“The Western World Has at Last Realized that Russia Is a Real Aggressor”

A guest of the “Borysfen Intel” — Volodymyr Ohryzko, professional diplomat, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007–2009),
the Head of the Centre for Russian Studies











— I would like to start our conversation with what hurts us, Ukrainians, today — Russia’s aggression, annexation of the Crimea in order to destroy Ukrainian statehood. Could you tell me frankly, please: have we not realized within the past 25 years that sooner or later we would witness these events, if they had not been timely prevented?

— Once there was a nursery rhyme: “A and B were sitting on a pipe”. So, from Russia and from our side very serious political players were “sitting on the pipe”, but not on a toy pipe, but on a gas one… And our “elite” did not want to know that it should have cared not about gas profits, but about the Ukrainian state. When those “leaders” were warned that it all could end in a tragedy for Ukraine, they would call such thoughts Russophobic and fired the sober-minded experts. Including me. So that’s why we now have such “achievements”. The time that was meant for building our statehood, became a period of building corruption at the state level. That is why our state with external attributes of statehood has such inner “filling”.

—The world’s reaction to Russia’s aggression, in my opinion, was not very effective. In fact, the system of international security, international organizations such as the United Nations and its main body on issues of war and peace — the Security Council, at the regional level — OSCE and even NATO, initially failed to prevent the actual dismantling of the system of international security and international law that has developed after the Second World War. Does this mean that this whole system is not able to address current geopolitical challenges?

— Let’s be honest: it has not been meeting these challenges since its creation…

NATO, in my opinion, aims to unite the countries under certain conditions to prevent “hot” conflicts between them. Simply put, you have joined the organization on its terms, and already seem not to have the right to sort out your relations with neighbors in a military way.

— Yes, this may be true, but to a certain extent. If you look at the relations between Greece and Turkey, they, having entered NATO, have not abandoned the approaches that alienated them. Because it is not the certain obligations that matter, but the civilizational basis on which this or that structure rests…

Do you think that today we have witnessed a struggle between the major global players for the leadership and a better place in the sunshine? Are the events in the former Yugoslavia (with a special emphasis on Kosovo), conflicts in the former Soviet Union (Nagornyi Karabakh, Chechnya, Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia, Georgia, South Ossetia, Ukraine), developments in North Africa and in the Middle East, territorial disputes in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific Region — links of the same chain? Cannot the world in its development require new changes and new relationships?

— …If we consider the events in the former Soviet territories, we have Russia’s obvious desire to play the same role it had played in this territory over the last centuries: regaining the influence on the now independent from it countries. This is what is called “imperial ambitions” in its pure form is, so to speak, a continuation of exactly this policy. It includes Karabakh and Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia and Ossetia, the Crimea and the Donbas — they all are links of the same chain.

And if we take larger scale, with events in the Middle East, North Africa and the Pacific Region? There, the current security system is helpless and needs to be replaced, because it cannot keep the global processes in the right direction?

— The system will be effective only if with the help of the security mechanism it will really influence the situation. For “to keep the processes” is a very good position or idea, but it is hardly feasible, because all the actors must stand, as I have just said, on the same civilizational basis. Maximum what we can count on in case of a regional or global threat, is turning the situation around.

But this, in my opinion, is not enough. It is necessary not only to restore the status quo, but also to punish the offender of the rules. Is the UN or OSCE capable of this? We see that none of them is, as the civilization difference is obvious and will remain so in the future.

In these circumstances, I think we need to think about the new role of NATO, which, in my opinion, should be transformed and change its geographical principle of construction.

…So it is necessary to think about creation of mechanisms which could influence these or those countries if they go beyond international law.

— One of the characteristic features current military-political situation in the world is sharpening of the struggle between states for territories and resources. In this struggle, historical and ethnographic arguments are often used. How in this context must be understood the official Kyiv’s “pro-Moldovan” position in the case of Trans-Dniester? Must we have some kind of national strategy to return to Ukraine this Ukrainian territory with a large Ukrainian population and important military enterprises?

— I do not think it is necessary to raise the issue of returning that area to us. Because it would mean that we are following Russia, which has undermined the international world order and, I hope, will soon be punished for that.

— But in the same Romania, from time to time is voiced the theme of returning the territories inhabited by ethnic Romanians. Or, for example, certain statements on this topic are made by Poles… Even Prime Minister Groysman at the press briefing with Prime Minister of Moldova Philip talked about the demarcation of the borders with Moldova.

— It’s different. Some sections of the border with Moldova have not been demarcated. And it is in favour of Ukraine — to complete the job and finish it. Throughout our perimeter we must have delimited and demarcated borders. This is the basis of our statehood, because each state has to know where its territory begins and ends. Groysman is absolutely right saying that we should speed up negotiations to complete the process. It has long had to do!

