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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

29.07.2015

Ambassador Yakovenko writes to David Smith and comments on Chatham House report on Russia

Dear Mr Niblett,

 

It was with a measure of disappointment that we read the Chatham House report ‘The Russian Challenge’. Still, it contributes, in its own way, to the ongoing  debate on the state and prospects of the West’s relationship with Russia.

 

I have just written to Mr David W Smith, a retired teacher, who wrote to me in connection with my article in The Daily Telegraph a month ago. May I ask you to place this response of mine on your website as a comment on the said report on Russia. I have to admit, that over the past year it has been difficult for us to get our narrative across in the British media. That’s why your cooperation in this matter would serve the purpose of having a reasoned debate and will be highly appreciated.

 

Best regards,

 

Alexander Yakovenko

 

Dear Mr Smith,

 

I am sorry for delay in my response to your letter. I wholly share your concern over the state of the Russo-British relationship. In the first place, Russia's policy in the Ukraine crisis was always reactive. Our Western partners admit that when they accuse us of both improvisation and pursuing a 'grand strategy'. It was not us who started all this destabilising mess. Not many care to have a look at its origins. So, I'll try to set the record straight on some key points.

The EU "Eastern Partnership" was declared by our EU partners as an instrument to deal with issues of our "common neighborhood", i.e. the countries of the former Soviet Union between the EU and Russia. We never minded. More than that, we suggested that trilateral projects, involving EU, focus countries and Russia, be implemented to sew the entire area together in terms of trade, economy, energy and infrastructure. We have never got any response to that.

Then we were told that a routine EU-Ukraine association agreement was in the works. Fine, we didn't mind that either. But in the autumn of 2013, it turned out that added to that agreement would be a Deep and Comprehensive FTA. In fact, in terms of consequences for our bilateral trade and economic ties it was nothing short of Ukraine becoming an EU member. In the past, when new members were admitted to the EU we held detailed bilateral and trilateral, including Brussels, talks on how to manage those consequences. But in the case of Ukraine this logic wasn't followed. We were told that it was none of our business, a purely bilateral matter for the EU and Ukraine. Only at the EU-Russia summit in January 2014, when the Ukraine crisis was already in full swing, our EU partners admitted that Russia had a legitimate economic interest in this matter, though we saw no willingness to follow it up. Later EU representatives admitted that, indeed, an FTA of the proposed scope with the EU wasn't compatible with Ukraine's membership in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) FTA. Thus, it would have been honest and straightforward to offer Ukraine the EU membership, which would have ensured orderliness and due process, including clear-cut mutual obligations.

That is, among other things, why we deemed the entire Ukraine project as a political one with the EU acting as proxy for NATO. Shall I say that, as far as we know, no veritable talks (and it was a set of documents of roughly 2000 pages) were held between the Yanukovich Government and Brussels. It had never been subject to open and public debate both in Ukraine and the EU. Nobody discussed costs and impact. So, it looked like a piece of secret diplomacy akin to that which was responsible for Europe blundering into WWI. Why secret diplomacy in our time, when nothing could be kept secret? All the more so that we had agreed with the EU that projects of economic integration in various regions of Europe were compatible. Adherence to the WTO rules and norms would see to that.

This mode of operation by the EU further undermined trust between us, especially immediately after Libya, where the UN Security Council mandate was stretched to destroy the regime of Colonel Gaddafi (now all of us have to deal with the consequences). It is not that we, in Russia, are Darwinists. But any outside interference has to be thought and seen through, which, as a rule, requires of the meddling nation a total commitment at the levels, seen in the two world wars and the Cold War. Short of that commitment, a truly collective international effort, mandated by the UN, is the only viable option. We have always been speaking in favour of the latter. And in that regard the case of Ukraine is no different from those of Iraq, Afghanistan and the "Arab Spring".

