On the Caucasus Crisis and Russia’s Ukrainian Policy

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On the Caucasus Crisis and Russia’s Ukrainian Policy
by Sergey Lavrov

Article of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, ‘On the Caucasus Crisis and Russia’s Ukrainian Policy,’ Published in the Weekly ‘2000,’ No. 38, September 19-25, Kyiv

The effective military operation of Russia to force Georgia to peace, it seems, still gives some people no rest. Yet Russia acted in full conformity with the norms of international law, including the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, since Russian peacekeepers and Russian citizens were the target of barbaric aggression by Tbilisi. We also realized our international obligations with respect to the settlement of specific conflicts.

Probably, for some people the events developed too fast to take right decisions promptly. Those capitals were guided by their own experience of force-based actions in violation of the norms of international law. Actions, as was the case in Serbia in 1999, which took the form of ineffective military pressure on the population through air bombings.

Nothing of the kind took place in this case. Pinpoint strikes in support of the land operation were delivered solely at military targets in order to prevent a repeat of aggression by the Georgian side. Any unbiased military experts can confirm this. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of our actions and their moderateness disappointed those who would have liked, again judging by their own experience, to see Russia bogged down in Georgia, having taken it upon itself to remove the regime guilty of a crime which international law designates as aggression.

The foot-dragging on the approval of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan by the UN Security Council was the last straw for us. It became clear that one of the UNSC permanent member states had actually been acting as a party in conflict, thus keeping aloof from settlement and hindering others from achieving it. Under these conditions Russia was forced to assume responsibility, acting in line with the democratic expression of the will of the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This decision offers a pragmatic exit for all from the situation that would otherwise have continued to be a source of destabilization of the entire region. This is precisely what the revenge-seeking rhetoric of Tbilisi and the massive NATO military buildup in the Black Sea region point to.

A popular thesis of the propaganda campaign unleashed against Russia is the assertion that Russia’s actions “send a signal going well beyond the bounds” of the particular situation. We can agree with this, but only in the sense that if someone missed while sleeping the cardinal changes in the world that have taken place in recent years, then the actions of Russia can indeed be viewed as a “wake-up call.”

And this is the only thing I can agree on with my colleague Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogryzko, who recently wrote an article for two German newspapers. Its content can’t help but evoke deep regret among all on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian borders who are concerned about the present state of our relations.

The article goes along the lines of a brazen exploitation of the Caucasus crisis for unseemly political aims, above all those of rushing Ukraine into NATO contrary to the opinion of the overwhelming majority of its people and notwithstanding elementary democratic procedures. Under this noise many things get accomplished, including the deployment of US antimissiles in Poland. Why shouldn’t others fish in troubled waters?

Thus from the seemingly right thought that not a single state can ensure its security in present-day conditions alone a conclusion is drawn in favor of the NATO-centric system of European security, at a time when NATO-centrism, bringing a split in the Euro-Atlantic community, has proved its absolute defectiveness and futility. All the more unacceptable appears to be the conclusion about the need to “arm itself,” up to and including Ukraine’s acquisition of the status of a nuclear weapon power. Where is the logic and where is the sense of responsibility?

My Ukrainian colleague regards himself as one of those who would like to join the old NATO. Slowly, but surely the North Atlantic Alliance’s new members professing this kind of philosophy get it back into its previous state. Hence – the situation where NATO is simply stuck in its transformation. And the objective here is but one: to achieve a new schism in Europe and exploit the new confrontation in their own interests, particularly in the economic and financial realm, by loading responsibility for their own development, including domestic political evolution, onto their “senior comrades” in the alliance.

What is then the meaning of independence, which in this case will be curtailed across a whole array of parameters? In any case it is up to the Ukrainian people to choose, but the people exactly and not the part of the political elite that would like to solve the issue in circumvention of the elementary norms of democracy.

Russia categorically disagrees with this kind of politics, which can succeed only in one case – if these forces manage to set Russia and Europe at loggerheads. I am convinced that this will not come to pass, if only because surmounting the consequences of the crisis in the Caucasus is becoming the subject of close cooperation between Russia and the European Union. The outcome of the talks between Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy in Moscow on August 12 and September 8, when it was successfully agreed on providing security for South Ossetia and Abkhazia along the perimeter of their borders with Georgia against guarantees from the EU, which has undertaken to see that Tbilisi does not use force ever again, is a pointer in this direction. It also serves as a convincing testimony that Russia has not had any aims, and will not have any aims, other than those declared. There no “hidden agendas” extending beyond what we were forced to do.

