Article in Greek language can be reached on Newspaper web-site:
1. Mr. Ambassador, why is it believed that Russia is an violator in connection with the episode in the Kerch Strait? Was there a challenge (provocation) on the part of the Ukrainian vessels?
- The whole world witnessed the fact of Russian disinformation at the highest state level, when Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit presented to the heads of states and the public his own version of those events that is far from reality. This was done to avoid punishment for the fact of aggression, for a gross violation of international legislation in the field of navigation, and, in fact, the subsequent occupation of the Sea of Azov, after Crimea and Donbas. The Ukrainian side has informed in detail our western partners about the Russian military's attack on the boat group of the Ukrainian Navy. Ukrainian sailors followed all shipping standards, which is evident.
The reaction of the world community and individual countries is also indicative. They condemn the actions of the Russian aggressor and demand the immediate return of Ukrainian vessels and the release of the captured seamen.
2. Will President Poroshenko's call to deploy NATO ships to the Sea of Azov lead to the expansion of the crisis? Perhaps there are political reasons associated with the presidential election?
- The political component was tied to this armed incident by Russian propaganda with the same goals as stated above - to disinform the world and to avoid responsibility for the committed wrongdoing.
However, one should not forget that Ukraine has been repelling the hybrid aggression on the part of the Russian Federation. In addition to military operations, attacks are being carried out in all areas of state security - from information to economy. And Russia's attempt to block the Ukrainian ports may be considered as attempt to interfere in future presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Ukraine. This will greatly affect the economic situation for those living in the blocked regions, which significantly worsens the attitude to the current Ukrainian authorities. Plus, there is Russian propaganda, as well as the actions of Russia's local agents of influence – all this naturally puts the electoral process in unequal conditions. The advantage will be on the side of the candidate who Putin wants to become the Ukrainian leader.
Regarding the tough international reaction… It is a must in this case, since Russia creates a very dangerous precedent for ignoring international legislation. Russia's aggressive activities in the Kerch Strait not only lead to an escalation of tension in the Black Sea-Azov basin, but also pose an additional threat to the entire European continent and global security, since these actions by Moscow are a continuation of their strategic planning for the transformation of the temporarily occupied Crimea into their powerful military marine base.
3. Russia claims that it was violations of the rights of Russian-speakers or those of the Russian origin living in the east of Ukraine that led to an armed conflict in 2014. Are there any restrictions on the use of the Russian language and other rights of such a category of citizens in Ukraine?
- This is another narrative of Russian information aggression, which served as a formal reason for the annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbas. Ukraine is a multinational country where 134 national minorities and indigenous peoples live. And any claims of "persecution" arise only in the Russian Federation, not among the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine. It’s namely the narrative of the Kremlin regime. Given the large number of Ukrainians of Russian origin and Russian-speakers, it is advantageous for the Kremlin special services to exploit them as a target audience, brainwash them with outward fake news, and exploit their emotions, promote the ideas of the "Russian world", artificial division into "western" and "eastern" Ukrainians. Undoubtedly, pro-Russian politicians and agents of the Kremlin's influence are playing along these lines during the elections. At the same time, in fact, schools teaching kids in the native language of national minorities operate freely in Ukraine. And their number is much larger in percentage terms than in the Russian Federation.
I would put the question in a different way. How does the Ukrainian community feel in Russia? How many Ukrainian schools are there in Russia? Are there Ukrainian libraries, cultural centers, or mass media? What is the situation with the Ukrainian Cultural Center and the Library, which functioned in Moscow? I think these questions and the like are mostly rhetorical and obviously have no positive answers.
At the same time, I'd like to note the following tendency: since the beginning of Russian aggression against our country, Ukrainian parents have mostly been preferring to get their children precisely to Ukrainian schools. The war rallied our people.
4. Is there a solution to the problem of Crimea, which Russia grabbed, arguing that it acted according to the will of Crimean residents?
- Modern democracy does not recognize elections held at gunpoint as free. That's exactly what happened during the so-called "referendum" in Crimea in March 2014. Eventually, Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted this. Moreover, holding referenda as tools of Russia's hybrid aggression against Ukraine in this format, as was done in Crimea and Donbas, is not in line with Ukrainian legislation. With firm confidence, we can say that the results of the so-called "referendum" were completely rigged, as well as boycotted by a significant part of the population of Crimea, including the indigenous people, the Crimean Tatars.