I think that is what means Edward Lucas (The Times, 9 June 2015), when he mentions a Marshall Plan for Ukraine, although admits a prospect of a failed state beset by extremism and corruption. He says that 'Ukrainians are the only people to have died in the cause of EU expansion'. What about those who, like the Greeks, are squeezed by the austerity diktat? Are they, too, suffering for the cause of EU expansion? And why, after all, the EU should expand through wars and petty scheming, not soft power and generous transformative financial support? Is it because war and destabilizing tactics are cheap?

There is a lot of ratchet about alleged Russian propaganda. Strange to hear that since Russia doesn't control the international media space, rather the opposite is true. The reason may well be the inability of our Western partners to get round the simple fact of Kiev choosing a military option over a political one, and their support for this choice. Suffice it to say that The New York Times on 3 July 2014 deplored President Poroshenko's decision not to extend the June truce and qualified it 'a fateful step'. Having accepted Kiev's narrative of the events in South-East Ukraine, the West helps drive the crisis into a dead end, though everybody says that it doesn't have a military solution. Prior to the Ukraine crisis we were told that sovereignty cannot trump human and minority rights. Why is it different now?

When Ireland was granted independence, six counties were carved out based on the will of their majorities. In the case of south-eastern regions of Ukraine, yes, it was an independent state already. But the post-independence settlement and consensus were torn down in a power grab in February 2014. And here the same factors of ethnicity and culture come into play. Could I refer you to the article in The Economist (9 May 2015) on the Odessa tragedy of 2 May 2014? People in that city have been living in fear ever since, in the conditions similar to foreign occupation. Do people have a say, or are they a mere trapping of the land they live on? I see a lot of merit in Richard Sakwa's ideas (in his 'Frontline Ukraine') on a Constituent assembly for Ukraine (in the year of Magna Carta: roughly along the lines of King John's conference with his barons, the outcome, by the way, enforced not without outside military entervention, as Philip Stephens reminds us) and a peace conference for Europe (we haven't had one after the end of the Cold War).

That is what British historian Dominic Lieven believes (I quote it with his permission): 'Here Irish history offers useful insights. There was no justice in a 1921 settlement which left hundreds of thousands of northern Catholics as often unwilling citizens of the UK but at least the British state had the strength to cope with the subsequent convulsions. If an even larger number of unwilling Protestants had been dumped in the Irish republic then the Irish state would have disintegrated. Relevant too is the least-bad solution at which we have finally arrived in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict. It includes constitutional recognition of separate communal identities and power-sharing between them. It accepts that Northern Ireland is part of the UK not by inalienable sovereign right but by the will of the majority of its population. It even gives a foreign state, the Irish Republic, some role in the governance of the region. Only an idiot could think that Irish solutions are easily applicable to contemporary Ukraine. But if there is ever to be even a least-bad solution to the Ukrainian crisis then Western leaders will need to operate with greater historical insight and imagination than they have shown since 1991'.

As to your concern over a possibility of the crisis spilling over and provoking a military conflict between NATO and Russia. There are, indeed, attempts to frighten the European public opinion. But that is not true. A conventional Crimean War Two is not physically possible. Due to defensive systems developed at the time of the Cold War and perfected over the past ten years, NATO just cannot deploy its assets close enough to engage our armed forces. In Pentagon's parlance, those weapons, never tested in real hostilities, deny access to the theatre. An insight into NATO military's analysis is provided by the claim that with the systems deployed in the Crimea we control the entire water space of the Black Sea and 40% of its airspace. You just extrapolate this on to the whole length of our western border on land and in sea, including the Baltic Sea and the Arctic, to see that no direct engagement is possible under these circumstances. It is, probably, upon this analysis, that the US Administration promptly concluded that the Ukraine crisis has no military solution.

Were NATO to decide to deploy its forces beyond the range of those weapons, it would be another stupid Phoney War with the prospect of nuclear escalation as additional paralyzing factor. Yes, the CFE Treaty is dead because of NATO countries' intransigence. But The Open Skies Treaty is in operation and provides enough transparency for everybody to see that the said calculus is there to stay. It cannot be changed by increased defense budgets, or by way of armour rides and WWII-type military exercises. In XXIst century there are other ways to make the point, in any case not by armoured columns, pincer movements and occupation. British military experts know that well enough.

