Oleksandr Turchynov: Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian land!
Was there an opportunity to keep Crimea within Ukraine, why is Russia willing to disrupt presidential elections in Ukraine and what is Putin afraid of? Acting President, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov answered these and other questions in the program "Shuster LIVE".
Oleksandr Valentynovych, the question is following: Yanukovych asked Vladimir Putin to send troops. Vladimir Putin considers him a legitimate President. So basically Vladimir Putin has legal grounds.
Vladimir Putin considers Crimea a part of Russia as well, but Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian land. Fantasies of Mr. Putin are out of place. All civilized countries do not recognize the occupation of Crimea and certainly they do recognize legitimate authorities in Ukraine. At the same time, statements of citizen Yanukovych who is hiding from Ukrainian justice in Russia do not have any legal or political position substantial for Ukraine.
Everybody ask the question why there was no forceful response to the seizure of government buildings in Simferopol.
There was an immediate forceful response. As soon as we received the information that Russian servicemen had seized government buildings in Crimea, we immediately gave order to block these buildings and prepare forceful unblocking of these premises. Interior Troops, we didn't have the National Guard at the time, have fulfilled the task and surrounded the buildings on the perimeter. But in a few hours they were surrounded by pro-Russian citizens. It is almost impossible to conduct military or forceful operation in such conditions, when many civilians are near the buildings. There is a huge danger of killing civilians during such operations.
Many people say: why didn't they shoot in Crimea, why didn't troops start using weapons? This was an exact plan of Putin on the aggression against Ukraine. Crimea was the beginning. It was a trap for the new Ukrainian government and Ukraine as a whole. They worked out an aggressive, brutal and cynical technology in the Caucasus. Do you remember North Ossetia and Abkhazia? Scenario is the same: provocation is organized, local servicemen respond to it and as a result of military confrontation civilians are killed. Dreadful pictures of dead people and children, regular army is sent to protect people. This scenario was prepared for us. They created provocation in Crimea: airfields were blocked, special forces landed, transport planes with servicemen were landing every 15 minutes, the occupation of Crimea began. In such conditions any military conflict would end up with colossal victims, first of all among civilians, especially when it is not about ten or twenty but thousands of armed servicemen in densely populated Crimea. Russia was waiting for that. They instigated us to this. That is why Ukrainian servicemen received an order to hold the line within their military bases and on the ships understanding that they will be provoked to kill civilians. This was a brutal plan but it was not implemented.
At the time, there were much more Russian troops at the Ukrainian-Russian border than now and they were ready for invasion. The invasion would have been held at several directions: Kyiv, Belgorod-Kharkivskyi direction. Troops from Taganrog came closer and were ready to move towards Mariupol and Zaporizhzhya. The army of Transnistria was ready for the invasion of Odesa region. The plan was ready and the only thing that remained was to bring the match to this barrel of gunpowder. We managed to refrain. We desperately needed time to prepare for the defense.
Unfortunately, the army in Ukraine was not maintained at the decent level in the past years. It was considered as a rudiment of the past century. People thought that in current conditions the army is necessary rather for parades and ceremonial stuff. At the same time, the new century showed the opposite: modern country cannot exist without modern army. Many local and global conflicts as well as the occupation of our territory are the evidence of that. We had no army. Moreover, last 4 years it has been systemically destroyed. Russian citizen was even our Minister of Defense. The aggression in Crimea began in a moment extremely suitable for that: Ukrainian authorities have just begun making the first steps, we even didn't have the Cabinet of Ministers. We had no army. In fact we summoned troops from different regions of Ukraine in order to repel aggression. We had to buy time and that is why actions of our servicemen in Crimea were extremely important. They gave us an opportunity to buy time and conduct partial mobilization, restore our Armed Forces, bring them to full alert, build the defense system along southern, northern and eastern borders of Ukraine. Today, Ukrainian army can repel the aggression. It is increasingly important.
I remember when media and the Internet told that Ukrainian servicemen in Crimea didn't receive an order. From the first day the order was to hold the line to the end. The other thing is that many people didn't like this order and when some servicemen in Crimea went on the air and said: "Give us an order!", they meant: "Give us another order – to fall back!". But we couldn't withdraw them. We needed one month to get ready for the defense. True patriots, true officers, generals, admirals fulfilled their duty and gave an opportunity for the Ukrainian army to regain its positions, deploy sufficient forces and bring up reserves in order to understand how to act in an emergency situation.
