Interview by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,given to the programme “Voskresnoye vremya” Moscow, 30 March 2014
Question: The last week has been substantial and hard. You met a representative of the Ukrainian delegation on the side-lines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. This was our first meeting in the current situation at the level of foreign policy agencies. The audience “received” only one picture and your comment on its results. What was this meeting like? What was the tone like? It is clear that only you knew about the readiness or lack of readiness of the parties to agree.
Sergey Lavrov: The tone was calm, no hysterical intonations, we had a normal talk. I agreed to the request for this contact assuming that it would be good to demonstrate our vision of the ways of overcoming the deep internal Ukrainian crisis to representatives of the current Ukrainian authorities. Including the fact that it was directly related to Kiev’sinability to set up a mutually respectful nation-wide dialogue at this stage, and the interests of the South and East of Ukraine were fully taken into account along with the interests of other regions of this neighbouring, very close state.
I confirmed the proposition, which we made some time ago, about the need to implement everything agreed on the 21 February in the agreement, which was signed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleh Tyahnybok, Vitaly Klichko, and which was also signed by the French, German and Polish foreign ministers. First of all, this means making elementary order in streets, cities, laying down illegal weapons, freeing illegally occupied buildings, unblocking streets and squares, all kinds of “maidans” and “mini-maidans”. After these steps to ensure the order of law, which are obvious to any normal person, it means immediately starting the constitutional process, as was agreed in the agreement of the 21 February, to start a constitutional reform. We are convinced that for it to succeed all the political forces, each and all regions must participate in this process, and each of them should have its own vote to cast within the framework of these negotiations. We are convinced that all the problems cannot be resolved without common consent about the need to introduce a federate organisation of Ukraine. Everything should be organised in such a way that each region has the opportunity to choose their own government, legislative authorities and governors, has the right to enforce its requirements, the rights of its nationals in what concerns its economy, finance, culture, language, social arena and the right to communicate with regions of the neighbouring states, be that Poland, Lithuania or the Russian Federation.
As practice shows, a unitary state does not work in Ukraine. The Constitution changes after each election – it is changed to pro-presidential, pro-parliamentary or pro-government order. This leapfrog scheme cannot keep going on in this way. Therefore, federalisation is the way to make each region feel comfortable, feel that its rights are enforced, but all of them are united by general state functions, such as defence, foreign policy and the judicial system. We are ready for that from the point of view of the guarantees, which external players could provide to the Ukrainians after such reforming transformations.
Andrii Deshchytsia said that our proposition was unacceptable, because federalisation was contrary to the fundamental principles of the state order of Ukraine. I do not understand why. I am not aware of such principles. Secondly, the idea to make Russian the second official language was also unacceptable. This was said against the backdrop of the well-known statements of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other official representatives of the current Ukrainian authorities that from the point of view of ethnogeny Russians and Russian are not system-forming factors of the Ukrainian state. These evidently anti-historic highlights sounded strange to me. I explained the incorrectness of such statementsto my colleague. From this, it may be concluded that if the current leaders in Kiev continue to be stubborn in their non-acceptance of the idea of delegation of authority to regions (we are convinced that this can be done effectively through federalisation only), if they keep ignoring Russians, including the Russian language, then I think that nothing good will come out of the constitutional reform, which seems to be starting in some form.
I asked him to explain the reforms started in the Verkhovna Rada. Andrii Deshchytsia answered that a special commission had been created, which deals with the “alteration” of the currently valid Ukrainian constitution of 2004. I believe that cosmetic updates will not suffice. After that, we left.
In The Hague I had quite a detailed talk with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the heads of other EU countries. It seemed to me that they have a more tangible and noticeable understanding of the deep transformations, planned by the Verkhovna Rada and the government created by it, unlike our Ukrainian conversation partners.
Question: Haven’t our Ukrainian conversation partners explained to you in what way they are going to consider the interests of the eastern and south-eastern regions of Ukraine, if Russian and the rights of the Russian-speaking population are not taken into account after the constitutional reform?