Here, I want to make an analogy with the situation in another country, Cyprus, and the proclamation under the same scenario of the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" in its occupied northern part, an illegitimate self-proclaimed entity not recognized by the international community.
At the moment, the Russian Federation has turned Crimea into a huge military base and caused enormous damage to the environment across the peninsula. The world community does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and advocates Ukraine's territorial integrity. In this regard, such a tool of coercion to peace as sanctions was applied to Russia, and they are being prolonged systematically. The only solution to the problem of Crimea is that Russia must return it to Ukraine, withdraw all its troops from there, and pay compensation for damage caused to Ukraine's economy.
5. How are Ukraine-EU and NATO-Ukraine relations developing?
- How else can they develop other than positively?
I should recall that exactly 24 years ago, Ukraine abandoned nuclear weapons in exchange for the security guarantees signed off by the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the Russian Federation in the Budapest Memorandum in connection with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In particular, these states pledged to refrain from the threat of force or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. The guarantor states have committed that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine. But on November 25, 2018, the Russian Federation carried out another act of armed aggression against Ukraine, an armed attack on the Ukrainian naval boats in the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait. This arrogant and insidious attack is a continuation of the armed aggression against Ukraine, launched by the Russian Federation on February 20, 2014.
That is why Ukraine consistently sees cooperation with NATO as an important element of its international security instruments.
Recently, the Ukrainian Parliament introduced amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, which define the country's foreign political path toward Euro-Atlantic integration, thus consolidating the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for EU membership and accession to NATO. Relations between the official Kyiv, the EU and NATO are developing dynamically, we follow all recommendations and implement standards that will allow us to meet our aspirations.
6. Is the Ukrainian government tolerant to the actions of neo-Nazis?
- This question, again, should be considered in the context of the hybrid information aggression on the part of the Russian Federation. If we simplify everything, then according to the Russian propaganda, any Ukrainian defending the country from Russian armed aggression is a bandit, Nazi, or Banderite. Putin's propaganda uses the Soviet models, "horror stories" about the Banderites, trying to make them look guilty of all non-existent sins. At the same time, he remains modestly silent about the Russian Army ("Russian Liberation Army"), which took the fascists' side during World War 2 and later condemned by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
All allegations about Ukrainian authorities and ordinary Ukrainians being Nazi break up over the simple fact that there are no nationalist or right-radical parties in the Ukrainian Parliament. As for the Kremlin, our chief accuser claiming we play along with Nazism, it was Moscow who sponsored (openly, as in the case of Marie Le Penne), pro-fascist parties and organizations in Europe. Take a look at the so-called group of support for Russian aggression against Ukraine among European politicians – most of them are promoters of right-wing ideas in their home countries.
7. What does the granting by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church mean for Ukraine? How can you convince Orthodox believers in Ukraine who are pray in churches of the Moscow Patriarchate to join the new Autocephalous Church?
- You should agree that it looks very strange when in a country that has become target of aggression a church operates of the aggressor state. Moreover, there are these hybrid methods of aggression, where the activity of such a church is, rather, about being an ideological tool of a hybrid war than preaching.
In this difficult time, such a powerful moral support from the Ecumenical Patriarchate is very important for Ukraine. Ukraine, as an independent state, has full right to own local church. It is natural that the Tomos for the Ukrainian church makes Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, controlled by Russian authorities, throw fits.
As for parishioners, in my understanding, people reach out to God rather than the clerics of any particular patriarchate. According to recent reports, a significant part of the priests and parishioners of the so-called UOC-MP are ready to join the move to create the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church. In this regard, a very indicative event will be the Unification Council of Ukrainian Churches scheduled for December 15. According to the latest information, the Council's agenda will include the creation of the Local Orthodox Autocephalous Ukrainian Church, the adoption of the Charter of this church, and the voting for the head of the church, which will receive from the Ecumenical Patriarch the Tomos on autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
I should remind you that in Ukraine, the church is separated from the state. For its part, the government guarantees the constitutional right to freedom of religion, including guarantees for those who wish to remain in unity with the Russian church. The Moscow Patriarchate will not dictate the conditions, it will not brand anyone as "canonical" or "non-canonical." Believers will choose for themselves which churches to attend.