The following is a transcript of comments by H. E. Mr. Vitaly Churkin following a meeting of the UN Security Council on 28 February 2014. A recording is available at webtv.un.org.
Well, you know the Russian Federation is of course at least as interested as anybody else in the stability and prosperity of Ukraine. In fact, I would claim that, for obvious reasons of geography and history, we are much more interested in that than some others who profess their knowledge about which way Ukraine and the Ukrainian people would like to go. And maybe this is one of the reasons of the current crisis in Ukraine, that too many visitors were claiming they knew the path which the Ukrainians should be taking, rather than allowing the proper political process in that country.
Speaking about this particular meeting, I think its value for us was that it allowed us to retrace the crisis in Ukraine, and particularly the [. . .] current stage of the crisis in Ukraine. From our point of view, the crucial element of this instability and the problems in various parts of Ukraine is that the February 21 agreement was discarded immediately after it was signed.
You will recall that there were some key elements in that agreement. First of all, the agreement envisaged a constitutional process where, with the consultation of everybody in Ukraine, they will produce a constitution which will take care of the interests of all the players, all the actors, all the regions of there. The second element was that there should be a government of national unity. And the third element is that the radicals, those people carrying weapons in the streets, should lay down their arms. And of course the presidential election was envisaged towards the end of the year, and there was also an important element of the joint investigation by opposition and the authorities, including international factors, of violence which has taken place in Ukraine in the course of the crisis.
Unfortunately, all of those things were discarded. And it created the current situation [of] instability and the current situation of concern in some regions of the country of where things were going, because the government which was formed cannot be described by any definitional standard as a government of national unity because it contains only people from [. . .] particular regions of the country: Central and Western Ukraine. It does not contain representatives from various political forces. Therefore, it is something which is causing concern in some parts of Ukraine, especially [since] almost the first decision which was taken by the Rada after President Yanukovych left Kyiv was to abrogate the law on the languages, which was adopted just two years ago in 2012, after [. . .] a very difficult process leading to [. . .] adopting that agreement. So obviously it was seen, as we understand it, by people in a number of regions of Ukraine as the effort of the people who found themselves in power in Kyiv. [It] was not to bring about a democratic society, but to impose their political will on the rest of the country.
So in our view, this is what caused a very bitter reaction in some parts of Ukraine, including Crimea, where they saw efforts to intimidate various political players. For example, this announcement that the so-called “friendship train” is going to be sent to Crimea. From our Soviet past, we know what it is. There were indeed friendship trains, people traveling from one region to another, like youth groups, et cetera, et cetera. There it was obviously meant as a sign of [. . .] exercising force and intimidation on various political factions in Crimea, the way we saw it happening in Kyiv before.
So the international community first [needs] to think of how to bring about this political process which was envisaged in February the 21st agreement, and I think that only that would provide solid ground for various forms of assistance, including financial assistance, to Ukraine, which some colleagues are talking about. But we are not prepared to provide when Russia came in with its offer of financial assistance in the course of the crisis.
Question: Sir, thank you. Ambassador, there has been talk today of an international mediation mission. Is that something you would approve of, join, or just ignore?
Churkin: It’s something which needs to be discussed and analyzed. If this idea of sending [Secretary-General Special Envoy] Mr. Serry to the Crimea . . . well, the point I made in consultation is that we need to ask the authorities in the Crimea what they feel about this kind of a mission. As a matter of principle, we are [. . .] against [. . .] imposed mediation. If they are comfortable with that, of course, we would have nothing against it.
Question: Ambassador, you just mentioned the President of Ukraine, Yanukovych. You saw the press conference today. What do you think about what he said, that he’s still the President of Ukraine?
Churkin: Well, we think that the legal aspects of declaring him to be not the president any longer are very questionable. This is our view.
Question: Ambassador, actually, [the] Ambassador of Ukraine just told us before, he recorded and he presented us with some of the units and the helicopters that are presented by [the] Russian Federation. He even agreed with the qualification of journalists that it was [an] act of aggression. Later he reiterated. What [do] you say, how do you describe the presence of the military units from Russia?
Churkin: Of course, as you know, we have an agreement with Ukraine on the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet with a base in Sevastopol, and we are acting within the framework of that agreement. I understand that my Ukrainian colleague tried to distance himself from this definition of aggression. If, in fact, he were to use that definition, that would, of course, be completely unacceptable.
Question: Do you believe that if Mr. Yanukovych remained in Kyiv, he would have been allowed to practice, to exercise his constitutional rights?
Churkin: No, this is exactly the problem, that what happened there was that immediately after this agreement was signed, and also . . . I mean, not just by President Yanukovych and the opposition leaders, but also the signatures were affixed by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland, so sort of supported by the European Union. Immediately, there were threats that they will be storming the presidential residence unless he resigns by 10:00 the next morning. [My understanding is that] that is what caused him to leave the city, and that of course was not something which was envisaged in the agreement. That was a clear breach of that agreement.
Question: There seems to be a move to get the International Monetary Fund there very quickly, offering money, and I know Russia’s a member of it. Would you participate in that IMF process?
Churkin: We are prepared to discuss various approaches to dealing with a very dramatic economic situation in Ukraine. For us, coming from the Russian perspective, it is somewhat difficult to discuss it specifically because we don’t know what the program of this government is going to be, what kind of a government it is going to be. Is it going to be a government which will be supported by [a] broad segment of [the] Ukrainian population? So we are open to the idea of the international community needing to help Ukraine, but there are too many question marks.
