The Gazprom case was not initiated by EU-based energy companies, but by the Lithuanian government, which was at that time involved in arbitration with Gazprom, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s Ambassador to the European Union, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Before being appointed Ambassador to the EU in 2005, Vladimir Chizhov was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.
Let’s begin with the latest European Union summit on migration. EU leaders decided that boats used by traffickers in the Mediterranean would be systematically captured and destroyed…
Together with the passengers?
Can this be done without a UN Security Council Resolution?
No, I don’t think so. From what I understand, at some point the EU will follow the right path, which leads to the UN Security Council.
And there, will the EU find Russian understanding and support?
That will depend on the specifics. I think it’s premature to draw conclusions. The plans the EU has managed to produce so far are still a bit vague. [This interview was conducted on Friday, 24 April. On Saturday French President Francois Hollande discussed the issue with his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin in Yerevan.]
But do they raise concerns?
One of the most productive dialogues we have had with the EU, before they were frozen, was our dialogue on migration. We have a lot of experience to share, because Russia is prominent in all three capacities: as a source of migration, as a transit country and as a final destination. If you take, for example people from Ukraine, the overall number of those who fled to Russia since April last year is almost a million people.
Are they treated as immigrants?
It depends on their wish. Some have applied for Russian citizenship, some for permanent residence, others for temporary residence, and others are taking advantage of the existing regime without visas with Ukraine. But the Ukrainian authorities are doing their best to prevent those cross-border contacts and crossings, including by physical means. The last remaining bridge connecting the Donetsk Peoples’ Republic with mainland Ukraine was blown up.
We’ll return to Ukraine later, but let me ask you about the legal procedure launched by the Commission against Gazprom. Do you think that the Russian arguments, which refer to the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) of 1997, and suggest that the Commission is trying to apply the rules of its 2009 Third Energy package retroactively, have been taken into account?
Actually the non-retroactive application of provisions is part of any international agreement and part and parcel of international law. Not only of the PCA, which in fact was signed in 1994. What article 34 of the PCA says is that both parties shall refrain from taking any measures or actions which would worsen conditions for business activities more than the situation that existed before.
Maybe the Commission has disregarded this agreement, or does it interpret it differently?
I don’t know. I haven’t discussed this with the Commission, because the Commission considers this whole case confidential, and they are only dealing directly with Gazprom as an entity.
On the other hand, what puzzled me from the beginning was that the whole case was initiated not by some economic entities, not by EU-based energy companies which could have theoretically complained about those contracts, but by the government of a member state which was at that time involved in arbitration with Gazprom.
It was Lithuania, that was made public, and they were making some very outspoken statements on that score, boasting of a success that they had achieved with the launch of this investigation. Which of course leaves the impression that the whole affair was political from the outset.
And continues to be political?
That’s my impression, yes.
The Commission says they don’t want to politicise the issue.
I understand that another article of the same PCA provides for an out-of-court settlement.
You refer to Article 102, which says something similar.
Yes, that’s right. So that option I understand is still open. The “Statement of Objections” that was announced a few days ago is actually one stage in a process. Which has been carrying on for quite some time, and nobody predicts when it’s going to end. But of course the timing of this has unavoidably given rise to comments about the wisdom of choosing this particular moment.
Returning to the Minsk agreement, do you think it was implemented from the EU side? The declaration of the four leaders in Minsk reads that they support trilateral talks with the EU, Ukraine and Russia, with the aim of addressing the concerns of Russia, in relation with the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) and the DCFTA.
Strictly speaking, the EU is not a party to the Minsk agreement.
But as we read from the declaration of the leaders, the Commission has duties specified by the Minsk agreement.
Yes. Overall, we understand that the EU has a lot of leverage with Kiev, and actually the President of the Commission and the President of the European Council will be flying to Kiev on Monday (27 April) for a summit meeting. This gives them a perfect opportunity to apply necessary pressure on Kiev. And that pressure is essential, because at this point, it is evident to all unbiased observers that the Ukrainian government is [delaying] the implementation of the Minsk agreement, and even backtracking on a number of issues.
Trilateral discussions on the impact of the AA on the Russian economy and on trade relations with Ukraine did take place on 20-21 April. A total of ten hours of talks, with sizeable delegations of about 20 people from each of the three sides. They did not lead to a breakthrough. Russian concerns were voiced, substantiated, taken note of – and then we will see what happens.