Sergey Lavrov: I asked them about this. As I have already said, they answered that within the framework of the work of some special group, which was created by the Verkhovna Rada and about the work of which we hear nothing, it can be possible to take into account many wishes of the South and East of the country. However, I believe that it is impossible without inviting all the regions into the structure which deals with the constitutional reform. There has been no such invitation yet.
Question: On the one hand, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other western politicians state that they are ready for dialogue. However, there is always a reservation in their words: “if Russia does not continue its escalation”. Under escalation they understand our potential actions to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population in the East and South-East of Ukraine. Why do they keep insisting on this point? Even this week NATO stated that our units have been brought to the border.
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian military units are based in the territory of our country. Periodically they conduct planned, snap and unexpected trainings like those of other countries, which deserve respect and are concerned about their armed forces being in a battleworthy condition. Recent trainings were transparent and fully fitted into the criteria within the OSCE framework. All the required information about them was sent. In response to the request addressed to us we let western inspectors in, including Americans and also Ukrainians.
Within the framework of the Treaty on Open Skies, according to which flights around territories of member states for observation from the air are organised, and such flights were organised just a few weeks ago at the request of the Ukrainian party,we have not found in the reports prepared by foreign observers as a result of such inspections, any confirmations that Russia is engaged in dangerous activities within the framework of these movements. We do not pursue any evil intentions and we are still open for honest conversation. However, nobody cancelled the rights each country has for movement of its armed forces in its own territory.
Question: When there are talks about the constitution and constitutional reforms in Ukraine, it seems they only remember them now, in connection with Crimea. Why don’t our western partners see violations of the constitution, human rights and laws by those who created the maidan? Do they disregard this intentionally or don’t they know anything at all about it?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a big question. Unfortunately, I think it is an intentional position. From the very beginning of the known events, at the beginning of November, when after an absolutely legitimate and legal decision by the acting President of Ukraine not to cancel, but to postpone,the signing of the agreement with the European Union, protests broke out on the maidan, a tent camp was constructed, mobile kitchens, portable toilets and everything related to this appeared. When militants of the Right Sector and similar radical organisations were quickly moved to the maidan, we cautioned western countries about patronising these processes. They answered us quite incomprehensibly that these were popular manifestations of the civil position. However, at that time it was already clear that they were becoming anti-constitutional and anti-governmental. Then all this turned into a coup d’йtat, which was organised in a day after the signing of the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the Opposition, in the presence of three EU foreign ministers. Then they immediately said that there was a revolution and it was a reality which should be acknowledged. They keep saying this, when we emphasise that these events were not legitimate and say that the decision of the PACE legal commission regarding the need to send a query to the Venice Commission to determine the legitimacy of these events was blocked. The query was not sent to the Venice Commission, because of manipulation of different protocol and organisation aspects of the activities of the Council of Europe, to a large extent by the Secretariat of the Council of Europe. They say to us again “when it’s gone, it’s gone”, “there is no need to recall the past”, “let bygones be bygones”, “now we need to think about making the situation constructive, in particular, about withdrawing your decision on Crimea”. I am not simplifying things, they are still saying this to us. My answer is very simple. Even if we put aside the comparison of the legality of the events in the maidan and in Crimea (I am convinced that the first action was illegal, while the second was the expression of popular will, with such a number of those who supported reunification with Russia, that it is impossible to dispute it), even if we put aside the nature of these events, the fact does not stand up to scrutiny from a diplomatic point of view that it was a reality on the maidan, while the events in Crimea cannot be considered a reality. It is a purely corrupt approach. If they are ready to recognise one reality, then they must also recognise the other reality.
Question: You are the main Russian diplomat. When a decision on Crimea was taken, you must have estimated the reaction of your western colleagues to these events. Does the reality of it meet your estimates? Did you expect a softer or a tougher reaction?
Sergey Lavrov: We must estimate the consequences of any diplomatic step. In this case, this was a national and principled step rather than a diplomatic step. It also referred to an issue, which cannot depend on a positive, negative or other attitude of states, which has nothing to do with this. There was no other choice after the will of the Crimeans demonstrated their wish to be in the Russian Federation. Frankly speaking, the Russian leaders in general and primarily the President of the Russian Federation could not act otherwise. We could not betray the interests of Russians and Crimeans, who expressed their will on the basis of an extremely democratic, open and transparent procedure.
