Russian Parliament speaker Sergey Naryshkin has accused the US of influencing the EU into imposing sanctions on his country without knowing “the actual reasons behind the situation in Ukraine” and says Europe “will have to pay the price for this policy.”
RT: Mr. Naryshkin, thank you very much for being here.
SergeyNaryshkin: Thank you for the invitation.
RT: The European Union recently put you on its blacklist. You are even banned from traveling to Europe. It is a pretty unique situation for the speaker of the Russian parliament to be blacklisted. Do you think this will make it difficult to you to work with your European counterparts in the future?
SN: The decision made by our European counterparts seems strange, or even absurd, to me as well, since Europeans have always prided themselves on their democratic tradition. This decision is absolutely at odds with it. Besides, if we look at the current crisis in Ukraine which triggered the sanctions in the first place, our partners keep saying that it’s very important to hear what Russia has to say on this highly complex situation, which presents a threat to Europe. But then they go ahead and limit their own ability to maintain contact and dialogue with Russia, and specifically Russian MPs in our situation. However, I don’t think this is the end of the world; instead, we should convey our point of view to the European public and our colleagues, the MPs, through every possible means, including the media and the contacts we MPs, and I personally, have. Of course, even such sanctions and restrictions won’t isolate Russia. You know, I recall that in his address at the West Point Military Academy, President Obama proudly reported that he had isolated Russia. But just a few weeks after that Moscow hosted a conference, the International Parliamentary Forum, attended by MPs, experts, researchers and NGO representatives from 71 countries. That’s our response and our strategy: an extensive and open dialogue.
RT: Let’s go back a little. Why do you think Europe chose to take this path, the path of sanctions, in the first place? Was this a well-considered decision? Or was it just an impulsive response by Europeans to the Ukraine situation?
SN: I would like to think that it was an emotional response based on misunderstanding and misconception regarding the actual reasons behind the situation in Ukraine. We see, however, that to a large extent our European partners acted as advised or even instructed by Washington. As for economic sanctions, at times they look like a tool used for unfair competition – an unlawful tool that is not based on a court ruling and is not sanctioned by the UN. And as regards sanctions targeting individuals, I think the purpose is in part to limit our ability to express our views in order for Western Europe to remain unaware of Russia’s arguments.
RT: So the purpose was to make sure Russia doesn’t have a voice?
SN: Yes, to limit Russia’s ability to voice its position.
RT: Let’s talk about European MPs now. What is the predominant sentiment among them today? Are they eager to impose more sanctions on Russia and push ahead with this policy? Or do they realize that the situation has gone too far and all they can do at the moment is back out? What’s the prevailing mood today?
SN: From the very beginning, sensible European MPs have been against sanctions. Perhaps there were not too many of them at the beginning, but as the sanctions policy spirals out of control more and more MPs and politicians in general start to question their effectiveness. They see with increasing clarity that it’s their people who have to pay the price for this policy. Basically, while imposing sanctions on Russia, EU governments make their own businesses and their own people pick up the tab, make them pay for their political mistakes. I think it’s becoming more and more obvious, so the sentiment of the political elite and the general public is shifting.
RT: Why did Russia choose the agricultural sector for retaliation?
SN: You have to realize that agriculture is crucial for national security – food security, specifically. And since our Western partners have compromised their own reputation as business partners, we can no longer rely on their produce. They are unreliable partners. So we had to do something. I would like to emphasize that the purpose of the measures taken by Russia is not to get back at our partners. We’re simply trying to ensure our food security. And I think our response sobered up our Western partners because businesses in Western Europe are suffering substantial losses. Take France, for example. Experts estimate that France will lose about a billion euros this year alone.
RT: Considering that this comes immediately on the heels of the crisis, we’re talking about immense losses, of course. I’d like to ask you now about certain incidents we see happening from time to time. For example, the situation with the defense minister’s jet that happened over Poland the other day. Of course, the issue was resolved later, and they explained that it happened for technical reasons, because the flight plan, they said, was not filed properly. Anyway, do you think this was an isolated incident? Or is it a new trend to target Russian officials?
SN: I’m not familiar with all the details of what happened yesterday, but in any case this incident utterly perplexed me and probably everyone else. If our Polish counterparts decided to do this because of what’s happening in Ukraine, these steps of the Polish government can in no way bring about the resolution of the bloody and deep-rooted Ukraine crisis, and it will certainly do no good for Russian-Polish bilateral relations. At the very least, I can say Poland will not sell more apples by acting this way.
