Valentina Matviyenko: “We Have Prevented the Shedding of Blood”

Translated by Thomas Clauss


Valentina Matviyenko, the leader of the Russian upper house said, not Russia but Kiev must finally implement the Minsk peace agreement.

You meet parliamentary leaders from all over Europe. Many criticize Russia sharply. Does the cooperation still work? Or do you feel very lonely in Bern?

“Of course I don‘t feel lonely. Our country isn’t isolated . Russia is a great power. Everyone knows that without us today, no major international problem or even a regional conflict can be solved. To the contrary, Russia plays an increasingly important role in world politics. We are for compliance with international law, for a leadership role of the UN and for security of all. We are against the interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and get more and more support in the world.”

What kind of world does Russia want?

“We are for a multipolar world and refuse to accept a single state or group of states trying to dictate conditions to another country. This is not acceptable, the world has changed. A very fundamental transformation is taking place. We are advocating for a more equitable world-order in which the national interests of each country are valid. We don’t let ourselves provoke and engage in dialogue with all our partners. Therefore no one can speak of Russia’s isolation.”

But the sanctions of the USA and the EU are a fact.

“All sanctions, which are not adopted by the UN Security Council, are illegal. They are looking for pretexts to show Russia its place. The goal is clear: the economic development of Russia is to be braked and its growing role in the world pushed back. We reject the language of dictation and violence.”

There is war in Ukraine, although there is a peace agreement. In Berlin on Wednesday, no way out of the dead end was found. Why?

“We have said from the outset that this conflict can only be solved by peaceful means. The Minsk Agreement is the only way to peace and resolve the conflict: a ceasefire, the withdrawal of arms, the law on the status of Donetsk and Lugansk, and an amnesty. But Kiev hasn’t fullfilled a single point of this agreement. Each time they come up with new proposals, new conditions. Therefore, Minsk is not implemented.”

Ukraine and Russia were always close, you were born for example in Ukraine. How could such a conflict occur?

“Believe me, I say this from the bottom of my heart: Russians and Ukrainians are brothers. We have always lived in peace and harmony. These Russophobic authorities in Kiev, these nationalist, even semi-fascist forces, they do not want peace. Russia, on the other hand, wants nothing more than that peace and stability prevail in Ukraine. After all, we have more than 2,000 kilometers of common borders.”

What helps Russia to bring peace to Ukraine?

“We cannot implement the Minsk Agreements instead of the Ukrainian government. Russia is not a party to the Ukraine conflict. We do everything we can to promote political dialogue. Donetsk and Lugansk are ready to fulfill their part of the Minsk Agreement. They want dialogue.”

And Kiev?

“Unfortunately, the Ukrainian leadership does not sit at the negotiating table with its own citizens. These are not separatists, they represent the interests of Donetsk and Lugansk. They demand the possibility to choose their own leadership, more economic autonomy, and the possibility to speak Russian with their children. These are normal, civilized demands. But Kiev does not want dialogue, it still thinks of a military decision to the conflict.”

Kiev says if the militias would not get any guns and fighters from Russia, the war would be over.

“The war stops when the Ukrainian side ceases to bombard its own people. As far as arms are concerned, the arms market is currently so free that any weapon can be procured – at any place, in any country. In Ukraine, weapons are made against money from one side to the other. But Kiev puts the blame on us. On the side of the Ukrainians are American military advisors, which is known. And on the side of the militia are probably also people from Russia. But this is not our official position. We have not sent them there and do not interfere.”

The Ukrainian President said after the talks in Berlin that the OSCE observers would be armed in Eastern Ukraine. Does Russia support this?

“We value the OSCE mission. It is important that an independent authority should monitor how the parties to the conflict comply with the Minsk Agreement. However, there is no good reason to arm the observers. The mechanisms adopted in Minsk should simply be respected. However, to this day, Ukraine kills the civilian population on the Donetsk and Lugansk sides. People die every day.”

According to observers of the OSCE, it is above all the separatists who hinder their work and break the armistice.

“In Donetsk and Lugansk there are whole groups of journalists who document every shelling. And we have information about the fact that provocations for the most part come from Kiev, and the other side only defends itself. Compare the military forces. It’s a professional army against people who defend their homeland.”

The relationship between Russia and the West in particular is broken since the annexation of the Crimea. They were in favour of it. Why?

