Chizhov: Sending arms to Ukraine is ‘the worst possible idea’

Vladimir Chizhov [Georgi Gotev]

The conflict in eastern Ukraine can only be resolved by political means. Arming Ukraine is the worst idea under present circumstances, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, told EURACTIV, in an exclusive interview.

Vladimir Chizhov is a career diplomat. Before being appointed ambassador to the EU in 2005, he was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

There is a lot of talk of sending NATO lethal weapons to Ukraine. Some in Europe say it’s a good idea to help the Ukrainians. Others warn it’s too dangerous. What is your comment?

My comment is clear-cut and simple. It would be the worst idea possible in these circumstances.

Does it mean that there will be real war?

Not a world war, no.

But will it be real war? Because now we have what some call a hybrid war, or a war by proxy…

It will lead to an escalation of confrontation, to further casualties. Whatever weapons the West may send to boost the Ukrainian army or the nationalist militias, it will not help them to win in this conflict. It is an unwinnable situation. It is a civilian conflict that can only be resolved by political means. Responsibility for continued fighting and further casualties will be on the shoulders of those pouring oil into the fire.

In the EU, the prevailing mood is that such a move would not be helpful. There are statements by a number of EU member states to support that.

But NATO says there are Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. President Poroshenko mentioned about 9,000 of them, so maybe the point of no return in this escalation has already arrived?

Well, it will take additional effort for NATO to catch up with the galloping estimates of President Poroshenko, who has already used the figure of 15,000. You know, whenever the Ukrainian army takes a hit in Donbass, the numbers tend to grow.

Of course, I’m glad to hear positive assessments of the capabilities of my country’s army – that the Russian army has been modernised, that it has become increasingly effective and so on. But come on, not to the extent of its soldiers becoming invisible. How can you imagine the presence of thousands of soldiers in a relatively small territory to be invisible? How can you imagine if troops in such numbers are engaged in fighting no one has got killed, no one has been captured, no document or ID has been seized to be shown on TV? No plausible imagery has been shown, either by satellite or from the ground. This is pure fantasy.

But there are so many photos circulated on Internet, sometimes from credible sources, depicting tanks Ukraine doesn’t operate, bearing Russian army insignia…

No, no hard evidence has been provided. These are just stories. I can give a possible explanation how the local self-defence forces in Donbass have acquired much of the equipment, including armour.

Please do.

A number of tanks and APCs were captured from the Ukrainian army. Besides, at the beginning of the conflict, on the territory which is under the control of the Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples’ Republics, there had been several depots of arms, equipment and munitions of the Ukrainian army, and they were of course opened and used. Also there was a number of factories which were able to service and maintain the damaged tanks, APCs and artillery.

But there are so many voices saying the opposite…

None of those voices has been corroborated by evidence. You may remember the situation back in July, when the Malaysian airliner was shot down. The terminology used by Western officials was “We possess mounting evidence.” Where is that mounting evidence? None has been produced. Not a single piece.

But this is probably because the investigation is still ongoing. They cannot release information bit by bit, before they have come up with a full report.

Yes, this should have been done long ago.

You find this suspicious?

The investigative procedures are not entirely within the regulations of ICAO.

But did Russia protest against the way the investigations are conducted?

We made our concerns public, yes.

And no response?

There were some angry public comments. We hope the investigation will be completed in a proper manner, does not drag on indefinitely, and will produce an unbiased report.

On a daily basis, who are your EU counterparts?

My colleagues and I have extensive contacts with the European External Action Service, the European Commission, the European Parliament, Member States’ missions.

And want are your expectation about this crisis?

My expectations regarding the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine are that, I hope, reason prevails and the conflict will be resolved along the only possible track which is political dialogue. The Minsk protocol, which is quite often referred to, indeed needs to be implemented by all sides, the main signatories being the Kyiv government and the leadership of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. They need to adhere to it, and there should not be a selective approach to the implementation of this document, which is unfortunately what we hear from Kyiv.

You refer to point three of the Minsk Protocol, about the decentralisation of power?

I speak of point one, which is putting a stop to violence, and others referring to withdrawal of heavy armaments, to according special status (you remember, there was a law voted by the Ukrainian parliament, never entered into force and later withdrawn). There was another point, six, which refers to the need to have a law on amnesty. When did you last hear about it?

Western politicians mention the Minsk protocol, blaming Russia for not implementing it. Merkel links the sanctions against Russia to the implementation of the Minsk agreement.

But Russia is a facilitator to the Minsk process, it is not a party to the conflict.

But Russia uses its influence…

Yes, Russia exerts its influence, to the greatest extent possible, on all those who listen. But it takes of course a lot on the part of both sides in the conflict to see these principles implemented. Including alleviating the humanitarian situation in Donbass and promoting economic rehabilitation. What we are seeing today is quite the opposite. People living in those areas are deprived of any social security, of pensions, of medical care by the central authorities, they are actually prevented from crossing the line of separation. And residential areas of Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities are continuously shelled and bombarded by the Ukrainian army and the so-called volunteer battalions who seem to have the upper hand within Kyiv lately, blockading even the Ministry of Defence, and successfully persuading Ukrainian generals to change their mind and retain those self-proclaimed military formations.

But it was not Ukrainian fringe groups that perpetrated the shelling of Mariupol…

What makes you so sure about that?

The direction from where the fire came.

The direction, but not the distance. Of course the OSCE monitors can approximately guess the angle where the shelling came from, but not the exact distance. If you look at the map of the location of the respective forces in those days, there were elements of the self-defence forces, but behind them, several kilometers further, there were formations of the Ukrainian army. Until there is an independent investigation, I suggest you don’t jump to conclusions.

But your assumption is that the separatist forces are like angels, that they are never guilty of anything.

No, of course they are not. And when intense fighting is continuing on both sides, of course there are casualties on both sides.

By the way, the separatists behave in ways unacceptable by international law. They parade with prisoners, and humiliate them in public. Of course, they are not a legal entity, they are not signatory of such agreements…

Well, Ukraine is a signatory, but international law does not allow the shelling of residential areas, even at times of war, which formally is not even there.

So you say Ukrainian army shells residential areas….

Yes, including central Donetsk. You know, there was an uproar about the yellow bus in Volnovakha [Ed: A rocket attack on a highway checkpoint near the village of Buhas in Volnovakha municipality on 13 January 2015 resulted in the deaths of 12 passengers of an intercity bus. The OSCE established the direction from where the rockets came, but not the responsibility.] President Poroshenko even tried to organise a solidarity march, trying to copy the Paris march [in solidarity with the recent terrorist attacks in the French capital], which doesn’t give him much credit. But if you look at the OSCE report of that incident, in that case it did not point any fingers. And next day it was the mauve-coloured trolleybus that was shelled in downtown Donetsk, exactly from the direction of the Ukrainian forces.

Again: it’s always the Ukrainians, never the separatists…

No. Mistakes are made by both sides, of course. I’m not trying to portray one side as the devil and the other as the angel. We do insist that fighting stops, that they both withdraw heavy arms from the line of separation, and sit down and talk. But when the Ukrainian Parliament votes on a resolution declaring the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics terrorist organisations, how can you envisage political dialogue with people who you claim are terrorist organisations?

By the way, there were recent talks in Minsk and they failed. Do you have insight from there?

I wouldn’t say they failed. They didn’t produce specific results at this particular meeting. You know, it may sound a little paradoxical, but the fact that one of the arguments between them was about each other’s credentials. If they argue about a thing like that, this means that both sides intend to continue talking.

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