Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Debate
The Joint Committee met at 14:30
In attendance: Senator Fiach Mac Conghail.
Situation in Ukraine: Russian Federation Ambassador
Vice Chairman: Apologies have been received from Deputy Pat Breen and Senator Jim Walsh. The draft minutes of our meetings with the Tánaiste on 4 March and the ambassador of Ukraine on 5 March have been circulated. Are they agreed to? Agreed. I ask all members and visitors to turn off their mobile phones to avoid interference with the recording system.
The main item on our agenda is a discussion of the current situation in Ukraine with His Excellency Maxim Peshkov, ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ireland. I welcome the ambassador and his colleagues. There have been a number of significant developments in Ukraine recently, none more so than the events in Crimea in the past week. The joint committee heard from the Ukrainian ambassador last Wednesday when the Embassy of the Russian Federation was represented in the Visitors Gallery. Today, in a continuation of our hearings on the issue, we have the pleasure of the company of the Russian ambassador and his colleagues. They are very welcome and we look forward to hearing what they have to say to the committee.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: I thank the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to express our views on the situation in Ukraine. Unfortunately, there has not been much understanding of the situation there from the perspective of my country. As we see it, the events in Ukraine are a result of the very deep internal political crisis which did not come about only yesterday. The crisis was not created by Russia and came about, despite multiple warnings from my country. It was created artificially for geopolitical reasons. The current leadership in Ukraine, the United States of America and the European Union are trying to demonise my country by depicting us as the cause of the conflict. This is not new for us. Every time Russia attempts to protect its lawful interests, the image of an ugly, vicious Russian bear appears immediately.
It is concerned about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine, expressed in support for the Svoboda Party - recalls that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU's fundamental values and principles and therefore appeals to pro-democratic parties in the Verkhovna Rada not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party.
The following year, this was forgotten by Europe. We do not understand why this has happened.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I welcome the ambassador and his colleagues to the committee. We are not here to demonise the Russian Federation. It was a term he used himself and he said that the Russian people are grieving for those who lost their lives in this conflict. The loss of life is a concern to all of us. Why was Russia not represented at the Budapest Memorandum talks last week? The US, EU and Ukraine were the only participants in these talks. It goes without saying that proper respect should be shown to the Ukraine's substantial Russian-speaking population. The ambassador claimed the crisis has been created artificially. If it is an artificial crisis, the reaction has been extremely severe, to say the very least. It appears to us that Russian-backed forces are in full control of Crimea. A one-sided and clearly illegitimate referendum is about to be held over the next number of days. Has this crisis been created and exacerbated by a mindset that Russia has the right to control the destiny of a state that used to be part of the Soviet Union?
It has been clear for some time that it is the wish of the strong majority of the Ukrainian people to be part of the European democratic mainstream. There was an extreme reaction when the association agreement had been progressed between the EU and the Ukrainian Government. One of the narratives we have heard over the past weeks is that Russia was acting to defend Russian civilians being suppressed by Kiev. In the coverage we read and see in our media, the only people we have seen being beaten off the streets in the last number of weeks were Russians protesting against their Government in Moscow and some Ukrainians supporting their Government in Sevastopol. That type of activity is unacceptable. Another clear message put out by the Russian Government was that the Russian troops were classed as self-defence volunteers. It is strange that the uniforms and vehicles with military numberplates had all the trappings of belonging to Russian troops.
If right is so much on Russia's side, why the efforts to stop the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, from entering Crimea? As we all know, the OSCE is directly charged with monitoring situations quickly. Its attempts to enter Crimea were stopped. The OSCE monitoring team included a colonel of the Irish Army. Warning shots were fired at that convoy. Why are there 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea compared to the 11,000 usually stationed there with Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol? Can the ambassador comment on reports that the Russian Parliament is preparing legislation to make it easier to annex parts of other countries? I repeat my thanks for the ambassador's attendance and I am sure he will be glad to deal with the questions that are posed by the committee.
