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Deschytsya: We are already at war [with Russia]. In the East of Ukraine, there is not just hybrid war

In his first interview since his dismissal, ex-chief of Ukrainian Foreign Office told UNIAN how the “kamikaze” government functions, what claims Ukraine has been preparing to international courts, how Kyiv can perform demarcation of borders unilaterally, and why Moscow needs Ukrainian refugees.

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On Thursday, June 19th, Ukrainian Parliament, by request from the President Poroshenko, replaced Andriy Deschytsa with  Pavlo Klymkin as chief of the Foreign Office. The next day, UNIAN met with Andrei Bogdanovich: former chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had just "moved" into a new office in the ministerial headquarters. There, among the boxes filled with documents, constantly interrupted by phone calls and text messages, we talked about how, in general, the former head of the Foreign Office worked in the "kamikaze" government; whether the acting President Alexander Turchinov interfered with the actions of the Cabinet, how exactly the relations with the Kremlin and other countries had been built up in the context of occupation of Ukrainian Crimea by Russia; and also about the escalation of the situation in the East of Ukraine by Moscow.

At first glance, during your cadence, the MFA became "more biting", sharper and swifter statements were made, than those by your predecessors. How did you achieve this?

It was not about me only, but about my colleagues who worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They felt the responsibility of the moment and the challenges that we had all experienced. Actually, they have initiated many of these statements.

What have I personally done as a chief? I just blew some bureaucratic barriers. For example, all statements did not have to be agreed with all units, as it had been done up to that moment, because it was necessary to react quickly to events. And when you give people the opportunity to work more freely and creatively, it immediately brings visible results. In addition to operative work of the press service, we have introduced the practice when the deputy minister Daniel Lubkivskyy or Foreign Ministry spokesman Eugene Perebyinis spoke to the press almost daily. There were also regular briefings of other deputy directors of departments. Thus, the diplomatic issues were constantly addressed in the media.

I think that, beside the responsibility and breaking bureaucratic barriers, the fact that I personally have had experience working in the press office has made positive effect on such performance of the information service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have always believed, and I still do, that all diplomats need to communicate with journalists. Swiftly and directly.

Despite the fact that you were the Acting Minister for a very short time, Ukrainians, at most, evaluate your performance very positively. And what are your personal feelings to work in the “kamikaze” government?

It was hard. I have to say (and not because I have left the government) that I appreciate wonderful organizational, managerial work of the Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. In this position, he proved to be a very effective crisis manager. That is the kind of person to be in this position at this time.

He also removed a lot of bureaucratic obstacles. For example, the government could convene when necessary: ​​weekends, late evenings, and, in general, when there was a need to make some decision. The work of ministers in this rate was characterized with two things. First, a personal respect for the Prime Minister. Second, the responsibility that lies with each member government. Personally, I always found time to attend the meetings.

This government, in fact, was a government of "kamikaze", for it was formed in such moment that no other assessment could be given. Anyway, we survived, and now, after the presidential election, the government faces new challenges. Unfortunately, the situation is no better than what it was when we came into the executive branch. And perhaps, it is even more complicated. Because when the government implemented some reforms and decisions, they were easier to declare. But when these reforms are beginning to be implemented, for example, when the prices rise for the people, it will not only affect the economy, but also the assessment of the government by the society. But this must be expected and we must be ready for this.

For more than three months, one man - Alexander Turchinov [MB1] - was the speaker of Parliament and, at the same time, the acting president. Did he interfere with the work of the “kamikaze” government?

I think the mark on all his work was left by his responsibility for two areas: Verkhovna Rada and the Presidential position. The combination of these areas of responsibility, of course, made him split his time and effort to perform these duties. I think that during this time, Turchinov[MB2]  paid more attention to the Parliament. Because, Verkhovna Rada also needed to be maintained: Parliament remained the legitimate authority that was recognized by the world community and partly by Russia. Parliament was required to support the reform of laws offered by the government and, ultimately, to make the presidential elections happen. Of course, the acting President consulted with the government on multiple issues. Geneva is one of examples. We consulted on a regular basis. And when the UN General Assembly resolution was being made, I used to make phone calls to  the acting President and the Prime Minister from New York, we were in constant contact.

