Valentina Matviyenko, "I always have, and I always will, uphold and defend Russia’s national interests"

22:52 31.03.2014 •

The Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, talked about sanctions by the White House, the possible appearance of Maidan protests in other countries, and the Crimean referendum.

The Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, spoke in an interview with Russian newspaper "Izvestia" about her vision of the current political situation in the former Soviet Union space, identified the causes of the events in Ukraine, and explained why the current government in Kiev is not legitimate.

“I'll start with an event that has disturbed everyone. A speech by U.S. President Barack Obama introduced sanctions against several Russian officials, and your name is on that list. How do you assess such, frankly, tough actions by the U.S. authorities?”

“I will not justify myself before anyone. However, since you asked me this question, I will answer it.”

“The announcement of sanctions against senior Russian officials, officials who carry out their public functions, is an unprecedented decision. Such actions were not implemented even during the Cold War. If you want to call a spade a spade, it is political blackmail. The United States knows very well that I do not have any bank accounts, assets or property abroad. I have never had any business interests abroad either. That is why I see such statements addressed to me as an attempt to put pressure on my principled position, forcing me to change it.”

“I want to remind overseas politicians that I am the Chairman of the upper house of the Russian parliament, not the U.S. Senate. I have defended, and will continue to defend Russia's national interests, rather than the geopolitical interests of the West. No threats by anyone will be able to intimidate us.”

“This is counterproductive. The only way forward is by way of dialogue and negotiation, taking into accounts not only their own interests but also the interests of the Ukrainian people and Russia.”

“In the referendum held in Crimea, more than 96 % of the inhabitants of the peninsula were in favor of joining Russia. Who could have expected such a result?”

“You can understand the feeling of the people, who in reality, called for a return to their homeland.”

“What, in your opinion, was the cause of the unrest in the Ukraine?”

"Combustible" material began to accumulate in the country from the early years of Ukraine's existence as a sovereign state. This was led by a degradation of the economy, a lack of jobs, a massive stratification of the population, an exorbitant amount of corruption, and the growth of organized crime. Similar problems have been encountered in virtually all the states that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Russia. But there is a fundamental difference here. From the very beginning, in the early years, we started to restore manageability to our country, starting with increasing the capability of government institutions, and the adoption of laws to meet the realities of the country, as fully as possible. In doing this we relied on the Russian Constitution, seeking to maximize its full potential. The State focused its activities on developing the economy, and improving the welfare of all levels of groups in society. In the Ukraine everything happened differently. Instead of purposeful work to strengthen the State, and to develop the economy, there have been changes to the Constitution, political regimes, and fighting between oligarchic clans. The result has been the alienation of citizens from the government, which has lost credibility and trust in the eyes of the majority.”

“An important role was played by the fact that, despite the historically established and clearly expressed linguistic, cultural, and ethnic differences of the regions of the Ukraine, there remained a huge gap in the levels of socio-economic development of the country, despite their concept of unitary statehood. This gave rise to considerable social tension. Nevertheless, Ukrainian politicians have not found it necessary to at least consider the possibility of the federalization of the country. They do not accept it even now.”

“Do you think that the current development of events was prearranged?”

“The scenario in which the events in Ukraine took place could have been avoided. The way out of this was by legal means, through the will of the people, and the agreement of February 21st, between Ukrainian President Yanukovych and the opposition. Until recently, Russia had advocated the implementation of this agreement and supported it. But the worst-case scenario for Ukraine happened – an unconstitutional coup de etat, with the armed seizure of power. This was carried out by forces that deliberately thwarted the said agreement, and brought into the arena extremists, nationalists, neo-Nazis and terrorists, who could not or did not bother to stop inciting xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and ethnic or religious hatred. All of this was carried out with the connivance and open intervention of Western countries in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

“Is it possible to recognize the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government?”

“Only naïve people or those with double standards can talk about the legitimacy of the Kiev authorities. The majority of the population, especially in the eastern and southern regions, and the Crimea do not accept the legitimacy of these authorities, as has been evidenced by the mass protests by citizens. Today Ukraine reminds us of a runaway train. Russia's position remains unchanged - we are in favor of the early restoration of peace and order, and for ensuring that the people of the country decide their own fate, not Washington and Brussels. Our approach is reflected by the statement of the Federation Council, adopted at a meeting on March 5th. Both Russia and other former Soviet Union countries must draw the necessary conclusions, and take practical steps to prevent such a repetition in any other CIS country.”

“There is an opinion that if, from the 1990’s, Moscow had paid closer attention to the former Soviet republics, particularly to Ukraine, then nothing like the Maidan protests would have taken place...”