Deputy Eric Byrne: I was welcoming the ambassador. This is the first occasion on which we have been able to look him in the eye and have a chat. I had hoped to see him before now, when he sent us a very nasty letter, because we had the audacity to deal with William Browder's Medinsky case, threatening Ireland with-----
Deputy Eric Byrne: We did not get the opportunity to debate that issue then, but now that the ambassador is here, maybe he can recall that incident. I am recalling for him the fact that it was the most insensitive correspondence this committee has ever received from an ambassador. I am not a diplomat; I am a street fighter and a politician. I do not want to be offensive, but I want to express anger in an inoffensive way.
I am the first to agree that ultra-right-wing forces were at the barricades in Kiev and that either eight, ten or 12 riot police were shot dead by demonstrators, but I also agree that the riot police used live ammunition to massacre 80 civilians. There are two sides to every story. It is very sad that the ambassador should suggest we are trying to demonise Russia. I hold Russia in the height of respect. The role Russia has played historically and the Red Army's role in the liberation of the world and Europe must be recorded. One would wonder at the sacrifice of so many sons of Russian mothers so that Russia can behave as it does towards Ukraine today. We do not demonise Russia. It is not an artificially created conflict. This is probably one of the most serious conflicts in world politics in this century.
While I agree that conservative, right-wing and ultra-right-wing forces were at play, they constituted a minority. What happened in Ukraine was a popular demand for economic and political change. People were so frustrated they took to the streets. Sadly, some ultra-right-wing activists jumped on that democratic demonstration and exacerbated the conflict with the police. While the right wing was active there - Russia keeps claiming that its reason for moving in was the threat of the ultra-right - I am sickened at the sight of Russia's own neo-Nazis and skinheads. Every other week we see videos of Russia's own ultra-right, fascist skinheads terrorising the lesbian and gay community. Rather than demonise the right wing of Ukraine, Russia might look very closely at its own right wing. The extreme right is already elected in Russia. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has 56 seats. How does Russia square that?
What worries me most is that, notwithstanding the fact that Russia is one of the 56 members of the OSCE, it has deliberately frustrated the OSCE observers in their attempts to enter Crimea. Does the ambassador not agree - clearly he does not, but I will ask him anyway - that Russia has already broken the Charter of the United Nations, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and the specific commitments in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances? What sort of friendship agreement would it be? The bilateral treaty of friendship, co-operation and partnership was signed in 1997. It is time we sat down and tried to understand each other's positions. Nobody is demonising Mr. Peshkov or his country. We recognise that the international tensions are dangerous for humanity, Russians and western and eastern Ukrainians that we must talk and find a solution which I argue is the one proposed by the European Union.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: I thank the ambassador for coming. It is positive that he has come to meet the joint committee, as it is very important that we hear the views of all sides. We can all agree that there are too many conflicts and far too much loss of life. We have also seen the way conflicts are hijacked by ultra fundamentalist groups to further their own ends. This has absolutely nothing to do with the people and their legitimate rights.
Russia is a member of the UN Security Council and the OSCE and a party to the Budapest Memorandum and bilateral treaties and so on. Why were the issues of concern in respect of Ukraine not discussed by these agencies? Instead it seems matters were pre-empted because of Ukraine's interest in greater European integration. The deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine has brought about an extremely severe crisis.
Russia has used its veto at the Security Council on a number of occasions in relation to the situation in Syria, stating it wants to protect Syria's sovereignty. It agrees with the principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs, yet there is this interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs. I know Crimea has a chequered history, that Catherine the Great took it over in the 18th century. President Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine, to which President Yeltsin agreed. We are, therefore, looking at a violation of national sovereignty.
When the Ukrainian ambassador was here last week, he said language was not a problem. He told us he was a Russian speaking man from Sebastopol in Crimea. He was not able to learn Ukrainian in school because there was no Ukrainian language school. That was his very black and white statement. If there are issues about human rights and language, why can they not be addressed through the international organisations that deal with human rights issues?