You said that Ukrainian servicemen withstood a month and gave an opportunity to stabilize the situation at the border with Russia. Some Ukrainian servicemen and equipment are still in Crimea. Will we manage to return them to the country?
We are working over it right now. All representatives of the Interior Troops who remained faithful to their oath left Crimea with their equipment and weapons. The majority of them, more than 85%, have already reached the mainland. Now we are working to return all the military equipment, including military ships, to Ukraine. For this end, the group of senior officers of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are constantly holding negotiations with Russians in order to ensure the redeployment of our servicemen and their families.
We are constantly receiving information from Crimean residents who say that they do not want to live on the territory occupied by the aggressor and who are threatened to be physically harmed. They ask why there are no permanent appeals to Crimean residents from the government.
We are doing everything to withdraw servicemen and their families first of all because the severest aggression was against them. They were terrorized in the everyday life that is why this issue is principled for us. The Ministry of Defense and the Cabinet of Ministers received an order to ensure decent conditions and comfort for the families of servicemen who are leaving Crimea. I do not say that it is luxurious housing, but it is sanatoria, boarding houses, holiday homes. First of all, we will do this for them. The other problem is that many Ukrainian citizens in Crimea who do not want to recognize the occupation are under extreme pressure of Russia's military machine that makes them take Russian citizenship. It is true that many people leave Crimea, leave their homes. It is a tragedy. Currently, our Government works to ensure living conditions for them. First of all, special reserve of jobs is being created for them not to be unemployed. Of course it will be difficult for us to provide housing for them at once. That is why we are first of all creating refugee camps in Odesa and Kherson regions. We will try to find a solution for them not to live in tents.
This tragedy can hardly be regarded without emotions. It is impossible to get rid of emotions. I am confident that Crimea will not be a peninsula for leisure of Russian servicemen. It will be a dreadful problem for Russia which is already in international isolation. Just like Afghanistan led to the fall of Russian empire, Crimea will lead to the fall of Putin's regime.
Crimean Tatars have always said that they have nowhere to go. If Ukrainians can search for a refuge on the mainland, they have nowhere to go. How can we help them?
They are the same Ukrainian citizens as any resident of Kyiv, Lviv or Donetsk. They have places to go. Many of them brought their families to the mainland and returned to Crimea. I am confident that Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian citizens who have to leave their homes today will return to Crimea. Our servicemen who left their apartments and houses there will also return. Crimea will be Ukrainian land. Yes, it will not be in a month but we will return to Crimea. It is our position.
Have you thought about offering Ukrainian politicians to make a double citizenship in Crimea for the time of occupation?
There are two constituents: on one hand, there is a blackmail and pressure on the citizens of Ukraine. On the other hand, let us be honest, many Crimean residents applauded Russian servicemen and waved Russian flags in euphoria. It is a problem and we must frankly speak of it. Even in our army that was deployed in Crimea there were a lot of contract soldiers from Crimea who were also not ready to comply with an order. Some of them went under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. We should talk about that. At the same time, I am extremely grateful to such people like colonel Mamchur, counter-admiral Gaiduk, patriots and officers who gave an opportunity to deploy our Armed Forces on the mainland.
However, many people have already received a wake-up call. Those who waved flags yesterday start to understand that Ukraine is their homeland. Those illusions and old-school propaganda of the Russian Federation that promised people the moon, privileges, prospects, high salaries and pensions will not replace discomfort and real challenges they face today. I am confident that in a few months there will be a completely different situation in Crimea and those who waved Russian flags will raise the flags of Ukraine.
Oleksandr Valentynovych, participation in presidential elections for Crimean residents who want to take part in them. They will have to arrive, register five days before the elections, remain in the place of vote or go back and then return to vote. It's complicated.
