Rajnish Singh: How does Russia see relations with the EU given the current crisis in Ukraine, along with the impact of trade sanctions, and what can be done to stop the slide towards increasing hostilities?
Vladimir Chizhov: Despite the current difficulties in our relations with the EU and all ‘do-gooders’ prophecies of an irreparable break up of Russia-EU and Russia-west cooperation, we remain convinced that in the long-run strategic convergence between the Russian federation and the EU is inevitable, mutually beneficial and only natural. As a matter of history, geography and economy, we are destined to become closer to each other by the unity of our cultural and civilisational matrix, complementary scientific, technological, energy and intellectual potentials, and the mutual interest of our business communities. In today’s globalising world, both Russia and the EU can have a win-win outlook which can package together each other’s competitive advantages in order to ascend to a new stage of development, ensure an irreversible elimination of dividing lines on the European continent and transform it into a real centre of global political and economic power. Now the choice between common effort and confrontation fully depends on our European partners. Unfortunately, so far they have been unable to resist the temptation to speak to Russia in the language of sanctions. That is not only detrimental to the basic interests of both the EU and Russia but also completely incoherent with the logic of seeking a genuine political settlement in Ukraine.
"The choice between common effort and confrontation fully depends on our European partners"
RS: With the rise of tensions between Russia, the EU and the US, are we now facing a new cold war?
VC: Certainly not, the cold war was a conflict between two totally different ideologies with an unbridgeable gap splitting the world. There is nothing of the sort today. But what we are really facing is the moment of the truth that will define our relations for years to come. Some people both in the EU and the US are in fact interested in presenting Russia as an enemy and to revive the old cold war logic. It is definitely not our pattern of mind. We believe that realism should prevail, and a political solution has to be found which would take into account the legitimate interests of all. It is a matter of common sense, even though… it is not evenly distributed across Europe, not to mention the world as a whole.
RS: What are the main problems Russia has with the EU’s eastern neighbourhood policy and its involvement with Ukraine, and how has this contributed to the current crisis?
VC: The main problem is that the EU has unfortunately failed to understand that a successful neighbourhood policy also needs a well-balanced approach towards the neighbours’ neighbours. In the case of the eastern partnership a major mistake was to build it, if not against Russia (even though some member states had been eagerly pursuing this logic from the very beginning), by ignoring her. Without basically taking into account our important economic relations with these countries, with ties going back through centuries of common history, issues relating to political and security concerns. Ukraine is the largest country involved in the eastern partnership, so all problems have just multiplied – something we have been warning the EU about from the outset. But it is only now that the EU has matured enough to engage in a trilateral Russia–EU–Ukraine discussion on possible negative consequences that the EU-Ukraine association agreement may have on the Russian economy. Had it been done earlier (we had been supportive of this idea for over a year), many problems, I am sure, would have been avoided.
RS: How do you react to president Obama’s accusations that Russian troops have been sent to fight against Ukrainian forces?
VC: How can I react to an attempt to present a distorted and politically motivated picture of events that is based on faked photos, references to unverifiable sources etc.? It just shows that in some quarters Ukraine is viewed as a geopolitical playground, something that has nothing to do with the real interests of Ukraine and its people.
"In the long-run strategic convergence between Russia and the EU is mutually beneficial and natural”
RS: Following the recent ceasefire announced by the Ukrainian government, what will Russia’s contribution towards finding a political solution be, and can the EU play a role too?
VC: I would correct first that the ceasefire was not announced unilaterally by the Ukrainian government, but was a product of negotiations led by the contact group that includes Ukraine, the OSCE, representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and the Russian ambassador to Kyiv. To achieve the ceasefire was a difficult task, believe me. But we have done our best to help stop the fighting. Now the main aim is to solidify the ceasefire and to help launch a real all-inclusive intra-Ukraine political dialogue on the future setup of the country, so that all Ukrainians could comfortably live in their country and feel reassured in terms of respect for their political, ethnic, linguistic rights and cultural identity. Russia is interested in having a strong and friendly Ukraine as its neighbour, so we’ll continue our efforts. As for the EU, we would welcome it joining in the difficult search for a political solution in Ukraine, and strongly encourages the Kyiv government to reach out towards their own people and build a country based on the rule of law and democratic values respecting different identities and interests of people who live there. It’s simple, isn’t it? And this would be a real step for the EU to promote its own democratic values and improve its own image tarnished by an unscrupulous and biased approach to events that took place in Ukraine in the beginning of this year.
RS: How will Russia react to possible further EU sanctions, and the creation of a new NATO rapid reaction force to be based in eastern Europe?
VC: You know, legitimate sanctions can only be imposed by the UN security council. Thus, what the EU is doing is not legitimate from the point of view of international law. Anyway, any new round of the so-called restrictive measures will find an appropriate answer from our side. It is not our choice, but we have to defend ourselves. The same goes for the second part of your question: we’ll have to think of an answer to defend our security under changed conditions. I am sure that an appropriate answer, possibly an asymmetric one, will be found.
RS: In a recent interview you said that Russia wants to protect the rights of Russian minorities globally, including those in western Europe and the Baltic countries. Should they now start fearing Russian interference, and what reassurance can you give that Russia still wants to have good relations with Europe?
VC: We only want the values that constitute the backbone of the EU to be applicable to everybody in the EU countries, with no discrimination against Russian or other minorities. Unfortunately, anti-Russian discriminatory practices are still commonplace in the Baltic countries, for example. And yes, we’ll keep raising this issue whether somebody likes it or not. We want the EU to live up to its own high standards – what is wrong with that? As for the second part, I think I have already covered it answering your first question. We are convinced that in the long-run strategic convergence between Russia and the EU is mutually beneficial and natural. This is the agenda we propose to the EU, to work together, hand-in hand. It is up to our European friends to make their choice.