Russia’s “brothers” in Crimea, but also in Ukraine's mainland, fear for their lives, as ultra-extremists and fascists in Ukraine are marching with torches and erecting gallows for Russians and Jews, Sergey Zheleznyak, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Sergei Zheleznyak, born in 1970, was elected in 2007 as member of the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, representing President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. A former advertising, media and public relations executive, he heads the Duma's information department. Zheleznyak became Deputy Chairman of the Duma in June 2012.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
With a group of Russian MPs, you visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday (12 March). What was your message to the MEPs?
Our main task was to tell the MEPs the truth about events in Ukraine and in Crimea. We came to express our worries with regard to the actions of those who took power by force in Kyiv, and who openly threaten not only the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, but also all those who express views different from the rhetoric of ultra-nationalists, who today control the greater part of its state bodies and media.
We also tried to explain why the citizens of Crimea, who feel that their lives and health are threatened, have turned for help and assistance to the Russian authorities, and not to those who proclaim themselves as the power in Kyiv. And to explain why we cannot turn down the requests of our Crimean brothers.
I hope we have been heard, as in the European Parliament, the relations between Russia and Crimea and the historic role of Crimea in Russian history have been a revelation. We hope that we have been able to compensate for a lack of information.
Also, we have expressed our concern about the mass human rights violations in Ukraine. Irrespective of the political processes in Ukraine, nobody has the right to violate basic human rights and freedoms, the right to life, of expression, of speaking in the mother tongue.
We would like our colleagues in the European Parliament to dispense with double standards, as they show very deep concern about citizens in Ukraine, but strangely keep their eyes shut when massive numbers of citizens of Ukraine, and in the Baltics are oppressed. Which by the way, is not a secret.
While you were delivering these messages, the leaders of the G7 appealed to your country to stop its work on a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region, and cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea. How would you comment?
The Russian side has no relation whatsoever with the referendum to be conducted in Crimea. This is an initiative of the citizens of Crimea. Our opinion is that only the citizens of Crimea have the right to decide how they will live, and with whom they will unite. Nobody has the right to influence their positions. And the most democratic form of expression of will is the referendum. We reminded our colleagues of the European Parliament of their own position in the case of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo, which they do not consider a violation of international law.
So Russia considers the referendum legitimate, and you are preparing to recognise its results?
Nobody gave us a valid argument why the referendum or its results could be considered illegitimate. Of course, it is the responsibility of the people of Crimea, and the parliament of Crimea, to hold a referendum in the best possible way, so that all citizens can express their will. Only after the results of the referendum can we discuss its consequences.
If a majority will ask Crimea to become part of Russia, when will this physically happen? Is there a need for a decision by the Russian Duma?
It would be strange if I would specify dates for implementing decisions which have not yet been taken. But I can assure you that in case of a majority of citizens of Crimea asking for unification with the Russian Federation, all bodies of the Russian Federation will make everything necessary to make this decision materialise, with minimal delays according to our country’s legislation.
Isn’t Russia worried that this will trigger a new Cold War?
I think that the Russian Federation should worry more, as any other civilised country should, that millions of citizens in Ukraine find themselves under the threat of genocide. And that in case of a civilised way out from the crisis, they may simply die. I will remind you of the slogan of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, which openly states that Crimea should be Ukrainian, or without people.
Why do you speak of genocide? Genocide is a term referring to mass murder of many thousands of people, millions as during the Holocaust…
In Crimea, there are two million Russians. In Western Ukraine and in Kiev, where marches remain ongoing, with exhortations to kill the Russian and the Jews, every person who is not a nationalist risks losing his life or his health. Not allowing genocide and Kiev’s leniency vis-à-vis the ultra-nationalists are the reasons why Crimea decided to hold the referendum.
But why is it that only the Russian side sees such extreme actions in Ukraine, as you describe them? Why does the rest of the world see a completely different picture?
That’s a question to be asked to the Western media. I would direct them to Russian-speaking journalists and journalists of Hebrew faith. They should ask them, and also ask questions to those who march with torches and erect gallows for Russians and Jews.
Why do both sides speak so much about fascism these days? On the one side, some compare President Putin with Hitler, while in Russia the new Ukraine government is described as having fascists in its ranks. How would you comment?
Russian politicians have never expressed a positive attitude vis-à-vis Nazism, fascism. Moreover, in Russia this would be a criminal offense. All Russian politicians, including President Putin, have done a lot so that the multi-national Russian people wouldn’t lurch toward the darkness of nationalism. In Ukraine, those who took power openly promote and pay tribute to those who during World War II directly participated on the side of Hitler and the SS division Galichina [SS-Volunteer Division "Galician", which incorporated Ukrainian nationals], and war criminals such as Bandera [Stepan Bandera, one of the leaders of Ukrainian national movement in Western Ukraine (Galicia), who headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] and others who led punitive units, that exterminated peaceful citizens.
I read articles where the Crimea referendum is compared to the referendum conducted by Hitler in Austria after the Anschluss. What will you say?
I haven’t read such articles. The referendum in Crimea takes place on the initiative and according to the will of the people of Crimea. You can get acquainted with the census polls that have been conducted there over many years, and from there you can deduct the degree of association of those citizens with Ukraine and with Russia.
When you return to Moscow, what will you tell your electors?
I will tell them that we went to Strasbourg to tell the truth about what is happening in the Ukraine, to express our worries about the rise of neo-Nazism and its spread in Europe with the leniency of the Brussels bureaucracy, and to express our position about the defense of Russian-speaking citizens about the threat of genocide, driven by nationalism.
You said ‘Brussels bureaucracy’. Has it become an enemy for Russia?
Of course not. The EU is our strategic partner. It’s very important for us on the issue of the situation in Ukraine there be no bloodshed, that the criminals there should be punished following investigation, and that institutional reform in Ukraine be carried out according to international law, and not by the armed people who have seized power.