A glimpse into how things stand in matters of modern warfare, could be provided by the words of former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who suggested that deployment of medium-range missiles in East Asia would mean keeping US aircraft carrier groups beyond the second range of the Pacific Islands. That means that those systems cannot be used in any military confrontation because of their symbolic value, which turns them into a liability rather than asset.

I am sure that nobody in Europe and the US is mad enough to contemplate nuclear exchanges. Our nuclear forces have to make up for the lost decade of the 90-ies in terms of renewal and training. Britain is, too, a nuclear power. By the way, collectivization of nuclear weapons within NATO is not allowed under the NPT. We are concerned over the US plans to deploy anti-missile assets in Europe as its forward defense against our nuclear deterrent. It would destroy the strategic stability, giving the US an edge in case it decides to strike first. So, we have to plan for all contingencies.

It is one of the truths universally acknowledged today, that the world is undergoing a complex and momentous change, be it globalization, multipolarity or paradigms of economic and societal development. Parts of that transformation refer us to our previous collective experience, not only of the XIXth Century, but the XVIIIth Century as well. It is not always negative. Each phenomenon ought to be judged on its merits. For example, the wars of the past 25 years, as polls show, have resulted in the populations viewing wars as the way elites amuse themselves at the public expense (it was European monarchs' favourite pastime in the XVIIIth century). So, it is not us but this mood that deflates Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Of course, there are other throwbacks to even earlier history, which only proves that we are witnessing some truly profound and systemic transformation all over the world, and in the Euro-Atlantic in particular. For example, Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement in Italy (in his recent Lunch with the FT) says: 'We are Franciscans', which refers us to the Middle Ages and the debate on poverty that raged in the Western Church and European society (Umberto Eco talks of it in his 'The Name of the Rose'). So, not only Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas matter, but also the Reformation, The Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. No wonder then that the Greek crisis has revealed that Eurozone in the absence of economic and political union is merely a German customs union. So much for downshifting and other forms of withdrawal from official economy in the times of crisis. No wonder the talk of a German Europe, rather than a European Germany, of an end of an affair between Paris and Berlin, and of an overall schism in Europe based on world-view differences between its Romanic and Germanic parts reminiscent of the earlier divisions, including, partly, the world war alliances.

Another relevant example is the trend of privatizations of modern Western state, including sensitive areas of defense and security. Allison Stanger discusses that in his criticism of Sean McFate's book in The Foreign Affairs (July/August 2015). Effectively, the same issue is raised by John Le Carre in his 'A Delicate Truth'. This, among other things, refers us to 'free companies' of the Hundred Years' War. Similar things are happening in Ukraine threatening further chaotisation in that country and trouble on our Western border.

Closer to our times, John Kay {The FT, 15 July 2015) writes of the NATO/EU imperialist overstretch. Indeed, Ukraine is a sign of the boundaries of West Europe approaching the Nazi precedent of 1941-1942, as well as a symbol of what has been so terribly wrong with Western policies over the past 30 years or so, at least since the end of the Cold War. Why blame Russia for that, for the fact that the European project was heavily politicised after the fall of the Berlin Wall, for J.M.Keynes's 'The Economic Consequences of the Peace' (now almost 100 years old) applying to the Greek crisis now, as it did to the Versaille system and Germany then?