I take the opportunity to ask the Russian ambassador about Russian influence in Syria. The crisis in Syria is of mammoth proportions and the population are being starved. In time we will see images of people in Yarmouk and other cities similar to the pictures taken in Belsen and Auschwitz. Russia and Iran have a certain influence in one direction; the West has an influence in the other direction. How is Russia using its influence in dealing with the situation in Syria?
Let me deal with the issue of Russian troops. Will the ambassador commit to putting pressure on his government or bring back to it that the presence of Russian troops is not helping, that there is a need for negotiation, calmness and compromise? President Yanukovych opted to leave Ukraine, which was a significant factor in what was happening. We all agree that nobody wants to see the situation escalate to the point where it will be another Rwanda or Kosovo.
Deputy Seán Crowe: A previous speaker mentioned that the Ukrainian ambassador, H.E. Mr. Sergii Reva, had attended a committee meeting at which he outlined his views on the crisis. It is welcome that the Russian ambassador, H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov, has come before us today and I hope he will clarify some issues for us. There are people in Russia who will see us as well meaning westerners who have no clue about what is happening on the ground. However, we have a viewpoint. Everybody is concerned about the rise in the number of of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish population.
We are concerned about the composition of the interim government and people who are being given senior posts in the Ukrainian Government. I expressed my concerns to the Ukrainian ambassador in this regard and have made the same point to the Russian ambassador. Throughout the crisis in Ukraine I have been critical of both sides. I have just come from a meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss the European Council. My view is that mistakes were made by the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation. The ideal would be for both sides to work together and for Ukraine, because of its strategic location, to trade with both Russia and the European Union. It was a mistake for the negotiations to move towards the zero option. There could have been an historic compromise and others in Europe share this view of the crisis. Only the people of Ukraine can decide their future. It is an important principle that they should be able to do this without foreign interference. We need to address this principle.
I share Russian concerns about the emerging right-wing groups in Kiev and the positions they been able to establish in the power vacuum within the government. I stand in total opposition to their ideology. Deputy Brendan Smith mentioned self-defence units, which are a key part of the crisis. These masked men do not talk openly when questioned. They have no marks on their uniforms to establish who they are, but they have heavy weapons. I have heard suggestions the uniforms may have been bought in stores, but from where did they get the military equipment? Has the Russian Government supported their creation in any way? Is it supporting them militarily or economically or controlling them? What is the ambassador's view of these armed groups that have emerged in Crimea?
President Putin has the agreement of the Russian Parliament that he can send Russian troops into Ukraine, in particular the eastern part of the country, if the crisis worsens. Russian troops also stage military manoeuvres. It is welcome that there seems to have been a de-escalation. In what circumstances would the Russian Government send troops across the border? Will the ambassador suggest a possible scenario because there is a threat and we, naive westerners, are concerned about where it will lead? It is leading to further tensions in the region.
A decision was made on 6 March to call a referendum in Crimea, which is due to take place on 16 March. This is happening during the crisis in Ukraine. The people have a right to self-determination and to decide democratically on their country's future in an open, fair and transparent way. All sides, including civic society, should have an opportunity to put their views to the people, but that will not happen in a period of ten days. Such a period is too short and does not follow democratic best practice in any country. Will the ambassador agree that it lacks good democratic practice to hold a referendum in such a short timeframe? Has the Russian Government decided what it will do if the people vote in favour of joining the Russian Federation? If that happens it will be viewed by many as a further escalation, but that depends on Russia's response.
Yesterday the US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, rejected an offer to talk to the Russian President until, as he said, Russia engages with US proposals on the Ukraine crisis. I think that view is counterproductive. I urge all sides to sit down and talk and reference the Irish experience where negotiations were moved on in a peaceful manner. Does the ambassador believe that the meeting should have gone ahead? What specific issues did the Russian Government want to raise with the US Government? I presume it was the make-up of a new government.
