Ambassador of Russia to India, Alexander Kadakin, Ambassador Prabhat Shukla, Programme Anchor Saeed Naqvi
Anchor: Hello and welcome to the “Wide angle”. The situation in Ukraine is explosive. To discuss and shed light on this very complicated situation in Ukraine we have a very distinguished panel here today: Ambassador Alexander Kadakin of Russia and India’s former Ambassador to Moscow, Prabhat Shukla, who is now a senior person at the Vivekananda International Foundation. When the title came up, that is “Ukraine exploding”, Prabhat said, no, it is imploding. Why did you say so?
P.Shukla: Look, it is a technical point. Explosion has ripples outside. At the moment, we see much of a play within the country, partly because of mishandling by the Kiev government. They have alienated important segments of the Ukrainian society. I think the danger continues. If they continue to mishandle, it can get even worse. Perhaps because of domestic preoccupations right now we are not giving it the attention it deserves, either in the media – thank you for having brought this up today – or certainly at the governmental level.
It requires much more serious attention and has the implications for our most important bilateral relationship – with Russia. So for that reason I prefer the other term at least as of now, especially after yesterday’s agreement in Geneva. But I do want to pursue it a little further – because the case that has not been understood adequately is the Russian stake in what is going on. That actually relates to the centrality of the Black Sea in the Russian strategy in the region – it is not adequately understood and certainly not adequately projected, especially in the Western media. We saw this in Georgia in 2008 for exactly similar reasons – they detached Abkhazia which is 40% of Georgia’s coastline. It is the Black Sea that is very important. Crimea is of course the mistress of the Black Sea. Russians have fought over it for centuries, it is where Yalta stands, where a lot of Russian history has been shaped. Also it is their only round-the-year warm water base for the navy, which gives them access to the Mediterranean Sea, and through it to the West Asian region. Last, but not least – they have a set of pipelines – planned and existing – under the Black Sea waters, all of which are of absolutely vital interests. It was easy to predict that Russia would fight for that.
Anchor: Sasha, I have a feeling that the former Indian Ambassador to Moscow has actually said everything you wanted to say.
A.M.Kadakin: Absolutely! I agree with my friend Prabhat 100 p.c. or more. One thing I would like to add to what Ambassador Shukla said – it is not strictly and solely the strategic interest in the Black Sea or in the Crimean peninsula that was the guiding beacon for Russia to accept Crimea in its fold, to reunify with Crimea. The most important factor has been the vote at the referendum in which over 80% population participated and more than 90% opted for reunification with the Russian Federation.
You may not know the whole history of Crimea but very briefly let me say that Crimea had never been within Ukraine, never ever. Right from the 17th-18th centuries three major wars were fought with Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, to get Crimea. There were also wars with the Crimean Khan for the peninsula and it was only in 1783 that Crimea became part of Catherine's Russian Empire which remained such until the October Revolution. It was a part of Russia thereafter, until 1954 when Prime Minister Khrushchev simply gifted it to Ukraine without asking anybody. It was by sheer accident that Crimea became part of Ukraine. On the whole, the southern and eastern parts of today’s Ukraine were added to it, again, by Lenin in 1921, before the Soviet Union was constituted in 1922.
Even the western parts of Ukraine were added to it practically only after 1945, they had never before been parts of Ukraine as such. They belonged either to the Lithuanian Kingdom, or Austro-Hungarian Empire, or Polish Rzeczpospolita. They were never in the Russian Empire.
Anchor: This is wonderful that you have given this backdrop because you are experts and you know it like the back of your hand. But the situation is so rapidly moving that we have to carry the viewers with us. In fact, my own association, or my memory of Ukraine goes back to Babiy Yar in Evtushenko’s famous poem – “In Babiy Yar there are no memorials”, if you remember.
