Crimean crisis: Flashpoint for a new Cold War?

Crimean crisis: Flashpoint for a new Cold War?
Russian Ambassador to Thailand Alexander G Mariyasov comments on the crisis in Crimea.

In separate interviews, Russian Ambassador Alexander G Mariyasov and his Ukrainian counterpart Markiian Chuchuk discuss the crisis in Crimea with Nation TV journalist Veenarat Laohapakakul.

Alexander G Mariyasov, Russian Ambassador to Thailand

Q: Is Russia's action in supporting the referendum and accepting Crimea into Russia a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity?

A: We don't consider it so. According to international law, if people of a region cannot defend their rights [and] cannot do what they want in that country, they have the right to express their will. So it's not a violation of the Ukrainian constitution, it's more about fulfilling the right of the people.

The status of Crimea is special. It was not a province or region of Ukraine. It has an autonomous status. According to the Crimea constitution, it has a right to referendum, but that was neglected by the central government.

Q: The West says Russia is "annexing" Crimea. How would you describe the situation?

A: For Russia and Crimea, it's reunion. It was always a part of Russia. It was annexed in Soviet times when it was given to Ukraine. That was annexation because there was no referendum, no asking the opinion of the people. It was a breach of the constitution, but at that time, we didn't pay attention to that.

Q: Should the situation be reversed, say the residents of Kaliningrad wanted to break away and join Germany, would Russia allow that?

A: It's a hypothetical question. If we start to revise the results of the Second World War, it will be to the detriment of the international situation. Of course we should consider the will of the people - the Kaliningrad people don't want to leave the Russian Federation.

Q: How will Russia treat the minorities in Crimean, namely Ukrainians and Muslim Tatars?

A: It was declared by Crimean authorities that there will be three official languages -Russian, Ukrainian and the local language of Crimean Tatars. The Tatars will be given money for their resettlement in Crimea because they are returning from other places.

There will be no discrimination against Tatars. The Russian parliament has approved it. There will be guarantees for Ukrainians who live there as well. All their rights will be guaranteed.

Q: What if other eastern cities in Ukraine want to join Russia, would Russia also accept them?

A: It's difficult to say now. We are against the disintegration of Ukraine. Crimea is a special case. What we know about the situation in the eastern and southeastern regions is that they are protesting against the behaviour of central authorities. They want more rights. They want their rights to be guaranteed by the central government.

There are sentiments in favour of breaking away from Ukraine. We do not support [this]. We only ask and demand from that Ukraine authorities honour their rights and guarantee their rights. It will be the best way out.

Q: The West is imposing targeted sanctions on certain officials in Russia, do these sanctions mean anything to Russia?

A: Sanctions will be counterproductive. Right now the sanctions imposed are not very serious [travel bans and freezing of assets].

The problem will be when more serious sanctions are imposed. The situation will backfire more seriously for the EU than the US because our [EU] trade amounts to US$460 billion (S$526 billion) - 10 times more than the US.

What will happen if we impose sanctions on the EU? I don't think this is acceptable for the businesses. European businesses object to sanctions because they will suffer hugely, and economic relations will also suffer.

You can exclude Russia from G-8. That's your problem. You might not come to Sochi for the G-8 summit, but Russia wants to cooperate with Western countries in solving many problems. Russia is a very big country and without its economy and participation, it's difficult to solve many problems.

This is not a threat, but we will be obliged to answer if sanctions are imposed on us. But it is not our choice.

Q: Is there going to be a war? Everyone is talking about this as a repeat of the Cold War.

A: There will be no war. We have always lived with our Ukrainian friends and brothers in peace. That is our common history.

We share longstanding traditions and friendship with the Ukrainian population because for many years we lived in one country. We have very close interaction and ties.

Several million Russians live in Ukraine and vice versa. The families are mixed. We will never start any war against our people. But much depends on the authorities, on their behaviour.

If they have a hostile policy, we will not invade Ukraine, but we are obliged to answer their provocations. But we will never fight or go to war against Ukraine.

Q: There's no way Crimea is going back to Ukraine?

A: No. It's decided. It's the will of the people. It's already done.

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