The EU has stated that if the Crimea referendum goes ahead and Russia wins, it will place sanctions on Russia. Today the EU has agreed the wording of sanctions that include travel restrictions and asset freezes against those supposedly responsible for military actions in the Crimea. European officials have also indicated that President Vladimir Putin and his foreign Minister, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, will not be on the list. Therefore, those channels of communication can be kept open, but further escalation is possible at any time. Instead, the list is expected to focus on people close to President Putin and will probably focus on security services and the military establishment. How will Russia respond? I accept that Mr. Peshkov is an ambassador and may not wish to comment. If sanctions are introduced, can we expect similar counter-sanctions from the Russian Federation?
Ireland is a small country located on the edge of Europe. We have seen conflict in our own land for too long and can empathise with the Ukrainian people about what they are experiencing. It behoves us all to do whatever we can and to raise our voices against what is going on, but we seem to be slipping further towards the brink of war. The referendum is a mistake because people need time to settle down and talk. It is positive that the interim government wants people to talk, and that is what they called it when they met Irish officials. Does the ambassador agree that talking is the way forward rather than military exercises or responses?
Senator Michael Mullins: I join with colleagues in welcoming the ambassador and his colleagues here. One can see from the contributions made by various members that they are only interested in peace and seeing that there is no loss of life. The only thing I found surprising about the ambassador's contribution was his surprise at the EU and US positions. Obviously the EU is deeply concerned about the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty by the Russian armed forces and breaches of the various internationally recognised agreements that are in place, such as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994 and the bilateral Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership. Does the Russian Federation or his government plan to have meaningful engagement to prevent loss of life and restore peace and stability in the region? As the ambassador will know, the Irish Government called for Russian forces to withdraw to their barracks. Will the Russian government respond positively to the request?
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan mentioned Russia's influence on Syria. Will the ambassador comment on the apparent serious breaches of UN Security Council Resolution 2139, signed on 22 February? Even though Russia signed the resolution, it appears it is not being adhered to. There have been reports of citizens being starved to death, and an even larger humanitarian crisis has emerged in Syria.
Vice Chairman: The ambassador has heard the consensus of the committee. Members did not say anything with animosity but made helpful interventions that were in no way aggressive towards Ukraine, Russia or Crimea. The members have a long history and knowledge of the geographical region. I wish to state that it would be a huge tragedy of worldwide proportions if negotiations broke down and ended in hostilities. That would lead to greater bloodshed, so it behoves everybody involved - Ukraine, Crimea and Russia - to have regard for world peace and the need to ensure that whatever is done from here on in does not in any way aggravate an already sensitive situation. Past experiences have shown that when situations such as this occur, it is far better to resolve them through diplomatic intervention and negotiations rather than in a different way. People may not readily recognise that there are consequences for the region, including Ukraine, Crimea and Russia, in the event that this issue is not satisfactorily resolved. Russia is a more open economy now than it has ever been in the past 150 years. It has established important trade links worldwide, and links have been established between Russia and the rest of Europe, and globally, that are mutually beneficial. It would be very sad if lasting damage was done to the economies of Russia, Europe, Ukraine and Crimea in the course of finding a solution.
Nobody here agrees with aggressive re-nationalisation, or whatever the case may be. It is okay if people wish to go in a particular direction and embrace a different tradition as long as it is done through diplomatic channels, and we must revere, respect and protect that right. If all these things are lost and the crisis escalates, there will be more serious consequences for everybody involved that will not so easily be resolved. It is with that in mind that we should all - members have expressed this wish - ensure that what happens is within our immediate influence and is our preferred option. We must always remember that with strength and power there is a need for magnanimity, a lesson that we have learned from past generations. There is a long list of questions and I look forward to hearing the ambassador's response. There is a time problem, but he will have enough time to answer.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: I thank the Vice Chairman. Unfortunately, the committee operates with one side of the information, so I will outline the real situation in the region. Let me introduce or remind the committee of what happened in Ukraine step by step. It began following the EU's invitation to the Ukraine to become an associate member, which does not mean that it would immediately have become a member. Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to go with Russia or Europe, but it was a fatal mistake on the part of Europeans to make this proposal an ultimatum - "You will go with Europe or you will go with Russia." Is it a mistake or is it a well-prepared step? I do not know, but it was the action from Brussels. What was our reaction? It was put to Ukrainians and it was put to Brussels as to why they put forward this alternative. We have our own relations with Ukraine and we have our own relations and co-operation with Europe. We asked why they made this kind of ultimatum and they said they had no other choice. "You will go with Europe or you will go with Russia." We did not present this kind of choice to Ukrainians. We asked them to read the agreement of association and then to take their calculators and begin to count down the economic result of this, with the special relationship with Europe and Russia. They began to think and then they said they would postpone their decision to sign the agreement. That was their choice.