A.M.Kadakin: You know the Babiy Yar tragedy, the terrible holocaust. Hired policemen from West Ukraine were assisting the Nazis. They were helping fascists to exterminate thousands of Jews, Russians, Ukrainians and other people. The West knows everything too well, but it becomes deaf and dumb if it does not suit their cynical interests. You can just throw facts to their faces, and they would say it is God's blessings. They wouldn’t hear, they don’t listen! Sheer duplicity.
Anchor: But what is in the West’s interest?
A.M.Kadakin: Their interest is only to flare up the turmoil and create deadlocks in Ukraine. How can one say that those bandits who were capturing offices in Kiev, were fighters for democracy? But, when eastern Ukrainians in Kharkov, Donetsk and other places capture their city councils, they immediately are branded terrorists? These are double or triple standards!
Anchor: You are really angry…
P.Shukla: I understand the Russian anger. Look at the map, the Black Sea. To come back to my favourite argument – the southern cost is Turkey, a NATO member, westwards or northwards – Bulgaria ( NATO and EU member), Romania (NATO, EU); Ukraine – candidate for both NATO and EU; a little stretch of Russia from Kerch to about Sochi, and then Georgia – a candidate for both EU and NATO. If Ukraine and Georgia are able to fulfil their strategic goal, with the backing of NATO and EU, then the Black Sea becomes an American lake. Russia is not going to let this happen without fight. You can say it is a matter of muscle power – fair enough. This is so vital for Russia that they are not going to let the Black Sea simply slip away from their grip. As I mentioned earlier, the removal of Abkhazia was the most important war that Georgia had.
Anchor: Help me to understand this elementary question – what is the American interest except to squeeze the Russians out of their big strategic asset which is the Black Sea?
P.Shukla: I think nobody can even afford war now. From the American perspective, the game plan has been always related to this part of the world – to remove the USSR and then Russia as a potential threat or a security challenger, even regionally. Secondly, the big game is hydrocarbons. They have not achieved even the first objective yet. That is why they thrust towards extension of NATO and EU. By the way, yesterday Vladimir Putin for the first time linked the fact of what they have done to the expansion of NATO. As far as the Americans and some of their EU allies are concerned, this expansion has to continue to keep the pressure up on Russia – number one – and secondly, one is on hydrocarbons. Not just the source, not just the ownership, but also the transportation of hydrocarbons from the Caspian and the Central Asian sources. Which way it will go, through what routs it will go, - from the US perspective, Russia has to be squeezed out of this. At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union all the lines ran through Russia directly. That is why there was the first fight in Chechnya. Grozny was a major centre. Now they fight to come over the Black Sea, to bring Turkey and Syria in, all of them are knit with this strategy.
Anchor: What are the visions? Europe has an approach different from the United States. It would be a good idea to take up the narrative one or the other of the two points of departure I have in mind. We could start with – when the Russians and Sergei Lavrov actually got the Americans off the hook in Syria bringing out the regime to surrender chemical weapons and it became an excuse of not rushing into war which would be a disaster, everything was in Geneva. What started to go wrong, very briefly?
A.M.Kadakin: Everything started when the appointed government took power in Kiev. That was the beginning. On February, 21 the so-called ‘rebels’ signed an agreement with the-then genuine Ukrainian President Yanukovich. They did it in the presence of foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France, to calm down the Maidan. But next morning that same agreement was scrapped just like toilet paper and thrown away. What is the cost of their signatures? That is what gave signal to Crimea and to eastern and southern parts of Ukraine to explode.
Anchor: Sasha, as for the agreement which was signed and then repudiated. the US Asst. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland used a certain unmentionable four-letter word for the European Union. What was the tension between the Americans and the Europeans at that stage?
A.M.Kadakin: I think we should ask Victoria Nuland. She was also distributing heaps of croissants and pastries in the Maidan.
