Before the November Summit in Vilnius, it is important to know what is happening in Brussels and Moscow, if there are any changes to views and moods. Especially in Moscow, not only because Ukraine’s European destiny has been decided there on more than one occasion – in a variety of ways but each time not in Ukraine’s favor – but also because the ground is obviously being cut from under Vladimir Putin’s feet as his Russian world concept is falling apart. Understanding how Russia sees its future is very important for the international community, with Ukraine topping the list.
The Ukrainian envoy to Russia ought to be keenly aware of these concepts and moods. The Day had long been trying to have an interview with Volodymyr YELCHENKO, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, before one of our special correspondents in Moscow recently tried again and this time succeeded, even if partially.
The editors, wishing to be honest with themselves and their readers, consider it necessary to make clear the background of the following interview. It took almost a week to negotiate it with the embassy, until last Friday, the agreed-upon date, when our special correspondent received a phone call from the embassy’s press service and was told that “the interview is ready.” It transpired that the press service had written answers to questions relying on the tentative topics to be touched upon during the interview that had been forwarded to the ambassador.
We were dumbfounded, then tried to figure out the situation. The ambassador might have had a very tight schedule – or been unwilling to answer embarrassing questions (of which there were many). Ordinarily, such an “interview” would never be published, but under the circumstances, considering the acute political situation, the editors decided to go along with the embassy’s press service. Of course, like all such texts, it is insipid and yet it sends two important signals. First, the possibility of Ukraine signing an Association Agreement with the EU is referred to as the most significant event in the post-Soviet domain, in contrast to Vladimir Putin’s well-known statement about this possibility being the worst 20th-century geopolitical disaster. Second, the ambassador apparently takes a dim view of Russia’s attitude toward Ukrainian nationals in two notorious cases involving Greenpeace activists, their detention, and the incident on the Sea of Azov.
The following is a slightly abridged version of the text The Day received from the embassy in Moscow.
What impact is Ukraine’s European integration is making on its relations with Russia? Do you think the customs wars between our countries are over? How will the relationships with Russia change after Ukraine signs the Association Agreement during the Vilnius Summit this November?
“I’d rather do without ‘customs wars’ because the word combination sounds too severe and implies harsh steps taken by both sides. As it was, we found ourselves confronted with a rather emotional and not entirely justified response on the part of an important and historically traditional business partner. I would describe the situation as one in which words, oral persuasions produced no effect.
“Ukraine has made its choice and acted purposefully for quite a while in order to implement all arrangements made with the European Union, never concealing its intentions from Ukraine’s partners. We treat the Russian side’s concerns with understanding in light of the [possible] signing of the Association Agreement, it being one of the most significant events in the post-Soviet domain, after the Soviet Union’s collapse. We believe that what happened on the Ukraine-Russia customs border this August will have no sequel after Ukraine signs the Association Agreement with the EU, considering the losses sustained by the Russian, and certainly by the Ukrainian side. There are varying expert findings concerning losses incurred by Russia’s regulatory authorities. In my opinion, the greatest damage was done to [our bilateral] stable and predictable business and general human contacts. It had taken us years to establish them. Russia will remain Ukraine’s strategic and reliable partner, so any disagreements between the two countries should be resolved in a calm and pragmatic way, at the negotiating table. That way, I’m convinced, all our bilateral cooperation problems will be effectively resolved.”
What do you think the Ukraine-Customs-Union strategy will be all about?
“Let me stress the importance of Ukraine’s cooperation with the Customs Union as this country’s major foreign trade partner, with a commodity turnover upward of 60 billion dollars in 2012. One of the current Ukrainian administration’s priorities is to develop a model of cooperation that would be acceptable to Ukraine and to the integrated Eurasian Union. This priority is especially important in view of certain fundamental changes that will take place in Ukraine, particularly in the sphere of trade, after signing the Association Agreement.
“In view of Ukraine’s top-level relationships with the Customs Union countries, Ukraine is making every effort to develop an adequate mutually acceptable format of cooperation with the integrated Customs Union and its supranational governing body, the Eurasian Economic Commission. In July 2013, the Ukrainian Cabinet appointed Viktor Suslov (who had taken part in EEC sessions) as its EEC representative. Efforts are being made to enhance his EEC representative powers, including by the establishment of an official representation in Moscow.
“By stepping up Ukraine’s dialog with the EEC, one ought to have in mind the interests – primarily the business ones – of the parties concerned, just as it should not run counter to Ukraine’ international obligations and national legislation. Emphasis on pragmatism, business, rapprochement, solutions to problems of mutual concern should be a major trend in this future cooperation.”
