"The policy of forcing artificial choice between Russia and the European Union is neither any useful' for Russia nor for the target countries of the Eastern Partnership," emphasizes Alexey L. Fedotov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Slovak Republic.
The Russian Federation has had an impressive celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory over fascism and Nazism in World War II, respectively, in the Great Patriotic War. Although the leadership of the EU and the European Parliament have tried to politicize these celebrations by negative information warfare on Ukraine and anti- Russian campaign, it turned out that the nations of Europe are often wiser and take the opposite view on Russia than their political leaders and so- called the mainstream media in the EU.
■Your Excellency, how do you comment these contradictions? Did the celebrations help reduce fear of Russia?
On the one hand, the situation concerning the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II has shown the level of responsibility of politicians, and on the other hand, the level of independence, or perhaps, dependence of some media. Attempts to politicize historical events, especially the sacred holiday for those, whose ancestors sacrificed their lives for the sake of victory over Nazism, are doomed to be a failure. No matter what some European politicians think or how they act, common folk in Europe and beyond, have shown their clear attitude towards that day of utmost importance in world history. The celebration of the Victory Day in Russia (May 9,2015) has refreshed our memory about a gigantic scale of the Nazi "brown threat” and the incredible price paid by the Nations of the USSR and especially by the Russians for the victory.
An essential and perhaps the most touching part of the celebrations was the all-Russian manifestation - a march of "the Immortal Regiment” which took place on the main streets of the Russian cities. As part of the march, the descendants of the soldiers - winners carried photographs of their relatives - participants of the Great Patriotic War. In Moscow, the parade gathered about half a million people. When some of our friends in Moscow heard about the event, they took part in it carrying portraits of their fathers - frontline soldiers. They have not experienced such an awesome feeling of unity, benevolence, and festival for a long time. The event was held not only in major Russian cities such as St. Petersburg, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Tomsk, Vladivostok, Kaluga, Astrakhan, Sevastopol, but at also in hundreds other places. It is significant that some people in Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Estonia, Israel, USA, Germany, Austria, Norway and Slovakia has also joined the event.
Thus, the All-Russian initiative has become an International project of genuine historical memory. We should not forget, even for a second, the dangers of the ideas of superiority and exceptionality of nations. The reality shows us that the struggle against Fascism and Nazism is not just a chapter in a history textbook. It is a mission of the present and a general task for the future.
■Do you think the current EU learnt enough lessons from the tragic events of the WW2 or purposely supports revision of history and marginalization of the winning share of the former Soviet Union (Russians) to the defeat of Nazism and fascism?
A famous British politician Winston Churchill once said: "A nation that forgets its past has no future.” We proceed from the assumption that efforts to falsify history, heroisation of the Nazi criminals and justification of their misanthropic ideology create a premise for a repetition of the tragedy of the recent past. This is unacceptable.
Regarding the EU learning its lesson from history, we see differences in the perception and in the approach: on the one hand, the political leadership of the EU, European bureaucracy, on the other hand, ordinary people, representatives of the national culture, traditional values and history. Of course, we are concerned about the fact that for a few years, in some EU countries, for instance in the Baltic States, there have been efforts to justify, rehabilitate the Nazi criminals and thus to distort the meaning and the substance of the struggle against fascism, in order to belittle the crucial role of the USSR in crushing the fascist hordes. You see, this is an obvious attempt to shift the position of torturers and their victims, to draw an equal sign between the winners and the losers. Meanwhile, it is necessary to realize, that the falsification of history leads not only to the political or to moral damage for the winning nations and especially for Russia. One must also see the deliberate attempts to review the results of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which, in the future, may result in some certain legal, financial and other consequences for the entire post-war world order.
■ How would you evaluate the course of the celebrations in Slovakia and response of the Slovak public? What made you the happiest and what disappointed you most in terms of the celebrations?
Briefly - beyond all my expectations. Festive events held on Slavin on April 4th, 2015, together with the participation of the leadership of the Slovak Republic and Sergei Lavrov, Chief of Russian diplomacy, have left vivid impressions and cheerful memories. I admire a scale and geography of the celebrations when almost every the region in Slovakia participated in them in the most active way. My colleagues from the Embassy participated in nearly 70 memorial events at the war graves of solders of the Red Army and Czechoslovak soldiers and partisans. 1 had an opportunity to visit different cities during the ceremonies dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Victory and the liberation of Slovakia from the invaders. 1 was really impressed by consideration and respect of local authorities and common people for the common historical memory, by the good condition of the most war graves of the Red Army troops. I also noticed the general presence of children and youth at the ceremonies. I am sure that a gratitude to the fallen and the liberators, and a feeling of gratitude in general, is a sign of moral health of society. 1 should also mention a very positive reaction of the Russian citizens regarding the participation of the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico at the celebration of the Victory Day in Moscow.
