Chizhov, who has attended almost all of the 31 EU-Russia summits held so far, met with the Brussels press to discuss the expectations of the 28 January meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the EU institutions.
The Russian diplomat dismissed reports that the EU side had cancelled a dinner traditionally held with Putin at the summit in Brussels to send a message to the leader after a tug-of-war with Moscow over Ukraine.
“There has been some speculation in the media about some downsized summit, which is not the case. We had longer summits, shorter summits, wider summits, narrower summits. Some included all member states, others didn’t”, said Chizhov, who took care to add that the current format (a half-day summit) was not “creating a precedent”.
“This is not going to be a summit about Ukraine. This will be a summit about Russia-EU relations”, Chizhov insisted.
“We are not planning to discuss Ukraine or to take decisions on Ukraine" behind the back of the Ukrainian people and government, he added, saying that the EU had turned down an offer by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to hold a trilateral dialogue between Ukraine, the EU and Russia a few weeks ago.
“President Putin immediately accepted that. The EU swiftly turned it down and has consistently been reconfirming that negative position. Whether the upcoming summit will allow the EU to change its position, we’ll have to see," Chizhov said.
The EU has so far said that association agreements are of bilateral nature and that there is no room for third countries.
‘Termination of violence’
Chizhov added however that he had seen the “alarming TV coverage from central Kyiv” and that this was “a source of serious concern both for Russia and the EU”.
“How to address the situation? Our position is that this should be addressed only through termination of violence and certain measures to pull the country out of deep political crisis,” he said.
The Russian diplomat appeared to use the term “violence” only referring to actions by the demonstrators. According to media reports, the so-called “titushki”, infiltrated among the demonstrators who attack police forces are provocateurs paid by the authorities.
Chizhov offered his analysis on how events in Ukraine had evolved. According to him, the current dramatic events initially started when the Ukrainian leadership took the decision to postpone the signing of the Association Agreement (AA) with the Union.
“There has been some upsurge of emotions on Ukraine, but the decision that the Ukrainian president took to postpone the signing of the AA was his decision, not Moscow’s, not Putin’s. The same applies to a similar decision taken a bit earlier by Armenia,” Chizhov said. Last September Armenia announced that it would join the Russia-led Customs Union, abandoning plans for EU association.
“Whether that resulted in a less than spectacular success of the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit, I don’t know who’s fault is it. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who have been pumping up the historic value of that particular gathering”, he said, in a direct reference to the host country Lithuania and its major supporters, Poland and Sweden.
“What we saw lately is that the situation has degenerated into violent clashes by extremists, fringe groups of extreme nationalists, with forces of law and order,” Chizhov said, clearly taking the side of the Ukrainian authorities in the conflict. Conversely, yesterday Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU would consider possible “actions", which diplomats explained may be a euphemism for sanctions.
Chizhov made use of his trademark dry humour to hint that the protests were not about “European values”.
“During the last few days nobody among those involved in the clashes refer to European values, it seems that nobody remembers them. And the leaders of the opposition, who had been fuelling this dissent, have disappeared from the scene. This is a very troubling development,” he said.
The Russian envoy also hinted that Ukrainian society was in fact divided, repeating earlier statements claiming he doubted that the majority of Ukrainians wanted to be associated with the EU.
“In the broader picture of the entire Ukraine, there is a certain degree of polarisation in the society. We have seen rallies criticising the government for not doing enough to put an end to the violence. We have seen meeting of local legislative bodies, including in Crimea, where people have been publicly speaking about the need to protect their autonomy against the advancing forces of nationalism and intolerance”, he said.
Chizhov also argued in favour of the principle of sovereignty. He said that Russia, a country which is culturally and historically very close to Ukraine, wished that Ukrainian people make rational choices and get out of this crisis without further violence.
Regarding sanctions, he said that this was a measure which could only be imposed by the United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC).
“Whatever is done unilaterally, by the USA, or the EU in other cases, are unilateral restrictive measures. As far as Ukraine is concerned, I believe that the language spoken to Kyiv should not be a language of sanctions, but a language of support and assistance,” Chizhov said.
As he used frequently the term “violence” with respect to the protestors, the ambassador was asked if he referred also to the violence that killed the protestors. He said that those cases should be investigated, and that according to his information the two people that were killed last night were not shot, but “hit by something”.
“It’s only up to the investigative authorities to produce a verdict”, the Russian envoy said.
Asked whether he believed the recently adopted anti-democratic laws had fuelled the violence, he insisted that those laws had been adopted by a democratically-elected government.
“Ukrainian laws are Ukrainian laws, I’m not responsible for them … But democratically installed laws should be respected”. However, the EU criticised the way the laws were adopted, by a show of hands in Verhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.
“When the day after a law is passed a foreign government issues an appeal that it should be revoked, I think this is unacceptable with any country which has a certain degree of dignity”, Chizov said, in a direct reference to the EU position that the new laws should be revised.
Blaming the press
Chizhov also argued that Russia-EU relations were much better than generally assumed and blamed the press for overplaying the differences between the two sides.
“Actually it’s you guys that turn up or play up the differences between Russia and the EU on a regular basis. I think overall Russia-EU relations are in fact better than occasionally portrayed by some of your less scrupulous colleagues,” he told those present at the media briefing.