Certainly, it is. But the law on temporarily occupied territories has already been adopted in the Parliament. Not only the issue of property in Crimea is considered in it. It is a problem. Temporarily occupied territory cannot have prospects of development. That is why Russian propaganda about the investment climate is a lie. Let's have a look at Transnistria, North Ossetia, Abkhazia. There were prospects of recreational area, there were promising enterprises. Now it is beggary, it is a constant crisis. Zones of frozen conflicts can not develop because under international standards and law no legal agreement or court decision in these areas is effective. Russia deprives Crimean residents of any prospect of travelling to civilized countries. Unfortunately, Crimean occupation will lead to a serious economic problem in the region. We must say that for those who waved flags to understand that their support for occupation will lead to serious problems first of all in their families and it cannot be compensated. We have a historical experience. Name at least one occupied territory that had at least any positive, any economic prospect. These territories are closed for investments and fair business. Usually they become enclaves for money laundering, smuggling, criminal cases. This is the reality and this reality, unfortunately, is in the world today. One can study this problem on their experience. I do not want to scare those who supported Russia in Crimea but in the nearest time problems they will face will prove them that their treacherous position was the biggest mistake of their lives.
NSDC started to counteract possible disruption of presidential elections in Ukraine. Is it another plan of Vladimir Putin?
The developments in Ukraine are Putin's nightmare. We have shown the whole world: the way towards Europe is the choice of Ukrainians. Ukrainian people change the government themselves. This example for Russia is the worst Putin’s nightmare. But it is not a dream, it is a reality. Thus, the Russian government needs to destabilize the situation in Ukraine to show how bad it is there. Stable government, stable and prosperous Ukraine is a verdict for Putin because Russian citizens will say: "Why cannot we do the same? We are not worse than Ukrainians!". Putin understands that it is a verdict for him. This is the exact reason why Russia is nurturing plans of invading Ukraine. Presidential elections are another step to stabilizing the situation, and so it is their (Russia’s) task to disrupt the elections and show absence of legitimate authorities in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government will do everything to ensure democratic, transparent and fair elections where every citizen will have a chance to elect candidates that will represent their interests decently. Any attempts to disrupt the elections will be stiffly rebutted.
American and European press writes a lot about Ukraine currently. Many people understand that Russia tries to deprive Ukraine of the right to choose. Now it is time to choose: Ukraine cannot remain between the two worlds all the time because it results into such problems. Do you think that relations with NATO are a topical issue today or should it be postponed in order to prevent the escalation of the situation in the country?
Russia is afraid that Ukraine will enter NATO. It is one of their phobias. At the same time, it is Russia who instigates Ukraine to enter NATO due to its aggression, actions and troops. If they continue to do so, I do not exclude the possibility that it will happen. Due to Russian aggression the number of people supporting the idea of entering NATO grows.
Then, if Ukraine moves towards NATO should we be afraid of the second official language – Russian?
Federalization of Ukraine in Russian understanding is the creation of dozens of such problems that were created in Crimea. They want to decentralize and weaken the government for it to be easier to destabilize the situation. We didn't let them implement their scenario. We were always instigated to respond to provocations but the wave which they called "Russian spring" did not bring the result. Each week we were gaining more control over the situation. The main thing is for people to understand that they are incited to provocations. Provocations in Ukraine still can happen. They are being coordinated and prepared. There is a constant stove-piping in the Internet, particularly calls to take weapons and eliminate the illegitimate government. These calls come from Russian IP-address. They counterfeit their format pretending to be local residents, tell fairytales about the army of Donbas liberation etc. These technologies are worked out by Russian special agencies. They are trying to destabilize the situation in such a way. I am sure that such provocations will be inefficient in Ukraine.
There is a paradox like Kharkiv accords. Today, Russia says that Crimea is ours and there are no more Kharkiv accords. Thus, we do not have to pay for the deployment of Black Sea Fleet and the price for gas will be the same. How will you respond to that?
Energy security is very important for Ukraine. The problem of Crimea is that our strategic prospects on the development of alternative energy supply were there. One of the first enterprises that Russian servicemen seized was "Chornomornaftogaz". It is not only an open positional war, but also an economic war. We will counteract. Their denunciation of bilateral treaties is the evidence of their weakness and absence of any legal foundation for the annexation of our territory. We will soon have a clear legal position on the compensation of billions of losses that Russia created for Ukraine. The losses that Ukraine suffered in connection with the seizure and occupation of its territory. Russia will pay double, triple the price for all provocations it makes against an independent sovereign state. The entire civilized world supported us and I have no doubt that our complaints about the actions of the aggressor will be supported by all international courts.