Question: Ambassador, can I just ask you a further question about the military movements in the Crimea, and hopefully you can clear some of this up for us, because there’ve been reports of armed men at airports, reports of more military helicopters coming into Crimea. Have you brought in extra forces? Can you clear up the situation for us?
Churkin: We actually have not. We are trying to ask our colleagues to postpone this meeting until tomorrow to get some more information, but they wanted to go ahead now. We didn’t want to create a problem. But I don’t have this specific information. I recall from history books that when World War I started, some newspapers in the United Kingdom reported that they saw Russian Cossacks at the railway station. So, you know, those reports, they are not always true.
Question: Ambassador, is Russia willing, though, regardless of what the situation is now–I mean it may be a military intervention or it may not; we’d like to get the clarification–but is Russia willing to militarily intervene in Ukraine to achieve your political goals?
Churkin: [laughs] Really. Even the question is aggravating.
Question: How do you view the role of Mr. Robert Serry in Kyiv? Has he been in touch with the Russians–
Churkin: [interrupting] We are not concerned about the Middle East peace process. We are concerned that he has been pushed into this thing, and about his trip . . . it’s a serious issue. We think that, unfortunately, at various stages of his campaign, he was sort of played with by the new Ukrainian authorities. For instance, the first meeting he had with the new Chairman of the Rada, they–their press service–reported that he supported the current processes, and what it meant under those circumstances was not clear to us. Because the day before, there was [the] February 21 agreement, which was supported by the Secretary-General, so if his representative was there, one would expect him to support this agreement which was signed the day before. Then we were given the explanation that he didn’t really say it, he didn’t mean it, what he said was completely different, so he is of course treading very difficult ground. As I say, if you are asking again about the possibility of his trip to Crimea, if the authorities in the Crimea are okay with that, I mean, why not? But it’s not a situation where one can improvise. Unfortunately, I think we have seen too much improvisation rather than sticking to the solid ground of February the 21st agreement.
Question: Ambassador, when there was the Syrian situation–the beginning of the Syrian crisis–you said that the Western countries–the United States, France, England–they were meddling, they were creating a situation that [would] get worse. I remember, I was here, you said something like that. How do you judge what the European Union, the United States–in this situation, this crisis in Ukraine [. . .] are you ready to say something similar? Do you think that they behave in a way that they shouldn’t?
Churkin: First of all, I don’t want to draw any parallels between Syria and Ukraine. But secondly, yes. We definitely saw some imposed mediation, and some people who were trying to determine for Ukraine what they wanted. You remember the footage–when the Speaker of the Parliament from one of the Baltic countries was speaking at the opposition rally, [and] then Foreign Minister of Germany was actually marching in the demonstration with the opposition. Now we are going to have a referendum on the independence of Scotland, so can we expect Baltic politicians marching there among those who are pitching for independence? Speaking at rallies at Edinburgh? Let’s see if this is going to happen.
So some of those things were quite graphic, and in our view had nothing to do completely with the idea of non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign countries. I mean, they emphasize sovereignty, but they behave as if Ukraine was a province of the European Union. Not even a country, but a province of the European Union. And that of course is, I think, at least impolite towards our Ukrainian friends.
But then, maybe more importantly, there was an effort to determine for Ukraine what they need to do. You alluded to President Yanukovych. I think he mentioned it briefly in today’s press statement. They did realize, the Ukrainian authorities at that time, that the signing of that association agreement would entail very grave economic consequences for them, and they tried to buy some time. Having a deal with Russia, et cetera, et cetera, takes some time to think about it. And you see what happened. They were crowded in telling that they were doing the wrong thing, and this whole trouble started.
It shouldn’t have started at all. I mean, they had a democratically elected president who had majority in a democratically elected parliament, and his election was coming up a year from now. Then he offered the post of Prime Minister to Mr. Yanukovych–to Mr. Yatsenyuk, who now became Prime Minister. He could have taken the post. He could have signed the association agreement with the European Union if he wanted to. He should have taken the consequences, responsibility for the consequences, which would have been quite dire. But then, they weren’t for toppling the president and [. . .] regime change operation, which, you know, turned into a very dramatic and traumatic experience for the entire Ukrainian society.
So yes, I think I can say that that interference from our Western colleagues has not been helpful and they have a certain responsibility for those dramatic consequences, and also responsibility for not following through with the agreement they themselves brought about and affixed their signatures to on February the 21st.
Question: What’s the best way to solve the crisis, Ambassador, and what is Moscow’s bottom line?
Churkin: The best way to resolve the crisis is to look hard again at February the 21st agreement and try to do things the way they were described there. They need to have a constitutional dialogue and process of forming a new constitution. They need to refrain from conducting a hasty presidential election which most likely is going to create more friction within the country. They need to stop trying to intimidate other regions and other political forces. They need not just to declare, but to show in their actual policies, that this is about a national reconciliation, this is about national unity, this is about territorial integrity of Ukraine. They need to work towards establishing a common ground there, and unfortunately, so far we don’t see that in practice. We hear some declarations to that effect, but we don’t see that in practice.
Thank you very much.