“One cannot speak of an annexation. During 25 years, Russia has never questioned the status of Crimea, although we had the right to do so. But what happened then? Who initiated the overthrow of the government in Ukraine? Long before, Ukrainian nationalists were trained for the fall: the Baltic States, in Poland, in the West of Ukraine, as is always the case with so-called color revolutions. In Crimea, the majority of inhabitants are Russians and Russian-speakers. They feared for their lives, therefore they organized a referendum, and voted in favour of the connection to their homeland, Russia.”

After Russian soldiers had been dispatched to the Peninsula…

“That was not the case. The task of Russia was to protect its citizens and to prevent a situation like the one we have today in Eastern Ukraine. We managed to do that. Both the referendum as well as the connection to Russia were carried out without a shot being fired. Without our intervention, Kiev would have attacked Crimea, and would be pushed on towards the base of our Black Sea fleet. We prevented the shedding of blood.”

By Russia intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign state?

“Why should we not have the right to protect our interests? At that time, Ukraine had already clearly said that she wanted to join NATO. The military alliance, for its part, has not distanced itself from this request, and we have no guarantees that Ukraine will remain a bloc-free state. Within a few months, NATO ships would be floating in front of our fleet base in Sevastopol. Russia could not allow such a thing.”

Russia’s marching through

The power of the Upper House in Vladimir Putin’s empire is limited. This does not prevent the President from celebrating the very big event. The staff with whom Valentina Matviyenko marched in Bern on Thursday would be big enough to fill the anterooms of several Federal Councils: bodyguards, press interpreters, translators, a TV team, and other staff hover around the long corridors of the Bundeshaus. The path is clearing from employees of the Bundeshaus and journalists by a secretary with the highest high-heels west of the Urals, but with the force of a Russian tank convoy.

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Also visually, the Russian PR machinery leaves nothing to chance. When a team of Swiss television meets Matviyenko for an interview, they can ask her, as well as “Tages-Anzeiger” – all the desired questions. The photographers, however, write their pictures carefully. Without asking the SRF-camera man, they push their devices around the room.

Matviyenko is invited to the meeting of the Senate Presidents of Europe, which is organized by the Council of States this year. The official theme is the role of the small chambers in the fight against terrorism. While two Swiss councilors, as well as the French and the Italian Senate presidents, are speaking well, Matviyenko is still Tête-à-Tête with Didier Burkhalter. Because Matviyenko is on the EU sanction list, the Foreign Minister had to grant her a special permit for entry.

A lesson for the West

“When Matviyenko rushes into the National Council Hall with an hour delay, she arrives just in time for her own performance. She is presenting the theme of the conference very, very generously. She calls on the West in pithy words to go alongside Russia to the “war on terrorism”. The Russian attacks in Syria represent a blessing for intervention in favor of the civilian population. Russia will thereby prevent chaos, as the West has done in Libya. The words Ukraine or Crimea do not fall into their speech.

There is no opposition – and the eleven Russian journalists, who came from Moscow, would not have heard him either. As soon as the speech is over, the embedded reporters hurry out of the hall to tell the audience at home about Matviyenko’s lesson for Western politicians.

Meanwhile, the host, President of the Council, Raphaël Comte, raised the questions of the Swiss journalists and explained that every participant was free to talk about anything. Matviyenko’s vision, of course, is not shared by all, says Comte. It is important, however, that different opinions could be expressed. There were also bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the conference. There could be “more nuanced opinions” than at the lectern.” ~ Markus Häfliger, Bern

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Valentina Matviyenko

The head of the Russian Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. After the annexation of Crimea, she was put on the list of sanctions by the USA and the EU. At the beginning of March 2014, the Federation Council, under its chairmanship, gave the Russian President the power to intervene in Ukraine. The ex-governor of St. Petersburg is a showcase politician and Russia’s most powerful woman, some of whom can even imagine as the first president of the country. (Za)

Negotiations in Berlin

On Wednesday evening, the German Chancellor met with the presidents of France, Russia, and Ukraine in Berlin. The goal of the multi-hour talks was a revival of the peace process in Ukraine. Nothing substantial came out. It was agreed that a “roadmap for a peace solution” should be worked out over the next few weeks. The four states had negotiated the so-called Minsk Agreement a year and a half ago. So far, no single item of this Agreement has been implemented. (TA)

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