Ukraine is on a brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Ultranationalists are in the lead in Kiev after a coup d’etat saw the overthrow of the President. Crimea along with half of the country refuses to accept the new authorities. And now, Russian senators decided to give the President the right to move troops in the region to protect the Russian speakers threatened by the rise of Nazis. What will tomorrow hold for Ukraine? What role will Russia play in the drama? Will it be necessary to use force? To find out, Sophie is joined by Andrey Klimov, Russian senator, and member of the foreign affairs committee.
Sophie Shevardnadze: And our guest today is Andrey Klimov, Russian senator, member of the foreign affairs committee – it’s really great to have you with us. So we just going to start from the latest news: why did you guys approve the possibility of sending Russian troops?
Andrey Klimov: First of all, because according to our Constitution this is our right to do. Only the Council of Federation can, so to say, give permission to our president to send our troops out of our country, or to move our troops inside this or that foreign state. To give these rights to the president, he addressed us and it was our response to that address, so now we have everything according to our Constitution, according to the article 102 of the Constitution of the Russian federation.
SS: But do explain to our viewers why did you all decide to actually approve this bill?
AK: Our task is to protect our compatriots, out of Russia, and to protect our soldiers, our marines stationed in Crimea. This is according to another law, which is the Defense Law of Russian Federation, article 10. This is the very situation of this law, according to this article. And, certainly to protect them we have to have some flexibility to do that, and even if we cross a kind of red line somewhere in Crimea, it may be an outlaw case if we have no such kind of permission. Now we have such permission and we can protect our compatriots, our citizens of the Russian Federation and our military troops inside Crimea.
SS: But as of now we are talking about permission, and I want to emphasize the word “permission”…
SS: …Because the troops haven’t been deployed yet, and even the approval doesn’t mean that troops will be deployed at all…
AK: This is only a kind of demonstration of an instrument, how we can do it, and this is the official possibility to realize that, to implement that instrument. But it is not the order for our troops there, of course not.
SS: But what we are seeing from the Western media is an overblown reaction, saying that Russia is occupying Ukraine – why do you think there’s such an acute reaction to something that hasn’t even happened yet?
AK: Either they do not know the real things or they lie – and that’s it.
SS: What needs to happen for the Russian troops actually to be deployed in Crimea, give me the scenario?
AK: I prefer not to speak about things which may be. I am a practical politician so my task is to make a decision when we have the reality.
SS: Yes, but you have approved and given the right to the Russian troops to be deployed, so you must have a scenario…
AK: No, no. Look, we have our commander in-chief, President Putin, who can send orders to our forces, directly. Parliamentarians – we have no such rights, so we know for sure that without our decision it is not possible to protect in a proper way our military people and our civilians there, and that’s it.
SS: I know you are being very diplomatic, because this is your job, but you must have a certain picture in your head, why you’ve approved it, in case of what, exactly.
AK: Well, if I am speaking from my personal point, of course, not like a senator or a member of foreign affairs committee…
SS: Yes, exactly.
AK: …my personal opinion is such: we know that it is a real civil war now on Ukrainian territory, we know well that there are a lot of people, thousands and thousands of people with weapons, whom we do not know and who are not the part of the official military forces of Ukraine, and to protect our – even missiles, what we have there in Crimea – our military ships, our military base, we have to be sure that we can really do that even in case if they open fire. I’d like to remind you one scenario which happened exactly 6 years ago in Caucasus. There, our people, our soldiers, were in Tskhinvali, and they tried to protect their small base without heavy weapons under killing fire and we do not want to repeat this kind of scenario. We prefer to prepare better for that very negative scenario, of course, but we have to be prepared to protect our people there.
SS: And now we are going live to Crimea to our correspondent Maria Finoshina who will bring us up to date with the latest developments… Maria, tell us, how are the Crimeans reacting to the developments?
Maria Finoshina: Well, what happened in Kiev and what many here in Ukraine see as an armed coup d’état has caused a dramatic split among the population of this country. We see people pided into those who support the country’s new authorities and those who don’t recognize them as a legitimate power and protest against them and demonstrate in all possible means that they don’t want to be with them and they don’t see their future with them, and this is particularly the case of the eastern and southern Ukraine and, especially, Crimea. This is a very special region, the majority of the population is ethnic Russians here, and what we see here is quite unanimous: we see thousand-strong crowds, thousand-strong demonstrations all across this region, in all major cities. People take to the streets, officials and ordinary residents, men, women, entire families, to show Kiev that they don’t want to be with them and they don’t recognize them as legitimate power, as legitimate authorities of this country. For example, the city of Sevastopol and the port of Sevastopol, just 100km away from where we are now, local residents rejected Kiev-appointed mayor and later the head of police, who was also assigned from the capital, and this is a common mood here.
