Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, on the situation in Ukraine
Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, on the situation in Ukraine.
Churkin: We have held a discussion and we heard a briefing of the Secretary General about his trip to Moscow and Kiev. My first impression was that some colleagues in the Security Council were sort of trying to artificially whip up the atmosphere of international crisis. And frankly, I don’t know why they are doing that. Because on one hand they say that we must all have dialogue and look at the situation, avoid further escalation of the crisis. But this effort to whip up artificially this atmosphere of international crisis is not helpful at all. We need to see the situation as it is and the situation is that there is obviously a crisis in Ukraine. We all need to think of how to help the Ukrainians to get out of that crisis and Russia has very specific views about it. We were asked what these views were by our international colleagues and we spelled them out very clearly. The armed groups must be disarmed, the radicals must be reined in, and most importantly there must be a constitutional process, there must be a constitutional assembly. And the results of the constitutional assembly must be put to a referendum and then there will be a situation with a new constitution, all the regions of the country will be comfortable about where they are, about their rights and about where their country is going.
Those messages we’ve sent to our international interlocutors and to the Ukrainians, of course. Ukrainians are also aware of our views, of what needs to be done in their country for it to come out of this crisis. So, for people to say that somehow it is for Russia to make the next move, I did not quite understand from this discussion that we have held in the Security Council what they want of Russia. We made our position clear. From the outset, from the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine our line was to work together with the Ukrainians and the international community in order to help Ukraine. You remember, when this project came up - the Association Agreement with the European Union - the Ukrainians started having doubts about the wisdom of that agreement because of the hardships it would entail for them. They proposed - and we supported that - that we have a trilateral discussion between the European Union, Ukraine and Russia about many economic problems they have. Our position was very clear, we know what Ukrainians should be doing to take their country out of this political crisis, but they seem to be either unwilling or unable to do these things that are required for that.
Our international partners insist that the only way out is to have presidential elections on May 25 - in the situation of political chaos in the country. Are even some regions of the country going to participate on these elections? What will be the effect of those elections if some regions of the country do not participate or the turnout is very low in the course of those elections? Somebody must have a serious look at all this. Somebody must seriously think through what they are doing and the consequences of certain actions they are advocating. So we have serious concerns about where things are going. Another thing, which needs to be added, is that there is no political leader inside who might be able to unite the country. The only politicians that we hear about are extremely divisive for the Ukrainian society. The other thing that is going to come up in next couple of months is most likely dramatic decline of living standards of people because of IMF package, which now has been proposed to them.
So under those circumstances to believe some order is going to be made of the vote on the May 25 and then things will work out is not very responsible. Russia’s position is very clear but they don’t want to accept and understand those things. All they are saying is that they expect something from Russia.
I hope this discussion we have had today may help a little bit. But I’m becoming a little desperate because I know that Foreign Minister Lavrov has spoken very clearly on numerous occasions to Secretary Kerry and other counterparts. President Putin has always been on the phone as you know on numerous occasions with various international political leaders: President Obama, Chancellor Merkel and others and we made our position very clear, our thinking very clear. If they don’t accept it then they shouldn’t blame us for continued destabilization in Ukraine. But it’s not a blame game. We are there to help. They are urging us dialogue, we made our bid in this dialogue. If you want dialogue please respond to what we have been saying. They are responding sometimes, but the responses are that “well the Ukrainians understand the importance of the constitution but can they do it now? can they do the constitution assembly? there is nobody to organize the constitutional assembly”. Well, if there is nobody to organize the constitutional assembly then this is exactly the role of the international community. The contact support groups that we have been proposing to help them organize those things - if there is nobody currently in Ukraine who can take this responsibility of organizing those things. So it’s disappointing that those things, which are obvious to us, do not seem to sink in in the minds of our international interlocutors and our Ukrainian colleagues.
Q: Ambassador, what was your view of hundred countries voting in the UNGA in favor of the GA resolution that said that the referendum was illegal?
Churkin: My view is that it showed that 93 countries have refused to associate themselves with this decision, which is a wrong decision and which is a confrontational decision. Decision which does not correspond to the realities. We know that of those one hundred countries who supported the resolution many were submitted to rather cruel arms-twisting in the course of the preparation for the vote and they were coming up to us apologizing for their vote. But this is political life, you all know that.
Q. Specific question. The Secretary-General has raised a nuclear issue about Ukraine, that agreement means that Ukraine has lost some “nuclear umbrella”. In another words does the nuclear agreement really dictate that any attack on Ukraine should be responded by any other country?