We only care about the destinies and interests of people. Their right to life is the loftiest among human rights and the first among European values, of which there is so much talk going on. Now Abkhazia and South Ossetia can normally, full-fledgedly develop, having been denied this by the constant threat of use of force on the part of Tbilisi. By the way, another lesson from the recent events is that not a single conflict has a force-based solution, a solution bypassing one of the parties.

As to the European security architecture, we’re witnessing the need to have it rebuilt in line with the requirements of our time. This means the creation of a truly open, with the participation of all states of the region, system of collective security of the kind that did not exist either during the Cold War or in between the two world wars. Its absence became the consequence of the failure of all European politics and the cause of both world wars.

I regret to state that Russian-Ukrainian relations are going through a complicated period. Their current state evokes a completely justified concern in our country.

The moves undertaken by official Kyiv recently can only be seen in Moscow as being actually aimed at a systemic break of the long-established complex of our interstate relations and as a purposeful attempt to renounce the principles on which they are based.

It is in this context that we perceive the stand of those in the Ukrainian leadership who have taken a course towards a speedy entry into NATO – without having regard to the opinion of their own people and the concerns being voiced by the Russian side.

I shall say bluntly, Ukraine’s entry into NATO will entail a deep crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations. This crisis will most adversely affect pan-European security as well. So the West must also make a choice and a strategic choice at that. I think that imposing on Ukraine the role of a buffer between Europe and Russia means to belittle the importance of Ukraine itself.

It would be far more constructive for us all together to build relations with the outside world, especially as Russia and Ukraine are an integral part of Europe, of European culture, politics and economics.

People in Russia were simply shocked by the reaction of Ukraine over Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia. For our nations and peoples it had always been natural to take the side of truth and justice. Neither was here. Sheer geopolitics designed to becloud the main issue – whose aggression it was and with whose support it triggered all subsequent events.

Official Kyiv did not even express regret over the deaths of civilians and Russian peacekeepers. Meanwhile, it is known that the Ukrainian leadership, through its deliveries of heavy offensive weapons to the Georgian army, bears its share of responsibility for the tragedy that has occurred in the region. Hundreds of people died, most of them civilians. And what in general could the purpose of the armament of the regime be, if reservists were used as cannon fodder and the army fled on the pretext that “the US did not support us” and “the West abandoned us.”

But if “the US had supported them” and “the West had not abandoned them,” then there would have been a full-scale military conflict with the participation of the whole of Europe on the aggressor’s side? Would this madness have met anybody’s interests in the Euro-Atlantic area? The same effect would also have been if Tbilisi had unleashed aggression, being in the ranks of NATO.

The actions of Ukraine in discriminating against and actually ousting the Russian language from every sphere of life, thus infringing on the rights of the millions of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, evoke serious concern.

Neither can we agree with Kyiv’s pseudo-historical interpretation of the events connected with the 1930s famine in the USSR – as a kind of “genocide against the Ukrainian people,” which is simply an insult to the memory of the millions of famine victims of other nationalities. Is it admissible to engage in an ethnic cleansing of history? And how can Europe put up with the heroization of the war criminals that collaborated with the Nazis in the years of the Second World War? One can state with regret the growth of Russophobian as well as anti-Semite sentiments among the nationalist-minded organizations of Ukraine.

However, it would be unfair to accentuate attention to the above-mentioned negative aspects only. Relations between Russia and Ukraine and ties between our peoples are deeper and many-fold stronger than any conjuncture. All aspects of our multidimensional cooperation – in the political sphere, in the economic, commercial and energy fields, and first of all, at the most important level of people-to-people relations – are extremely important to us. Efforts by Russian diplomacy are directed towards ensuring that Russian-Ukrainian relations develop in an ongoing fashion and are pragmatic and mutually beneficial.

Preparations for the next meeting of the economic committee of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission, led by the heads of the governments of the two countries, are currently under way. At the end of the current year the trade turnover between our countries is expected to come close to the 40 billion dollars mark.

We sincerely hope that our Ukrainian friends will succeed in finding a mutually acceptable way out of the mixed situation in which Ukrainian politics has found itself today, and that Ukraine will be able, overcoming all the difficulties, not to try to achieve its foreign policy aims in the western sector at the cost of avowedly anti-Russian actions and insulting our common, blood-cemented history.

Our attitude to the Ukrainian people will always be invariably friendly, and policy towards Ukraine respectful, but we are going to construct its practical vectors having regard to the real positions of Kyiv and depending on the moves being undertaken by Ukrainian authorities.

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