On February 13, Kommersant published an extensive article by the chief of Russian diplomacy under the headline “To the Understanding of the EU and US, the ‘Free’ Choice of Ukrainians Has Already Been Made.” In this article, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov writes about the Russian vision of the situation in Ukraine and relations between Moscow and the EU. Readers can find the article on the paper’s website. However, it is noticeable that from the very beginning, the minister criticizes the Western media, which, according to him, carry out an anti-Russian information campaign, which uses the phraseology in the spirit of the Cold War. In the end, Lavrov for some reason draws parallels between the events in Ukraine and those that took place as a result of external interference in Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, and South Sudan.
The Day addressed Russian and Ukrainian experts with a request to comment upon the article by the Russian foreign minister.
Lilia SHEVTSOVA, leading research associate of the Moscow Carnegie Center:
“Firstly, the mere presence of such an extensive article by minister Lavrov in one of the leading Russian newspapers shows how important Ukraine is for Russian government and Russian politics. Secondly, the tone of the article, the choice of words and rhetoric expression clearly means only one thing: this is a warning of the Kremlin to Europe and the West: gentlemen, do not interfere with Ukrainian events, Ukraine belongs to our geopolitical space. In this article Sergei Lavrov gives a rather special interpretation not only of “value guidelines, which should be a product of mutual understanding.” According to him, European guidelines must be a product of mutual understanding between Europe and the Kremlin. This is rather remarkable. And that is where Lavrov gives a very peculiar interpretation of the Ukrainian nation’s right for the freedom of choice. Basically, the whole article indicates that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin too, obviously, see the freedom of choice of the Ukrainian people only as their right and opportunity to be in Russia’s sphere of influence, because according to this interpretation, the people of Ukraine do not have a right to choose European vector. It was said quite clearly.
“And the last thing. This article is a vivid example of cognitive dissonance. One half of the brain has no clue what the other half is doing. In other words, it is when a person adheres to mutually exclusive principles. During the past few years, especially in 2013, both Lavrov and Putin put a lot of effort in attempts to prove that the West is rotting. It is Lavrov who mentioned Spengler and the decline of Europe. Putin talked about the demoralization of the Euro-Atlantic civilization and that the era of the West and Europe is over (this is mentioned in the foreign policy concept). In Putin’s speeches, Russia presented its doctrine of a unique civilization, which claims to restrain the West and bring its ideological and moral values to the world. And this article says that Russia supports democracy. But if Russia does support democracy, why would it stand in Ukraine’s way of receiving democratic values. And when was Lavrov speaking the truth: now, when he is allegedly supporting European values, or when he denied the existence of normal values in Europe for a year? Besides, this article is also an example of the Soviet counter-propaganda and a warning to Europe that Ukraine is an object of dissonance and the moment of truth between Europe and Russia. And this article has been written exactly at the time when certain steps were taken by Berlin, Brussels, and Washington in preparing help for a new Ukrainian government. I wonder how Europe and the West will react to this warning.”
How should the following lines by Lavrov be interpreted: “The attempts to decide for Ukrainian citizens what the future of their country should be, and even who personally would form their government, look futile”?
“This passage is obviously a very undisguised reaction to the tapped phone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine. Of course, the very fact that this tapping took place, which is an extraordinary occurrence, indicates the absence of the ethic principles of the party that tapped the conversation. Perhaps, it can be said that American diplomats were a bit careless. But if we talk about reality, despite this conversation, there were no specific actions from Western political circles, which would be aimed at assisting Ukraine on its way out of crisis. We do not see any signs of real influence of the Western authorities on the events in Ukraine. And even negotiations between Western governments, Yanukovych, and opposition leaders have hardly had any effect on what is going on at Maidan and on political processes in general.”
It became known recently that Ambassador McFaul is leaving Russia. And today information appeared that this post might be occupied by John Tefft, who was an ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia, and Lithuania, or Kerry’s deputy for arms control Rose Gottemoeller, who used to be the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Who do you think can replace McFaul?