Another case in point is the post-Napoleonic Wars settlement, agreed at the Congress of Vienna 200 years ago. It created the first collective security system in Europe, which guaranteed peace for 40 years till the Crimean War destroyed it. What is remarkable is the fact that the defeated nation, i.e. France, became a full member of the newly established European concert of powers. The reasons of this magnanimity (remember Sir Winston Churchill's 'in victory - magnanimity') were common sense, foresight and common decency, born out of the Age of Enlightenment. Those things would subsequently wear off with disastrous results for Europe and the world. The very idea of progress was perverted, as illustrated by Dr Guillotin and Bismarck's remark that 'the war with Austria was won by the Prussian school teacher'. Aggression of elites no longer sated by colonialism and empire-building entered European territory. First, Russia was humiliated not as much by the defeat in the Crimean War, but by the terms of the Peace of Paris. Then came the turn of Denmark, Austria and France. In Versailles the same was done to Germany (instead of 'peace without victory') and indirectly to Russia, who were excluded from new European settlement. According to Orlando Figes the Crimean War was the first total war that indicated the shape of things to come. This descent into barbarism in Europe, including Anglo-Boer Wars, Balkan Wars and all other tragedies of the XXth Century, was accompanied by nationalist fever of the elites and the public, and jingoism of the press.

We cannot rely on the common sense of Western elites. In the past, including recently, too many developments proved us right. Thomas Friedman of NYT admits consistently that the West "fired the first shot when we expanded NATO toward the Russian border even though the Soviet Union disappeared" (25 June 2015). But still, he talks about a 'Cold War without the fun'. Why not follow the logic and start from square one and agree a real post-Cold War settlement, since there was none contrary to what James Sherr writes in his letter to The FT (3 June)? There was a set of contradictory assumptions, which tended to diverge over time, and doomed to clash if not managed.

May I draw your attention to the view of a prominent American scholar Ian Bremmer (in his highly acclaimed book 'Superpower'): 'Why did Washington stumble into an escalating conflict with Russia over Ukraine, a country that will always matter much more to Moscow than to us... Russia is too big to isolate. This is not a new Cold War. The American people don't care. So why did we pick this fight?' He is not alone to stress the uniqueness of this case. Zb.Brzezinski is of the same view. That is why there is no grounds to draw far-fetched conclusions from this conflict. It would never have happened, had it not been for the short­sightedness of our Western partners, who assumed that Europe could be united by politicised expansion of NATO and EU. Both these tools are in crisis now. It is that, indeed, like on the eve of WWI (please, read for that Max Hastings' 'Catastrophe'), the Ukraine crisis serves as a cover-up for the mismanagement of the elites, who don't know what to do, but wouldn't change track, be it austerity or policies toward Russia.

There is no subjunctive mood in history. But the Ukraine crisis could have been easily avoided, had we joined effort to manage Ukraine's transformation from the very start. The problem is real. For example, Ukraine is the only former republic of the Soviet Union, which hasn't reached the pre-independence level of GDP. We have no designs on Ukraine's territory (it would be a drag on our own development) and will have no problem with a European Ukraine. All the more so that this is our ambition, too. But Europeanness means European values in practice, including human and minority rights. Why decentralization is good for Germany, Britain and Russia, but not for Ukraine, which experts say is a divided country. There is a choice to be made between war and reform, and to have both is a mission impossible. Subjecting its own citizens to economic and humanitarian blockade, wishing them chaos and destruction sound too bloody-minded for political traditions of this part of Europe. Russia insists on the rebel territories remaining part of Ukraine. Otherwise it won't be Ukraine at all. That requires implementation of all political provisions of the Minsk-2. Given the British experience in Northern Ireland, there is no other way forward, but return to politics of consensus and moderation.

As to the people in the Crimea, they had a glimpse of their future under a fervently nationalistic regime and took their destiny into their own hands. We are only proud that provided a safe environment for that. It was our duty to help those in need of protection, we could do it and we did it.

Overall, I believe that sober analysis provides a convincing proof that not only method (moving the dividing lines eastwards, rather than erasing them; in managing the Greek crisis and the very design of the European common currency) defines outcome, but the same is true for context. And the context, both global and regional, has fundamentally changed. Politicians ignore it at their peril and expense in terms of national interest. This explains why after dreams of a globalized alliance NATO, ossified strategically and bureaucratically, returned to the cocoon of territorial defense.

