer to the border with Russia and where the majority speaks Russian. Then we watched parliament in Ukraine accepting legislation against the Russian language. It became clear – we cannot accept it. After all – that is violation of human rights. There should not be any doubts that we will always support those who want to be equal citizens in their own country. Today we face humanitarian catasprophy in Donbass and Russia can’t be idle to the suffering of people there.

You know that Russia categorically opposes the tendency of heroisation of the Nazi veterans and leaders of Fascist organisation who killed tens of thousands of Jews, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians. Today it causes unprecedented tensions in the political spectrum of Ukraine.

In many ways the reason for this is that for 23 years specific efforts were made to feed Ukrainian nationalism as something that is contrary to influence of Russian culture and language and I think that in certain sense those attempts were “productive”.

One might argue that something like that may also happen in EU Member States as well, like in the Baltic Republics.

That disease is very dangerous, but I’m sure that common sense and historic vigilance will eventually prevail. We have all necessary legal international instruments for that. Let us use them!

Source: New Europe Online