■ What do you think of anti- Russian hysteria in Poland, partly in the Czech Republic and Slovakia about Russian moto-cyciists Night Wolves and their journey from Moscow to Berlin to celebrate and commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Red Army? Was it an ordinary pro-Putin propaganda or provocation, respectively, expression of Russian nationalism in the EU countries, as many media wrote about it?
This is a typical example of genuine, in this case - anti-Russian propaganda, which has been recently in the public focus. What we are facing now is a story about a few bikers from the motorcycling club "Night Wolves”, whose humble idea was to transport the Victory Banner from Moscow to Berlin. This action has been perverted by the propaganda, including a Polish one, and transformed bikers, into the entire armored column, which jeopardized the security of Europe. It is worth mentioning that along with our Russian bikers there were many Czech, Polish and Slovak colleagues, as well as the representatives from other European countries, who arrived at the Slavin at the cemetery of fallen soldiers. Therefore, it was a truly International response of the EU citizens who had decided to support the commemoration ceremony, in contrast to the "crude" anti-Russian propaganda. Incidentally, among more than thousands of motorcyclists, gathered at Slavin, there were many people from the Kosice region.
■We see how the European Union, in particular its political leaders and leaders of Western European member countries cannot overcome the black-and-white stereotypes in viewing on Russia and its foreign and economic policy. Creating an image of a "eternal and uncivilized enemy in the east”, who should be constantly pacified and civilized because of "threatening Europe”, is a tool to evoke fear of Russia, of its thinking, politics and culture in the EU. What should the European Union do to stop being afraid of Russia? And what must be done by Russia to make it better understood by the European Union?
The image of Russia and its place in history are inextricably linked to the history of Europe. Russia pacified the aggressor - Napoleon, crushed the Nazism, and paid for it with the lives of millions of its citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers died on the battlefields of the First World War, saving Paris - the capital of its ally- France.
The myth of the "enemy - Russia” is very beneficial to someone. It is not difficult to discover creators of this myth. It is also obvious that the mythology in politics causes trouble. First of all, for the authors of these myths. Friendly advice to all bright and thoughtful citizens: in order to understand Russia better along with the logic of its activities, please, refer to the works of Alexander Pushkin, Lew Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anatoly Chekhov. They could provide answers to many questions that excite the mankind. One of them is the Russian answer: the pursuit of justice - is a basis of ideology. Slovaks, in my opinion, understand and Russians.
If we look at the heart of the problem, it is not a question of fear of Russia. It's a phobia of so-called historical West to lose its hegemony in the world policy, which has been observed in the very beginning 1990s.
These things result in notorious information and propaganda and in some other distortions as far as the Russian policy and diplomacy are concerned.
■Russian diplomacy and Russian President V. Putin evaluate anti-Russian sanctions as the latest strategy of the West and the USA in order to weaken economy and cause possible disintegration of the Russian Federation. Why is Russia constantly the focus of attention "destructive policies” and negative campaign in the West and in the USA? Who would benefit from the disintegration of the Russian Federation?
In my opinion, the sanctions are just one of the tools of political dictatorship and unfair competition, causing obvious damage to Russia as well as to the countries of the European Union. Everyone knowns that at this moment, the decline of the Russian-Slovak trade and economic cooperation is deepening. According to some statistics, in 2014 our general trade demonstrated a steady decline by 14% compared to the previous year. This is the price our nations pay for the illegitimate sanctions policy. There is similar situation with many other Russian partners in the European Union. Meanwhile trade with our American partners has developed positive dynamics. You can make your own conclusions about who really benefits from the sanctions regime.
The Anglo-Saxon imperial dogma of "divide and rule” apparently has not disappeared from the political arsenal of some our Western partners. Naturally, it is easier to implement a reformation of the social system, limiting national sovereignty, when a country is disintegrated. We saw many examples of this in the 90s in the Balkans and in the area of the former Soviet Union.
Some Western countries have preserved the experience from the application of that principle even from the colonial times. Russia has the experience of overcoming fragmentation when combating external threats and most importantly - the consolidation of society for the protection of the motherland from the time of the feudalism era. We are still using this experience.
■ Could a coup in Ukraine in February 2014 have been the US targeted response to Russian policy towards Syria, where Russia did not support the overthrow of Assad nor the US military solution, respectively, a response to the emergence of a new Eurasian Union integration processes in the Eurasian space?
