‘We expect a balanced stance from Turkey,’ Russian envoy says on Crimea

‘We expect a balanced stance from Turkey,’ Russian envoy says on Crimea

‘We expect a balanced stance from Turkey,’ Russian envoy says on Crimea

Sanctions imposed by United States and Europe will not change the decision “for the reunification of Crimea with the mother land. This is irrversible,” says Russian Consul General Alexey Erkhov. HÜRRİYET photo, Levent KULU

Describing Crimea’s annexation to Russia as a “reunification with the motherland,” the Russian envoy to Istanbul has said his country will “survive” Western sanctions.

Although Turkey has said it will not recognize the referendum in Crimea, Alexey Erkhov expressed his hope that bilateral ties will not be affected by the developments in Ukraine. “The level of relations attained between Russia and Turkey enables us to solve all issues that might arise on the bilateral agenda,” Erkhov told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Russia is criticized for acting too fast on the Crimea without working more for dialogue.

For those who came to power in Kyiv; firstly their legitimacy may be easily contested. Second, I don’t think they are in full control of what is going on in Kyiv. Third, those in control in Kyiv are right-wing ultra-nationalist forces. I don’t think they are in favor of any dialogue with us. In the first days after the dismissal of President Yanukovych, violence started; arms started to arrive in the southeastern part of the republic, creating chaos there and almost a hunt for pro-Russian activists began. The people of Crimea did not want this kind of adventure, and it is their right to demand that their right to self-determination be realized. Do you have criteria for how many days or weeks we need to organize a referendum? There is no precise recipe on how fast we should act to protect our kin.

President Putin has described the break-up of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Is he trying to repair what he sees as the damage, trying to reverse it?

So what? The reunification of Crimea with Russia is now a definitive and irreversible fact. This is an objective reality with which we will live.

Wouldn’t this open the Pandora’s Box and make all borders questionable?

This is a very theoretical question. With the 1975 Helsinki agreement proclaiming the inviolability of post-war borders, can you remember who broke it first? Kosovo.

So in your eyes a bad example can lead to another bad example?

Why do you consider the reunification of Crimea with the motherland a bad example? Let us suppose it is a good example.

It could set a precedent. You might have certain groups in Russia asking for self-determination. The Chechens asked for their right to self-determination and they were not able to get it. This could have unwanted consequences.

Someone asked me: “97 percent of vote is impressive, but what will happen if in a few years’ time they change their mind?” My response was that what we did these days imposes a higher responsibility on us - moral, political, economic and so on. This is not just a subject for joy and festivities. We should behave so that our brothers in Crimea do not regret their decision.

We should pursue such policies not only vis-a-vis Crimea, but also the whole of Russia. We should preserve this momentum to be attractive.

But there are restive republics in the Caucasus that are not so happy in their relations with Moscow.

Most republics use other formulations with their relations to the federal center. There are not only problems in the Caucasus but there are problems in other places. We don’t close our eyes to these problems. We should  use the credit [we have received from Crimean people] to make life better for the whole country.

So you believe sanctions on Russia will have no effect?

If by “effect” you mean a reconsideration of decisions taken – then no, no one can get them back. As to sanctions. Some people won’t be able to travel to the U.S. or Europe. We will survive.

But don’t you think you have lost Ukraine forever, or you think it was already lost.

Let me recall the slogans of the Maidan understood not just as a square, but as a social and political phenomena. They were very anti-Russian. I don’t want to say it in such definite manner, but the whole spirit of the Maidan was so anti-Russian that this thought of yours indeed comes to mind.

But Russia is a country that has every reason to be optimistic. Our Ukrainian brothers may have feelings against Russia now. But we will have to live together and all of us are obliged to behave and to sit down and think about how we can live together in mutual respect.

President Putin said Russians are the biggest ethnic group divided by borders. Does that mean that Russia will not stop at Crimea?

If you mean reunification a la Crimea, this was an option that was used in Crimea but there are other ways and means. We would be happy to see Russians in Ukraine and other places living in peace and enjoying their rights. Why should we always translate these words as an aggressive intention?

Russians are certainly divided, but that does not mean we are going to invade some countries and proceed with such behavior.

But don’t you think Russia has isolated itself and that we are now in a new cold war?

Of course we are not in a cold war, firstly because every such comparison is incorrect.

Let’s not call it a cold war, but statements from Western leaders indicate a contention. There is no longer a G-8, for example.

If we disagree with our Western partners, let us persuade each other. Let us cooperate. Isolation? What kind of isolation? I don’t see any isolation. If Mr. X is forbidden from visiting country Y, this is not isolation.

Crimean Tatars were against Russia and wanted to remain in Ukraine and now they are part of Russia. But they have a bitter taste of history as far as Russians are concerned.

In spite of some of their leaders’ appeals to boycott the referendum, up to 40 percent of the Tatar Community voted. The outcome of the referendum was 97 percent [in favor of union with Russia]. So a large part of the Tatar community also voted for Russia. It would be incorrect to speak of a unified position of Tatars. It would be incorrect to say and pretend that the Tartars’ Milli Meclis represents the whole public opinion of the community. I would support your words as to the sufferings of the Tatar people. This is a people whose history is full of pain and sorrow. We respect this and we understand that Stalin’s regime brought much suffering to this people, as it did to many other people, including the Russians. If a part of Crimean Tatars still voted for Russia, we should behave in a way that will show that their choice was right. If a part of the Tatars did not participate in the vote, thus reserving their right to speak out later, let’s make sure they understand that being with Russia has many advantages for them too.

What do you think about Turkey’s position?

The motivation vis-a-vis Crimea is very evident and clear. Turkey is an important and influential regional player. Turkey has a wide ranging cooperation with Russia and Ukraine and it has its own wide ranging interests in these schemes, and Crimean Tatars have kept their feeling toward Turkey for understandable reasons. So that’s why we expect wise, well-balanced and constructive approaches from our Turkish friends.

Do you have any prediction as to whether Russian-Turkish relations could be negatively affected by the crisis in Ukraine?

The level of relations attained between Russia and Turkey enables us to solve all issues that might arise on the bilateral agenda. We have all the chances to settle everything. I am sure the necessary efforts will be deployed by both sides.

Who is Alexey Erkhov?


Alexey Erkhov was born in 1960 in Moscow. He graduated from the Moscow State International Relations University in 1983.

In 1983, he started working in state institutions of the Soviet Union, including the Foreign Ministry. He has held several duties in Russia’s Rabat, Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus embassies. In 2006, he worked as Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. In August 2009, he was appointed as the Russia’s Consul General to Istanbul. He speaks English, French, Arabic and Russian.