M. Pohrebinsky in the TV Program "Just the Man": "The Tuzla Issue"
On October 22 the TV Program "Just the Man" hosted director of the Kiev Center of Political Studies and Conflictology Mykhailo Pohrebinsky
The following is the transcript of the talk.
Program "Just the Man" October 22, 7.10-7.30 p.m.
TV hostess - Olha Taukach, guest - Mykhailo Pohrebinsky, political scientist, director of the Kiev Center of Political Studies and Conflictology.
Olha Taukach. Today the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has held the parliamentary hearings "Ukrainian - Russian Relations: State of the Art and Prospects".
Today two things have surprised our parliamentary correspondent. Firstly, a categorical refusal of the Russian parliamentarians to give us an interview and secondly, such an "elevated" interest on the part of the Ukrainian legislators - there were 40 of them in the hall. How do you explain it?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky. As you know we hear a lot of words that we are either in a crisis situation, or on the eve of a serious crisis. However, judging by a number of legislators in the hall one cannot feel that the legislators perceive it seriously enough.
At the same time I personally believe that the situation is still rather serious. This is a serious challenge. And we, unfortunately, have not worked out all necessary instruments to be at hand "if anything is imminent be ready to respond right away".
But there is no other way out. Therefore, at present the negotiations are underway. I believe Ukraine's leadership's attitude to it is rather serious for as is known the President of Ukraine, after all, interrupted his visit to Latin America and tomorrow comes back to Ukraine. Thus I think there are indeed things to talk about. I personally have a feeling of such a pre-crisis situation.
Olha Taukach. By the way, commenting the fact that the President of Ukraine decided to interrupt the official visit and come back to Ukraine, Georhiy Manchulenko - this is the Our Ukraine faction - said that this is an indication of the fact that the Kerch conflict had been planned by Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin - allegedly for the purpose of introducing the state of emergency, of dissolving parliament and so on and so forth. What is your opinion on that? No comment?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky. No, there are comments.
You know there are many versions. And indeed, this is a normal thing since people want to understand what is going on. A conflict is also a normal thing if there are any reasonable, understandable motives for such a conflict. What lies behind such a major and the most serious reason for this tense situation? The main reason is that the Russian side's actions are not quite clear for us. On the one hand, nothing criminal is going on, they are building a dam on their own territory. We do not have any reasons like, say, the U.S. ambassador, or any other top-notch representatives of foreign countries to speak about any violation taking place, but we cannot but be worried - we know nothing about it, we do not know the motives for such actions. What? Will the construction stop? No?... We even do not know whether they are going to stop... Well, we may say - Russia's Foreign Minister promised that they would stop, but there is a problem: we do not have delimitation on water. We say that our border is 150 meters off, and...
Olha Taukach. But they may think it otherwise.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Yes, they may think otherwise. We even do not know. We hear quite irresponsible things from top-level Russian officials who permit themselves to speak that they do not know exactly whose territory it is: Ukraine's or not. We know exactly - this is the Ukrainian territory.
Olha Taukach. Today Mr. Rogozin has said that the Territory's Governor signed the documents in the 1970s in the state of drunkenness.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky. I am not interested at all in what state he signed these documents. After that being in an absolutely sober, clear-headed state the leaders of the state signed the border agreements. These are agreements about friendship and cooperation, which in absolutely clear-cut and unambiguous terms state that this is our land and it cannot be understood otherwise. All other actions look as, well, you know as in such known verses that "Russia's baffling to the mind, not subject...
Olha Taukach....to the common measure"...
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: "not subject to the common measure"... One only can have faith. But I do not have this faith. And if I do not have this faith, then if I do not have faith then I suspect them of some evil intentions. I wish to know exactly what are the motives of such actions in order that I may sit down at the negotiation table and look for possible compromises between the sides. So far, I personally cannot understand motives of the Russians' actions and therefore I visualize various scenarios. Including such scenarios that make us be very, well, how to say it....
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky:...worried, because... may we rule out that by and large this scenario is related to the fact that someone among the Russian leadership hates the idea of our cooperation with NATO, may we not assume it? As is known NATO does not allow countries having any territorial conflicts to join them. Perhaps they want to have here a conflict in order to prevent us from being a NATO member? I am, incidentally, not a very ardent supporter of Ukraine going to NATO, but if I see such attitude from Russia - I will be a champion of Ukraine's accession to NATO as soon as possible. Therefore I believe that at present the situation is rather complicated and should be settled, to my opinion, at the highest level.