President Petro Poroshenko has earned the nickname "peacemaker." His predecessor in office - acting President Alexander Turchinov [MB3] used to be called a "militarist" ... Do you think these nicknames are justified?

Turchynov was absolutely set out [MB4] to wage war. We were all set up to [MB5] peace and searched for ways to resolve all issues peacefully. President Poroshenko is called a peacemaker, for he spoke out with[MB6]  his peace plan. We all want to make this plan come true, because nobody wants any casualties[MB7] , and not only in Ukraine.

In Europe, there are high expectations that the new President of Ukraine will, together with the government and society, resolve the situation: negotiate with Russia to resolve the issue peacefully. No one wants people to die.

"The president [MB8] clearly understands the situation, and his education and work experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will ensure the success of the peace process"

Do you feel that, after the presidential election, Moscow began to recognize the legitimacy of the new government in Ukraine? Can we establish a dialogue?

The international community recognized that, even before the Presidential elections in Ukraine, the Government, the Parliament and the acting President were all legitimate. It was only Russia that would not recognize it. But Russia was doing it on upon its own reasoning and ambitions. Now that international organizations have recognized the elections in Ukraine as legitimate and democratic, fair and transparent, there are no arguments left for Russia to not recognize the President and the Government of Ukraine. They found themselves in a situation where they have no other choice but to work with this President and this Government. I think that certain contacts will take place, as much as it is possible [MB9] in a state of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. They must be maintained in order to resolve the situation.

In general, do you think that relations with Russia, Ukraine has exhausted all diplomatic tools?

I had several conversations with the President[MB10] , including on the preparation voiced last week peace plan[MB11] , it actively participated current Minister. I think that the President clearly understands the situation, and his education and experience to ensure the success of the MFA peace process. I believe that this should be done as quickly as possible, using all diplomatic channels and international routes

A peaceful settlement of the situation in the East was[MB12]  also discussed before the Presidential election, at a meeting in Geneva. But it seems that Ukraine and Russia perceive the same things differently. For example, Russian leaders always stress that Ukraine does not follow the Geneva agreements…

In fact, meeting in Geneva was not dedicated to wide-ranging talks. It was dedicated to accepting the resolution, aimed at implementation of a single specific issue: the stabilization of the situation in Eastern Ukraine (then it had not yet been as escalated). And we, for our part[MB13] , were working on it.

As for the Russia’s rhetoric: Russia would not wish to do anything. It dragged the process, constantly using propaganda, saying, that it was an internal issue for Ukraine and they had nothing to do with it. However, saying this, it did not de-escalate the situation, but, instead, escalated it, sending militants and weapons to the East of Ukraine. Therefore, I would assess the result of the Geneva meetings like this: it's a lesson that any Russian participation in such negotiations must be backed up by action. If Russia does not fulfill what was agreed upon, then the world must know about it.

This is also relevant, by the way, to the plan of Mr.Poroshenko, to resolve the situation in the East. If the world also sees that Russia does not take steps in this direction, then Russia will be held accountable.

But despite the fact that Ukraine is ready for a dialogue on the de-escalation of the conflict in the East and is supported by the EU and the U.S., which has imposed sanctions against Russia, Moscow does not really seem to cooperate. In the situation when the world is very careful in imposing the next level of sanctions, do you think that the third level is possible?

I agree that the world today is cautious about the introduction of third-level sanctions. But the international community starts seeing clearer now that Russia does not fulfill its obligations, continuing to act as an aggressor. And there is no other leverage than sanctions to stop it peacefully. I believe that sanctions should be of a preventive nature, rather than be imposed after something happens. Sanctions should be introduced earlier to avoid situations like we have today, which are already rather complex and tragic.

Moreover, we need to begin to solve this problem ourselves, not just rely on someone else. Actually, we need to focus on the peace plan and engage in its implementation.

I mean that, to be involved in the containment of Russia as the aggressor, the international community needs to see clear steps from Ukraine. Especially when Kyiv is the first to make such steps  to resolve the problem. If Russia does not respond to these steps, we will undoubtedly need to attract help from our Western partners.