By the way, in my article of 23 June, to which you refer, The Daily Telegraph edited out one single phrase I borrowed from Sting. It says: 'but that is not the shape of Russia's heart'. It makes an important point, i.e. we are always ready to return to normal in our relations with everybody, including EU and the West, given they will it. That is to say that we can cooperate on issues of mutual interest, like Iran's nuclear program or fighting the 'Islamic State'. The recent conclusion of the deal with Iran is a good case in point. All of us, of course, can exercise sort of strategic patience, which, however, quite often means waste of time.

The real cultural disconnect between us and the West lies in its inability to be self-critical. Even now, 25 years after the Cold War, nobody would explain the strategic meaning of the Phoney War. Then what is to be expected when we debate recent failures of imagination? The worst crimes were committed by people who believed themselves to be in the right, and, yes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. What about European rationality and common sense?

The general conclusion one can draw as regards the state of Europe is that the Cold War coordinates and its categories no longer apply to a by far complex reality of today. They are plainly beyond the point, serve to distract from, rather than focus minds on the real issues, which are inevitably big. That is why, in our view, the Chatham House report 'The Russian Challenge' is so wanting in terms of intellectual analysis and policy recommendations. It is strange to hear that Russia is labelled both a revisionist and preeminently counterrevolutionary power, which I assume depends on the definition of status que in each situation in question. At any rate, we are all now in the business of managing Ukraine. As to sovereignty and democracy, how do those square with the way Greece is being treated in the EU? And now that NATO and EU have exhausted their potential of uniting Europe, why not to try other options, tested by previous experience and prompted by history?

Hope, the said considerations will be helpful to you in shaping your view of Russia's narrative on the subject of where and why we are in European affairs.

 

Yours truly,

 

Alexander Yakovenko




LATEST EVENTS

27.09.2018 - Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Security Council meeting, September 26, 2018

Mr President, Colleagues, In the modern world, an efficient fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly important for global and regional stability and the reliable security of all states without exception. Constructive cooperation in this area is an important component of the efforts to shape a positive international agenda. I think everybody agrees that the UN Security Council resolutions that outline specific measures against violations of non-proliferation must be strictly observed. Resolution 1540 remains the basis for this and contains obligations for the member states to take specific measures to prevent non-government agents from accessing weapons of mass destruction and their components. The UNSC decisions taken in pursuance of this resolution are particularly important as they include sanctions for handing over any types of weapons to terrorists. There have been incidents of such handovers and they must be thoroughly investigated.


07.09.2018 - Remarks by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UNSC meeting on the incident in Salisbury

Q: Do you expect British sanctions on Russia soon? A: We are not expecting or afraid of anything. Taking to the account how things have been developing during the recent years we do not exclude anything. This discussion and yesterday’s speech by the British Prime-Minister in the British Parliament are not coincidental. I think that’s looks like a prelude to a new political season. Q: So, Ambassador it’s really coming from the highest level in the UK. A: It always comes from the highest level. Last time when the incident took place it also came from the highest level. Q: But it seems that you are not taking it seriously. A: We are taking it very seriously. We were saying it all the time. Why we’ve been asking for cooperation with the UK from day one. Only few minutes ago Ambassador Pierce was referring to an ultimatum that Boris Johnson made in his letter to the Russian Ambassador in London when the incident took place presented as a request by the British site to cooperate while in fact it was a demand to to accept the gilt. At the same time our requests which we sent to British authorities constantly through OPCW and bilaterally were ignored.


06.09.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at Bolshaya Igra (Great Game) talk show on Channel One, Moscow, September 4, 2018

Question: Today we have a special guest in our studio, one of the main participants in the “great game”, someone the future of the world really depends on in many ways: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We are happy to welcome you in the Great Game studio. Sergey Lavrov: Thanks for inviting me.


22.08.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comment on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's anti-Russian claims

At a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's urges to European partners to slap their own sanctions on Russia in connection with the Salisbury incident.