Who is reluctant? It looks like it’s Ukraine?
Not so much the Commission?
The Commission acts as a mediator in this. But overall, the Minsk agreements provided for a certain sequence of acts and a number of actions should have been implemented, but they were not. What we hear from Ukrainian officials points in the opposite direction.
I have here the Minsk agreement. Can you perhaps say what Ukraine hasn’t implemented?
Point 4. On the first day after the heavy arms withdrawal, a dialogue should be started on the modalities of conducting local elections [in Donetsk and Lugansk regions]. On the contrary, Ukrainian officials have been stressing, a number of times already, that they are not going to sit at the same negotiating table with the current leaders of Donestk and Lugansk.
Then, the second paragraph of the same article: “Not later than 30 days of the signing of this document, to adopt a resolution of the Verhovna Rada, defining the exact territories which will be covered by a special regime on the basis of Ukrainian law.” Instead of that, they changed the law, defining the special status not as an autonomous status, but as one of occupied territories. And that of course drives the entire process in the opposite direction.
Next, article 5: “Ensure pardon and amnesty by introducing a law.” Nothing of the sort has taken place. On the contrary, public statements by Ukrainian officials indicate they don’t even intend to consider that.
By the way, does this amnesty include the perpetrators, yet to be determined, of the downing of the Malaysian airliner?
We’ll see, but first the investigation has to be completed.
But certain perpetrators exist…
Certain perpetrators certainly exist.
But are those perpetrators covered by amnesty?
This text [of the Minsk agreement] doesn’t indicate that. That could be the subject of additional discussions perhaps, when the investigation is completed. But the way the investigation was carried out since the tragic event of last July has been totally unsatisfactory in our view. For many months, only Russia plus, to be honest, the government of Malaysia, we were the only two countries insisting on expediting procedures before winter came and snow fell. That was not done. I don’t want to draw direct comparisons, but look how swift the investigation of Germanwings was…
But it didn’t happen in rebel-held territory.
I would say in difficult terrain in the Alps. But that part of territory where the Malaysian airplane fell was quite accessible from the very beginning, except that the Ukrainian army started shelling the place each time investigators approached it.
I have seen in social media comparisons drawn by “Russian patriots” between the two crashes, but frankly, Mr. Ambassador, I’m refraining from comparing them.
So am I. But I repeat that the investigation of the Malaysian plane has been done in a very unsatisfactory manner. A few days ago, investigators went again to the site to collect debris and even some human remains. Why wasn’t that done earlier? Anyway, we should wait for the ultimate result of the investigation before producing judgement.
Returning to the rebel-held territories, I read in the press that Russia has sent the bill to Ukraine, or at least has said how many millions Ukraine needs to pay for the Russian gas supplied there, although Ukraine cannot collect the fees. Why such an approach?
If Ukraine considers these regions part of their territory, they should have maintained financial transactions, and that would have included of course gas payments. But it was the government of Kiev who cut them off, doing its best to isolate those areas and in effect push them away.
But the Minsk agreement also speaks of restoring the banking transactions under some international mechanism.
Yes, this is article 8, and it has not been fulfilled.
Because the Ukrainian government closed all the bank branches there and stopped all the transactions. You know, Donbass means “Donetsk coal basin.” It’s a huge compound of the coal industry. Now the rest of Ukraine is running short of energy and they are importing coal from South Africa. And high-quality coal is heaped up in Donbass. That looks ridiculous to any outsider.
The way politics are going these days, maybe tomorrow the EU will import shale gas from the USA and no longer buy from Russia.
Well, we do not intend to produce shale gas for the foreseeable future (laughs). And the US, as far as I know does not intend to open its shale gas market to Europe.
My point was that with such a deterioration in relations, what else could you expect? Of course, the coal may be nearby, but they will import it from South Africa, and especially if the price is right.
Actually, it appears that the price was wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have opened a criminal investigation against the former energy minister, Yuri Prodan, for that particular deal with South Africa.
But returning to my question about the general climate, it’s worrying. I was in the European Parliament a few days ago, and the largest political group, the EPP, spoke of being ready to go to war with Russia.
That’s very bad. You know, people tend to fuel each other’s fears, and that is contagious.
In Russian, they say that a “bad example is always contagious”.
Yes (laughs). Unfortunately, much more than good examples.