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12 November, 2014

“It is possible to legally prove that Russia is assisting terrorism”

The Ukrainian Week speaks to Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe about the prospects of freeing Ukrainian political prisoners from Russian prisons, the situation with Moscow's influence in the West and political mechanisms for countering Kermlin's aggression

Interviewed by Alla Lazareva

U.W.: The autumn PACE session concluded recently. What are its results and consequences for Ukraine?

When it comes to the parliamentary dimension, we've seen that the moods of our European colleagues are changing somewhat, and not in the best way for us, unfortunately. There are calls for cooperation with the Russian Federation, talks about the necessity of dialogue… What is being totally discarded is the argument that Russia is not keen to establish contact, even here, being a member of this organization. The President of Ukraine has taken the decision to cease fire on two occasions. But only Kyiv followed through with those decisions. So there's not much scope for talking of dialogue. Of course there were positives too. The resolution by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe acknowledging the presence of Russian troops on our territory was cited by many. The parliamentary delegation included it into the discussion regarding Ukraine, as well as to the annual document titled The Progress of the PACE Monitoring Procedure.

What caused the biggest concern for me during this session? First of all, the emergence of a group of deputies who declared that Moscow should be reckoned with because it has some sort of "legitimate" interests in Ukraine. Legitimate interests is something that a country and its people can have, not its neighbors. That's one thing. Secondly, there is a developing trend that is being picked up by our European partners: talking about violations by the Ukrainian military during the anti-terrorist operation without checking the facts. Here, frankly speaking, I see an attempt to carry out the Russian agenda of getting the world to believe that there is some kind of ethnic cleansing going on in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

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U.W.: This is what Russia did to begin with, as it prepared to occupy Crimea…

Exactly. They said that they came because the rights of the Russian-speaking minority were supposedly violated. But it was just last year that the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities produced a report regarding their situation in Ukraine. It was approved by the Committee of Ministers with no reservations. European experts concluded that no serious problems in this area exist in Ukraine. They even pointed out that the Russian minority is protected better than others and suggested to bring the protection of other minorities to the same level. But then, you see, all of a sudden in February and March problems cropped up. The European Council Commissioner for Human Rights visited Ukraine three times this year. His last visit was to Crimea. He ascertained that it's the occupied territories where mass human rights violations take place against not only Crimean-Tatars and Ukrainians, but also other minorities. So in spite of the sensible voices from the Baltic States, Poland, the Northern Europe, the GUAM countries, the fact remains: those that are under various kinds of influence of our neighbor are starting to take its stance. I don't feel like I'm within right to criticize my colleagues, but I would rather they talked about one of the European Council member states failing to fulfill its obligations. Look at the conflicts in Nagorny Karabakh, Transnistria, Abkhazia, Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk… who's responsible? The answer is obvious. But Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe says: conflicts must be resolved only in a peaceful manner.

U.W.: You mentioned a group of Russian supporters. If we were to outline the pro-Moscow lobby, would it make approximately half of the PACE deputies? A third perhaps?

I wouldn’t say that it’s every other deputy. Perhaps we should talk about this group in terms of political allegiance: these are predominantly the far left and the socialists. Even the socialists are calling for “dialogue and cooperation” with Russia completely forgetting what happened at the beginning of the World War II when Poland was being divided, Czechoslovakia was occupied and the rest of the countries were hoping that both the aggressors would stop at that. What happened afterwards is common knowledge. I very much like the address of “Svoboda” delegate Oleksandr Shevchenko during this session. He noted that the “Russian World” from Russia will soon unite with the “Russian World” in the rest of the European states and the resulting group will pursue the policy of protection of the Russian-speaking all over Europe.

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U.W.: What is the stance of the Council of Europe leadership regarding Russia’s membership? Anne Brasseur’s move to invite the Russian speaker Sergei Naryshkin to Paris on September 1 came as a surprise, as the latter ended up on the list of those barred from visiting the European Union countries due to the EU sanctions.

I’m not going to pass judgment on the actions by the PACE leadership, as I find that inappropriate. I will, however, note that this is what is referred to as “parliamentary diplomacy”. It’s an attempt to influence the situation through a colleague from Russia. When the Russian Federation joined the Council of Europe it agreed to the condition that all will be resolved in accordance with the Statute. There is a need for this kind of dialogue. Whether Ms. Brasseur and other colleagues are heard when they call for dialogue with Kremlin is another matter. And are those with whom she has negotiations heard in Kremlin? Are they listening at all? At this stage of the sanctions the Russian delegation is deprived of voting rights, which does not mean that their members cannot be present at the session and take part in the committees. The actions of Ms. Brasseur, as far as I am aware, are agreed with other governing bodies, so I don’t see any negatives there. But I don’t see any results either.