SS: Ukrainian soldiers are said to be leaving their positions and joining Crimean self-defense forces – can you confirm that?
Maria Finoshina: I have to admit that at this point it’s not very easy to say exactly what is going on among the Ukrainian military bases here, on the peninsula. You have to understand that this is a very sensitive issue and it’s not easy to get an access to military bases here, across the Crimea or talk to the Ukrainian military – but the country is pided, the population is pided and this is apparently what happened among the military as well, and this is almost exactly what we’re hearing from the local authorities today. The Crimea’s prime minister came to the media and he said that some of the officers, some of the soldiers were leaving their arsenals and were giving up their weapons and were declaring that they no longer belong to the Ukrainian military forces and they quit military forces, but others – and we understand that this is the majority of the military here – they made decision to side with Crimea’s authorities. We understand that the situation today is mostly, mainly controlled by the so-called self-defense groups, made up of locals, in coordination with regional police. We see these people, they don’t wear any specific uniform, they look quite civil and they are patrolling streets of major cities here in the Crimea day and night, and not only strategic or governmental buildings, but just streets. They don’t want any panic, any violence to happen in their cities, and this is their main mission. We’re also hearing from the local authorities here who are also worried about panic that could spread among the population that they are calling on people to stay calm, to be calm. Actually, we don’t see much panic here, for example, in Crimea’s capital Simferopol, and we hope that it will stay this way.
SS: So the Russian Parliament’s approval to actually deploy military forces in Ukraine states that troops may stay there until the situation in Ukraine is completely stabilized. What exactly needs to happen for the situation in Ukraine to be considered stable?
AK: This will be decision of our President, because this is now his responsibility to say when it will finish, but I can say there are some points anyhow: first of all we have to understand well that we are speaking not with the provisional government, but with something more constant than it. We have to know who is the real president of Ukraine, but not the guy who is sitting now in the Parliament, because it is not according to their own Constitution, not the last one, not the previous one. Then we have to see their streets free from any military people, even if they are from Maidan, I don’t know, from what other armies they can have, but better to say, they have to go back to the declaration signed at 21st of February, more or less, on the same conditions, then we will understand that the situation is really under control of the people of this country, rather than under somebody’s else.
SS: Tell me please; does the decision to step in run contrary to the 1994 international agreement on the status of Ukraine when Russia, the UK and US have agreed to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity?
AK: We still guarantee this territorial integrity; we are not speaking about something that is not under this agreement. We are speaking about the possibility of people in Ukraine to solve their problems themselves, without any pressure from abroad, without any pressure from the crowd of criminals, without any pressure from the streets – according to their Constitution, and that’s it. And if people prefer to have a Federation or Confederation – it is up to them. If they prefer to give more rights to the autonomy in Crimea, this is their right. We are not speaking about something else.
SS:So there is no talk about secession, would Russia not consider taking in Crimea as Russian territory?
AK: Of course not, it is not possible at all.
SS: Why not?
AK: We respect the state, as a state, as a part of the European society, as a member of Council of Europe, as a member of the UN, and we are speaking always about territorial integrity of this country. But, of course, the political structure of this country, the pision of this country, the administrative reforms of this country – everything is in hands of people, but not just a small group of politicians sitting somewhere in the square.
SS: Just a few days ago Russian parliament also simplified the procedure of other territories to join Russian Federation territories – what was that about?
AK: No, no. Look… I am one of the authors of the law, which was adopted about 12 years ago by the State Duma, and there are some procedures how it may be theoretically, not that we are speaking about Ukrainian people, not that we are speaking about Belorussia – we are generally speaking. There are a lot of procedures on how to do that, and I can say that we have no such conditions now, we are speaking about today, and maybe the day after or month after, but now I cannot say that this is really the case. Moreover, I can tell that the strategy of my country is not to have more territories, but to have integration in Eurasia, based on principles when we respect each other, when each country has its own voice, when we have our decision only when we have the balance of interests, and this is the idea of the new Eurasia economic union – so this is our dream, so to say, if you like, but not to take part of one country and to make our greatest, biggest country even bigger than it is. It is stupid idea, indeed.
SS: I want to get back to Crimea. Most of the people in Crimea speak Russian, so do people in other regions of Ukraine, but then we have the post-Yanukovich parliament, the new parliament, and the first decision that they took was to strip Russian language of regional status. Why do you think that happened, why this was the first decision?
