EXCLUSIVE / Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov advised the EU to return to the agreement signed on 21 February by the Ukrainian opposition and the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland, Germany and France, as a way to unblock the stalemate between his country and the West regarding Ukraine.
Speaking a few hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a wide-ranging press conference on the situation around Ukraine, Chizhov said the best way to overcome the dispute over the legitimacy of power in Ukraine was the return to the peace deal signed in Kyiv on 21 February, aimed at that moment to end a violent standoff that had killed at least 77 people.
When the 21 February agreement was signed, the protestors said they would stay on until the country’s President Viktor Yanukovich resigned. On 22 February Yanukovich fled Kyiv and Parliament speaker Oleksander Turchinov took over as acting president.
In his interview, Putin made it clear that Russia did not see the present Ukrainian government led by Arseny Yatsenyuk, which was set up on 26 February, as legitimate. He also said that Russia reserved the right to use all options to protect compatriots who were living in "terror" in Ukraine, but force was not needed for now.
Putin called the developments on 22 February an “anti-constitutional coup d’état and armed seizure of power”. The West sees the government in Kyiv as legitimate, although a recent push by the new authorities that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) should be signed on the occasion of the 20-21 March EU summit was met with caution.
But Russia insists that the 21 February agreement provided for a “national unity government”, while as Chizhov said, the present cabinet in which the Russian-speaking population was not represented, was called by Yatsenyuk a “government of the winners”, which in his words raised the question who were the losers.
Chizov said that he believed that “the right way, the correct way” for the West and Russia to bridge their differences would be go back to the 21 February agreement. He added that this should be done “it in a proper sequence”, meaning that constitutional reform should take place first, as this agreement foresees, and then elections would be held, and not the other way round.
According to the 21 February agreement, presidential elections will be held as soon as the new Constitution is adopted, but no later than December 2014. The new government in Kyiv however decided that elections would be held on 25 May.
Asked what would happen to Yanukovich, who had a role to play under the 21 February agreement at least until presidential elections are held, the Russian diplomat said: “Let them do proper presidential elections without him. But following the constitutional reform. I don’t think he will run for President.”
Asked if elections on 25 May could be seen by Russia as legitimate, Chizhov said that it depended how they would be organised and held.
“If they take place under pressure from the extremist-nationalist gangs that hover across Kiev and other parts of the country, of course they will not be legitimate”, the diplomat said.
Russia often speaks of extremists, nationalists and even fascists, when it refers to EuroMaidan protestors.
Chizhov also indicated that according to the Russian perspective, the east and the south of Ukraine constituted the majority of the population, and therefore the majority of voters, but were not represented in the government.
“So in any free and fair national election, it’s not those people sitting now in the government offices in Kiev that have a chance of winning”, said Chizhov, indicating that Russia would use the time available to make sure it obtains the result it wants.
Asked how Russia would react if Yatsenyuk would sign the AA on the occasion of the EU summit to be held tomorrow (6 march), he said: “Well, I hope the EU is prudent enough to count on a more legitimate government as a counterpart in this signing ceremony.”
Chizhov also indicated that he was not disturbed by the possible sanctions EU leaders could decide to impose against his country. He said that the visa dialogue was de facto frozen already, and that the EU was anyway dragging its feet over the conclusion of a new basic bilateral agreement with his country.
“On certain possible measures that were announced at the [EU] Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, they do not appear to be overly impressive. I would even add that they are more restrained that the political rhetoric that surrounded them”, he said.
Asked about the prospect of Western leaders boycotting the G8 summit to be held in June in Sochi under Russian presidency, Chizov said: “You know, for Russia, I will tell you my personal view, what happens in Ukraine is more important than what happens with the G8 summit”.