"If, in order to stop the movement of Russian military equipment, some barriers on the ground or walls could help, we can do it"

Ukrainians feel that one of the main steps of the Ukrainian authorities should be implementing visa regime with Russia. A few months ago you stood out against it. Has your opinion changed today?

You know, I think the establishing of a visa regime should have the reason, there must be some purpose. If our goal is to stop Russian aggression, to stop movement of Russian militants and military equipment across our border, the establishing of a visa regime will not resolve the issue. This will not help. We establish the visa regime, it will take a lot of effort, making decisions on different instances, but it will take time and additional money and human resource, and meanwhile, military will be still moving across the border. We will only waste time. That’s why the establishing of a visa regime is not something that will help us with the challenges that we face today. We need to stop the supply of Russian military equipment into the eastern regions.

Given the fact that the eastern border of Ukraine is a complete hole, what do you think about the idea of building a special wall on the border with Russia?

We need to regain full control over the border. We must have a clear command of the counter-terrorist operation, and the person or institution that is responsible for it. Some kind of a single focal point. I think that our security forces are able to coordinate this work, this is now improving. However let’s remember that such actions are something new for us. We’ve never done this, and we need to learn it on the go.

As for the wall, it will depend on how effective these barriers will be. First of all, we need to have strict control over the border to be maintained by the Border Guard Service. And, if necessary, some other units should be involved to help it to keep up with all parts of the border. If, in order to stop the movement of Russian military equipment, some barriers on the ground or walls could help, we can do it. The world practice knows such examples.

Recently, experts talked about the demarcation of the border with Russia. But how can it be done when there is no dialogue between our countries, as it was before? Can it be done unilaterally?

For several years, we, at first, could not delimit the border and then start a demarcation. But it was a deliberate policy of Russia and, to some extent, the previous government of Ukraine. For example Ukrainian-Russian commission on border demarcation was created, but it actually exists only on paper. This February, the meeting of the commission was planned but it was canceled by the Russian party. The Russian party did not have any determination to carry out the demarcation of borders.

But if the Russian party has no determination, then we should do it ourselves. In this situation we are now, we cannot afford to keep this decision on paper. In practice, we have every legal, financial and organizational reason to carry out the demarcation on our part. Such examples exist even in modern history: between Russia and Estonia, where the demarcation occurred unilaterally. We are also obliged to do so.

Of course, Russia will be criticizing us, will be disagreeing. It seems, they have already made the relevant statement saying that they would not recognize the demarcation. But we have every reason to do it and we need to complete it.

Now Moscow is doing its best to declare as many Ukrainians in their territory as refugees. It is believed that this is done so that, when Russia is able to document their critical number, they would bring in their troops on Ukrainian territory as "peacekeeping". Do you share this opinion?

Over the past three or four months, Russia has been trying to present the situation in Ukraine as an internal problem of Ukraine. First it was in the Crimea, now it concerns Donetsk and Lugansk. In fact, it is the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. But Russia does not want to recognize this, but show this, particularly on the international arena, as an internal crisis. That's why it uses all means to show and confirm such position. Among those means are the refugees.

A large number of refugees are advantageous for Russia due to the fact that it can show that the Ukrainian government is unable to cope with the situation. But it’s ever harder to do for Russia because the real situation on the border is monitored by the UN, OSCE, NATO and the United States and they see what is actually happening there.

Unfortunately, Russia is using such human tragedy as an issue of displaced persons, refugees, in order to conduct propaganda war. I think it is unethical.

"We will file lawsuits for annexation of the Crimea and damage to Ukraine"

Does Ukraine collect evidence base for international courts to prove that the destabilization of the situation in Eastern Ukraine is engaged by Russia?

Yes, we are cooperating in these issues with the Security Service of Ukraine, with the Ministry of Defense, with the Counter-Terrorism Center. These pieces of evidence are very important to our diplomats in international organizations to use them when discussing issues related to the adoption of documents and decisions including those which condemn Russia's actions. An integrated approach is used for the presentation of pieces of evidence. This includes photo, video and audio files as well as data and results of aerial photography. These are materials, reports provided by international monitoring missions because other countries may take them more objectively. In combination, this evidence base is a strong argument for counter-propaganda on the part of Ukraine.

Will this evidence base become a ground for appeals to international courts? Are such lawsuits being prepared?