The next step was the beginning of demonstrations and meetings in Maidan. First, who were the people who came to Maidan, or Independence Square? Decent people, people who sincerely believed in their European future, people who were tired of corruption, local hostilities and so on. They showed their emotions but it was only the first step. Immediately, radicals and right-wingers spread into their meetings and the real killings and massacres began. I remind the committee that in spite of all the difficulties, there is no difference in the way we look upon Viktor Yanukovych. Whether we like him or not, it does not matter. He did not give a command to police and to Berkut to shoot. Who was shooting? We now know it was snipers; the Estonian Minister for Foreign Affairs said it was one of the members of the coalition. That is all.
The next step, after analysis of the situation following talks or negotiations - by the way, we took part in this with Yanukovych - was that our European and American colleagues and partners decided on and signed an agreement dated 21 February. What was written in this agreement? The agreement provided that new presidential elections would take place at the end of this year, that the constitution of 2004 would be restored, that the Berkut police would go back to their barracks, that no emergency situation would be claimed in Kiev or in the country, and there would be constitutional reform. These were the proposals of Yanukovych, all of which were fulfilled. While the opposition was obliged to disarm its military groups and to free up all of the administrative buildings it had taken over, it did not fulfil any of these obligations. Immediately there was a question about the three countries that guaranteed the agreement, and their reaction was zero.
The next step was that Viktor Yanukovych had to leave the country, and illegal steps by the Rada began the procedure of impeachment of the president. In the constitution there is a paragraph stating how this procedure must be done. They did not do it. Therefore, the procedure of impeachment was not fulfilled at all.
At that time Ukraine had no economic or ethnic problems. The first two decisions of the Parliament were the banning or cancelling of two laws - the law on regional languages and the law banning the propaganda of fascism and Nazism. What was the reason for this? Whether or not it had no other business to do, it was a very clear marker for all Ukrainians. It was a threat to Russian speakers.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: I am speaking about the first steps of the Rada and then the provision on Nazism. Unfortunately, it is not only in that country that pro-Nazi feelings are becoming more and more active. We have seen the open and public parades of those people who joined the Galician division of the Waffen-SS, and people with portraits of Bandera, the famous Nazi criminal. It is a real threat not only for Russians but for Ukrainians who do not agree with all these things and do not want to live under a fascist regime. Of course, I will never say that all of those in government are fascists - not at all - but the Rada group including Svoboda and Right Sector are armed and are controlling the situation in the Rada and trying to control the situation in eastern parts of Ukraine. The reaction of the people living there is natural.
Vice Chairman: That is a reasonable enough statement. It worries me - this is an observation - that if, for example, the European Union decided to take unilateral action in some fashion and move into Ukraine on one side in order to protect what it would see as its supporters or the people of a similar background and then the Russian Federation did the same for the other side, then we would have a serious crisis on our hands. The point we are trying to get away from here is this - why should it be necessary for the Russian Federation to become involved in the internal affairs of Ukraine? We know a little about parades in this country as well and the fact that one does not like the parade does not necessarily mean that we can use that as a means of conflict or potential conflict. That is merely an observation. Incidentally, I was in Vilnius at the meeting of the Eastern Partnership on the day that the European Union and Ukraine decided to go in opposite directions.