16.08.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Salisbury Journal"

The Russian Ambassador said he stands together with the people of Salisbury in a meeting with the Journal last week, as the United States announced new sanctions against the country. Speaking at his official residence in Kensington Palace Gardens on Thursday, Alexander Yakovenko said: “We are together with the people of Salisbury.”


24.06.2018 - Greeting by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for the Znaniye school Family Day (Ealing, 24 June 2018)

Dear friends and guests, I am delighted to welcome you at a Family Day celebrating Russia and the World Cup. Today, Russia is the place to be for the whole world. It is a great pleasure to hear fans from all continents appreciating Russia’s hospitality, friendliness and openness to everyone. Right now, people from virtually every country see the 11 host cities, from the Baltic Sea to the Urals on the border of Europe and Asia, and realize how diverse and beautiful our country is. We’d like to bring a bit of Russia and the excitement of the World Cup to Ealing, for those who couldn’t make it to the tournament. By the way, so far both our teams are doing very well, and let us hope they keep up this good work. We cheer for both Russia and England but I’m afraid this can change if both teams meet at the semi-finals.


20.06.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings international forum, Moscow, May 30, 2018

Mr Dynkin, Colleagues and friends, Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for a new opportunity to speak at the international forum named after Academician Evgeny Primakov, an outstanding Russian statesman, academic and public figure. It is indeed a great honour for me. I consider Mr Primakov, with whom I worked at the Foreign Ministry in the latter half of the 1990s, my senior comrade and teacher, as probably do the majority of those who crossed paths with him at one point. Holding this representative conference under the aegis of one of Russia’s leading academic institutes – National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) that also bears Primakov’s name – has become a good tradition. The Primakov Readings have earned a reputation as a venue for serious dialogue of authoritative specialists on the most pressing issues of international politics and the global economy. Today, there is no lack of buzzwords used by politicians, experts and scientists to capture the current moment in international relations. They talk about the crisis of the “liberal world order” and the advent of the post-Western era, “hot peace” and the “new cold war”. The abundance of terms itself shows that there is probably no common understanding of what is happening. It also points to the fairly dynamic and contradictory state of the system of international relations that is hard to characterise, at least at the present stage, with one resounding phrase. The authors of the overarching theme of the current Primakov Readings probably handled the challenge better than others. In its title “Risks of an unstable world order’ they provocatively, and unacademically, combine the words “unstable” and “order”.


21.04.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's talking points at the Press Conference, 20 April 2018

Since we met last time a lot of events took place: - Military strikes of the United States, UK and France against Syria in violation of the international law - Mission by OPCW inspectors to Douma - Speech of Prime Minister May in Parliament in support of the British aggression against Syria - Special meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (18 April 2018) - New developments in the classified case of Salisbury poisoning of Skripal family - No meaningful developments on the Glushkov case - and Cyber security threats I plan to comment all these issues. And I will be happy to answer all our questions, if you have any.


17.03.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Mail on Sunday" (full text)

Q: Bearing in mind that the US, France and Germany have said they agree with Britain that all the evidence suggests the attacks in Salisbury were the responsibility of the Russian state, what credibility can be placed on the denials issued by the Russian Government? A:We don't know if UK presented any evidence to US, France and Germany - highly likely none - but if they did, why not present it through the channels outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention? Universal legal principle is presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof lies with the British Government. Its record includes the Iraq WMD dossier - you will remember that at some point doubting US and UK claims was considered a wild conspiracy theory. It is not any more.


26.01.2018 - Main foreign policy outcomes of 2017

In 2017, Russian diplomacy addressed multidimensional tasks to ensure national security and create a favourable external environment for our country's progressive development. Russia maintained an independent foreign policy, promoted a unifying agenda, and proposed constructive solutions to international problems and conflicts. It developed mutually beneficial relations with all interested states, and played an active role in the work of the UN, multilateral organisations and forums, including the G20, BRICS, the SCO, the OSCE, and the CSTO. Among other things, Russian policy has sought to prevent the destabilisation of international relations, and this responsible policy has met with broad understanding in the international community.



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