Question: The western reaction, which we are receiving now, is sanctions. Our colleagues from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who are behaving in a strange way, announced that they want to exclude Russia. How serious is the loss of this political arena for Russia? Did you expect such a strident reaction? Although some people say that it is too mild.
Sergey Lavrov: We did not take the challenge to think about this reaction. We had no other choice. This choice, which we have finally made, was dictated by the entire history of our modern day life, international law, Russian national identity, our responsibility for the destinies of those Russians who found themselves abroad in a flash as a result of procedures, which did not correspond to international legal procedures. You know how the agreements were made in the Bialowieza forest, to which all the current supporters of international law gave a standing ovation. There were no questions about legitimacy of the events of those times.
As to sanctions – this is a path to deadlock. It seems that our western colleagues, who, if we look at the broader picture, have been creating conditions to “tear” Ukraine from Russia for years,when they understood that they were not right and they had made a mistake by taking actions which disrupt the agreements reached after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, they could not recognise this fact. A falsely understood feeling of pride prevented them from doing this. All the sanction reflexes, which we observe now, remind us of the aspiration to present their insult in as decent a form as possible.
I am not choosing my words right now, because I say this to my colleagues. In private talks they ask us to understand, to put ourselves in their shoes, because “the western community cannot accept such developments”, that “they understand us, but they must show a common position, when we are all in one team”. These words are from a past epoch, when there was a game between geopolitical strategic rivals, opponents and confronting parties. It was an “or-or” or “with us or against us” game. We refused this long ago. Unfortunately, that mentality is still not over in the minds of many politicians, who determine the position of the west at the current stage.
I am not saying that these sanctions are funny or we don’t care. These are unpleasant things. It is glaringly obvious that they attempt to focus these sanctions on personalities and target them to specific persons to bite in a nastier way. We are not fond of this, but we also feel no pain. We went through even tougher times.
Russia has a substantial history of relations with western partners in the post-Soviet epoch. They welcomed us in a democratic camp believing that we would “show servile obedience” and all would strictly adhere to all the rules formed by the West in this part of Christian civilisation. This is not a partnership, but rather the aspiration to grasp a geopolitical “meadow”, which showed up in the Ukrainian events – a fierce desire to involve Ukraine in the “western orbit” disregarding the cardinal interests of the Ukrainian economy, culture, nation, which is very complicated, multinational and multicultural. The wish to separate Ukraine and Russia is behind all these events. Remember the words of Zbigniew Brzeziсski that Russia is a power with Ukraine and something less without Ukraine.
In this regard, see the statement by the US President, Barack Obama, about Russia as a regional power and that we will have to pay for everything that has offended our ears. We have not paid with any human life, when we responded to the legal expression of will of the Crimean people. The price, which the Americans paid for their “games”, is measured in thousands of human lives – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia. Everything has its own price, but it is different.
Question: Doesn’t it seem to you that the voting at the UN General Assembly on the resolution on Ukraine showed that the world is not unipolar any more. A hundred countries voted for the resolution written by the west, ninety three were the countries who voted for the Russian position on Crimea, against the resolution, did not show or abstained. Ninety three is almost parity. In your opinion, how adequately can the UN respond to the challenges of international policy?
Sergey Lavrov: The pressure, which was applied in connection with this resolution, was the severest. We know that these were not just requests to vote for the resolution, which is evidently provocative. If there were no threats, there were hints about consequences. Any country, which will not listen, will not receive some loan or some visit will be cancelled.
Along with the announced sanctions, surprising measures are being undertaken, when they refuse our diplomats meetings with foreign ministers of countries of the European Union. We know that diplomats from the United States and the EU, who are in Moscow, are instructed to avoid the events where there are people from the sanctions list. This is absolutely contrary to the tasks solved by diplomacy. Diplomacy is an art of talking and agreeing. If they tune diplomats to become a tool of implementation of the policy of sanctions, that is another story.
