State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s interview with the Interfax news agency, December 25, 2017
Question: What are the prospects for the Russian idea of a UN support mission to protect the OSCE SMM in Donbass in the context of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin’s statements about Ukraine, Germany and France drafting a UN Security Council resolution on peacekeepers? Neither Russia nor Ukraine is willing to make any concessions. Does this mean that the idea of a UN support mission has been suspended and that no decision will be taken on it in the near future?
Grigory Karasin: First I would like to say a few words about the Russian initiative for using UN peacekeepers in Donbass. President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed in early September to establish a UN Support Mission to Protect the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Southeast Ukraine. The idea is that UN peacekeepers would protect the security of OSCE SMM observers in the disengagement areas on both sides of the contact line, as well as during their patrol missions in other conflict regions in keeping with their mandate under the Minsk Agreements. The UN mission is to be deployed to the conflict zone following the disengagement of the conflicting parties’ weapons and forces. The deployment of the UN mission is to be coordinated with the authorities in Kiev, as well as Donetsk and Lugansk.
The Minsk Agreements will remain the basis for a settlement in Ukraine, while the UN mission would play a secondary or auxiliary role with regard to the SMM, whose mandate will not be changed. All the existing negotiating platforms, including the Minsk Contact Group and the Normandy format, will be preserved.
This initiative has been advanced in the same spirit as our previous proposal on issuing weapons to the OSCE SMM. We have done this to accommodate President Poroshenko, who complained about threats to the OSCE mission and its inefficiency. It turned out, however, that the OSCE was not prepared to accept our proposal. Kiev is not happy with our initiative either. They say that Russia allegedly wants to freeze the current status quo in Donbass and to restrict the OSCE operations in Ukraine and demand that a large UN mission be deployed throughout southeast Ukraine, primarily on the border with Russia, which would make an “occupation force” out of the UN mission. They demand that the UN mission be given broad military and civilian administrative powers. Regrettably, our European and American partners have supported this approach, which actually amounts to a revision of the Minsk Agreements and their consistency, and would eventually bury the Minsk process. This is definitely unacceptable for us.
We hope that the Ukrainian party will take a constructive stand. This is a test that will reveal Kiev’s real peace intentions in Ukraine.
Question: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has noted different Russian and US approaches towards the Ukrainian peace settlement. What are the prospects for merging approaches towards this matter under the Surkov-Volker format, and when can their next meeting take place? And to what extent will the US decision to supply weapons to Ukraine complicate this process?
Grigory Karasin: One should not expect both countries to merge their approaches towards issues of the domestic Ukrainian peace settlement in conditions of Washington’s increasingly greater temptation to “punish Moscow” for Kiev’s failure to honour the Minsk agreements. We don’t perceive this as a tragedy, and we continue to explain the essence of our position on Ukraine to US partners, and we are urging them not to search for confrontationist options for resolving the current Ukrainian crisis. In this context, various contacts between Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov and US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker remain important. They have met three times, and they have no intention of stopping their dialogue that allows them to exchange opinions in a candid as well as trustful manner. To the best of my knowledge, their next meeting may take place in January 2018. The meeting’s exact date and venue will be coordinated via diplomatic channels.
We cannot help but feel worried about the more frequent statements regarding the need to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine being made in Washington and Kiev. In the current fragile situation, the appearance of weapons in the conflict zone can only provoke a new spiral of tension and no one can guarantee that such weapons will not fall into the hands of revenge-seeking Ukrainian servicemen dreaming of another blitzkrieg to “liberate” Donbass. We hope that there are reasonable people in the White House who realise the possible results of such actions, and that they will prevent such things taking place. We hope that they will prevent the delivery of such weapons to hotbeds of tension, seen as “painful” by the United States, via Ukraine, and that they will prevent terrorists from using these weapons. But, in the long run, it is up to Washington to make this choice, and it will also assume responsibility for possible negative consequences.
Question: What do you think about the results of a meeting between advisers to the leaders of Normandy Four countries? Do you think there is any need for a meeting at the level of foreign ministers or presidents in the foreseeable future? Are talks underway to organise such a meeting? Is the United States likely to become involved in this format, one way or another?
Grigory Karasin: I will start with the last question. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly noted that, on the whole, Russia does not object to expanding the Normandy format by involving the United States. However, all other members of this group should approve this option, which has not occurred yet. Incidentally, representatives of the Trump administration have repeatedly noted that they are not very eager to become full-fledged Normandy Four participants. Today, they are quite satisfied with the contacts between Mr Surkov and Mr Volker who review the situation with implementing the Minsk agreements and topical matters concerning the peace settlement.
Over a year ago, on October 19, 2016, Berlin hosted a Normandy Four summit, with all the participants reaffirming their commitment to the Minsk agreements as the only foundation for a peace settlement and the need for unfailingly honouring them without any omissions or free interpretations. This became the summit’s main result and serves as a starting point for coordinating the algorithm of future actions to implement the available agreements. Following the summit, the advisers of the Normandy Four leaders continued their previously launched discussion of a balance between security and political elements. The relevant agreements are not being coordinated as quickly as one would like, due to Kiev’s reluctance to honour its obligations under the Minsk agreements.
The leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine are well aware of the situation in the negotiating process. They have repeatedly exchanged opinions on this score during their telephone conversations, and they are ready to continue dialogue. But any new summit or regular meeting at the level of the Normandy Four foreign ministers is still out of the question.
Question: The Venice Commission has recommended Kiev to amend its Law on Education. But Kiev is not willing to make any exemptions for Russian speakers. Will Moscow undertake to do something to protect Russian speakers in this context?
