Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko’s interview with the TASS news agency, April 9, 2020
Question: What is the status of the formation of the Advisory Council that the sides tentatively agreed to in Minsk to discuss the political aspects of a settlement of the conflict in Donbass?
Andrey Rudenko: The idea to establish the Advisory Council was needed to reach a compromise. As you known, the Minsk Package of Measures instructs Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk to jointly determine the political and legal aspects of a future co-existence in a single state. The Normandy summit held in Paris last December reaffirmed this goal.
Since Kiev has been avoiding any talks with Donetsk and Lugansk (although it has been doing this de facto in the Contact Group for five years now), it was suggested that various aspects of the special status of Donbass should be settled by the public, by representatives of civil society rather than the authorities.
This is the option that was discussed in Minsk. On March 11, the sides reached an OSCE-backed agreement to create an Advisory Council consisting of public representatives within the Contact Group’s political subgroup.
Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk were expected to negotiate and agree on the procedure for establishing this council in time for the Contact Group meeting on March 26. Regrettably, this did not happen on March 26 or at its next meeting on April 8. We have not been told why the Ukrainian negotiators backed out. It is perplexing and regrettable.
Question: According to Russian plenipotentiary representative in the Contact Group, Boris Gryzlov, Kiev refused to negotiate new sections for the disengagement of forces or take additional ceasefire measures, with the connivance of the OSCE representative. Is there hope that the sides will be able to agree on new sections for the disengagement of forces at least by the end of spring? Where is the discussion of this issue at now?
Andrey Rudenko: Based on the decisions of the Normandy summit in Paris, the sides were supposed to decide on the new sections and carry out the disengagement of forces and equipment by the end of March. Unfortunately, the sides have not even determined the coordinates for new sections, let alone carrying out the process of the disengagement itself. We are doing everything we can to bring the positions of the sides closer and we hope they will come to a mutually acceptable compromise.
Incidentally, the disengagement of forces and equipment has not been fully completed even in the three previous sections in Zolotoye, Petrovskoye and Stanitsa Luganskaya. I am referring to mine clearance and de-fortification. The OSCE SMM has not yet verified the disengagement of forces and weapons.
Question: A new Normandy formant meeting was expected to be held in April. But the terms for holding it have not been observed because the Paris agreements have not been carried out. Will a decision to cancel it be announced? Is it possible to hold it in a video format like the G20 did?
Andrey Rudenko: You are correct that the agreements of the Paris summit have not been fulfilled yet. I am referring to agreements on a ceasefire, the disengagement of forces, the opening of new check points, mine clearance, the implementation of the Steinmeier formula and the reconciliation of the positions on all aspects of the special status of Donbass.
It only makes sense to hold this summit when these agreements are carried out. Incidentally, the decisions of the previous Normandy meeting were fulfilled before the Paris summit, primarily because the new government in Kiev showed political will. Moreover, the final documents of the new summit must be coordinated in advance.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic is changing the schedules and the meeting formats of all international agencies. The Normandy format is no exception.
Question: What does Moscow think about the adoption of the law on land in Ukraine?
Andrey Rudenko: I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment on this issue. I advise you to address our Ukrainian colleagues, those who have insisted on adopting this law over the years.
Question: Have there been difficulties in talks with Ukraine on organising special trains for the repatriation of citizens during the pandemic?
Andrey Rudenko: There has only been one train so far. On March 28, the Ukrzaliznitsa train took 710 Russian citizens to Moscow and carried 710 Ukrainian citizens to Kiev. There were no organisational problems at all. Everything was done promptly and in a businesslike manner. Using this opportunity, I would like to thank the Russian and Ukrainian participants for this.
Question: Has Belarus asked Russia to help counter the coronavirus? Are there plans to do this? Is Russia ready to help other CIS countries?
Andrey Rudenko: Yes, Russia has received relevant requests from Belarus. We are considering them in the spirit of the allied and fraternal relations between our countries.
A total of 10,000 tests for the coronavirus with reagents were delivered to Minsk gratis on April 4. There are also requests for other things. They are all being reviewed now.
In March and early April, Russia sent over 1,500 test kit sets for laboratory diagnostics to CIS states. Each set can be used for 100 tests for the coronavirus. In April and May we will supply them with over 3,000 kit sets.
Russian kits will allow the CIS countries to test nearly 450,000 people.
Question: What events are being planned by the CIS and in what format?
Andrey Rudenko: The CIS Heads of Government Council plans to meet in Tashkent on May 29. The issue of countering the coronavirus infection has been included on the agenda at the initiative of Uzbekistan.
The CIS Coordinating Council is doing a lot to protect national territories from the import and spread of the most dangerous diseases. On March 19, it held an emergency meeting in a video format. The next meeting will take place on April 21.
The EAEU agenda is even more intensive. The Eurasian Intergovernmental Council will meet soon at the level of heads of government, while the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council will meet at the level of heads of state. These meetings will be held in video conference format due to the epidemiological situation. This format has proven useful for the Eurasian Economic Commission Council meetings at the deputy prime minister level, which are now being held on a weekly basis.