Now about voting on the resolution and the diplomatic landscape in the world. We meet John Kerry regularly. It surprises me that the Europeans farmed the Ukrainian topic, in what concerns relations with Russia, to Washington. The ideas for creation of the contact group are being developed, as we have said many times. This contact group is planned as a structure, where Europe and the United States will “look after” us, as we start agreeing with the Ukrainians. This is unacceptable, because this problem is not related to our relations with Ukraine, but its cause is that the Ukrainian community is in a deep national identity crisis.
Therefore, we proposed another approach. If our western partners are ready, then Russia, the United States and the European Union could form a support group for Ukraine and formulate joint appeals to those who are now the leaders in Kiev, for them to propose the initiative of a nation-wide dialogue, invite each and all the political forces (without armed radicals, of course) and regions to equal negotiations. They will result in a new Ukrainian constitution, which ensures a federate order, confirms and reinforces the out-of-bloc order, ensures the rights of all the people living in Ukraine: primarily, the Russian population is important for us, but we also care about Czechs, Hungarians, Germans and other nationalities living there. And if our partners are ready for that, we are open to the widest cooperation. However, the current Ukrainian authorities should make the first step, offer a hand to all the Ukrainian people, all the regions, invite them to an equal and open dialogue about the future of their country. We will be absolutely and fully ready to cooperate closely on this path.
We have no hidden agenda. We wish Ukraine to be a peaceful, stable and friendly state, we want its wish to cooperate with Russia, Europe, the United States or anybody else to be respected. We can achieve a lot on these positions.
During our talks with our American partners, they say to us: “Let us ensure de-escalation of the situation, let you and us affect those who listen to us in Ukraine, for them to stop bullying each other, calm down and start some conversation among themselves”. We are ready for that and we are sending such signals. I hope the Americans and Europeans are also sending such signals (the events of the last few days demonstrate this).
For example, we have been asking them for a very simple thing for a long time: can our western partners and the current Ukrainian authorities state their attitude to the Right Sector, without speaking about taking measures to prevent outrages by ultranationalists? We have started to see traces of a reaction to our request lately. Probably because the decent picture, which our western colleagues were drawing, has not justified itself, and everybody sees, what dangerous consequences games with radicals can lead to and yet more support of the radicals to stay in power.
I hope that the actions, which are now being undertaken by the official Kiev with regard to the prohibition of radical structures, and the unconditionalimplementation of the known agreements about laying down illegal weapons, will be performed. We hope that the West contributes to this.
When our western partners invite us to such a dialogue and in our conversations through bilateral channels, when they attempt to convince us that their want to promote the normalisation of the situation, they are not very consistent, because in parallel, in public arenas, including the UN General Assembly, they promote rather confrontational and contentious statements, which are almost offensive and do not contribute to the creation of the required atmosphere for normal dialogue. This duality and hypocrisy is a big barrier.
Question: Let us take some leaks from the EU that the Crimeans will be able to receive Schengen visas only in Kiev. If this is true and this decision has already been made, then this part of the sanctions is a provocation! In your opinion, has this decision been taken or not?
Sergey Lavrov: As far as I know, this decision has not been taken yet. However, there are such talks, and they are conducted in a peculiar way. They announce that rules should be introduced, according to which any Crimean national, who wants to receive a Schengen visa, should go to Ukraine, go to a foreign consulate and receive it using his or her Ukrainian passport. At the same time, they are discussing that EU countries have a visa-free regime for visits to Ukraine. Ukraine provided a visa-free regime for countries of the European Union unilaterally. This regime is working for visits to Crimea. Such approaches are being discussed seriously and in public. They do not talk to us. They discuss this among themselves, believing that they will take such a decision and it must be fulfilled. This is unacceptable. This is the grossest violation of human rights.
The people, who live in Crimea and have chosen Russian citizenship, have nothing to do with geopolitics. They want to live in a country, which corresponds to their cultural and language requests, their so-called “genetic pool”. If the European Union takes such a step, I am convinced that we will answer in such a way as to make the European Union understand the unacceptability of the grossest violation of human rights.