RT: Certainly. In your recent letter to PACE president Anne Brasseur, you basically blame the EU for the Ukraine crisis. You wrote that it came as a result of the EU’s “clumsy” integration policy. Why did you call their policy “clumsy”?
SN: I did describe their policy as clumsy, because they’ve taken quite a few clumsy steps in the last few months, which are inconsistent with EU integration standards. This is not to mention the fact that the Ukraine crisis did not start this spring, when it evolved into an open conflict, a military, bloody conflict, a civil war. It all started much earlier, last fall and then last winter, when our Western European partners decided to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Look how liberal the EU has been about its own procedure. It’s absolutely clear that they are guided by their current political goals instead of rules. They apply their procedure arbitrarily with different countries. I believe this goes against Europe’s democratic tradition. Look how quickly they signed the association agreement with a country where a full-scale civil war is raging, which already cost thousands of lives, a war involving heavy artillery, armor, multiple rocket launchers and air strikes. This war has created a million refugees. And yet the European Union set a speed record when processing an association agreement with such a country. Well, my congratulations to the European Union on this record; I say this with a heavy heart.
RT: You wrote in your letter that Europe’s future to a large extent depends on the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. Do you really think that the civil war in Ukraine can evolve into something bigger?
SN: This is really a big threat, and not just to Ukraine but to the whole of Europe. This conflict involves different political forces and different countries. I have to stress, though, that this is an internal conflict. The Kiev authorities are at war with their own people, or at least with a part of their people. So, it is primarily the Kiev authorities who are responsible for this conflict. We realize, though, that the Kiev authorities are not absolutely independent in their actions. They are not in charge; they are following other people’s orders. Neither Russia nor the European Union is a party to this conflict. Yet the international community, including Russia, European Union, United States, etc., has an important role to play in de-escalating this conflict and finding a solution to this crisis.
RT: The new Ukrainian government makes no secret of the fact that they want Ukraine to join NATO. Do you think this can help de-escalate the conflict?
SN: I don’t see how this can help deescalate the conflict. This issue may come up later; I guess it will, and there will be extensive talks on this issue, and Russia, naturally, will be part of this discussion because we can’t remain indifferent as NATO edges closer to our borders. But, like I said, this is something for the future; right now, it is not something we need to talk about and definitely not something that can help restore peace in Ukraine.
RT: Let’s go back to the situation in PACE where Russia’s voting rights were suspended after Crimea became part of Russia. Some people in Moscow say Russia doesn’t need PACE membership and should withdraw from this organization altogether. How much do you think Russia needs PACE and vice versa?
SN: Russia has been a member of the Council of Europe and participated in its Parliamentary Assembly for many years. It hasn’t always been easy for our delegation there but our approach has been constructive. We value PACE as Europe’s widest parliamentary forum. So we need to think everything through before making a decision to withdraw from this organization. Yes, Russia is one of the top five donors to the Council of Europe, which includes PACE. Yes, the Russian delegation was stripped of a number of important rights in April. Still, we hope for mutual understanding, which is why I accepted the invitation from PACE President Anne Brasseur to attend a session of the PACE Presidential Committee, which will take place in early September in Paris. My colleagues and I are going to attend in hopes of finding common ground. We’ll look each other in the eye, and we’ll see who will be the one to look away or even shut their eyes.
RT: Do you think this might mean Europe is seeking rapprochement with Russia? Or is it just wishful thinking?
SN: We have received this invitation from the PACE president. I know Anne Brasseur as a responsible and conscientious person. I know she realizes that her presidency in PACE came at a difficult time, and she is aware of her responsibility for the future of PACE.
RT: Yes, she has some tough choices to make. Now, to my last question. How long do you personally think this crisis between Russia and Europe will go on? Is it something that will last for a long time? Or is it something that can be resolved in a relatively short time? What do you personally think about that?
SN: Well, of course, I cannot predict how long this deep-rooted and bloody crisis will last, and it’s all relative anyway. How long is a long time? One thing that’s clear to all is that sooner or later this crisis will be over. Of course, it will take us years or even decades to learn the lessons of this crisis. I’m talking about all sorts of lessons – things that pose a threat to international law, democracy and human rights; the resurgence of Nazism we’re unfortunately witnessing today, and so on. These are all lessons we’ll have to learn.
RT: Thank you very much for coming, and good luck with your trip.
SN: Thank you, and thanks for having me.