…Many in the European Union and in Ukraine are very alarmed by the trend that has been observed in Poland, where the power is in the hands of one party. This is another illustration of the threat that we see when in some European countries, the idea of European solidarity is seen through the prism of politicization of history, through emphasizing exclusive attention to their national interests.

This, in my opinion, is a very sad trend that affects not only the unity of the EU, but also the latter’s relations with its immediate neighbors, including Ukrainians. I think that in this matter we should be patient and wise. After all, the ruling party came to power in Poland not for the next 1000 years, there will be other political forces in power there!

This way or other, we have to react to this situation. I believe that the current reaction is rather weak, it could be stronger…

Analysis of publications of Polish media over the past 25 years shows the anti-Ukrainian political campaign in Poland’s information sphere. At the same time, Poland is building actively a network of Polish cultural, educational, religious and business centres in our country. Does this mean that Poland’s political elite does not believe in the prospects of an independent Ukraine, and the actions of the Polish governmental and non-governmental factors should be considered in the light of their preparation for another possible division of Ukraine between Poland and Russia?

— Everything depends on us, Ukrainians! Let’s look at the situation not from the point of view of the Poles, Americans or anyone else, but, first of all, from the point of view of the interests of our country. And we must finally give up the approach where someone else resolves something for us. We ourselves decide on everything considering us. As for what they (the Poles. — Ed.) have more here than we have in Poland, ask our government. If we want the Ukrainian people to be adequately represented and protected there, we must make our political, diplomatic and financial efforts…

— This topic somehow echoes with the conference in Finland “Historians without Borders”, in which you and our leading historians participated…

— …If Ukraine is an independent state, Russia loses its identity because without Ukraine, Russia’s history begins in the 16th century, that is from Muscovy and not otherwise. Kyiv period adds one thousand years to their fictional history, creates a “foundation” of their state. Therefore, to Russians this question is the question of their identity, and they do not want to give up this pseudo-identity.

In a word, Russians cannot imagine that Ukrainians may seek their own statehood, state language, culture… That’s the problem.

— …After the bloody events in Kyiv on 18 February 2014, you voiced the “Message to the Leaders of Europe and the USA still Able to Act”, attracting the attention of Western governments to their passive policy of inaction and “non-interference” in Ukraine during the Yanukovych regime’s criminal acts against its own people. You already then warned the West about the terrible consequences for the entire world community. Please remind what their reaction was.

— I think the right thing were doing both, those who made different appeals and those who stood in the Maidan for the state’s independence and their dignity. All that plus Russia’s treacherous aggression against Ukraine have gradually opened the West’s eyes to what is happening in Russia and what it really is…

Only events in Ukraine made the West wake and realize that something was wrong…

However, I believe that at the moment for us, Ukrainians, the situation is improving. The Western world is slowly coming over to our side. We have no other way than to strengthen Ukraine as a state, to create a strong Ukrainian army and to build a strong Ukrainian economy. If we are attractive to the West, its representatives will come and say, dear Ukrainians, you are normal, you are developing successfully, you are strong, and we need you. But if we again start asking them for billions of dollars because of our inadequacy and corruption, then, I am sorry to say, we will be of no interest to them…

As for the referendum on Ukraine’s joining NATO, some our analysts believe that the foreign policy goal of the event is to remind the West of responsibility for the situation in Ukraine after 2014. The hypothetical referendum, analysts say, will not make this joining easier nor will it bring it nearer. Because the decision on membership in NATO is made by the leaders, governments and parliaments of member countries for which Ukraine’s accession to NATO in its current situation equals a catastrophe. So what do you think, is it reasonable to hold that referendum in Ukraine now of all times?

— Do we need NATO? Apparently so. Why? Because it is currently the only structure which can guarantee our security. Can we apply today to join the Alliance? Unfortunately, we can’t — because so far we are not up to the criteria.

If we analyze the waves of NATO’s enlargement, we’ll see that it has accepted the countries either important in terms of strategic interests or to “cover the territory”. In our case it will be the matter of the first principle, of course. Today Ukraine has the combat experience in the struggle against Russia’s aggression, which no NATO’s country has. And this is worth much. If Ukraine becomes an economically strong, devoid of corruption, truly democratic country, will NATO not be interested in having such an ally? Even despite Moscow’s hysterics?

There are no formal obstacles against our joining NATO, because in April 2008 NATO summit in its documents guaranteed the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

The speed of joining it depends on us, Ukrainians. Remember this.


Interview recorded by Oleh Makhno.

 Full version of the interview was published in the “BINTEL. Geopolitical Analytics Journal” Issue 1, 2017.


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