We have already gone to a Stockholm court. There have been several lawsuits to the European Court on Human Rights. The evidence base is also being collected for other international courts. The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Justice are dealing with it. First of all, MoJ is responsible for presentation and management of these cases in international courts.

A few months ago, it was more about personalities in the lawsuits to international courts. Now, a whole country is an aggressor. Will Ukraine sue Russia at the international level?

Yes, we file lawsuits for annexation of the Crimea and damage to Ukraine. As of today, we have not filed such lawsuits, but they are being prepared, evidence is being collected. I think it is an important and required element.

But we shouldn’t expect a quick solution or even consideration of this issue. In the case with Cyprus, it seems like this issue has been examined for 20 years, however, there is a decision now. So we also must start a process.

But I want to warn: the society has very high hopes that when a lawsuit is filed, the court will review it and the Crimea will be immediately returned to us. We have not forgotten about the region, we want to solve this issue, but it may take some time.

In your opinion, is it possible to restore Ukraine's application for membership in NATO? Will Ukraine refuse the status of the non-aligned state in its new constitution, the draft of which is currently being prepared?

I think we should consider finding a collective security for Ukraine, which, for the moment, at this stage, may be the most effective. I cannot say it will be NATO or the other system. But this issue should be addressed not only at the level of public authorities, but also in the society.

At present, the situation is paradoxical: Russia fears NATO coming closer to its borders but NATO really is not an aggressive bloc, it’s a military-political bloc. At the same time, Russia performs an act of military aggression against Ukraine, and such actions lead to the fact that Ukraine has to seek collective security. Perhaps it will be NATO. If Russia pursues with an aggressive policy, the number of supporters of NATO in Ukraine will only increase.

Today, it is clear that relations between Russia and Ukraine will hardly be as neighborly as before. At present, Moscow announces cancellation of many bilateral contracts and this does damage to both sides. However, in this case, can we be partners in general in some areas?

I think it will be very difficult to return to a previous level of trust and cooperation, as it was before the outbreak of hostilities. We just will never be able to forget that Russia took has taken a part of Ukraine, part of our territory – Crimea. In addition, Russia also supports extremist movements in the East.

For the first time since World War II in Europe, one country has taken and annexed a portion of the territory of another country. I think, it fundamentally changed the vision of Russia as a partner in Ukraine.

Does the Ukrainian business need to focus on other markets now, because the relations with Russia will never be the same as before?

Yes, we must be aware of this. The Ukrainian business has to change its focus. Europe has opened its markets to Ukrainian goods. This will allow us, while we take some time to restore relations with Russia, even if they become the same as they were before conflict, to have made a more competitive produce. We will be able to sell our produce in the European market, as well as in Russia.

In this sense, Georgia is a very expressive example. When Russia closed the market for Georgian wine, they shifted to the Western markets, raised its quality to an European level. And then, when Russia reopened the market, the quality of Georgian wine has improved, and its price became higher. Now this wine is purchased in both Europe and Russia.

That’s why our business needs to take advantage of the current situation, especially when the opening of the market unilaterally occurred on the part of Europe.

Little time is left until the final signing of the Association Agreement on June 27. Should we expect new provocations from Russia within these few days? Overall, how severe is the threat of Russian troops to move into Ukraine, considering that the Kremlin started a "training" of the Russian army at our borders?

We are at war. There is not just “hybrid” war in the East of Ukraine. I think, we need to focus, find a way to quickly make it all over. Then there will be fewer victims.

By the Decree of June 16, you are assigned a member of the National Security Council. But the information began to appear that you may be appointed an Ambassador to the United States or to Britain ... Can you confirm this? Reveal your cards, please...

In what country would I go, this is a question that we shall discuss with the President. And here we must adhere to diplomatic norms and etiquette {smiling}, wait until everything happens, according to diplomatic rules. That is to say, there is a request for prior approval of the host country, then the consent is obtained, the decree is signed, and then I will know where I'm going.

Many Ukrainians would like to see you as an Ambassador to Russia...

I think that for me in particular and Ukrainians in general, it makes sense to communicate with the Russian people. We (Ukrainians and Russians) have to live in peace. I am convinced that the Russians as well understand this.

Interview by Tatiana Urbanska

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