Churkin: First of all, I think it’s quite clear – we should not forget that Non- proliferation treaty is there. The Budapest memorandum was a political declaration and the core of the declaration is the sovereignty of Ukraine. Those, including the United States, who in the course of that crisis frequently violated the sovereignty in Ukraine in creating this crisis and ousting the sitting president of a country, to which they gave assurances of sovereignty, they should assume the responsibility for undermining this memorandum first of all.
Q. Mr. Ambassador, you said that the Russian position is very clear, you’ve been trying to deliver it, President Putin have been trying, Foreign Minister Lavrov and they are not listening. How would you judge Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, when he came to Moscow and then he went to Kiev, did he understand the Russian position? Do you think you could deliver it at least to him? Do you think the Secretary-General can help in this crisis, has he been effective or not?
Churkin: First of all, I think that the Secretary-General has tried to do his best. He requested a meeting with President Putin. He was received by President Putin very quickly, he made a trip to Moscow, he saw President Putin, he saw Minister Lavrov, he went to Kiev, so I think, he did his best. Under the current circumstances, I think, for the Secretary-General and for some others it’s also important not to do too much. Sometimes, when you try too hard you do various things for something to be done, which in fact may turn out to be counterproductive and I hope that it’s not going to happen.
Q. The Secretary-General just told us before that he is concerned about the division of the international community regarding this issue and also he said that somehow, if he understood well, he got assurances from President Putin that there is not going to be another next Russian move within Ukraine.
Churkin: This is what President Putin said in his statement on March 18, when he was speaking about the impending reunification of Russia and Crimea, this is what he said, in fact that was another element of our discussion and again some colleagues were trying to whip up: “the extension of Russian aggression is imminent” or something like that, throwing wild assessments of the presence of our troops allegedly preparing for a war with Ukraine. But over the month of March we’ve had four inspections with 10-12 countries participating under the Vienna document. Than we had inspections from US, Germany and Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty. None of them told us that they saw anything particularly disconcerting. I’m sure that if they saw something dramatic they would raise their voice immediately, but that didn’t happen. Also you’ve probably heard that today President Putin gave instructions to our MOD to return back to Ukraine the military hardware left in Crimea as the Ukranian military departed. I’m a civilian but to me this is not what you do if you plan anything dramatic against a country. Our forces are undergoing a usual routine, doing some training. They are good forced, I must admit, but one shouldn’t worry about any Russian initiative against Ukraine.
Q. As a follow-up, you said yesterday that the south-eastern Ukranians are worried concerning Russian TV channels being turned off…
Churkin: There are many troubling elements about the situation in Ukraine. Russian TV channels being turned off is one of them. People there are used to watching Russian TV, so they see this as something hostile to them, but this is a part of a very complex situation in Ukraine.
Q. Would a Constitutional convention help?
Churkin: In Ukraine they often change the Constitution to suit a particular politician, a particular setup of various political forces at the given moment. This is not healthy of course. That makes people nervous. But also the current Constitution does not provide for sufficient rights for the regions. As you might know from our recent history we changed the Constitution and the President started to appoint governors. We were criticized internationally; it was seen as a non-democratic move. Now we changed this back again as we now reached a new level of our political development, we feel more confident etc.
But this is what they do in Ukraine. They send people from Kiev, sometimes with very dark reputation, notorious corrupt oligarchs, to lead the regions of Ukraine. Of course, people don’t like it. They want to be able themselves to elect their governors, they want to be sure that somebody in Kiev will not switch off Russian language receivers, that they would be able to speak their mother tongue. We believe all these things should be reflected in the new constitution which would become the result of a Constitutional Assembly and a referendum.
Q. For years you were the supporter of the sovereignty and the integrity of the independent states which is not the case now…
Churkin: It is the case. We read the UN charter from cover to cover. The first article of the Charter is about equality and self-determination, than the Charter moves on to speak about sovereignty and territorial integrity. All those are extremely important principles and in each particular case they need to be viewed against the background of historical and political circumstances. We believe that what happened in Crimea is a very special case, the Mother of all sui generis cases as Latin speakers would say. We responded to the will of the people in Crimea as reflected in their referendum. That was the right thing to do.
Q. On the issue of elections in Ukraine. Are you actually calling them to be delayed? As they go ahead for the 25 May you say they won’t be fair. And how do you answer the critics who say that there was a referendum carried out in two weeks in Crimea?
Churkin: First, we believe that the idea of February 21 agreement was right – to have a constitutional reform and then the presidential elections towards the end of 2014. Second, with the kind of public mood and desire of the people to be reunited with Russia which has been expressed over sixty years, they could have done that referendum in two days.