What about Ukraine’s investigation into the death of four Ukrainian nationals in the Sea of Azov incident? What is your Embassy’s attitude toward the trial over the Greenpeace activists in Murmansk, with Ruslan Yakushev, a Ukrainian national, among the defendants?
“Criminal proceedings in Russia, in the aftermath of an incident that took place on the Sea of Azov, July 17, 2013, including those against the Ukrainian national, Oleksandr Fedorovych, and another Ukrainian national, member of the Arctic Sunrise crew detained by Russian authorities in Murmansk, September 24, 2003, are being closely watched by the Ukrainian embassy and its consulates general in Rostov-on-Don and St. Petersburg, with jurisdiction over the Krasnodar and Murmansk regions. The Ukrainian side regards the actions of the Russian Coast Guard crews on the Sea of Azov as disproportionate and inadequate, considering that they resulted in the death of four Ukrainian nationals, leaving one Ukrainian national, Oleksandr Fedorovych, badly injured. Fedorovych is pressed charges as per Section 3, Article 256 (illegal extraction of biological resources) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He is residing in a rented flat, in the town of Yeysk, being free on his own recognizance. The pertinent Ukrainian consulate is providing the fisherman with what legal and material aid he requires. The man is in need of medical treatment. We demand that the Russian side carry out a comprehensive and unbiased investigation into the abovementioned incident. Diplomatic and legal steps are being taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine to replace the legal preventive measure against the Ukrainian national, Oleksandr Fedorovych, as a victim of the abovementioned incident, with one that will not restrict his freedom, so he can return to Ukraine. I hope the Russian side will have a positive solution to this problem in the near future, in the spirit of strategic partnership with Ukraine, also on the strength of relevant international legal instruments.
“The Ukrainian side is taking constant political and diplomatic steps aimed at defending the rights and interests of another Ukrainian national, Ruslan Yakushev, detained in Murmansk and pressed charges as per Section 3, Article 227 (piracy) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Shortly after detention, he was visited by the Acting Consul General of Ukraine in St. Petersburg who provided him with legal assistance. Yakushev is not a Greenpeace activist and he was the ship’s cook. He needs medical help. The [Ukrainian] Consulate General in St. Petersburg has officially contacted Russia’s authorities and requested that the current legal preventive measure be replaced with another one that would not restrict his human rights and freedoms. The Embassy [in Moscow], in view of that request, forwarded a note to the Russian side, requesting that expedient measures be taken to replace that legal preventive measure (detention) taken against the Ukrainian national, Ruslan Yakushev, with one that would not restrict his freedom – namely, releasing him on his own recognizance. All the Ukrainian detainees are being provided consular and legal aid. Each has a defense counsel.”
Ukraine and Russia have been giving each other the cold shoulder of late. Why? Any bad effects on you and embassy staff?
“I believe that there is a tangible emotional aspect to your questions. It is true that some media have been mulling over the current status and prospects of Ukraine-Russia relationships – after Ukraine signs the Association Agreement. I must point out that some media reports have failed to reflect the actual status of the bilateral relations. There is a tight Ukraine-Russia intergovernmental dialog schedule. It is being conducted on all levels. The economic [business] one is a priority, of course. Settlement of a number of issues in the trade and economic sphere is on top of the Ukrainian agenda. This includes access of Ukrainian goods to the Russian market. An active dialog on the subject is underway; we are looking for mutually acceptable options… We’re also working out arrangements for the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to see each other and talk during a meeting of the CIS heads of state, scheduled for October 25 in Minsk. The prime ministers of Ukraine and Russia met and talked during the 68th UN General Assembly.
“Arrangements are being made for a meeting of the prime ministers of Ukraine and Russia during the 8th Session of the Subcommittee on International Cooperation, Ukrainian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, scheduled for October 28-29, 2013, in Rostov-on-Don. Apparently, the intergovernmental schedule is tight, and I’ve referred to several recent points on the bilateral agenda. In other words, the Embassy has sustained no bad political effects, save for the weather: this fall in Moscow is colder than usual.”
All of Ukraine’s diplomatic missions and consular offices will mark the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor. What about your Embassy in Moscow?
“This Embassy has always observed the Holodomor anniversary. Arrangements have been made to honor the 80th 1932-33 Holodomor anniversary and the Victims Remembrance Day, October 22, on the embassy premises, by having the National Flag fly at half-mast, laying flowers and rye ears to the monument to the victims of the Holodomor, erected on Embassy premises, followed by a minute of silence, then lighting candles. In addition, we’re making arrangements for a Holodomor memorial service in a Moscow church. A number of commemorative events will take place at the National Cultural Center of Ukraine in Moscow.”