A rather unexpected meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian MP, former head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Mustafa Dzhemilev took place last week. After a half-hour meeting Dzhemilev said that while talking “about the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Putin mentioned that the declaration of independent Ukraine did not quite correspond to the Soviet regulations that stipulated for the procedure of secession from the USSR.”
The Day addressed publicist and diplomat Yurii Shcherbak, who was a USSR MP, member of the oppositional Interregional Deputy Group (headed by Academician Andrei Sakharov), and member of the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic at the moment of the Soviet Union’s collapse, to comment upon the statement made by the Russian president.
“One has to have a talent to say something like that. It is like saying that his beloved Soviet Union spawned from the Russian Empire in a not quite legal way. This is nonsense. This KGB colonel should at least know the laws, that republics had a right to secede from the Soviet Union. Everything was done in a legal and neat way. First the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine declared Ukraine’s independence, and then a nationwide referendum took place. The whole world knows about this, but Putin does not. But the creation of the USSR out of the Russian Empire was far from legitimate, because Bolsheviks destroyed the legal Provisional Government. That is why it is absurd to talk about it. He hates Ukraine so much that he does not know what else to come up with.”
“Such statements can give him grounds to bring Ukraine back to the Soviet Union which he is trying to revive. He should say first how the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic seceded from the USSR, because Yeltsin was the first to withdraw. He should not start with Ukraine. This is pure insanity.”
But the majority of Russians and the so-called Russian intellectuals support his intention to annex Crimea.
“Venediktov of the Echo of Moscow has clearly showed that for all these years, there was a myth in Russia that Ukraine received a gift of Crimea from Nikita Khrushchev unjustly, and that Crimea belongs to Russia only. He knew perfectly well that Putin dreams of the following sentence in a school history textbook: Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, and Putin brought Crimea back to Russia. That is it. This is his paranoid idea which does not let anything else to be taken into consideration. If Putin has support, it is accounted for by the fact that the Russian people have been brainwashed all the time. Russia constantly maintained the illusion that Crimea has to be brought back to the fold and is part of Russia. But according to the sociological studies, only 50 percent of respondents support Putin’s militarist rhetoric and practice, and 30 percent do not support it. This is a high percentage. I want to remind that when Hitler seized the Sudetenland, 80 to 90 percent of Germans shouted ‘Sieg Heil!’ in delight, they worshipped the Fuehrer who had high ranking. And how did that end?”
In what way should the West react to such Putin’s rhetoric?
“Putin will say: ‘Dzhemilev understood me in a wrong way.’ This is not a literal quote. Let him come out to a press conference and repeat what he said. Then he will be laughed at. But this is crucial evidence for understanding his logic, in particular, the fact that he hates Ukraine. It must be a very grave signal for the world.”
As a source in the CDU said, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia has effectively “stolen” Crimea and “this can be called annexation.”
“Yes, Merkel is right. We can but wait for the illegal referendum and bringing Crimea to be a part of Russia. This will be the final annexation and complete destruction of the system of international security not only in Europe, but on the worldwide scale. At that point global security will cease to exist, and a cold war will start.”
Le Monde wrote that France would implement the contract of shipment of three Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia. You said in an interview to The Day earlier that attention should be paid to France’s sharp criticism in Russia’s address in relation to the invasion of Crimea by Russian troops. Will France really cancel the delivery of such armaments to Russia in case the EU implements large-scale sanctions against Russia?
“Obviously, this choice will be a huge challenge for France. As well as for Germany, which has multi-million business connections, German investments, and Mercedes cars that flow into Russia. This is a serious choice: either comfort today, or humiliation and enthrallment tomorrow. Every country faces this choice today.”
Nevertheless, Steinmeier, the chief of German diplomacy, said that Europe would react to Russia’s actions.
“Steinmeier’s rhetoric surprises me. At the same time, Putin bides his time saying that he will make a decision on Crimea after the referendum of March 16. He does not disclose his plans. He has a plan ready. Everyone knows about his readiness to declare Crimea a part of the Russian Federation, but he plays cat and mouse to keep the illusions up while consolidating his military presence along the border with Ukraine. Pay attention to the CIA director who said that only Putin knows whether there will be an invasion of Ukraine.”
But Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, said that Putin had basically seized Crimea.
“In general, he is right. He understands what it means to capture a peninsula with corresponding structures, besieging legitimate Ukrainian military units and facilities. He is a realist. But why pretend ignorance and act as if the situation could be played back on the last moment? I do not know what this last moment must be, and what kind of argument can prevail, because Putin definitely decided to take vengeance on the West for the supposed humiliation he experienced. No one knows what exactly humiliation that was. On the contrary, everyone was tending to him, trying to calm him down and give him what he wanted. But this policy is absolutely unproductive, because the more an aggressor is encouraged, the larger his appetite grows.”
What is your forecast for the situation?
“Everything will end with the beginning of the first phase of the cold war. But if the attack on the mainland Ukraine continues, the cold war will acquire the elements of a hot one.”