Mister Ambassador, before the war started you yourself said that wars do not usually start on Wednesdays, but in fact it started on Thursday…
Firstly, it was not a war of choice as portrayed by many in the Western media. It is a war out of necessity. Russia and its President did not have much of a choice. And secondly, this war didn't start on Thursday, 24 February. It started eight years ago in 2014, after the bloody coup d’etat in Ukraine and the subsequent events in Donbass. There are people in Donbass who have been living under continuous stress and threat to their lives for the last eight years – in basements with no water, no electricity, suffering from constant shelling.
Then in the immediate few weeks before the decision by President Putin to launch the special military operation, there were certain signals coming. Ukrainian forces had been concentrated along the separation line with Donbass and preparing a military onslaught. You could say Russia could have waited for them to attack and then counterattack. But people in Donbass had suffered too much. And finally, Zelenskiy started talking about nuclear weapons. Yes, today Ukraine most probably doesn't have the technology nor the facility to produce a classical nuclear bomb, but it has all the ingredients to produce what is called “dirty bomb”.
So the first stage of the operation was focused on taking out the military potential, big military objects, airfields, anti-aircraft missile sites and other military installations. Now, the second phase is to liberate Donbass.
It has already been two months. When is the war going to end, May 9?
I would say that it depends on the EU as much as on Russia. The more weapons you send to Ukraine, the longer it will take. And more Ukrainian lives will be lost. I have a bad feeling that the West is prepared to fight this proxy war until the last Ukrainian. We have enough resources and enough determination to complete this special military operation. We prefer to complete it as soon as possible. But that depends, of course, on how the adversary behaves and how its Western arms suppliers behave. Anyway, the special military operations will end when it is successfully completed.
What does completing the special operation mean to you?
To fulfill the original aims that were outlined from the beginning. First – protecting the Donbass republics and their population. Second – demilitarisation of Ukraine which means that Ukraine will no longer be able to launch an attack against Russia or its citizens, neither in the East nor in the South, in Crimea. And third – denazification because we cannot leave Ukraine as a hotspot of Nazi ideology. Otherwise it would be a constant military and political threat to Russia.
There are thousands of casualties. The “Moskva” cruiser has sunk. The Russian troops have retreated from Kiev. Isn’t the war going worse than expected for you? Is Russia assuming a higher cost than planned?
I wouldn't say that the campaign is not going according to plan. The Russian Army never intended to occupy the whole of Ukraine, never intended to seize Kiev. So when President Biden says the battle for Kiev had been won it sounds strange, as there was no battle for Kiev.
So, why were thousands of Russian troops near the capital?
They never entered. There was a reason for that: because we need somebody to talk to. Every military campaign ends with negotiations and you know that there have been several attempts, first in Belarus and then in Turkey. The problem is that the Kiev regime is changing its position all the time. They agree to something and the next day they say ‘no’ and present something different. So it's very difficult to talk to them. And every time they say, okay, whatever we agree, we'll have to go to a referendum. In this heated atmosphere, what kind of referendum can there be?
Russia has recently made public its intention to control the East and the South of Ukraine. What are your intentions and objectives?
I will not comment on unofficial statements, let alone leaks. Our objectives? – Well, first of all, preventing Ukraine from being a source of threat to Russian national security. You see with the active help of Western countries, United States primarily, but also UK and EU member States, Ukraine has been turned into an anti–Russia, a sort of a counterbalance to Russia. That involved various efforts like promoting nationalism, even Nazism.
You frequently talk about denazification. Who are these nazis? What evidence does Russia have?
Well, you can easily see it, of course, if you have a chance to see some inconvenient information about the Azov Battalion, Aidar Battalion and all those “territorial defence” regiments. They boast swastikas, and almost every time their long-term hideouts are taken books about Nazi criminals, portraits of Hitler are discovered. For 8 years they have been holding torch marches with Nazi salutes. What other evidence do you need?
There is of course a certain I would say historical line with the Second World War. Immediately in 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, what did Ukrainian nationalists do? They sent a letter to Hitler, saying “Thank you very much, dear Fuhrer, we are declaring an independent Ukraine to be a faithful ally of the Third Reich”. But Hitler had other views for Ukraine. He never thought of Ukraine as a self-sufficient ally, he only needed the territory and natural resources. So a couple of weeks later the Germans showed them their true place.
Even if this would be the case, how can massacres, rapes and alleged war crimes committed by the Russian army be justified?
No credible evidence supporting these outrageous allegations has ever been produced. Take Bucha. The Russian troops were there in the first stage, before leaving to regroup and concentrate on Donbass. They left on 30 March, and next day the Mayor of Bucha, who returned after his escape from the town in face of the Russian troops, published a standup from town hall saying: “What a happy day. We are back. The Ukrainian flag is back”. He did not mention anything about any massacre or any corpses lying in the streets. All that was documented several days later, when Ukrainian security forces arrived together with TV crews. Besides, if dead bodies lie outside for several days, they look different.
There are satellite images which prove they were there.
Some satellite images are said to be dated even mid-March, which is simply impossible. So there are huge manipulations, which lead to the conclusion that the whole thing was a provocation from the very beginning.
And, actually, it was relatively successful: most Western leaders believed it. That was not the case with Kramatorsk a few days later, when a missile struck a crowd at the railway station. It was an old Soviet “Tochka-U” missile, operated by the Ukrainian Army only. There are none of them in the Russian Army. The tail of that missile was seen stuck in the ground in a position pointing it definitely came from Ukrainian positions, and its number spotted by your colleagues links it to the Ukrainian Army.
