Mr. Ambassador, trade between Germany and Russia has suffered as a result of the economic sanctions imposed on your country because of Crimea. What is the status of the German-Russian business relationship and do you see it improving?
Indeed, Russian-German commercial and economic relations are facing hard times at the moment.
From the record-breaking €80.8 billion in 2012, mutual trade between the countries dropped by 40 percent to €51 billion in 2015. Unfortunately, this negative dynamic has continued and during the first two months of 2016, the amount of trade between the two countries dropped by 10 percent. But I hope that although now we are still in the near future, the foundation of our relations will remain as solid as it always has been.
Besides, we are always saying in Russia: There is always a silver lining. This means that regarding the cheap ruble right now, in any case, it was greatly appreciated by the producers. That is why they are coming to Russia. They are producing there actively and then sending off for export. We’re also trying to intensify the cooperation between the governmental institutions and we are hoping that in the near future we will see the resumption of activities of the Russian-German High Level Task Force on strategic issues of cooperation in economy and finance. It has already functioned. So the hope is there and I have heard this opinion from many of those involved.
“First and foremost I would like to state that Crimea is an integral part of the territory of the Russian Federation. It is a closed issue and we are not going to discuss it anymore. ”
Let’s move on to Syria. Will Russia cooperate with the West and the United States to bring about a lasting peace in Syria? And would Russia consider backing a change of regime in Syria, meaning the departure of President Assad?
Russia has been and remains a consistent advocate of cooperation with the U.S. and the Western countries to the benefit of the Syrian settlement. And I can name a few examples which will clearly show that. For example, this was our initiative to launch the chemical disarmament of Syria, or our proposal on military cooperation in the fight against ISIS, or the launch of the negotiation process within this country. That’s why answering to your question, I can say only that a lot depends on the policy of western powers who are not usually responding to our steps adequately. At the same time I would like to emphasize that our last cooperation with the American colleagues seems to be much more promising. And we are really satisfied with the whole thing. Especially I want to emphasize the results of the International Syrian Support Group which took place in Vienna on May 17. Well, during this meeting, we adopted a communique which once again reaffirmed our commitment to all of the previous agreements but at the same time, we added a number of supplementary joint steps and that is important that a majority of the steps are based on our cooperation between America and Russia. It is also highly important that Russia and the U.S. are co-chairs within this framework. And it seems that we are seeing an everyday and consistent contact with each other.
Well, speaking about the destiny of Assad, I should say that we are not going to decide this matter. As it is stated in the majority of documents like this Geneva communique or the rest of the agreements, it is quite clear that in any case the Syrian people themselves will be deciding the destiny of their country. I should state that we don’t support Bashar al-Assad himself. We support the fight against terrorism. In any case, we need a state-like structure within the country which will help us not to repeat the situation in Libya or Iraq. You know what happened there. The terrorists used the power vacuum and it turned into a violent takeover. So in any case all of our efforts are aimed not to repeat this kind of a situation. Unfortunately there are some groups who want to count on Assad’s leaving and want to trade that for the beginning of negotiations. But we do trust in common sense. However, I should also emphasize, that in comparison with the beginning of the negotiations, right now our American colleagues are not trying to put this – Assad’s leaving – as a precondition of the negotiations. That has changed. As far as the content of the measures adopted are concerned, they are the following: First of all the government of Syria, and some oppositional groupings, of course with the exception of terroristic organizations, will have to sit at the same table of negotiations. Then we need to develop a new constitution, and on the basis of this new constitution, to conduct snap presidential and parliamentary elections. That is how we are going to solve the Syrian issue.
Turning to the Ukraine– what is the status of the situation in the eastern Ukraine? What is the status of Russian military involvement and do you see that situation improving?
You mean in Crimea?
Crimea and the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
First and foremost I would like to state that Crimea is an integral part of the territory of the Russian Federation. It is a closed issue and we are not going to discuss it anymore. In March 2014, Russia responded to the request of an overwhelming majority of Crimean people. They voted for the reunification with Russia through the declaration of their free will in a situation where in Ukraine, there took place a coup d’état. It was a violent thing and it was supported from the outside.
Ukrainian and Crimean Tartar nationals and radicals were trying to make the situation on the (Crimean) peninsula unbearable. That’s why they launched water, transport, power and production blockades on the peninsula which influenced the state of living there greatly. However, we managed to overcome the blockade and right now we are seeing a completely different situation. Right now we are trying to develop the infrastructure and construct new objects on the peninsula. We are speaking about humanitarian and economic development on the peninsula. And you cannot compare it with what was in the Ukraine.
As far as the situation on the Donbass is concerned, everything depends on the Minsk process and its implementation. Well, several times I participated in or witnessed the negotiations which are conducted in the so-called Normandy format. Sometimes, negotiations of this kind took place here in Berlin. And here, the only thing I can say is: Everything depends on Kiev and its attitude. So if Kiev will seriously implement the Minsk agreements, and take the necessary steps, then we will achieve some progress there.
“Our task is not to create any conditions which would drag us to the Cold War-like situation. Right now we are living in a developing, multi-polar world and what we need right now is mutual understanding. ”
In Germany, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which has risen quickly, has said it would like to attract Russian-German voters living in Germany. Does Russia have a view on the AfD in Germany as a party?
As far as I see it, in such as democratic country as Germany, any legitimate party has the right to attract voters from different population groups, and this means also people of foreign origin and those coming from Russia or from any other country. As far as I know, the core German parties such as the CDU, the SPD and the Left Party already use these people with Russian heritage. Actually, it is a normal practice. What is not normal as I see it is the following: In the context of political competition between different parties, including the AfD, especially through different media, everyone is trying to shift the spotlight to these so-called Russian Germans and at the same time is presenting them in a poor light. I don’t want to comment on this situation as I don’t want to interfere in the affairs of the state that has to do with your citizens, however, to my mind, it seems to be kind of inappropriate and not that good.
TTIP – there have been suggestions that the Russian Federation is supporting groups that oppose TTIP, seeing it as an economically negative thing for Russia. Is that true? Does Russia support the groups that oppose TTIP? Or does Russia have a position on TTIP?
Well, we don’t support any opposition groups as we don’t have anything to do with this agreement at all. It’s only the business of the countries involved in the negotiation of this package. However, we have our view on the matter. It would be much better if the negotiation process was open so everyone could understand what the agreement is like and what they’re trying to achieve with that. At the same time, we had a proposal to sign an agreement with the European Union itself. I mean, an agreement between Russia and the European Union or an agreement between the European Union and the Eurasian Union. That is the organization which actually slightly structurally reminds of the European Union. We were inspired by this organization. However it doesn’t mean that we want to intervene in the negotiation process and we want some parallel agreements with us so Europe can have parallel agreements with us. But most of all, I think that agreements such as TTIP should never violate the common trade rules which we elaborated together with our colleagues from all across the globe.
Thank you Ambassador Grinin for your time today. Last question: You are a distinguished diplomat with the Russian Federation and former Soviet Union. You have a combined five decades of experience. Some people say we are entering a time of a new Cold War again. You experienced the Cold War personally in Bonn and when the Berlin Wall came down. Is that true? Are we going back to a Cold War situation between Russia and the West and the United States?
Our task is not to create any conditions which would drag us to the Cold War-like situation. Right now we are living in a developing, multi-polar world and what we need right now is mutual understanding. In any case, one has to prevent the spread of such ideas which can help hurt the balance between these points of power. Nobody needs these hegemonic ambitions. Nobody needs the widening of the spheres of influence. What we need is to live in a world where everybody feels like a good neighbor, or what is much better, a good friend.