The state should be built by the nation which lives in this country. Another approach is unacceptable. Unfortunately, not all our Western partners share this view. It is well-known that the United States invested billions of dollars to develop "democratic” institutions, including non-governmental organizations in other countries including humanitarian interventions. These examples are illustrative, we should recall the events in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, and Libya and now in Ukraine. Remember the initial emotional enthusiasm and the subsequent crisis of the "Arab Spring” in some countries of North Africa and in the Middle East, sad consequences of "color revolutions” in the neighborhood of our close partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Such interference from the outside threatened the very existence of some countries, causing their disintegration, total or partial loss of sovereignty.
Regarding the Ukrainian issues, we perceive the events in this country to be a result the implementation of controversial US geopolitical project. According to George Friedman, a prominent American analyst, founder and chairman of a private analytical and intelligence agency "Stratfor”, the main foreign policy interests of the United States throughout the last century, during the First, Second and "Cold” World Wars is focused on the relationship between Russia and Germany. It united these countries are the only force that represent a threat to the United States. And our main task was to prevent their union. This once again confirms that the conflict in Ukraine is not a goal but a tool for breaking close partnership between Russia and Germany, Russia and Europe. As for Russia, we are undoubtably interested in generally neutral, financially successful Ukraine, whose citizens have equal rights regardless their religious and ethical status, including the rights to use their mother tongue.
Now let's move to the second part of the question. As you may know, currently the creation of a single economic and humanitarian space of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan is taking place in Eurasia. I mean the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). An equal partnership between the EU and EAEU is considered to be a guarantee of prosperity of the entire Eurasian continent under current difficult economic conditions. Such proposals that have been forwarded several times from our side, still remain in force. It is obvious and the leaders of Russia and the EU repeatedly declared it three- four years ago, that Russia is interested in strong European Union and the European Union is interested in strong Russia.
■Could Russia have prevented the coup in'Ukraine and the military conflict in the Donbas? It seems that Russia was surprised by the events at Maidan in Kiev, like the West and the EU from rapid integration of the Crimean Autonomous Republic to the Russian Federation. Has Ukraine become a focus of fierce competitive struggle between Russia and the EU, respectively, between Russia and the USA?
Frankly speaking, the events in Ukraine were completely unforeseen. First, the so-called "Maidan" hand-crafted from a protest meeting according to the pattern of Western political engineers, followed by the persecution of opponents and bloody massacres, including Odessa, and finally an extensive civil war in the east. The Military conflict in the Donbas is a natural human reaction to an armed unconstitutional coup, which have not been accepted by the people living in the southeast of Ukraine.
I am quite sure, that about half a year before these events, no one could ever have an idea that the Ukrainian army would fire at the defenseless civilian objects in Donetsk and Lugansk using heavy artillery and rocket launchers, that the tanks would cross over the opposition and air bombs will be falling from the sky on the cities and towns the Donbas.
In this respect Crimea is more lucky, after all, there has been not a virtual, but a very real threat that neo-Nazi groups, thanks to whom a new Ukrainian leadership came power, would have been trying to impose their new "order" on a multinational, predominantly Russian Crimea, would have started forced "Ukrainianization" thus unleasing terror against the civilians. Loud statements of that kind were made in Kiev and heard in Crimea. The local Crimea militia luckily managed to stop these groups of the Nazi thugs at the access roads to the peninsula. And then there was referendum supported nationwide and the union with Russia, based on the decision of the legitimate Crimean parliament, elected before the coup in Kiev. We are convinced that it is wrong to perceive Crimea just as a territory. Crimea - is first of all people who live there, and they certainly had the right to choose. And what happened in the eastern part of Ukraine, it is a tragedy for the entire Slavic world, the humanitarian disaster of enormous scale, still to be assessed in the years to come. Today we can be proud that we all managed to prevent the realization of similarly terrifying scenario in Crimea.
■What role did the politics of so-called the EU's Eastern Partnership and EU enlargement to the east in Ukraine? What does Russia mostly accuse this policy of?
We considered and still consider the Eastern Partnership policy as a mistake. The policy of forcing an artificial choice between Russia and the European Union is neither any useful for Russia nor for the countries of the Eastern Partnership. One of the reasons for the Ukrainian crisis was the fact that Ukraine had face a harsh choice. One should agree, that it is impossible to break the historical, cultural, humanitarian, economic and even family ties between Russia and Ukraine just by a single flick of a wrist. In this context we consider the realisation of the idea of General Charles de Gaulle on the establishment of a common economic and cultural space from Atlantic to Pacific to be the most natural and promising opportunity. The confrontation in any form tends to be counterproductive.