We'll see who is responsible in the courts. What is going to happen in Mariupol?
There are a couple of thousand hardline nationalists together with other soldiers and – as Ukrainian sources claim – about 1000 civilians being held hostage in the Azovstal factory. President Putin gave an order to the army not to storm it for humanitarian reasons – plainly trying to save lives of Russian soldiers and local civilian hostaged.
Why don’t you establish humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape?
Humanitarian corridors have been established on a daily basis from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Every day, both for military and civilians. Those nationalists that are there, they forbid anyone to use them, and those who try, they're getting shot in the back. It looks like a certain percentage of those hiding there in the underground base may be foreigners, so they are stalling to avoid a huge international scandal.
Do you have any proof of that?
Yes. We have radio communication interceptions in six different foreign languages. Two British nationals have surrendered and they appealed to Boris Johnson to have them exchanged. He ignored the appeal but urged the Russian army to treat them with mercy. Big humanist.
What is your assessment of the EU and Mister Borrell’s attitude to the war?
Disappointment. The European Union, a prominent political and economic entity, is transforming itself into a second-rate military alliance. George Orwell, the famous writer, must have turned over in his grave when the European Union decided to use the European Peace Facility to finance arms supplies to Ukraine. So, “peace is war”.
Josep Borrell may be emotional, like somebody coming from Spain, but I always understood the role of the High Representative as someone leading the European Union towards a path of diplomacy, not the path of military confrontation. Now he is saying that he is prepared to sit down at the negotiating table with Putin. Well, I’m afraid, he's overestimating his own role. Vladimir Putin has other interlocutors.
There are lots of rumors about Putin being in bad health and not having good information because his advisors do not dare to tell him the truth.
That’s all complete rubbish. As for the degree of awareness, the President is perfectly informed. He knows all the details and takes his own decisions.
Finland and Sweden are closer to NATO than ever before. Russia has spoken about consequences if they take this step. What kind of consequences are we talking about?
It is very disappointing. Northern Europe has long been an example of stability and peaceful cooperation. We always respected the foreign policy of neutrality of both Finland and Sweden. But actually in both countries the society is split half to half. So, if they choose to join NATO, of course, we will not declare war, but such a step will definitely produce a serious negative impact on our bilateral relations. And on the military side, we will have to refigure our defence posture.
Is Russia planning to extend the military operation beyond Ukraine and invade Georgia or Moldavia?
Russia has never hatched aggressive plans. All our actions, whether now, eight or eighty years ago, have been forced reaction to external threats that could not be eliminated diplomatically. When there is a choice, Russia always chooses diplomacy and calls on partners to join forces to overcome crises.
Putin has united the West and the EU more than anybody.
Don't forget that the world is not limited to Europe and North America. It's a much bigger world. A multipolar world is becoming reality. And in the long term, for today's European Union to maintain its position on a global scale, the only way is to cooperate more closely with Russia. Otherwise, its influence globally will go down.
How can this cooperation be possible after what’s going on and with Mister Putin in power?
Yes, there will be possibilities. When? – I would say the morning after. You could equally ask whether it may be possible with today's leaders of European countries. Indeed, I have a feeling that Europe today is sort of abandoning its own course of strategic autonomy. The Strategic Compass’ purpose seems to be nothing but to allow American tanks to freely roll across Europe.
There have been thousands of people detained in Russia for protesting against the war and Moscow has launched the ‘fake news’ law to undermine press freedom. Are you using the war as a way to repress fundamental rights and freedoms?
If there is today a real war, it’s an information war. Well, there were certain pickets and some people breached the law and were detained, only to be released soon afterwards. You cannot call it repression.
Even if it is just one, how can people be detained for expressing their thoughts?
How can people get killed if they open their mouths in Ukraine?
Who is being killed?
Those who did not support the regime’s line. Do you know how many people, including journalists, have been assassinated in Ukraine over these years?
Many of them have been reported to be killed by the Russian army.
Are you sure? Besides talking about modern events, we have to look at the situation during the last eight years. And it was horrible.
Can the Russian society and economy survive international sanctions? They are hurting so much financially.
However they may be hurting, the level of popular support in Russia for the ongoing special military operation and the policies of the President and the government has been quite impressive. Russia is a big country. It has all the natural resources. It has a qualified and educated population. It has the necessary money reserves. It has energy supply of its own. Well, one could even say Russia doesn't need the rest of the world to survive. But of course, we're not cutting ourselves off the world economy. At the same time half of our gold reserves have been illegally seized by Western countries and financial institutions. How should we treat this?
Do you think the EU is going to dare to impose an embargo on Russian oil and gas? Can you afford the loss of these dozens of billions?
There will come a time when the oil and gas reserves around our planet will come to an end, because whatever amount of oil and gas Russia or other countries have, it's not unlimited. So, actually, long-term mankind should look at what will happen and be prepared.
Years from now, the EU may find ways to substitute fossil fuels for something else. But what they are doing today is simply stupid. They are cutting out coal regardless of whether it's Russian or locally produced. They are cutting nuclear energy. What are they left with? Oil and gas. You cannot really rely today on just those propellers and sun batteries. It's not viable.
Which EU country has surprised you the most in this war? Germany?
Germany is more or less predictable.
Few people expected them to stop Nord Stream II.
Well, Nord Stream II is not dead, it remains a sleeping beauty. I wonder who will have the courage to act as Prince Charming and wake it up...
Is Hungary your best ally in the EU?
Hungary is a country which has been displaying more common sense and reason than many others. And on the other hand, Brussels is not globally famous for its common sense. Especially now, unfortunately.