Olha Taukach. As a matter of fact such a decision was endorsed following the outcomes of the parliamentary hearings of parliamentarians of Russia and Ukraine - they made up their minds to address the leaders of the two countries to sit at the negotiation table. But cannot it be referred to as passing the buck from the law-making body to other branches of power?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: "No. Really I believe that the leaders of the countries should be the first to enter the negotiating process. I think that soon it will take place, but... And, of course, the parliamentarians have a different job. I would like to say that there is a very dangerous thing, when - and it already deals with, say, not very reasonable and considered actions by the Ukrainian side - when draft bills are being prepared or even being considered that are related to the status of the Azov Sea. These draft bills may cause a very serious concern of the Russian partner. I do not like to go into details, but it is clear that such things...
Olha Taukach. Тhe more so, indeed, in the period of a crisis situation.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Even now there are very few lawmakers. And when the issues of the status and delimitation are considered there is nobody there at all and it is irresponsible to consider such serious things. An inadequate reaction may be an answer. But it is hard to imagine a response, which will be more inadequate than the one that we have already experienced. That is why my attitude toward what we have is rather serious.
Olha Taukach. Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov today called upon everybody not to inflame passions around this issue since the construction of the dam, I cite: "that is underway following a decision adopted by the Krasnodar authorities was dictated exclusively by economic and ecological reasons and has nothing to do with the negotiations on the status of the Azov-Kerch water area". Can we trust these words since we know about the pace of the construction and the scales of financing?"
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: "I will say as Stanislavsky did: "I do not believe it"! I do not believe the words of this respectful and top-level official. I do not believe him because if it was so - was it worthwhile to keep silence for so long. First of all, they could say it much earlier. Now that the situation was fomented to such an extent why are they trying to reassure everybody in such a way and why is it said by the Minister of Foreign Affairs?....
Olha Taukach. And why not the Minister of Ecology?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: I even would say: not only the minister. I think that at this stage it will be very hard to calm the situation without very serious words by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. And we have all the reasons to say that this is not the way to behave oneself with the strategic partners. If you want a friendly country to be by your side you do not have to follow the example of the United States, which tackles all issues ignoring international law. But one has to remember that we are friendly nations and one cannot behave toward us like very strong powers toward less stronger powers.
Olha Taukach. October 30 will see a meeting of two leaders of foreign political agencies, where this conflict will be discussed. The same Igor Ivanov today has said that Russia's position on this issue had been already outlined. Can you predict what will be a position with which Ivanov will come to Ukraine?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: I may predict and I even may understand the Russian side's position. It is more or less known. It is a question whether they would like to have a status of an internal sea, so to say, for the Azov Sea.
Olha Taukach. That is, without a distinct border line on the water?
Мykhailo Pohrebinsky: Well, in the ideal case - in general, the internal sea of the Russian Federation and if it is impossible - that of the common internal sea of Ukraine and Russia. What does this mean? It is simple enough to understand: since today Ukraine exercises control over the Kerch strait and we even obtain USD 159 million there for passing Russian ships from Russia to Russia...
Olha Taukach. By the way, Kunitsyn has said today that the Russian ships pay only one million per year and it is hardly... The rest is paid by the foreign ships.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Others pay the rest, it is not small money. I want to explain what lies in the heart of the matter. The Russian side would like to safeguard for itself the right of a veto so as to secure a passage or a non-passage through the strait of some... let us say a navy squadron. They are entitled to want it. Can we come to terms with them? Here, please, wait? Everything depends now on our interests. Let us come to an agreement! Perhaps you may offer us something to which we will concede. But today this is our strait and we may determine who will pass through it and who will not. But we may come to terms. For this we have come to an agreement and do not scare us with these dams.
Olha Taukach. Some experts believe that the conflict in the Kerch strait is only the beginning of Moscow's far-reaching plans, which, for that matter, were voiced by Anatoly Chubais - about the creation of a liberal empire?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: "This is difficult to make a comment on this; this is absolutely not serious, because I know for sure that it is a premeditated PR-action of a party, which has problems in overcoming the barrier and knows that in Russia the word "empire" is a popular word. It is difficult for him to simply utter the word "empire" because he is a liberal. He refers to it as "a liberal empire". This is a mere PR stunt and all talks around it are simply for the benefit of Chubais who wants to overcome a 5% barrier. May it help him, let him overcome this barrier! I like this guy.
Olha Taukach. But as you can see they are supported by the electorate. In particular, the radio station "Echo of Moscow" conducted an express-poll among the Muscovites and 82% of the respondents said that the island of Tuzla was more important for them than relationships with Ukraine.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: These are serious things that are in question. As you know when the diplomats argue and when top officials talk between themselves there is always a possibility to find a compromise. There is a whole theory, instruments and so on. But when the populace is involved this may be very dangerous. We are talking about impossibility of a war between us. I also think that a war is out of the question. However, the situation is rather serious. What our border guards should do if the border is trespassed?
Olha Taukach. As a matter of fact the border has been trespassed: a Russian ship entered the Ukrainian territory.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: So far the border guards did everything that was needed. But if the border is trespassed by the people who are building the dam?
Olha Taukach. According to the information given by Mr. Kunitsyn, Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, armed people for the first time appeared in the Russian territory.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: You know, as far as Mr. Kunitsyn is concerned, - I cannot say for sure that it was not his prank. He has already proposed to dig a pit: the Russian raise a dam and the Ukrainians will dig a hole. This is not serious and is a bit...
Olha Taukach. We are responding by a bomb to a bomb, which was mentioned yesterday by Voloshyn. Did he make a joke or not...
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: This is a piece of information from a source, in which I have doubts. Let us at this point assume the following. Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they knew nothing yet. If it was so - then we may only think it was a lame joke. But involving people in it is extremely irresponsible. There are quite a lot of people for whom the word "empire", for whom the return of the great and powerful Soviet Union is extremely important and they are ready... perhaps even to give up their lives for that. We also have lot of people, and the Russians must understand it, who are ready to do everything and even sacrifice their lives for Ukraine's territorial integrity and to drive people to it would mean a complete bankruptcy оf a political career for those people who may lead to it. Therefore, it impossible to speak in the language for entangling people in what could be defined as ours or not ours, or whose territory it is - this is not their business! This has been fleshed out and resolved. This is clear.
Olha Taukach. In fact people have already been in the streets. Some came to the walls of the Verkhovna Rada shouting "Down with Russia", others in Simferopol said: "No Ukraine's aggression against Russia". That is, people proper has already been entangled in this situation.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: This is not true! I must tell you that both in Kiev and in Simferopol these were people who were entangled by their party leaders in such actions.
Olha Taukach. Specifically, did they receive money at their place of work?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Well, of course! This is not yet a civil, thank God!, indignation! And I think that everything should be done to prevent it. Well, I have certain optimism with respect to it, although I repeat saying that it is difficult for me to understand such irresponsible things - without prior warning and so on - of the Russian side and I believe that all this for the benefit of Russia's enemies! They must understand that they are not the United States and they will never be the United States, They are a very respectful state and for us they are - a great power even - but what is allowed Jupiter to do is not allowed a bull to do. And Russia should know its place in this respect.
Olha Taukach. But how then would you comment a situation which occurred in the Astrakhan Oblast, where the governor by his own decision annexed to Russia's territory the islands of Malyi Zhemchuzhnyi, Zhestkiy, Utkanyi in the Caspian Sea ignoring the protests of the Kazakh side? This resembles such a common territorial space?!
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Оlya, where did you get this information?
Olkha Taukach (very sincerely and direct). From the Internet!
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Let us check, at first. I simply do not know it and I cannot comment it.
Olha Taukach. How all this situation may affect the ratification by Ukrainian parliament of Ukraine's accession to the Common Economic Space?
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: Well the answer is absolutely obvious. But I would like to say that there are many people who are very pleased with what is going on since they are categorical opponents of the CES and they think "this is the way to bury the CES". I do not rule out that Ukraine is more interested in the CES than Russia. Because future prospects of the CES are not clear to anybody. While the first phase is a free-trade zone, we need it more than Russia. That is why if we do not ratify the CES it will be against our interests rather than against Russian interests! And the liberal empire, which will never come into existence.
Olha Taukach. But at first we have to resolve the main issue for today i.e. the conflict that occurred in the Azov Sea.
Mykhailo Pohrebinsky: I do hope that within 2-3 days the tension around this issue will lessen and we will see how the negotiating process will go on and the objectives of the Russian side become clear and then we will propose options for settling. Let us hope that everything ends peacefully.