Question: Will we respond to Kiev’sstatement that it wants to introduce visas with Russia? First they want to do this, then they deny this intent. Are we ready to introduce visas with Ukraine as a response measure?
Sergey Lavrov: We think it would be silly. It seems to me that this topic has already died in Kiev. Somebody expressed this idea in quick-temper. It has already been rejected and I guess it is not topical any more.
Question: As to your signal to western colleagues, for example, about the Right Sector, which Kiev has announced are agents of the Kremlin today, because only enemy spies can spoil the reputation of a country in such a way. Before that, Yulia Tymoshenko indirectly confirmed that the talk, in which she mentioned bombing of Russia, destruction of the Russian population etc. was true. Do you draw the attention of your western colleagues to the fact that such a person intends to stand as a candidate for the position of Ukrainian president, while these are extremist statements, on which a blind eye should not be turned?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, these statements are rhetorical. That is clear. Not only Yulia Tymoshenko, but also people like Dmytro Yarosh and Oleh Tyahnybok, a member of the coalition and the leader of “Svoboda”, also stand as candidates for the position of Ukrainian president. The platform of this party still has a confirmation of the principles of the declaration of the end of June 1941, when all the Ukrainians, who signed it, swore fealty to Hitler in his fight for the new order in Europe. I repeat, this is still a part of the official platform of the party “Svoboda”.
Question: Do only you and us know about this?
Sergey Lavrov: No, I told my western partners about this many times. One of my leading partners hesitatedslightly before saying: “We are observing Svoboda, but they are members of the coalition and are moving with the mainstream”. It is very hard to respond to this, because this is not on the level of a normal dialogue with facts in hand. Nevertheless, it is so.
As to the radicals in Ukraine, we constantly draw attention to them. I leave this to the conscience of those, who said that the Right Sector is the hand of Moscow.
We have many facts, which I shared with my partners, regarding whose embassy regularly contacted the Right Sector, where its leaders came, whose representatives were on the maidan all the time in the rooms, which were controlled by the Right Sector, and from where it guided many atrocities, including sniping. I leave this to the conscience of those, who are engaged in such exercises.
Question: Do you want to say that the Right Sector coordinated this sniping?
Sergey Lavrov: We have such data.
Question: Have you sent this data to our western partners?
Sergey Lavrov: We shared our fears and suspicions. I cannot be 100% sure, but we have many facts, which point to this. Of course, everything should be rechecked. I hope that the investigation, which was announced by the current Ukrainian leaders, will be completed rather than “swept under the carpet”.
Question: We constantly receive signals that Russian pilots coming to Ukraine on the aircraft of Russian airlines are not given time and the right to restore themselves according to ICAO standards. Thus, the safety of fights of our own and Ukrainian nationals is jeopardised. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is making statements, but the situation is not changing. There was such a case this week as well. What can we do in this situation, because this is a question of the life of our nationals?
Sergey Lavrov: From the point of view of requirements, we probably cannot do more than we have already done. We asked the Ukrainians and the ICAO that crews should be allowed off planes, so that they can take normal rest in a hotel for several hours rather than sat in their seats in a twisted position waiting for their flight. We have not received any intelligible reaction yet. I hope to receive it in the near future. You are absolutely right, it is a problem of safety. An alternative is to stop flights. I do not think that anybody is interested in this.
Question: Doesn’t it seem to you that this list – not to let pilots out of their planes, not to issue visas to ordinary Crimeans, to call Russia a regional power are some kind of…
Sergey Lavrov: Petty things.
Question: Petty things. When it concerns the fate of a big country, a European country and our partner, this petty reaction is very strange. I could call it “I will buy tickets, but I won’t go”.
Sergey Lavrov: I am not surprise about the pettiness of those who seized power in Ukraine. But the pettiness of foreign sponsors is striking.
Question: And unexpectedly striking?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, unexpectedly. Because these are large states, solid people, supporters of democracy, advocates of justice. However their leaders get smaller, it was noticed even beforeall this.