The last point on that relates to the impeachment of the president. We in this country could not become involved in the impeachment of a president or prime minister in an adjoining country, in Europe or outside it. The question that then arises is "why would it be necessary?". The European Union should not become involved in that either. It would be seen by us as an internal issue within Ukraine. We fully respect the right of people of Russian ethnic origin to have their civil and human rights protected in every sense, including the language, as well. So that there would be no doubt at all about the sentiments expressed by the members here, they have a long tradition here of observing civil and human rights, and identifying violations, all over the globe. In fact, the country has established quite a good reputation in that area. I am sorry for interrupting the ambassador, but there is just a part of the argument that I would like him to address.
Deputy Eric Byrne: If the Vice Chairman wants to correct the record, the Party of Regions did not dissolve with Yanukovych disappearing. They were, and are, part of the interim government, and the right parties are a minority, not a majority.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: First, by the way, not even one person from the Party of Regions is now in the Government of Ukraine. Svoboda does have this. Nazis from Svoboda, they are members of the Government. At the same time, the leader of the so-called Right Sector is nominating himself for the presidency and there is a chance that a fascist will become president of this poor country.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: As the committee will be aware, the rule is OSCE could send its monitors or observers to elections or referendums only by the will and on the proposal of the country where such referendums or elections take place. Kiev is welcome to ask the OSCE to go there to look at these presidential elections.
Vice Chairman: The ambassador will realise now the reservations that the committee members have, as I tried to point out, about the interference in the internal affairs and the possibility of monitors from OSCE or wherever becoming involved as a means of preserving the rights and entitlements of the opposing groups in that region.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: I must make one point, that our troops, I mean our Black Sea navy ships, are based in Crimea on the basis of intergovernmental agreement between our two countries, Russia and Ukraine, first, and we have all rights to be there and to act as we are acting because no violations of this agreement took place. No additional troops were sent to Ukraine. I can only quote my president. He said that we do not intend to send additional troops to Crimea if nothing extraordinary would happen. I hope that no extraordinary situations will occur in this region.
As for persons in uniforms, masks, etc., if one looks, for instance, to these films or videos from Maidan during all of the demonstrations, one can see persons in the same uniforms on both sides. These uniforms are used in the Ukrainian Army and in the Russian Army and they could be bought elsewhere, etc. All this speculation that some Russian military took part in these activities in Crimea is a complete lie and a falsification. That is all.
There was a question about why there were no discussions in the United Nations, OSCE and other structures dealing with human rights, etc. There were numerous questions. There were several sittings of the Security Council. We had numerous contacts on various levels, beginning from our Presidents and our Ministers for Foreign Affairs, with our partners in Europe and the United States. As the committee will be aware, there is, perhaps, everyday contact between my Minister, Mr. Lavrov, and US Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, and we cannot say that no steps or proposals were made to each other.
Mr. Kerry was not happy that we did not agree with his proposals, why should we be? He is the boss or not. Why should we agree with proposals which we cannot accept? We have our own proposals. We sent them to Washington. Let them look, let us find some compromise.
The best compromise, the best way out, was the full fulfilment of the agreement between Ukrainian sides dated 21 February. Why was it not fulfilled? Why were European Governments keeping silent? Why did they not press upon their clients from the opposition? We did our part of the work, in working with Yanukovych, and the compromise from his side was one of the results of his contacts with my President. Why did the Europeans not do the same thing with their friends? I do not know, but it was a real way out. Perhaps the point of no return has not yet been reached, but I do not know. I am working here, not in Kiev or Moscow, and I do not know all the details or all the nuances of the situation. It is not right to state that Russia was sitting and doing nothing. We have the same questions for our European colleagues and for Brussels - namely, what are you doing? To only criticise Russia is not a way out.
