State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin’s interview with Izvestia, May 14, 2019
Question: How do you assess the results of the presidential election in Ukraine? What do you think caused such an advantage in favour of a candidate without any political experience, which played a historic role?
Grigory Karasin: The presidential campaign that has ended in Ukraine can hardly be described as a model of democratic, free and independent expression of will. Numerous violations and falsifications were mentioned in reports from international monitoring missions and in comments by the campaign participants and local observers. The authorities in Kiev used this campaign as just another chance to whip up the anti-Russian hysteria. Most of the candidates, including the current head of state, Petr Poroshenko, made use of frantic Russophobic rhetoric in an effort to divert voter attention from serious problems inside the country.
Despite all the campaign technology and administrative tricks used by the ruling elite, the citizens of Ukraine clearly expressed their negative attitude towards Poroshenko’s failed policy and their hope of change for the better.
Question: Does Russia ultimately recognise the results of the presidential election in Ukraine?
Grigory Karasin: Moscow takes note of the election results. The viability and effectiveness of the new Ukrainian leadership will largely be determined by its willingness to adequately assess the current realities and the challenges facing the country, to take responsibility for the decisions made, including the settlement of the Donbass crisis on the basis of the Minsk Agreements.
Question: What prospects have emerged for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine since the change of government in Kiev?
Grigory Karasin: It is yet difficult to talk about the prospects for an internal Ukrainian settlement; too little time has passed since the change of government in Kiev. Moreover, president elect Vladimir Zelensky has not even taken office yet. The statements made by him personally and his team members are sometimes contradictory and do not give a real idea of the new Ukrainian leader’s political programme. We hope that after his inauguration, Zelensky will more clearly define his priorities, including the settlement in Donbass. So let's not jump ahead of ourselves or make hasty conclusions.
Question: In what format is Moscow ready to work with the new Ukrainian government? How does Russia feel about Vladimir Zelensky’s proposal to involve the USA and Great Britain in the negotiating process on Donbass?
Grigory Karasin: As to the proposals regarding the United States and UK joining the Normandy format, here, first of all, one should focus on the actual expected effect of such a change. It seems that, in its present form, this negotiating format has worked well enough. Suffice it to mention the Package of Measures developed by Minsk, which was approved by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, and subsequently by the UN Security Council. To this day, these agreements remain the only basis for the reconciliation, its roadmap.
Other important agreements that could really advance the peace process were reached at the highest level in Paris and Berlin in 2015-2016, also in the Normandy format. It is not our fault that their implementation has not yet been achieved.
A conclusion suggests itself. The point is not the specific participants of any negotiating format, but the absence of political will on the Ukrainian side to fulfill its commitments. We expect that Zelensky will act responsibly and will not avoid direct dialogue with his fellow citizens in Donbass. This is the main guarantee of progress towards a sustainable peace in Ukraine.
Question: Moscow reacted with restraint to Vladimir Zelensky’s victory, noting that the voting result reflects the hope of Ukrainians for change. Are there any prospects for change in Russian-Ukrainian relations? Is there a feeling that Petr Poroshenko’s policies have destroyed the traditional ties to such an extent that it is almost impossible to normalise bilateral cooperation?
Grigory Karasin: As President Vladimir Putin said, we really want to normalise relations with Ukraine, and are ready to restore them in full, but we cannot do it unilaterally.
This cannot be done without Kiev. However, up to now, they have acted on the “breaking is not making” principle and, regardless of the damage to the interests of the country and its people, they consciously destroyed everything that still somehow linked Ukraine with Russia. I cannot say how this might change with Zelensky. Poroshenko’s legacy on the Russian track is a heavy burden of problems. How Kiev will now approach them, whether the new Ukrainian government will make an effort to clear our bilateral relations from the artificially-created barriers and obstacles of the past five years will determine the future of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation.