Ukrainian ambassador requests urgent aid for Crimean Tatars, Ukraine
Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey Sergiy Korsunsky has stated in an exclusive interview with Sunday's Zaman that despite Russian propaganda attempting to persuade Turks that a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine is possible through dialogue, the Turkish people must count the actions against Crimean Tatars as “genocide" and calls for the Turkish government to increase their efforts to support the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine.
“Turks must see that what Russian occupants are doing to the Tatars in Crimea is a kind of genocide," said Korsunsky. Recalling trials Crimean Tatars have undergone since 1991, Korsunsky has called on Turkish partners to increase support.
Can the military conflict in Ukraine be called a civil war?
It's not a civil war. Ukrainians face open aggression from the Russian Federation that started long before the Donetsk and Luhansk areas (Donbass) in southeastern Ukraine were transformed into a war zone. It started with the Russian annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014. During that time, Russia invaded Crimea and tried to instigate the so-called “referendum” with a heavy military presence of the Russian armed forces. After that, the Russian Federation provided arms and military training for local gangsters and other disreputable people in Donbass, who began to destabilize this heavily industrialized area of Ukraine. Later on, the Russian armed forces invaded Donbass, constituting a de-facto war between the Russian and Ukrainian armies.
It is true that, before the military conflict in Donbass, some part of the local population did not welcome the new government of Ukraine. However, polls held both in Donbass and throughout southeastern Ukraine indicated that only about 30 percent of the population was in favor of some kind of affiliation with Russia. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens were in favor of a united and fully independent Ukraine.
There would not be any military conflict in Donbass without Russia's direct invasion. I would like to emphasize that, by occupying and annexing Crimea, and by invading Donbass, Russia brutally violated major principles of international law as well as many multilateral and bilateral agreements it had signed.
Why did Russia intervene?
Though Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, Russia has never considered it to be an equal partner, despite having officially recognized Ukraine as an independent sovereign state in hundreds of formal documents. Russia has always attempted to control Ukraine. In Ukraine we have a joke: Russian democracy ends where the Ukrainian issue begins. For Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and for the people around him, it would be disastrous to see a prosperous Ukraine, which is affiliated with Europe and which has close relations with the transatlantic community.
That is why, after Ukraine was weakened by the Revolution of Dignity in February 2014, Russia saw an opportunity to attack, and it invaded. Russia's main goal was to annex Crimea because the peninsula has a very favorable geostrategic location. Now, after a year has passed since the annexation, the world can see that Russia is transforming Crimea into a large military base threatening, first of all, NATO countries.
Under such circumstances, is Ukrainian membership to NATO an option?
For now we are not seeking NATO membership. A country must invest heavily in its military to bring it to compliance with the high standards of the Alliance and then gain membership. When the decision was made to admit some Eastern European and Baltic countries that did not fully meet NATO criteria at the time, the international situation was more or less stable. That was long before the current conflict with Russia.
Now Russia is openly declaring NATO as its enemy. However, I do not believe NATO is an enemy of Russia. Russia has been cooperating with NATO for many years. I visited NATO headquarters several times in 2007 and 2008, and I remember that the mission of Russia to NATO was several times bigger than that of Ukraine because NATO-Russia cooperation was much more active than the Alliance's partnership with Ukraine.
However, there is now a clear paranoia in the Kremlin that NATO is an enemy and that the US is going to attack Russia and start a war in order to conquer it. It is absolute nonsense. Why would anybody assault a country that has one of the largest nuclear arsenals and armed forces in the world, a country with huge resources and permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council?
Nevertheless, Putin wants Russia to be encircled by a grey zone of countries that would constitute the first line of defense, an approach left over from the Soviet Union's containment policy. According to Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine must be fully dominated [by Russian government]. Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia must be used as a frontline against NATO-member Turkey in the south, and it seeks control over Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, among others, in Central Asia, as well as Mongolia in the Far East.
Ukraine does not want to be anyone's puppet but, at the same time, Ukraine is a very peaceful country. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. We gave up this arsenal and received assurances from the permanent members of the UN Security Council that our security would be guaranteed by them. These guarantees were granted by the Budapest Memorandum signed by the US, UK, France and Russia in December 1994. Yet 20 years later our sovereignty is being violated by one of these signatories – Russia, which has annexed Crimea and is destabilizing Donbass.
I must say that this memorandum was meant to set an example, to show other countries that their security can be guaranteed without nuclear armament. The nuclear powers used to say to any country trying to obtain nuclear arms: “Why do you need nuclear weapons? We guarantee that nobody will attack you, look at the example of Ukraine.” Now this example has disappeared. If the guarantee of protection is violated by a UN Security Council member, how can you trust any word from the UN Security Council? It is a real possibility that other countries are currently building their own nuclear arsenals. This is very dangerous development.
What Ukraine is doing to normalize the situation in Donbass?
When the Moscow-inspired turmoil began in Donbass, we did not respond with full military force, as Russia had done in Chechnya. We initially used only National Guard and police forces to cope with the situation, until Russia increased the use of violence. After infiltrating our borders, we have continue to see Russia support rebels with tanks, rockets, grenade launchers, munitions, and military personnel.
But Russia denies it.
Russia denies the presence of its forces in Ukraine but the proof is overwhelming. We live in the 21st century. We have satellites, equipment that allows us to observe and record Russian communication, as well as documents proving Russian involvement. Russia denies its involvement because then it would have to acknowledge its role as an aggressor and accept harsh consequences under international law.
We will provide proof of Russian criminal aggression in international courts, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), and will argue that international law should be applied.
The main purpose of the peace talks in Minsk is to end the violence because we are defending ourselves against Russian terrorist tactics. They place rocket launchers on the roofs of civilian buildings such as kindergartens, homes, schools and hospitals. We cannot act like them and indiscriminately shell buildings with civilians inside. This is why we have so many casualties. I must admit that sometimes our military is not precise enough, unfortunately, but that is why President Poroshenko's first priority is a cease-fire. As he has said: “We can return territory. We cannot return the lives of the people.”
We help those who want to leave the occupied territories of Donbass resettle elsewhere in Ukraine, and the number of these people has reached almost a million. Still, there are several million people who remain in Donbass. They don't want to leave or they have no money to resettle. We want to stop the violence in order to save their lives.
I would like to re-emphasize: the gangsters and Russian troops fighting the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Donbass do not represent the will of the people, their support is minimal. We want to stop fighting and hold elections. However, these elections must be free, fair, without any foreign military presence and conducted according to the Ukrainian law, as Donbass is the territory of Ukraine. Only then can we recognize the results.
Where will Putin stop?
Unfortunately there is no precise answer to this question. As I mentioned earlier, he seeks to recreate the belt of security around Russia that he believes will protect the country against foreign intervention. So far, Russia has destroyed 7 percent of our territory and 20 percent of the GDP of our country by invading the most heavily industrialized part of Ukraine.
Russia claims they want Ukraine to become a federation like Germany or Russia itself, but they promote the formation of a special federation where individual territories can veto decisions of the central government, including decisions regarding foreign policy. They want the eastern parts of Ukraine to block NATO membership, European integration, and other steps toward Ukrainian independence from Russia.
However, in Ukraine, the constitutional majority, more than three-fourths of the population, want to live in a normal European state. By now we understand what it means to be aligned with Russia, something Ukrainians will only further withstand under military duress. If Moscow attempts a larger attack there will be an all-Ukrainian patriotic war against the invaders. Russia will never win this war.
At the moment we are trying to rebuild our military very quickly, to upgrade it to the highest modern standards. We try to rotate personnel and adopt NATO's training techniques in order to make the Ukrainian military more modern. While no Alliance troops are currently in Ukraine, we have advisors helping our commanders prepare for conflict, and we hope that NATO and especially the US will provide us with defensive weapons.
We are very grateful to Germany and France for participating in the peace talks with Russia in Minsk. However, Ukraine, France and Germany know all too well that a long-lasting peace agreement with today's Russia is impossible, as it has already violated hundreds of agreements with Ukraine. Why wouldn't it breach another? We know Russia will soon defy the Minsk Agreement, and the US and NATO understand this as well. This is why we need weapons. We are not asking for assault equipment, nuclear weapons or air bombers. We simply need to stop, in a very effective manner, the Russian aggression against Ukraine. For example, we need equipment that would enable us to strike Russian rocket launchers in Donbass from a long distance with high precision in order to avoid casualties among civilians. Many NATO countries have such equipment.
We want to send Putin a message that if Russian Forces advance with tanks and armored vehicles, if they use their rocket launchers to shell cities like they did in Mariupol, we will be able to reciprocate. We currently have some of these high-precision weapons and they serve as a good defence.
Despite the situation in Ukraine and amid grave economic problems at home, Putin is trying to break the unity of the European Union by bribing certain EU member states and financing right-wing parties in Hungary, France, Italy and other countries. Some of the parties that Russia is backing maintain ideologies that are akin to those of the Nazis. These parties were very active in the elections for the European Parliament, and they now comprise 20 percent of the EU Parliament. Even in Poland, the staunchest supporter of Ukraine, there is a pro-Russian party. Moscow is doing whatever it can to remove sanctions, to seed the idea that Ukraine is not worth supporting, that it is a failed state, and that it will only bring trouble to Europe. The propaganda is so powerful that the EU recently decided to create a special television station to counter it. The German Foreign Ministry issued a special guidebook for German diplomats that lists lies the Russian government tells about international relations and the truths behind them. These lies are unbelievable. They say we eat and torture kids. They say every Ukrainian soldier is promised two Russian slaves in the event of Ukrainian victory, and that in western Ukraine the Russian language is forbidden. Russian television stations are fully controlled by the government.
Obviously, these claims are utter nonsense. We invite journalists, politicians, and ordinary citizens of every country to come to Ukraine and see the situation for themselves.
Russian propaganda can also be found in Turkey. We have dozens of examples; For instance, a pro-Russian article in local newspaper may argue that Turks shouldn't blame Russians because there were violations of Russian interests in Ukraine. The article will be written under, perhaps, the name of a professor of some German university. However, simple research will show that there is no professor and sometimes even the university is fake.
But intelligent Turkish people and other Europeans never buy such lies. They understand that what is happening is brutal aggression. They see that this fight is not only a Ukrainian issue; is a fight for Europe. They see that if Ukraine completely becomes a part of the Russian zone of influence, if Russia achieves this goal, the next goal will be Poland and the Baltic states.
Taking into consideration Russia's ambitions, is a confrontation between Russia and NATO possible?
Unfortunately, a NATO-Russia confrontation is possible. With the current Russian leadership it is possible, and we don't want it, just like any other European country.
What do you think of the Turkish position regarding the Ukraine-Russia conflict?
What we see is an active Russian effort to bring their lies to Turkish society and to persuade the Turkish government and people that everything is okay with the Russian side and that the conflict in Ukraine has to be resolved only through a dialogue between the central government and the terrorists supported by Russia.
However, Turkish society can see what the Russian occupiers are doing to the Crimean Tatars in Crimea. It is a kind of genocide. For more than 20 years, from 1991 to 2014, the Crimean Tatars were returning home, building their mosques, houses, villages, libraries, schools, universities, magazines, and so on. I agree that we were not doing enough for them. I sincerely believe that we could do much more for the Crimean Tatars, but anyhow not a single Crimean Tatar was arrested just because he or she was speaking his or her native language. The Crimean Tatar Mejlis was operative. The leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev, was and is a parliamentary deputy. What is happening now: the Mejlis is closed; Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov -- both Crimean Tatar leaders -- are banned from entering their motherland, dozens of people have been killed, many more arrested or harassed… The works of Rumi are regarded as “extremist literature.” Even the Holy Quran has been defined as “propaganda literature.” Do you think the Turkish government has no information about this? They are very well informed. You shouldn't believe that the Russian propaganda can succeed here.
The best example was given last Saturday when here in Ankara, when in front of the Russian Embassy there was a big demonstration, and in front of the Russian Consulate General in İstanbul as well. It was the best visible example.
Nevertheless, Turkey has not joined the Western sanctions against Russia?
We understand why Turkey did not do this. It is very heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply. If Russia cuts the gas to Turkey, there is no substitution at the moment. For Turkey, it could be very painful to break relations with Russia.
However, when we talk to the Turkish government, we understand that it is carrying out many projects with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to supply Turkey with alternative gas and, if these efforts are successful, probably this attitude toward Russia will change.
When we talk to our Turkish partners we say openly, as to strategic partners, that we expect them to increase their support for Ukraine and particularly for the Crimean Tatars.
As far as political support is concerned, we enjoy full support from the Turkish side for all issues in every international organization and in every multilateral forum. This is extremely important. Turkey actively supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the United Nations, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and other organizations. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is chaired by a Turkish diplomat – Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan.
We also receive humanitarian help from Turkey. We are very grateful for that. We know that Turkey has an enormous burden of Syrian refugees in its own territory who constantly need humanitarian assistance. But, despite this, the Turkish government decided to provide Ukraine with some humanitarian assistance, including a military hospital and other forms of assistance for Ukrainian refugees who had to leave their residences in Donbass and leave for other parts of Ukraine.
Besides being strategic partners, Ukraine and Turkey have many other spheres of cooperation. By the way, we expect President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Ukraine and co-chair the bilateral High Level Strategic Council meeting on March 20, 2015. We hope that during this bilateral summit we will finalize important economic projects that will intensify our cooperation. For example, we are negotiating the joint production of airplanes by Ukrainian company Antonov and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). We also have many other projects, including in the spheres of space and other high technologies, which could be very beneficial for Turkey and Ukraine. We have already a $6 billion trade volume. We aim to increase this.
What about the South Stream/Turkish Stream gas pipeline issue? Is it political bribery?
It is an attempt. This project is not viable. First of all, it is extremely expensive. There is no infrastructure in the European territory of Turkey to receive gas from an underwater pipeline and then to bring it to the Greek border. The land prices are very high in Turkey's European part. Second, there are no appropriate technologies to build a huge pipeline and storage facilities.
Let's assume, just for a second, it is done. Russians want to bring to the Turkish-Greek border 50 billion cubic meters (bcm). Let's say they did it. And what will happen then? You bring it to the territory of Greece, and there is not a single pipeline that can take this gas to Europe. They have to build storage facilities for 50 bcm of gas, and the price tag is between $30 to $50 billion. Who will build them?
It is a very dangerous enterprise and there are no consumers. All of southern Europe, the Balkans and even central Europe consume less than 50 bcm. Even Baumgarten [Central European Gas Hub], the biggest gas hub in Europe, has a gas storage capacity of 17 to 18 bcm in five countries. This idea of bringing 50 bcm to the Greek border when nobody is able to take it further is nonsense. I published an article on this. The price for this entire project is probably between $50 to $60 billion, and this is incomprehensible. There is no need for this project at all.
It may be a political investment, and you don't pay much attention to the cost in such political moves.
Yes, even the South Stream pipeline was a political investment, but what the Russians say now is an attempt to blackmail the European Commission. They said the commission should start the construction of a pipeline from Greece to Europe to transport these 50 bcm. The response of the commission was: “Why do we have to do this? We have signed contracts in place to supply gas from the Ukrainian territory. We have infrastructure there that works perfectly. Why do we have to build more infrastructure and invest an enormous amount of money?”
The South Stream was politically motivated and there was no commercial value in it. Russians said they canceled it because the EU wasn't flexible enough to withdraw the South Stream from the "Third Energy Package." The truth is that Russia has never asked the European Commission to withdraw the South Stream from the third package. It was only propaganda saying they had, but there were no requests to do it. It is another lie because they knew from the very beginning that the price tag for the South Stream was around $29 billion, and now it is even bigger.
When the Nord Stream pipeline started, how many pipelines did they want to bring to Germany?
Four. They did one. For the Blue Stream pipeline, they said it would be two lines, and they built one. It is very expensive and dangerous to build such pipelines. You have to perform a lot of environmental assessments. It is not that easy.
We are 100 percent sure that the Turkish Stream pipeline is not going to happen. The Turkish Stream is aimed at damaging, not supporting Turkey's desire to become an energy hub, because when you become a hub you cannot have only Russian gas. But if we hypothetically imagine that this Turkish Stream is built, then TANAP [Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline] is no longer needed.
There is so much gas in the same market that nobody can consume it. So there is TANAP, which brings Azeri gas and, with God's help, Turkmen gas to Europe, at the same Turkish-Greek border where the Turkish Stream is supposed to go. Sixteen bcm from TANAP, 50 bcm from Russia. Sixty-six bcm. It would be enough for the whole of Europe.
But Europe is receiving gas from Russia via Belarus, Ukraine and the North Stream pipeline. It gets gas from Norway, Britain, Algeria and Qatar. Very soon, three new LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals will be operational on Northern European coast: Lithuania, Poland and France. Another 10 bcm of gas. I mean, if you look at the whole picture, you will easily understand this is blackmail.
The Turkish government, as far as I know, signed only an MoU [memorandum of understanding], which says that countries will consider the project. There isn't even a technical description of the project.
Why is Turkey considering the offer if it is so evidently not feasible?
Why not? If you have a country like Russia, which is an energy superpower, and it says: “You know what? I want to think maybe we can do something together, a mega project, which is very beneficial." What would you say?” You would answer: “OK, let's talk about it. If you do some feasibility studies, you pay, you do...It is your problem”.
But Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Erdoğan have all said very clearly that priority number one is TANAP. It is a project with Azerbaijan that Ankara has to build very quickly.
As far as I know, there are very serious talks with Turkmenistan to increase the supply of TANAP with additional Turkmen gas. If this is somehow done, TANAP will then be even more important. And with TANAP and Turkmenistan as part of the supply chain, Turkey is extremely well set. These are friendly countries whose leaders, governments and nations understand each other very well. There is no reason to believe that one day Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan will blackmail Turkey with price hikes or will say: “We will close the valve and we will not supply you if you are not politically loyal to us.” It is impossible.
But with Russia, you never know. If you have 60 percent of your gas coming from Russia, it's dangerous. If you depend on Russia for 75 percent, you are completely in its hands. This is why we are trying to diversify our gas supplies. We get additional gas from Slovakia, from Hungary, from Poland. We want to get rid of this Russian gas completely. Then the Russians can build whatever they want -- a pipeline to China, to New Zealand, to space… They can do whatever they want. However, we don't want to be blackmailed by Russia.
Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky hold the position of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Turkey since 2008. In 2006-2008 he served as Director-General of the Economic Department, Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His portfolio included responsibility for strategic development, foreign trade, investments and finance, energy security, science and technology. Dr Korsunsky has extensive professional experience with strategic planning and development, including energy, trade and investment policy. He is well-known for his extensive publications on different energy-related issues, including the European Energy Strategy for Ukraine, the South Stream, Nabucco, TANAP and the geopolitics of energy. He previously held positions of Minister-Counselor and Acting Ambassador at the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA from 2000-2006; Deputy Director, Department for Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine from 1999-2000; Counselor for Economy, Embassy of Ukrainian the State of Israel from 1994-1998.