Regarding the EU-Ukraine Association, we hope that our concerns about possible damage to the Russian economy (about 100 billion US dollars) will be taken into consideration. The consultations in trilateral format EU-Russia-Ukraine has already been triggered and we hope that they will result in signing the trilateral agreement, which draft we have already provided to our partners. Such agreement would allow to minimize economic losses for all parties after the Agreement comes into force.
■Can anti-Russian sanctions be long-termed and can they really economically isolate Russia from the EU and the rest of Europe? To whom do these sanctions cause more harm - Russia or the EU?
It is not excluded that the anti-Russian sanctions will not be abolished even in the next months. But this is a question for those who have imposed them.
Is it possible to isolate someone, especially a country like Russia in an interdependent and globalized world these days? See it for yourself. Recently, 18th - 20th June 2015, St. Petersburg hosted annual 19th International Economic Forum. It was attended by 486 Russian and 319 foreign companies. More than 200 contracts were sighed worth of 293.4 billion rubles, which is about 5 billion euros, within the framework of the Forum, more than 150 events took place, which were attended by more than 10,000 people. During the forum, business meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BR1CS, the forum of Business Twenty and meetings of the Valdai International Discussion Club were organized. More than 120 countries were represented at the Forum including 102 official delegations let by 50 senior officials from 30 foreign countries, among them there were Prime Ministers of Greece and Mongolia, the first deputy of the Belarusian and Serbian governments, the deputy prime minister of the Armenian government, Vice Premier of the State Council of China, vice president of Iraq and other personalities.
The forum held the second session of the Russian- Chinese intergovernmental commission under which approved 23 new projects with $ 20 billion estimated value.
Within the Forum memorandum on the cooperation in the construction and operation of the gas pipeline "Turkish stream” in the Greek territory as well as the expansion of gas transportation through the Nord Stream pipeline with the participation of the company Royal Dutch Shell were signed.
In addition to that, we should mention two very important summits for economic and political relations - the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, which were held from 8th to 10th July in the city of Ufa in Russia. By the way, before the BRICS Summit started, there has been a decision to launch a BRICS Development Bank. It is expected that one of the results of the SCO summit will be the process of accession of India and Pakistan to the six initiate Member States. These events clearly demonstrate the illusiveness and hopelessness of the ideas of political and economic isolation of Russia.
■The Slovak-Russian relationships are constantly being burdened by the events of August 1968, respectively the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops in the former Czechoslovakia. What should be a definite full-stop put after "that occupation" or "friendly comrade help" which halted the reformation of the communist system and Dubcek's perestroika? How does contemporary Russia view on August 21,1968? Will it still the reason for concerns to be spread in Slovakia about possible "possible expansion "of Russia to Central Europe?
I think it is correct to say that there has been a trace, but it would be an exaggeration to call these tragic events a serious irritation element in our current relations. Remember that the August invasion of the participating countries of the Warsaw Pact was the result of decisions by its Member States. There are evidence and documents available for everyone which show how that decision was made, who insisted on the invasion, who hesitated or was against this action of external interference. Warsaw Pact members made their conclusions from the aforesaid events and in 1991, this organization ceased to exist. Let me be a reminder, that the establishment of the WPO was a response to the creation of NATO and the integration of West Germany within its ranks. NATO exists until now. It has expanded significantly and thus got closer to the Russian border thanks to the integration of the former member states of the Warsaw Pact. Some actions of NATO are well known - the bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion in Iraq and Libya under false pretexts in order to overthrow undesirable political leaders. Those have resulted in numerous human victims, broken destinies, the collapse of century-old state bonds. Still I cannot remember any excuses made by the high- ranking NATO officials.
All leaders of the modern Russia have repeatedly and publicly condemned the events of 1968, providing a just assessment pointing out that we are still holding a moral responsibility for these actions. I think this sad page in the history textbook of our relations has already been turned and our relations have good prospects. As one very famous Czech politician said in this respect, you cannot drive a car, while using only the rear view mirror.
Who is Alexei Leonidovich Fedotov?
He was born on June 29, 1949. In 1972 he graduated from the Moscow Institute of International Relations specializing in South and South East Asia. He has been working in the diplomatic service since 1972. He began his career at the Embassy of the USSR in Sri Lanka (1972-1974), then for 14 years he has occupied various positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Between 1983 and 1985 he was a Counsellor at the Embassy of the USSR in Singapore. After returning home, he has been employed in Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the following 18 years. He was a Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia (2000 - 2004) and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Czech Republic (2004 - 2010). After returning to Moscow, he was the Ambassador at large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Since October 2014 he has been the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Slovak Republic. He speaks English and Sinhalese. He is married, has two adult children - a son and a daughter.