Vice Chairman: There is a difference. For instance, our European colleagues did not authorise or encourage forces from Europe or western countries to enter into Ukraine in official or unofficial uniform. This goes back to the point I raised repeatedly. I acknowledge the ambassador has been genuine in the manner in which he has attempted to respond to the questions but he is looking at it from the opposite perspective. However, in issues of this nature it also is necessary to be able to examine the subject matter from the other side of the argument. For instance, if there are Russian troops in Ukraine, albeit not in official uniform, or from wherever those troops came - we do not know where they came from, but we have seen them on television - who authorised them and what is their business there? Are they supporting the previous administration or do they support something else? Are they awaiting something else? For example, in the case in which an administration must retire or resign, in most other situations one would assume that elections would take place as quickly as possible, that such elections would be free, and, as various speakers have noted, would be monitored and that an attempt would be made to ensure no one abused the system in order to achieve the desired result. I do not suggest for a moment that this is what the ambassador is doing. I fully sympathise with the job the ambassador is doing to answer the questions. However, he should remember that the questions raised are genuine, because there is no vested interest one way or the other. The people who raise the questions here are so doing on the same basis on which they have raised issues on every other conflict situation worldwide in my time in this House. I can assure the ambassador that has been quite a long time.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: They are welcome. I must stress that this is our own business, our domestic business. Were we to use these forces, then it would be the business of some others. However, our domestic decisions are ours.
Deputy Eric Byrne: I have a final question. The interim Government in Kiev, which Russia does not recognise, has plans for an election on 25 May. Already, some long-term observers from the OSCE have been chosen. Can the ambassador tell me what is Russia's position on the holding of the presidential election? Second, will Russia support OSCE election monitoring as an integral part of this process?
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: I will return to Russian support and respect for the national sovereignty of Syria and non-interference by outside powers. Why does that not apply to the Russian view of Ukraine? Sending in troops is an act of aggression. I again ask the ambassador to answer my question on how Russia could use its influence in Syria to bring an end to that humanitarian crisis.
H.E. Mr. Maxim Peshkov: My answer for the Deputy is very simple. These people sitting in Kiev are illegitimate. That is all. The only legitimate and legal way out of this situation could be the fulfilment of the agreement of 21 February, which stated that the presidential elections must take place by the end of this year. That is all. Had this stipulation been fulfilled, there would have been no question from our side.
On Syria, while I am not a specialist on the region, I can answer that unfortunately the situation in Syria is much more difficult than in many other conflicts. This is because there are no sides in the conflict, or rather, on one side there is Bashar al-Assad and his people, and on the other side there is a quite fragmented and amorphous group of people of various views and groupings, military people and so on. They begin at a rather liberal part of the opposition and end with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and so on. It is quite difficult to find some compromise as to what to do. For instance, the Assad side agreed to some negotiations with the liberal section of the opposition. They began the contacts, but they were all in vain because the military part of the opposition - that is, those who are with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other groupings - are against all such contacts, which is quite a problem.
As for the humanitarian position, the Deputy is correct that the situation is rather gloomy in that country. It may not be catastrophic, but it is nearing catastrophe. We are trying to help. We sent some food and medicine to Syria, but it is quite a problem for us or for the Syrian authorities to send this kind of assistance or help to those regions that are under the control of these extremists. Consequently, it is quite a problem, and I believe there are forces outside Syria who could work with these people - that is, with the extreme or radical part of the opposition. For instance, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have contacts with some but not all of them, and they must work.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: A major humanitarian crisis is facing those Syrians living under President Assad's regime, where Russia does have influence. I said the other powers could do so equally, but I hope the ambassador can take that message back. I believe Russia can do an awful lot more on those-----
Vice Chairman: It has been a very interesting discussion, and we thank the ambassador very much for coming along. It is clear that there are certain issues on which we do not agree. That is the way of these matters. However, I hope the ambassador might bear in mind the views expressed by the members of the committee in his discussions with the authorities and indicate to them the values we have, as a neutral country in the European Union, with respect to the internal affairs of another sovereign state. Because of our history, we would not be at ease with the possibility of military intervention by either the European Union, the US, somebody else in Ukraine, or Russia. This is not something that would be welcomed by the committee. I thank H.E. Mr. Peshkov, Mr. Ivanov and Mr. Nikeryasov-----
Vice Chairman: We also extend those greetings to the ambassador and his colleagues. We hope the ambassador will be able to come back here at some later stage and that we will be able to say a serious issue was averted. Thank you, ambassador.
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