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1st Dec 2022

Interview

Russia 'not planning' to attack Ukraine, ambassador says

  • Vladimir Chizhov has been Russia's EU ambassador for 16 years (Photo: consilium.eu)
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"Russia is not planning any attack on anybody," Russia's veteran EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, has pledged.

"I can confirm to you that no Russian troops are in a position preparing to enter Ukraine," he told EUobserver in Brussels this week.

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"Why should Europe be so concerned about non-existent plans and given certain troop movements within Russia's own territory?," he added.

Asked if a flare up in ongoing fighting in Donbas in east Ukraine could be a 'casus belli' for fresh Russian military intervention, he also said: "Russia has a policy ... of supporting Russian-speakers, compatriots who live in other countries, but Russia has never said it intends to do that by military means".

Chizhov spoke after the US and EU warned Moscow was positioning forces for a new attack on Ukraine.

They also warned Russian president Vladimir Putin he would face a shutdown of his Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany and lose access to international banking if he did so.

Russia first invaded in 2014 and has thousands of official and unofficial forces in Ukraine's Crimea and Donbas regions.

The EU has imposed economic sanctions and blacklisted dozens of Russians, including Putin's military and spy chiefs, for "undermining or threatening the territorial integrity ... of Ukraine".

It also terms Russia "a party to the conflict".

But Russia continues to deny the facts in a years-long disinformation campaign.

"Not a single [Russian] soldier has moved beyond Russian borders," Chizhov said on the situation in east Ukraine.

"First of all, when you [EUobserver] refer to a [potential] 'new attack' [on Ukraine] you imply there was already an attack [in 2014], which there wasn't," the ambassador also said.

The Ukraine drama unfolded shortly after Russia's ally, Belarus, forced migrants to storm Poland and Lithuania's borders.

But Chizhov's remarks on Ukraine were dovish compared to those of other Russian officials.

And he gave the impression that the EU border crisis was being dialled down, saying there were "at most" 2,000 migrants left in Belarus.

Minsk had been "imprudent" in giving visa-free travel to so many Middle Eastern countries, Chizhov said.

Refugees may have been "deceived" by human-traffickers that they could get via Belarus to Germany, he added.

Wagner sanctions

Meanwhile, Russian and European interests have also clashed in the EU's southern neighbourhood and further afield in Africa.

EU foreign ministers are to blacklist eight Russians and four entities linked to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group on Monday (13 December).

The move comes amid French concern Russia was using mercenaries to take over Mali the same way it did the Central African Republic (CAR), where the UN has accused Wagner Group of atrocities.

But for his part, Chizhov said Russia would defend its nationals from EU blacklists.

"If Russian citizens are sanctioned that is a motivation for the Russian authorities to act in a mirror-like fashion," he said.

"I don't know what the Wagner Group is and who those individuals are, they may be Russian citizens, I don't exclude that, but from what I hear, they are working under contract with the respective governments of CAR and Mali, so why sanction them?," he added.

France's recent decision to reduce troops in Mali had created a "security vacuum", Chizhov noted.

"So the government of first CAR, then Mali turned to private security groups. I don't know how many they turned to, but evidently the best offer they got was from this so-called Wagner Group," he said.

Veteran

The Russian ambassador has been in his EU post for 16 years.

He was Moscow's man in Brussels in friendlier times, back in 2006, when Russia hosted G8 leaders in St Petersburg.

He was Russia's EU point-man when it invaded Georgia in 2008.

And he remained Moscow's EU spokesman as relations went from bad to worse, including the latest incident, when Nato expelled eight Russian diplomats for spying and Russia closed its Nato embassy in Brussels.

"Regular political dialogues" were currently "suspended", the EU foreign service told EUobserver.

And EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell seldom met Chizhov, except in the margins of international events, it added.

But he was not the kind of pariah one might expect from reading EU declarations on Russia.

"Chizhov has access to all the big shots in Brussels ... every high-level official gets excited when he invites them for lunch," an EU diplomat said.

"The amount of work that has fallen on my shoulders has actually increased", Chizhov noted.

"The heat on my country keeps me so fit that in any bilateral embassy I'd have been bored by now," Chizhov, who is 68, said.

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