Former Ukrainian Ambassador to Norway, Yurii Onischenko, made the time for this interview after Russia commenced hostilities again Ukraine, and on the day that Ukraine held its presidential elections, which saw Petro Poroshenko become elected as the 5th president of that country.
Thank you, Mister Ambassador, for making the time to meet on this very important day in the history of the Ukraine to discuss the situation there, as well as the election taking place during the current crisis.
Mr Ambassador, the Ukrainian crisis has escalated to unprecedented proportions and dropped numerous human casualties. Who is the main culprit for this difficult situation what the whole world reminds at the Cold War period?
“The answer to this question lies on the surface and the reaction of the international community, respectful international organizations, in particular, the UN, the OSCE and Council of Europe is well known. Almost all states have condemned Russian aggression towards Ukraine, called on Russia to stop interfering into the internal affairs of Ukraine, to respect the sovereignty and territorial unity of my country. The democratic world does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, strongly condemned serious violations of the most basic principles of international law and has imposed sanctions on the Russian officials over the annexation of Crimea. Even more, the concentration of Russian military forces along the Ukrainian eastern border and support by Kremlin for pro-Russian militia in Ukraine don’t contribute at all to the stabilization of the situation either in Ukraine or in the European region.”
Russian President Putin claims that the main fault lies with the provisional Ukrainian authorities who are illegal and who illegitimate replaced the legally elected President Yanukovych? What do you think about these claims?
“Such claims are baseless and motivated by the desire to explain their illegal actions toward Ukraine which are condemned by the almost all countries of the world. Yanukovych restrained himself from performing his constitutional powers. He has gone and did not fulfill his obligations on signing the law according to the Agreement with opposition about restoration of the Constitution of 2004 within 48 hours. The new created majority of the legitimate parliament of 328 lawmakers of the 450-seat parliament voted on February 22 to remove former president Yanukovych from power, citing as grounds his abandoning office and the deaths of more than 100 protesters and police in the past chaotic weeks of violence. The Parliament appointed a new Government and decided to hold elections of the President on 25 may 2014. Everything was done publicly to restore the entire chain of power in a democratic manner.”
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, almost without firing a shot. Do you think that the Crimea is irretrievably lost for Ukraine and that it will never again be part of Ukrainian territory?
“Ukrainian authorities have realized that keeping many thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine and started, Russia planned to provoke an armed conflict not only in Crimea but also on the east and south of Ukraine which would cost many lives and sovereignty of all state. We did not yield to those provocations, allowing keeping time for the army mobilization and strengthening the eastern part of the country’s border where from before those moment maybe just a few experts expected the possibility of aggression of a guarantor state, which was Russia under the Budapest Memorandum.
Crimean Peninsula is an integral part of Ukraine. As a result of aggression act it is now occupied by Russian military forces. Russia annexed part of Ukraine’s territory, seized Ukrainian military bases and state property. The city of Sevastopol and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are determined as temporarily occupied territories and all property there belongs solely to Ukraine. The adoption of the UN General Assembly with the majority of votes in favor of “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” Resolution (100 – “in favor”, 11 – “against”) confirmed the unequivocal support of the international community of Ukraine’s sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity with its internationally recognized borders. Ukraine will apply international law principles against Russia at institutions of international litigation and arbitration as well as international jurisdictional bodies.”
Is Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild a powerful Russian Empire through extending to the territory of neighboring countries? It looks like that taking into account the mentioned above.
“The situation in Eastern and South-Eastern Ukraine is chaotic. Pro-Russian separatists occupied the police stations and the centers of the city authorities in many cities such as Slaviansk, Kramatorsk etc. In the fierce clashes between pro-Russian separatists and regular Ukrainian army there is a large number of dead and wounded people.
Is there power in an official Kiev to seduce peace and order in rebel cities and regions?
The security situation in the eastern regions of the country is very difficult. Armed militants being supported by Russian special services have threatened, detained, or kidnapped some journalists and pro-Ukrainian activists in the region. The Russian Federation has positioned military forces along the border of eastern Ukraine while armed militants in several eastern Ukrainian cities have staged demonstrations, seized government buildings, set up checkpoints, and attacked police and pro-Ukrainian counter-demonstrators. In such conditions the National Guard and governmental Special Forces started anti-terror operation. We demand the Russia pull back the Army from the border and follow its commitments under Geneva agreement.
Additionally the Ukrainian government has already begun own efforts to engage its citizens across the country in a conversation, facilitated by the OSCE, about priorities for dialogue on constitutional reform and national unity. We believe the potential value of roundtables around Ukraine will allow reaching convenient solutions. It is expected that the reform of the Constitution of Ukraine, which is one of the major initiatives of the Government, will come to its closure by this September and will take into account all recommendations and observations of national expert groups as well as international community representatives.
Reforming local self-governance and territorial power organization in Ukraine is an important part of constitutional reform in our country. It means decentralization and expansion of local powers. At the same time reform foresees elimination of oblast state administrations, creation of executive committees and deprivation of central powers of functions not natural for them. The reform concept was adopted by the Government on 1 April 2014. Concept of the Reform of Local Self-Government and Territorial Organization of the Powers in Ukraine was adopted by the Government on 1 April 2014.
“Federalization” plan which is actively imposed by the Russian Federation under slogans of “comprehensive protection of legal rights of citizens in Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine” is unacceptable due to the real threat it poses to the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is also a direct interference into internal life of our country.”