Grigory Karasin: We support the conclusions of the Venice Commission that the scandalous Ukrainian Law on Education should be revised to remove the discriminating provisions that infringe on the minority language rights, in particular the rights of the Russian-speaking population. We plan to continue working with our foreign partners at the bilateral level and on international platforms and will also use the humanitarian organisations concerned to increase pressure on Kiev in this matter. The legitimate rights of millions of Russian speakers in Ukraine must not be infringed upon by nationalists in Kiev.
Question: The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in the latter half of January to discuss a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. What does Moscow expect from these talks? What matters are on the agenda? Can any breakthrough agreements be reached in this respect?
Grigory Karasin: An Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Nagorno-Karabakh was held in Geneva in October 2017 with support from the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group after a long break. The parties have agreed to stimulate the talks and to take additional measures to ease tension between the conflicting parties on the contact line. In November, the Minsk Group’s co-chairs held separate consultations with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In December, they organised the ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna. The parties discussed the key aspects of the settlement on which they cannot reach a consensus. They also talked about possible measures that can help de-escalate the situation in the conflict zone. Concrete proposals on the expansion of the OSCE mission have been submitted to the parties. The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to resume talks on these and other aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in January 2018 with the participation of the three intermediaries.
Russia welcomes the revitalisation of the talks, including the upcoming ministerial meeting, and would like to see a practical outcome. We support the striving of Armenia and Azerbaijan to find compromise solutions based on the available arrangements. Russia will continue to work together with the other co-chairs of the Minsk Group to provide mediation services in order to achieve a peaceful settlement of this drawn-out conflict. This common position of Russia, the United States and France has been clearly formulated in a joint statement by the heads of the three countries’ delegations at the OSCE Ministerial Council held in Vienna in early December.
Question: Moscow has recently said that the delivery of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to Georgia might induce Tbilisi to launch “new dangerous adventures in the region.” What specific Georgian actions does Moscow fear? Will any preventive measures be implemented?
Grigory Karasin: We are not afraid of Tbilisi, but we are seriously concerned with the actions of its Western allies. It appears that they have completely forgotten about the consequences of Georgia’s previous militarisation. Less than ten years after the barbaric attack on South Ossetia, NATO continues to rapidly expand its military infrastructure in Georgia. There are plans to deliver up-to-date weapons systems worth many millions of dollars to Tbilisi, including French-made air defence systems and US-made anti-tank guided missiles. The United States is beginning to implement a combat-training programme for Georgian service personnel.
Although the incumbent Georgian government is saying that it has no intention of attacking Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi is still reluctant to sign any agreements on the non-use of force with Sukhum and Tskhinval. One cannot give any guarantees that bellicose approaches towards former Georgian territories will not prevail once again in Georgia which is equipped with Western weapons. Naturally, we will not leave our allies alone in the face of a hypothetical aggression. But, considering NATO’s presence in Georgia, a situation spelling a substantial danger for international stability may emerge in that case.
Therefore, at this stage, I would like to urge those countries and organisations involved in Georgia’s militarisation to think about the negative consequences of their actions. We are closely following this process, and we are adequately adjusting our assistance to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the area of security.
Question: After the defeat of ISIS in Syria, terrorists started redeploying their forces to Afghanistan. Are we cooperating with Central Asian countries for neutralising this threat, and do we heed this fact in our military plans? How reliably is the CIS-Afghanistan border protected? Are we helping CIS countries to strengthen the border?
Grigory Karasin: Russia and states neighbouring on Afghanistan cannot help but feel worried about the processes directly influencing regional security matters. Increasingly greater threats emanating from the Middle East and the aggravated situation in Afghanistan make it necessary to constantly improve the defence of southern borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Collective Security Strategy of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) until 2025 heeds a possible invasion or penetration of the CIS by paramilitary units and militants of international terrorist and extremist organisations.
Collective Rapid Deployment Forces of the Central Asian Region and their air wing (an air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan) were established with the support of all CSTO member states. They were later beefed up with the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces and Peacekeeping and Collective Aviation Forces. Today, they form the foundation of the CSTO’s Troops (Collective Forces). The relevant agencies for combating terrorism, illegal drug trafficking and illegal immigration have been established under CSTO and are functioning effectively. The 201st Russian Military Base in Tajikistan acts as a weighty deterrent. A Border Cooperation Group of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is working actively in this country.
In addition to all this, Russia continues to provide military-technical assistance to the states in the region for the purpose of strengthening the border with Afghanistan. This includes personnel training programmes, including at Russian military education facilities, methodological support, tactical information exchanges and bilateral armed forces’ modernisation programmes with a number of the countries in the region. Joint training sessions, as well as large-scale CSTO exercises, are held in Tajikistan on a regular basis.
Question: What do you think about the prospects for expanding bilateral relations between Russia and Moldova in the context of Chisinau’s latest unfriendly actions with regard to Moscow and with due consideration for diametrically opposite positions of President Igor Dodon and the Government of Moldova to build upon relations with Russia?
Grigory Karasin: I hope that the time-tested diverse ties between Russia and Moldova will be normalised. It is a dangerous and futile policy to obtain bonuses by ratcheting up an anti-Russia campaign, regardless of what party implements this policy. We are noting all unfriendly actions and adequately evaluating them. It is bad that the interests of a considerable part of the Moldovan society are being damaged.
Moscow continues to advocate constructive dialogue with all government branches in Chisinau and active joint work to implement agreements that have been reached. We are hoping that common sense will prevail.