State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, December 26, 2017
Question: Mr Karasin, people have been dying in Donbass for four years now. The Minsk Agreements have not been acted upon for the same amount of time. It appears that Kiev does not plan to comply, nor does it plan to enact the law on the special status of Donbass. Wouldn’t it be better in this situation if Russia recognised the independence of these republics from Ukraine, as their leaders insist?
Grigory Karasin: Our position on this matter is clear. In accordance with the Minsk Agreements, Donbass should be granted a special status within Ukraine. In reality, we are witnessing the reverse process. Instead of reintegrating the region into the common political and economic space, the Ukrainian government is actually pushing the southeast out of the country with its own hands. Kiev is using every method it can, stooping to openly cruel and cynical ones ranging from stopping social and pension payments, disconnecting the water and power supply all the way to the attempts to isolate Donbass by imposing an almost total blockade. All of that is being done for one reason, which is to provoke mass discontent and force the region to capitulate regardless of the opinion of the majority of its people who do not want to put up with the Kiev politics.
Such actions run counter to the Minsk Agreements, which re-affirm the need to improve the humanitarian situation, to ensure economic recovery of southeastern Ukraine, and to resume trade with our country.
With regard to the future of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, it’s up to the people living there who must decide on the forms of state, political, economic and social coexistence with their neighbours which they will accept and be comfortable with. I am confident that a reasonable solution to the current crisis is unlikely to be found without a direct, honest and constructive dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. Alas, this is precisely what the Kiev authorities are avoiding in every possible way.
Question: Recent reports say Canada has added Ukraine to the list of countries it is allowed to supply certain types of weapons to. US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Washington has decided to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine to ensure protection of its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Given that Russian military observers have left Donbass, what will Russia do in the event that Washington and Ottawa do supply weapons to Kiev, besides the regular expressions of concern?
Grigory Karasin: We frankly tell our US partners about our concerns about their plans to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. We were extremely disappointed with the recent reports about US authorities issuing a licence to one of the US arms manufacturers to supply Kiev with large-calibre sniper rifles. This way the Washington hawks believe they are trying to raise the cost of the Donbass conflict for Russia. This is very flawed and dangerous logic. It leads to war, not to peace.
By making a decision to send such weapons to Kiev, the US and Canada are opening Pandora's box and, as a matter of fact, are being drawn into an internal Ukrainian conflict, re-igniting and internationalising it. However, few people seem to even think about the consequences of this move. Several hundred American, Canadian and other NATO military instructors now “working” in Ukraine will now be perceived differently by many of the locals – as full participants in an undeclared civil war in the southeast of the country. Today the Ukrainians’ attitude towards the events in Donbass as well as to all the soldiers of fortune who have arrived in their country is already rather ambivalent.
Furthermore, can Washington and Ottawa guarantee that their lethal weapons will not fall into the wrong hands? Won’t terrorists get hold of them? Or, for example, couldn’t some enterprising Ukrainian businessmen sell them to the Middle East or to another hotspot, somewhere especially sensitive for the US? We have directly posed all these questions to our overseas partners, and have urged them to once again analyse what such ill-considered steps can lead to.
Question: US Department of State Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Walker has said that the UN peacekeeping mission in Donbass should provide for the presence of heavy weapons and have access to the border. The Russian proposal on granting security to OSCE observers does not suit the United States. Does this mean that the US has decided to facilitate a return of Donbass to Ukraine by force under the cover of the UN mandate?
Grigory Karasin: For better understanding I would like to recall the gist of the Russian proposal on UN presence in Donbass. Russia suggested that no matter where the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observers work or move, they should always be accompanied by UN security officers. The UN contingent is being introduced into the conflict area after the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the disengagement of the sides’ forces and facilities. Its deployment should be by all means negotiated with the authorities both in Kiev as well as Donetsk and Lugansk. This initiative corresponds to the spirit and letter of the Minsk agreements that are the foundation of Ukraine’s domestic settlement. The UN troops will fulfil a secondary, auxiliary role as regards the SMM (its mandate does not change). All existing negotiating venues also remain intact – the Minsk Contact Group and the Normandy format.
In response we are being told not to focus on the political aspects of a settlement, that is, the issues concerning the special status of Donbass, amnesty, preparations for the elections via direct dialogue of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk and instead introduce the UN military-civilian administration that will be in charge of everything that is happening in the region. This rules out the Minsk process because it is based on direct negotiations on the afore-mentioned aspects. This is an attempt not only to turn everything upside down but also to bury the Minsk agreements altogether.
We have told our US partners that it is totally wrong to send such signals to Ukraine. This will only further encourage them not to fulfil their commitments under the Minsk agreements that are already being neglected by Kiev. In fact, Kiev official representatives are talking about this in public, claiming that they can resolve the Donbass problem by force as well. We are urging Washington to stop such provocations.
Question: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said Kiev will not make any concessions as regards the potential introduction of UN peacekeepers in Donbass. Will Russia, in turn, veto the draft UN resolution on peacekeepers that was prepared by Ukraine, the United States, Germany and France?
Grigory Karasin: We realise that Kiev and its allies are violently opposed to our compromise initiative on instituting a UN mission to help protect the OSCE SMM observers in Donbass. As I have already said, instead we are offered an unacceptable plan of a peacekeeping operation aimed at returning the region back under Ukraine’s control by force with the help of an international contingent. It is clear that the battle of proposals will not produce any effect, but we need to start with something. Our version of UN involvement has already been outlined in the relevant draft resolution of the UN Security Council. It seems to us to be the best option, although we understand that we cannot hope for its unanimous support in the current conditions. Let’s discuss and think together. It is necessary to move from words to deeds.
Question: US Ambassador to Georgia Ian C. Kelly has said that Washington will maintain particularly intensive security cooperation with Tbilisi. In November, the US Department of State supported the sale of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to Georgia. Considering the fact that Georgia has been refusing for nine years to sign a document on the non-use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, could the events of 2008 be repeated?
Grigory Karasin: Indeed, the Georgian delegation has turned down another draft joint statement by the participants on the non-use of force during the latest round of Geneva discussions. We would like to note that the point at issue is a joint statement by the participants, rather than the signing of the document. But the sides, nevertheless, agreed to continue working on the document next year.
Naturally, in this context the efforts of the United States and other NATO members to militarise Georgia are a cause for serious concern in the region. Unfortunately, instead of improving relations with its neighbours, Tbilisi has become actively involved in implementing NATO’s strategy for containing Russia. Obviously, this does not strengthen Georgia’s security. Regarding our Abkhazian and South Ossetian allies, they are now reliably shielded from a repetition of the August 2008 events. The struggle continues between the different approaches towards ensuring South Caucasus stability.