Do you think that Russia would intervene militarily and that East and South-East Ukraine will suffer the same fate as Crimea?
“Currently the Russian Federation located the massive army on the east and south borders of Ukraine. It’s mean that Russia is going further to threatening of use force or preparing army to intervene in Ukraine violating international law in each of these cases. No doubts we are going to defend our land.
The visit on 9 May by the President of the Russian Federation to the temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol serves as another evidence of blatant disrespect by the Russian side for the legislation of Ukraine and international law; gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, the United Nations Charter, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution “On Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” as well as Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation of 1997. This step demonstrates yet again that Russia deliberately aims at further escalation of tensions in Ukrainian-Russian relations and is unwilling to hear calls of the international community and settle problem issues by diplomatic means.”
After fire in a building in Odessa, where 38 people, pro-Russian activists, were killed, the Russian authorities took advantage and once again accused the Ukraine authorities that their only goal is to break basic human and ethnic rights of the local Russian population?
“We believe that a full and impartial investigation, which is being conducted by law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, will enable us to find not only the perpetrators of the tragedy, but also their puppeteers and sponsors both in Ukraine and in Russia. I think that which we saw in Odessa was a provocation of the external actors to deflect attention from the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine. They want to show that situation in the country is not stable, but what happened in Odessa showed something else, that the people’s patience has run out. In addition, according to some information in events in Odessa participated also “guests” from Transnistria.”
Official Moscow also frequently accuses Ukrainian provisional authorities that they try to abolish Russian as an official language in the regions where the Russian people make the most of population. Is there a little bit of truth in these claims?
“Unfortunately the issue of the Russian language always rises by someone to achieve some political goals in or concerning Ukraine. There is no any discrimination of the Russian speaking citizens in Ukraine. If one looks at an average Ukrainian newsstand, one will find that about 90 percent of the publications are in Russian, even in the areas where the majority of the population speaks Ukrainian! The Russian language also dominates the radio. The only segment of the media where the Ukrainian language predominates is the national-level television channels but not the topic of entertainment.
On February 23, 2014 the Parliament of Ukraine canceled the Law “On the principals of the state language policy in Ukraine” (232 votes against 37). The mentioned Law, initiated by the Party of Regions, was adopted in October 2012 with major violations of legislation procedures and caused a wave of critics and civil protests.
However, the Parliament decision led to negative public response as well as to critical international reaction and could become a factor for further political destabilization in the country.
Trying to maintain unity and to calm ethnical tenses the acting president of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov vetoed the Parliament decision. For now the old Law “On the principals of the state language policy in Ukraine” remains in force.
The work on preparation of a new language law has been initiated. The Parliament of Ukraine has appointed the Temporary Special Commission, which consists of all deputy groups, for proposing a draft of new comprehensive document on language policy in Ukraine. After several consultations with the national minorities groups, experts and academic environment the Commission took the former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk`s draft law on applying languages in Ukraine as a base for the future Law. At the moment we are expecting the Venice Commission`s opinion on that document.”
Are you surprised by the lukewarm reaction of the West, namely the United States and the European Union, on the crisis in Ukraine? Some political analysts argue that the West should have much tighter and tougher to respond to the policy of Vladimir Putin, even before the annexation of the Crimea, and especially now when Russian tanks and a number of Russian army stand along the borders of East and South-East of Ukraine?
‘I have already mentioned about sanctions against officials of the Russian Federation as well as about broad support at the UN level. We appreciate the tangible support of all countries in defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as for the assistance in the implementation of important democratic, social and economic changes in my country. In the current situation it’s of great importance for Ukraine as well as for stability and security in the whole Europe.’
Finally, do you believe that, after all, this great crisis can be resolved without further bloodshed, by peaceful means, and what to expect from the presidential elections in Ukraine which are provided for May 25?
‘Ukrainian Government and a vast majority of a population of Ukraine are strongly convinced that one of the most important tasks is holding the elections of the President of Ukraine, scheduled for the 25th of May. We believe that elections, conducted according to international standards under the eyes of unprecedented number of national and international observers, are a key element of stabilizing the political, economic, social and security situation in Ukraine as well as will facilitate to a stable development of the country.
Early presidential elections will take place on legislatively set date – 25 May 2014. 21 candidates for the post of the President of Ukraine are registered to take part in the elections. Candidates represent all regions of Ukraine and wide political spectrum. 114 polling stations were established in foreign electoral district. Ukraine is interested in holding elections in free, transparent and democratic manner, in full compliance with international standards with the maximum presence of international observers.
High number of international observers is expected to be present at the elections. As of 16 May 2014 Central Electoral Commission registered 1375 international observers: 1319 representing international organizations, 56 – countries. In particular, Observers from Canada, Lithuania, USA, Norway, France, Japan, Turkey, OSCE ODIHR, Parliamentary Assemblies of the OSCE, Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Ukrainian World Congress, and Congressional Ukrainian Caucus have already been registered. Respective observation missions will be also sent by the European Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, NATO and GUAM etc.
Long-term OSCE ODIHR electoral observation mission on monitoring early presidential elections in Ukraine started its work on 19 March. It is expected that over 900 short-term observers will be present at the polling stations.
The election of the President is one of the main preconditions for further development of Ukraine and is key step to normalization and stabilization of the situation in the country. Any calls to disrupt or to postpone the election should be seen as attempts to prevent stabilization of the internal processes in Ukraine.
I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown to my country and processes are going there.”