“First of all I must state that relations with the CIS countries are a top priority for Russia. As for the Ukraine, for all its years of independence, it has been unable to form truly effective state institutions, and has been in a permanent state of political turbulence. In such circumstances, it is impossible to speak about a properly considered, long-term strategy, or any clear and consistent defense of national interests. This has certainly hurt our cooperation. Also affected, is the fact that Ukraine is a country in which the western and eastern regions do not agree with each other on many issues, including in such key areas as cooperation with our country. The eastern territories see Russia as their natural ally and partner, perhaps even more than a partner. The authorities and political circles in the west of Ukraine have always looked in the opposite direction.”

“But despite all of this, as far as our country is concerned, the Ukraine is a sovereign state which can and should determine its own interests, and its domestic and foreign policy. We are strategic partners. Therefore, we have been developing cooperation with Ukraine in all areas. Take the economy. Mutual trade has grown steadily, except in the last year. We have reached an agreement on the implementation of large-scale projects that are beneficial to both countries. We have widely developed cultural ties. There are no obstacles to human contact, or mutual travel.”

“Possibly our cooperation could be more effective. But, once again I want to repeat that we are very hurt that successive presidents have hampered this cooperation by turning the country from one side to another. Cross-border cooperation is a two-way street. It requires the concerted action of both partners for it to be fully constructive and fruitful. This has not always been the case from the Ukrainian side.”

“So what lies ahead?”

“I do not see a bleak future. The whole history of Russia and Ukraine condemns us to close cooperation, the very closest cooperation. This is important. This is something that nobody will ever manage to destroy.”

“Is it possible that now, after the Maidan protests, Russia will try to increase its influence in other CIS countries, to prevent any signs of instability there?”

“Naturally, we have interests in the space of the former Soviet Union: political, economic, and humanitarian. One of our interests is the safety of our own country, and the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the former Soviet Union as a whole. But Russia is not an empire. We promote our interests, not through pressure, and not through dictating, but through the development of friendly bilateral relations, and via participation in the activities of regional and international organizations. This is what the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of States is meant to be about: members of the CIS, the Collective Security treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Community, in a single economic space. In the near future, possibly even a Eurasian Economic Union. All states are welcome. We invite all to participate, but don’t force anyone to join. This should be a voluntary decision by the countries concerned. So, if we talk about outside influence or the use of methods of pressure on other States, that is not the Russian way. We stand for voluntary, equal, mutually beneficial cooperation on a bilateral and multilateral basis. No one can blame our country that we have been or continue to behave incorrectly in respect to our allies in the CIS and other partner countries.”

“Recently you were in Tajikistan. This country is very important for the whole CIS as it is located on the border with Afghanistan. What are we doing to strengthen its position with regard to possible threats from Islamists after the withdrawal of the International Coalition Forces?”

“Any tension here will affect the situation within the CIS, including Russia. Therefore, we are engaged in consultations through the CSTO, and bilateral relations between Moscow and Dushanbe. We are thinking about how we can jointly provide security, bearing in mind the "2014 factor." I do not want to paint a bad scenario, but we must be ready for them. Let's hope that the authorities in Kabul will keep the situation under control. The important factor is stability in the region, and the presence of the 201st military base on the territory of Tajikistan. The Russian and Tajikistan parliaments have ratified an agreement to extend its stay there until 2042. This arrangement makes it possible to upgrade the base, to provide it with the most up to date military equipment, and to bring it to a level of functioning that fully meets these challenges. This is extremely important for both Russia and Tajikistan. Indeed, even though social and political stability exists in the country, some tensions still persist.”

“Are there any concerns that these tensions will lead to unrest in Tajikistan?”

“The authorities fully control the situation in the country. The economy there has been growing steadily, and the annual growth in recent years has been 7%. The social situation is improving. However, there is a radical Islamist group there, and the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan could push them to action.”

There are fears that armed gangs will try to infiltrate Central Asian countries, as happened in Tajikistan in the 1990’s. Therefore the task of strengthening the borders of the Republic is of paramount importance. The border is complicated and passes through mountains with extreme climatic conditions, which it is very difficult to secure. Dushanbe is committed to providing its border guards with modern weapons, and technical support. Our Tajik partners have discussed this within the CSTO, as well as bilaterally with Russia. Plans for support from our side are now being worked out. Even if there are no plans to increase the number of Russian troops at the base, its technical equipment and weapons will be upgraded.”

“In your opinion, in which of the countries of the former USSR might the next Maidan protests happen?”

“I do not even want to deal with such hypothetical assumptions. The Maidan protests in Kiev showed how these events can affect a country and its citizens: riots, violence, deaths, and people living in a state of constant threat and insecurity. All this leads to a degradation of the economy, and a fall in living standards. The obligation of the State is a debt to the healthy forces of society: to prevent the emergence of a Maidan situation in any form. The issues facing a country can’t be solved on the streets or the squares. The Maidan style protests can only aggravate them. However difficult the situation, the government should maintain an ongoing dialogue with the public, including the opposition, but remaining within the legal framework.


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