P.Shukla: I will give a speculative answer. The conversation you are referring to, dates February 12 when she was speaking to the US Ambassador in Kiev. I am glad you focus on it. She discussed certain ‘personnel’ issues and she said that the boxing champion Klichko is not the right person to head the government. Then she says Yatsenyuk is the right man. This happened before the agreement was signed. There is one more leak which is worth getting into the narrative – Estonia’s foreign minister speaking to Catherine Ashton and telling her that the fighting that broke up in the Maidan was actually done by the ‘protesters’, which has been kept away from the public gaze. In that shooting eight people died. The message was that Europeans were pushing towards a gradual agreement so that Yanukovich would stay, certain constitutional changes would follow and then a pre-term presidential election would take place, not later than December 2014. It is not by coincidence that Klichko is out. With backing from outside, Yatsenyuk is the interim prime minister – exactly the way chalked in that four-letter word conversation. This was the root of the US-EU differences.
Anchor: When differences like these erupt, Prabhat, the EU knows that they are deep, and contradictions between Germany and the US… Will you elaborate on this?
P.Shukla: I feel the starting point would be, first to unravel the differences within EU itself. There exist two Europes – the new one and the old one. I think the new Europe is much more anti-Russian. In fact, its birth took place in an anti-Soviet context. Now it has turned into anti-Russianism. Old Europe stands apart because they have passed through very different historical periods. It was Alexander I who said – we have shown that one could not get from Paris to Moscow, but we could easily get from Moscow to Paris! He said this in Paris!
Then it happened again, though it was Berlin, not Paris. Paris and Berlin have an understanding of how far they can try to isolate or bash Russia. When the Georgian war happened, Sarkozi was the President of France. He had good relations with all sides and was able to play a mediatory role. Unfortunately, Hollande does not have that kind of equation with the Russian leader. I think Mme Merkel could build that kind of leverage. But if Germans strike up such play on their own, I have a feeling that at least in some EU sections there would be awkward questions about what is going on. The Germans always have their own way. This is something they do not want to face and will not face.
A.M.Kadakin: Let us go back to the Europeans. After the Crimean referendum and reunification with Mother Russia, I cannot find an answer for myself – how come that after the fall of the Berlin wall Germany was reunified and it was quite alright, it was wonderful! To achieve that reunification they were promising us lands of Cockaigne, and that they were not going to move towards Soviet boarders. The Chancellor told Gorbachev in the Caucasus hill resort of Arkhyz that they were even almost ready for the neutral status of entire Germany. I can’t understand, on the one hand – in the case of reunified Germany is very fine, but when Crimea is reunified with Russia, it is very bad and illegitimate, though not a single person died? And now that authorities in Kiev have brought in arms, tanks, helicopters and planes against their own compatriots in eastern and southern parts, the situation is aggravated by Kiev.
Anchor: Presently, war between the East and the West is not ideological which the cold war was. The situation which is hot enough. Very briefly, there is an occasion to at least contemplate some kind of derivative of ‘smart’ non-alignment with the western group. Sasha, what would you say?
A.M.Kadakin: The voting at the UN General Assembly has shown and reminded me of the golden age of non-alignment. Half of membership of the UN General Assembly has abstained or did not vote. There is a strong movement gaining force of those countries who reject unipolar world order. We also highly value India’s position as regards the Crimean events and the turmoil in Ukraine. It was specially mentioned and underlined by President Putin who thanked India and China for a well-balanced, wise and objective approach to the situation.
P.Shukla: I do not know if you want non-alignment in that sense. It has a certain historical resonance. I believe that India in particular has nothing at all to gain and everything to lose in a growing tension between Russia and America. The big danger is – the more the West tries to squeeze Russia, the more Russia will lean on China.
A.M.Kadakin: We shall lean on our sister India!
Anchor: Very well-said, Ambassador Shukla. Thank you very much, Ambassador Kadakin. Let us see where the situation in Ukraine takes us. At this particular juncture, the situation is as follows – the West does not want to see a resurgent Russia. Russia does not want to be circumvented. How do we get from here – in another program. Good night and good-bye.
New Delhi, April 18, 2014