“We step on a very slippery path of guessing here. I think there are loads of discussions in Washington now on how the matter should be handled. And obviously, they do not have information about the exact way Obama will solve the issue with the ambassador of the US to Russia. There is no doubt this appointment is very important for Washington, especially in the current situation, when relations between Moscow and Washington have plenty of pitfalls. The era that ended with Michael McFaul’s leave was genuinely interesting. McFaul, one of the brightest representatives of the American intellectual elite, was trying to carry out American policies in Russia in an absolutely new format with the application of new tools. He created an image of the ambassador, which completely did not fit into the traditional format of a diplomat. He made a lot of breakthroughs in Russia thanks to his purely human style of communication. The other thing is that the ‘reset’ policy was doomed. I have a feeling that America will choose a more cautious figure now. I do not know whether Washington will choose a professional diplomat or a politician. I think a professional diplomat will be more appropriate here now, because Russia and America are entering the stage of very complicated relations with plenty of contradictions. Especially considering the fact that the role of America on the global scene is decreasing, while the degree of Putin’s attack in a number of international matters is rising. Perhaps, moderate experienced diplomats will be chosen, and the new image of the role for a diplomat might be different. In any case, they will have to deal with the same complicated agenda, which has a lot of unsolvable tasks within the framework of relations between the US and Russia.”
Volodymyr OHRYZKO, former foreign minister of Ukraine:
“On the one hand, this is a combination of cynicism, lies, and Russia’s unwillingness to leave its shell of eternal separateness. On the other, it is the fear of activity of the European Union. Russians are openly scared that the EU might refuse to participate in large projects that were planned, they are afraid the EU might switch the focus of its interest to creating a free trade area with the US and form a super powerful center of world economy, which will mean a complete isolation in the end.
“I was surprised that the Russian Federation does not want to share the values of the European Union. It clearly stated through Lavrov’s words that it does not want to join the EU, that is, to accept the foundations the whole post-war world was built on. And among other things, I see this article as an absolutely indecent proposal to the European Union to join Russia in settling the fate of countries that are located between them. This is an attempt to give a political bribe to the EU and set up the spheres of influence, which is carried out with broad hints on possible strikebreaking of Germany and France. But I hope that European politicians are conscious about their responsibility and they are not inclined towards the amoral platform that has been guiding Russia for many centuries. If we make a general conclusion, this article once more proves a simple truth that if the history of other nations develops on the ascending line, the history of Russia moves in a circle of hopelessness and self-isolation.”
By the way, the Russian minister states in the article that unlike the EU, Russia never imposed anything on Ukraine, and he expresses surprise that to the understanding of the EU and US, Ukraine’s free choice has already been made. What can you say about this?
“To my understanding, this looks like a combination of cynicism and lies, because Russia was not just involved in this situation, it became the reason of all the latest events we have witnessed in the past three months. So, it turns out they live in some separate world, or they think nobody else understands a thing about what is going on.”
Volodymyr OHRYZKO: “I think the best response to this article from the European Union would be a program of very specific help for Ukraine in order to overcome the tendency of political aggression and economic blackmail, which we can see coming from the Russian Federation. The EU should finally start taking action that would show its desire and ability to protect its values and help other nations use them as a model of development.”
What do you think the reaction of the EU leaders to this article should be?
“I think the best response to this article from the European Union would be a program of very specific help for Ukraine in order to overcome the tendency of political aggression and economic blackmail, which we can see coming from the Russian Federation. The EU should finally start taking action that would show its desire and ability to protect its values and help other nations use them as a model of development.”
A message appeared in the media that John Tefft, who was an ambassador in our country, might become the next ambassador of the US to Russia. What is your opinion about this?
“I do not think I am ready to comment upon the Department of State’s projects, it is their internal business. But I have no doubts that Tefft is a high-class diplomat. And if that really is the choice, I think that he, having had the experience of working in Georgia and Ukraine, will try to convince the Russian government that the policy of neocolonialism has no prospects.”