Russian interference must end

As elections approach and tensions rise in Eastern Ukraine, the country’s Ambassador to London Volodymyr Khandogiy outlines what a new Ukrainian government, Russia and the EU need to do to resolve the crisis

1. Some observers say the tensions in Eastern Ukraine are the result of Russian provocation. Can Ukraine trust and work with Russia in future? What needs to happen on the part of Russia and on the part of the new Ukrainian government after the elections?

On April, 6 Russia began the second stage of special operation against Ukraine. The aim of this operation is to destabilize situation in the country, overthrow Ukrainian government, disrupt the scheduled presidential elections and tear apart the country.

Separatism and use of weapons against their own state are having a direct threat to security and life of our citizens. This is a serious crime. Ukraine will act adequately and decisively against separatists. On April, 8 the Parliament of Ukraine supported the strengthening of criminal responsibility for crimes against national security such as separatism.

This is obvious that we cannot trust the Russian Federation while Crimea is under the Russian occupation. Kremlin leadership must respect the fundamental norms of international law and all bilateral agreements with Ukraine.

2. What measures could a new government elected this May take to hold the country together? (eg devolution of powers, more engagement with the Russian-speaking minority etc).

Ukrainian Government supports the idea of constitutional reform to ensure devolution of power in the country. I think that increasing the powers of the regions, effective, successful local economics, active and responsible local communities, open and competent local governments would guarantee successful development of Ukraine.

I am confident that such measures will strengthen Ukraine giving more authorities to local elites and help to stabilise situation in Ukraine.

The steps of Ukrainian Government to take in near future are: fighting corruption, building fair and transparent judicial system, signing the part of the Association Agreement with the EU dedicated to the DCFTA.

“Moscow’s obsessive “recommendations” regarding military, political status, federalisation, and state languages we consider as a clear-cut interference into domestic affairs of my country”

3. Do you think it will be possible for Ukraine to be a member of the EU and still to have a good relationship with Russia? Or do you think Ukraine should opt for a neutral stance that doesn’t favour east or west?

European integration remains our primary foreign-political priority.
We do not consider European integration as a zero-sum game with Russia. I am sure that a stable, democratic and prosperous Ukraine is in the best interests of the Russian Federation.
Moscow’s obsessive “recommendations” regarding military, political status, federalisation, and state languages we consider as a clear-cut interference into domestic affairs of my country.

4. Some commentators (including the Russian Ambassador in London) compare Russia’s actions in the Crimea with the referendum in Scotland saying that they were honouring the principle of self-determination. What do you make of this comparison?

These two plebiscites cannot be compared. Scottish referendum will be taking place under the provisions of respective intergovernmental agreement. Both sides have possibility to campaign openly and freely. The referendum in Scotland was agreed in the UK Parliament, and will take place in a legal and fully democratic manner.

The so-called “referendum” in Crimea took place at the Russian gun barrel at 10 days’ notice, in a breach with all the democratic OSCE’s standards for fair and transparent decisions or elections. In particular it concerns verification of the existence of an accurate voter registration list and, in this instance, confidence that only Ukrainian passport holders would be allowed to vote.

Talking about self-determination I would like to point out that “any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations” (Paragraph 6 of basic UN Resolution 1514(XV) on self-determination). But the Kremlin has violated this imperative norm of the international law as well as a number of bilateral agreements with Ukraine.

“Russia’s aim is to destabilize situation in the country, overthrow Ukrainian government, disrupt the scheduled presidential elections and tear apart the country”

5. Is it the intention of Ukraine to have the Crimean territory returned to the Ukraine? If so, how?

Ukraine will never recognize the annexation of Crimea. The best way to return it is to build a free democratic society and market economy in my country. And then, I am confident, Crimea would wish to rejoin Ukraine.

6. Do you think the international response – and specifically the EU’s response – to Russia’s actions in Crimea was appropriate?

We are grateful to our international partners among which are the UK, the USA and the EU for support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But obviously the sanctions applied so far could be further strengthened. Inadequate economic pressure allows Russia to continue escalating the situation inside and along Ukrainian border.
It is high time to apply the third stage of international sanctions, namely in economic dimension.

7. Some commentators have said that the root cause of the Maidan protests was anger at the corruption of Yanukovich’s government. Would you agree to that?

Yes. Ukrainians were tired with corrupted undemocratic regime of ousted President Yanukovich. There was also another important reason – the Euro-revolution on Maidan has been triggered by former Government’s decision to postpone the Association Agreement with the EU.
Today the EU should demonstrate more determination and political will to build up closer relations with Ukrainians. A good step in this direction would be the soonest waving of visa regime with my country.

8. How have the events of the past few months affected Ukraine’s attitude to joining NATO? How does Ukraine propose to guarantee its security?

Issue of Ukrainian membership in NATO is not on the table now. However the guarantees provided under the Budapest Memorandum proved to be insufficient. International response on the aggression did not restrain the Russian Federation (one of the Budapest Memorandum signatories) from annexation of the part of Ukrainian’s sovereign territory.
Russian occupation of Crimea one more time proved the necessity to bring Ukrainian Armed Forces in line with NATO standards and to strengthen our relations with European and Euroatlantic defence mechanisms.