‘Russia had no other option’

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Ambassador Alexander M. Kadakin. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Interview with Alexander M. Kadakin, Russia’s Ambassador to India.

RUSSIA’S Ambassador to India, Alexander M. Kadakin, spoke to Frontline on the question of Crimean accession and related issues. Kadakin is a scholar in Indian studies, who first came to the country as a young diplomat in the early 1970s. He is the senior-most serving Ambassador in the Russian Foreign Service. He has the rare distinction of having held the position twice in India. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the rationale for Crimea’s accession to Russia?

The most important, of course, was the will of the local people, which was very clearly expressed in the referendum of March 16. The will of the people was the guiding beacon for the Russian authorities. Apart from that, there were forces in Kiev which had accelerated the process in Crimea. The first thing the so-called new government in Kiev did was to pass a decree abolishing Russian as an official language instead of focussing on economic recovery. They rectified it later but it was a bad mistake on their part. It immediately alienated Crimeans and hastened the process [of accession].

But, apart from all that, the Crimean situation is different from similar cases around the world. First and foremost, in 1954, Khrushchev whimsically decided to gift Crimea to Ukraine, where he was once the Communist Party chief. Never before had Crimea been with Ukraine. The Russian empire had fought three major wars with the Turks for Crimea and it was only during the time of Catherine the Great that complete possession of Crimea took place.

In Ukraine now, very radical ultra-nationalist elements have entered the government who, unfortunately, are ruling that “satanic ball”. They are from western Ukraine, which was never originally part of that country. And Crimeans thought that with these forces having the upper hand in government, the lakhs of Russian lives laid down for Crimea would go in vain.

More than one million Russians perished in the three wars. One hundred and fifty thousand Russians are buried in a cemetery in Sevastopol.

And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been complete neglect on the part of Kiev about the needs and requirements of the Crimean people. World-famous resorts there have fallen into ruin. Kiev was more preoccupied with its internal political struggles.

How important is the port of Sevastopol for Russia?

Even before 1954, Sevastopol had a special status as the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It was always subordinate throughout its history to the central government in Moscow.

What about the impact of the sanctions on Russia?

Inconsequential. The world has changed. There is much more interdependency now. Russia has always been and continues to be against any kind of sanctions. We never joined the West-led sanctions against India in 1998, which is somewhat forgotten these days. Against the background of globalisation, any sanctions will boomerang. Europeans are not united on the issue. The German Chancellor has said that they do not want to have an economic war with Russia.

President Obama has described Russia as a mere regional power.

Only God can judge whether Russia is a regional or a superpower, and the American President is not God. What would you call a country that has the capacity to destroy the planet a thousand times?

Russia was suspended from the G8 and there was a call by the Australian Prime Minister to keep Putin out of the G20 summit.

Their discourteous language about Russian membership in the G8 and the G20 was unwarranted. If the G8 has done its job, so be it, but it is not up to any G20 member to either expel or not invite another member state. We are not bound to those formats and do not consider it a badge of honour.

The G8 is just a gentleman’s club with no consequence. The G20 is definitely more important.

Is Russia happy with the response of the BRICS nations and the result of the U.N. vote on Crimea?

The response of the BRICS countries was constructive and well-balanced. We value the position they took. The outcome of the U.N. General Assembly vote was absolutely balanced. The vote has shown that there is a great force emerging now, which rejects the policies of a unipolar world. It reminds me of the golden days of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Is Russia not unhappy with India and China for abstaining from the U.N. vote?

Not at all. President Putin in his Kremlin speech after the incorporation of Crimea emphatically thanked the Indian and Chinese governments for their far-sighted and objective position. He also singled out India for its constructive approach.

Is the continued expansion of NATO a concern?

Unfortunately, double standards and deceit have always been the guiding principles of our partners. They had given assurances to the Soviet Union and Russia that they would not move to our borders. Now Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic republics that were part of the USSR are members of NATO. Then what are their promises worth? Not even a paisa.

There was betrayal even in Ukraine.

Yes. What was the value of the agreement the three Foreign Ministers signed in Kiev? One day Yanukovich was very much at the helm and the next day the agreement was discarded like toilet paper by the West.

The West has been using the pretext of a Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border to ratchet up the tensions.

We do have to protect Russia from the instability in the neighbouring countries and even fraternal countries. Look what happened yesterday in Kiev. Those bandits stormed the Parliament building. Putin had clearly stated that he did not want any fragmentation of Ukraine. He said that he wanted a prosperous and stable Ukraine. Chaos in Ukraine is not in Russia’s national interest.