U.W.: Your colleague in New York, the Ukraine's representative in the UN Yuriy Serheyev admitted in the press that he had stopped greeting the Russian ambassador six months ago. What kind of relationship with the Russian Federation diplomatic mission leaders do you have?

Our communication begins and ends at the meetings of the Committee of Ministers. Kyiv insists that Moscow fulfills its obligations. We have a closed format, it's not televised, but the conversations end with Russia dismissing all arguments, and not only those coming from Ukraine. What do the likes of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleh Sentsov and other Ukrainians that became political prisoners on the territory of the Russian Federation and are being prosecuted have at all to do with the Russian judiciary? They are our citizens, they were kidnapped on the Ukrainian soil and forcibly transported to another country! On what grounds was the Mejlis building confiscated in Crimea and Ukrainian schools were closed along with Crimean-Tatar medresses? All we get in response is empty talk. To have actual dialogue clear questions need to receive clear answers. And that is not happening.

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U.W.: What legal instruments can Ukraine utilize to prove that by arming the "Donetsk People’s Republic" and the "Luhansk People’s Republic" and kidnapping our citizens Russia effectively engages in terrorist activity or instigating acts of terrorism?

Certainly, there are conventional instruments within the frameworks of the Council of Europe that enable us to raise such issues. For instance the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism is one. By carrying out a policy directed at military, material and technical, economic and financial assistance to the "DNR and "LNR" terrorist organizations, whose militants engage in murder, torture, destruction of infrastructure, looting and burglary, Russia is in violation of numerous provisions of this document. Ukraine can launch the mechanism provided in it: start consultations, negotiations, demand an arbitrage hearing, address the UN International Court of Justice… How much time would such a process take and where it would lead is difficult to say. Our state should not rule out this path, although it is not the quickest and nor it is the most effective.

There is another way: to address the Statute bodies of the Council of Europe and get a political reaction on Russia's assistance to terrorism in Ukraine. This would require a separate report by either the Secretary General, or the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Recognizing the "DNR and the "LNR" terrorist organizations, condemning their activity and the assistance that Russia provides them, addressing the respective international institutions, including the UN Security Council, with the request to take action… These are all realistic steps that can and must be taken at the European Council level. They are more expedient and at times more effective than the conventional mechanisms. This doesn't require any extraordinary efforts, all it takes is conscience and some political nerve. At least we should be talking about it.

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U.W.: Let's get back to the right of Nadiya Savchenko not to be kidnapped from her native land… The Russian state is holding her captive and is planning to subject her to psychiatric examination. So shouldn't it be held responsible for its actions?

Absolutely. Moreover, the Ukrainian government addressed the Council of Europe Secretary General in different forms asking, first of all, for help in protection of Nadiya Savchenko's rights and, secondly, in investigating whether torture has taken place. Currently, as far as I know, the Council of Europe leadership discussed this with the Russian Federation officials, and the committee I mentioned earlier took on this case. Therefore, as soon as the response is ready and the respective procedures are carried out, the public will be informed.

U.W.: Is the report planned or are we talking hypothetically?

One must realize that in the Council of Europe every committee is passing decisions collectively. It takes certain time. But we are not giving up on this issue, it will be the subject of discussion at the level of the Committee of Ministers, so I can see it being posed before the Parliamentary Assembly in some form.

U.W.: During the next session in January?

– It's hard say, whether it happens then. At present a number of PACE committees have admitted for consideration the question of the role and the level of involvement of the Russian Federation in the war against Ukraine. So far it is too early to say what form this work will end up taking or whether it results in a report. But crucially, the work is being done.

BIO

Mykola Tochytskyi, born in 1967, is a graduated of the Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University majoring in philology and translation from French and English. In 1995, he graduated the International Relations Institute at Taras Shevchenko University as an international lawyer. In 1995-1998, he worked as third and later second secretary of the Ukrainian Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium. In 2004-2005, he headed the Consular Service Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. In 2005-2008, Mr. Tochytskyi worked as Consul General in San Francisco (United States). In 2010, he was appointed Ukraine's Permanent Representative in the Council of Europe.


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