The main goal of Russia is to control Ukraine and its government, which means Moscow wants to be able to change the Ukrainian government, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Andriy Deshchytsia told EurActiv Czech Republic in an interview. //
At the five-year anniversary summit of the Eastern Partnership in Prague, the participants agreed that this initiative could become a mediator between Ukraine and Russia. The Czech Republic offered to serve in this process if both of the countries wish so. Do you think this could work?
We agreed at the summit that the Ukrainian government would welcome any action which could bring some added value, and contribute to stabilization. If President Putin listened to [Czech] President [Miloš] Zeman instead of President Obama or Chancellor Merkel, then why should not President Zeman talk to him and to us, trying to find the solution? But at this moment, as far as I am aware, President Putin has isolated himself and he is not listening to other leaders, except the President of the United States. Maybe we have to create a new platform for a dialogue with Russia. But at this moment, the Russian position is tough. Russia considers itself to be a super-efficient superpower and it would talk only to superpowers like the United States.
Do you think that in the position of western powers, there should be a linkage between the presence of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border and sanctions against Russia? If the troops are not withdrawn, should there be sanctions?
The EU has to prevent Russian aggression against Ukraine. Thinking about diplomatic means to be deployed in settling this conflict, we have to react immediately and we should not wait until something happens. The presence of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border is a sign that Russia is serious about implementing its statements about the protection of Russian citizens, even if it is on the territory of Ukraine.
Russia is not serious about implementing the Geneva statement, you mean?
No, they are not serious. None of its leaders condemned the extremist groups; none of its leaders condemned the hostage-taking of foreign journalists in Slaviansk [the interview was taken before the hostage-taking of OSCE observers in Slaviansk by pro-Russian separatists]. None of the leaders have provided any suggestion how the de-escalation measures should be implemented. Despite the fact that in Kyiv, we have organized regular meetings with the presence of Russian diplomats – and not only Russians, but also of other parties to the Geneva statements and the OECD mission – in order to create a timetable for the implementation of Geneva statement. But Russia did not want to participate.
Do you think that the Russian intention is not necessarily to intervene in Ukraine, but rather to undermine the upcoming presidential election?
The Russians count on several scenarios. The easiest one is to create a zone of instability in eastern Ukraine, and keep the tense situation in this region for a long time. Another possible scenario is to undermine the election and question the legitimacy of Ukrainian government. But the worst scenario, and I think the main goal of Russia, is to control Ukraine and to control the Ukrainian government. This means to be able to change the Ukrainian government.
Is the Ukrainian government capable of restoring order in the Eastern parts of the country?
Yes, we are capable of restoring order in the regions where the Russian-sponsored groups organize the provocations, and create instability by occupying buildings, blocking the cities and torturing the civilian population. Ukraine is capable of restoring order through the anti-terrorist operation we already launched. We heavily criticised the requirement that we should stop this operation because of the Russian position. At the same time, Russia is launching anti-terrorist operations on its territory. There are at least two or three anti-terrorist operations going on in Dagestan these days. We are not questioning the right of Russian authorities to restore order in their territory. But we have the same right in the territory of Ukraine. However, we have suspended this operation, because it has to be very well prepared and planned to avoid casualties among the civilians.
So you say Ukraine will be able to hold election on its whole territory, except Crimea...
The inhabitants of Crimea can also take part. We have amended the election law. Ukrainian citizens living in Crimea who want to vote can come to the nearby regions, Kherson and Mykolaiv, and participate in the election. They only need to register in advance if they want to vote. They can do it even through the Internet.
Is the government able to organize the election, even if the administrative buildings are still occupied?
It will be difficult, of course. That is the reason why we want to restore order as soon as possible. Not only because of the demand by the local population, but also to be able to provide people the right to participate in the election and to vote. We will be able to hold the election even if some cities are occupied by the armed groups, because the anti-terrorist operation is targeted at these small cities, which are fully controlled. But if Russia really wants to help Ukraine to build a democratic society, it has to call these armed people to leave the buildings, surrender weapons, and provide a chance to life peacefully.
According to some opinions, the transitional government should establish dialogue with political elites throughout Ukraine. Do you think the government has made enough of an effort to do this?
The Prime Minister visited eastern Ukraine two weeks ago with a group of ministers. Last Saturday, the Minister of Education Serhiy Kvit was in Donetsk. I am also planning to visit some of the eastern regions. We are sending the messages about governmental reforms and the decisions of the Ukrainian government with respect to the implementation of Geneva agreement, through the OECD mission, to the people living there. What else should we do to reach these people? We are not travelling to western Ukraine, and nobody is complaining there.
Some people say that the transitional government is not inclusive enough, and that you do not have representatives from the eastern regions.
There are five people in the government who were born in Russia. Half of the cabinet either lived, or still lives, in eastern Ukraine. For example, the Minister of Agrarian Policy, Ihor Shvaika, is from Kharkov. Minister of Social Policy Lyudmyla Denisova comes from Crimea. What other kind of inclusiveness has to be there? That is Russian propaganda, nothing else.
Do you agree with the idea that Russia is winning over Ukraine in this information war?
Russia spent a lot of money and expended a lot of effort at the information campaign. It did not started last week or a month ago. It was deliberately prepared during the last few years. It is targeted at a European audience, to make a nice image of Russia whatever happens. Russian propaganda continues to leverage different perceptions of reality.
Getting back to the question of inclusiveness of your government – are you sure that the cabinet has the support of the people in eastern regions?
More than seventy percent of the Ukrainian Parliament supported the government – and the members of the Parliament represent the people. This is the Ukrainian way how to nominate a government. Do the people in the Eastern Ukraine support the government? To answer this question, you have to conduct public opinion poll. At this moment, as far as I understand, more than fifty per cent of Ukrainians support the governmental reforms. And these are reforms which are very painful for the population. If people in eastern Ukraine do not support the government, it is a sign of democracy and they can change the government through democratic means – through elections – but not through the occupation of buildings, and the threat of Russian troops.
When will the parliamentary election take place?
It is up to the Ukrainian people, to the Ukrainian Parliament. Let us stick to the Ukrainian legislation if we want to be Europeans. The President will be elected on 25 May. He or she has the right to dissolve the Parliament according to the Ukrainian constitution. If he or she decides that the Parliament has to be changed, he or she can call for new election. If not, the Parliament is able to dissolve itself. The current Parliament was elected two years ago. Do we need new election now? Maybe. I do not know. I think it would be fair to hold parliamentary election after a new constitution is adopted. If we have a new constitution, we will logically need to have a new election. Nobody is questioning this.