AK: Maybe they opened their real face; these people opened their real face. In XXI century I cannot imagine any serious politicians in the world who would like to start with such kind of actions. It was not a mistake, it was really a demonstration of the main aims of the people sitting now in their parliament and who name themselves the Parliament of Ukraine. I cannot say that these people were ready to look through all possible scenarios which may happen after their decision, and that is why the next day or maybe about a week after, even in Lvov people prefer to speak Russian – usually they prefer to speak their own language there; but after this strange, very provocative decision they opened Pandora’s box and they pressed people from their houses to the streets not just in Crimea, but in all eastern parts of this country.
SS: Well, the members of the nationalist Svoboda party have threatened to obtain nuclear weapons if Russia doesn’t back down – do you take this threat seriously?
AK: They have a lot of crazy people there, so, it seems to me, if we’d like to comment on…
SS: But does the fact that they are crazy make this threat less serious?
AK: Well, unfortunately crazy people may really have some power, but I believe that when we are speaking about nuclear weapons, even our Western colleagues will be not so active as they were during the previous events on Maidan square.
SS: What exactly do you mean?
AK: I mean that the nuclear question is too serious and if anybody likes to play games with such kind of perspectives, if we are speaking about… well, first of all, let’s remind that they have no nuclear weapons, but they have nuclear power stations.
SS: Well, that’s what I am saying; there are 4 nuclear stations in Ukraine.
AK: I know what you are speaking about. I can tell you that not only these power stations are very dangerous, they have a lot of chemicals, they have a lot of dangerous plants, and we have to be sure that near our borders, in our neighbor state all of these dangerous places are protected in a proper way.
SS: Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin has called on all sides to help curb the activity of radical forces operating in Ukraine. Why do you think that we are not seeing any response on this particular problem from the West?
AK: Well, I can tell you that we started in December with our proposals to open negotiations between the three sides, in triangle, between Moscow, Brussels and Kiev. Unfortunately, our partners in Europe prefer to do it in a wrong way, so to speak, with Kiev separately and with Moscow separately. Now we offer them this kind of negotiations, we’d like to have a round table, including western politicians, including western decision-makes – and this seems to me the only way out and the only peaceful way out.
SS: President Obama as of now has threatened unspecified costs if Russia enters Crimea – what might these costs be, what do you think?
AK: First of all it seems to me that Mr. Obama must look at himself and it seems to me that his colleagues in Washington and in the EU were too provocative during all the previous days, weeks and even months and it seems to me that with their support we received this crisis, so they have to pay these costs, and this is not just a computer game, you see. We are speaking about very serious things which happen not somewhere, I don’t know, 5 thousand miles from Washington, but we are speaking about things which are really near our house. We know well what’s happened there and we are ready to react, because these are not just our neighbor’s, these are our brothers, and certainly to help our brothers, if you like, to help our own people to go out of this very dangerous situation, we’d like to do everything in the best way, in a proper way. But, well, again, it seems to me that Mr. Obama – he and his colleagues – they are responsible for the hot state of this crisis.
SS: But the international community is calling on all sides to engage in dialog. Who should Russia speak to? The new Ukrainian government?
AK: I am not sure that this provisional government really has any power, any serious power now, but anyhow, we need somebody with whom we can speak there. So, we need some time, and maybe with the help of our European partners and our partners from Washington, on the platform of the UN just to find the real way out, because we must have this solution, we have must have it for the benefit of the peace of the world, the globe, and I hope that this too provocative activity of the western politicians will be over. This is the way out, we do not want to receive next step of this civil war. We would like to close this Pandora’s Box.
SS: The Ukrainian parliament is actually preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU one more time – you work closely with the EU, why do you think the EU needs right now a politically unstable, pided country that’s on the verge of bankruptcy?
AK: It seems to me that this is decision which is based not on the economical situation, but on some political ambitions of Western politicians, but its very serious remark – all of them, I mean, mr. Barroso, mr. Rompuy, the European Parliament will be out of their offices in few months; in May there will be elections to the new parliament and they have to have new leaders of this European Union, so we prefer to speak with the new politicians about some strategic things. But, anyhow, as my point, the EU – it has not enough money for that, it has not enough support even inside the EU from their member states to realize all this, so to say, programs which they promised to the Ukrainian side.
SS: Just really quickly, so you think that new people in the EU government will be against Ukraine’s accession in the EU?
AK: Anyhow, I am very sure about that, it is not possible to see Ukraine inside the EU because this is out of the main interest of the member states of this Union. This is not because of the position of Moscow, they’ll never accept them as an equal member state inside the European Union.
SS: Thank you very much for this interview, this was Russian senator Andrey Klimov from the foreign affairs committee of the Russia’s Upper House of Parliament, we were talking about the situation in Crimea, what may happen, what’s going on right now. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, stay with us for the next time.