Donetsk, November 3, 2014
I meet Italian Senator Lucio Malan at 9:00 AM in the lobby of the Ramada Hotel in Donetsk. Yesterday, he was one of the 70 independent observers monitoring the elections in the Donbass. At the press conference, he stated: “the issue of the legitimacy of Donetsk Republic is not part of our duty. I accepted the invitation of the Election Committee because more than one million EU citizens were called to vote.”
Instead for the OSCE the elections in the Donbass were not sufficiently European, and didn’t give a damn about it, despite its website reads: “the Organization also works with regional organizations outside the OSCE area. The goal is to share experience in early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, post-conflict rehabilitation, promotion of human rights and democratic elections.”
Ukraine’s Security Service, which has made European values its own values, said that foreign observers attending the elections will be included in a list of persona non grata, as they consider their work a criminal activity.
He says he’s sorry about that. Already several times he was an observer in Ukraine and even denounced electoral fraud in 2004 elections. He has come in the Donbass with that very commitment to the truth of that time, ready to testify any irregularity.
“That’s the observers’ task. Twice I was electoral observer in Crimea. Since I remembered the fraud in 2004, in 2007 national elections I wanted to monitor in a strong pro-Russian majority region. As an observer, I had to prove myself neutral, but in my heart I hoped the pro-Europeans to win—the heirs of the Orangists. Logic dictates that you cheat where you are strong, not where you are weak. It’s easier to rise from 80% to 90% in the areas where you are widely supported, rather than from 2% to 4% where you are poorly supported. Where you’re the favored you may have scrutineers, officials, policemen on your side, and so it’s easier to cheat. Nevertheless, everything was done absolutely regular. At that time, I realized the Ukrainian language in Crimea wasn’t spoken at all, unlike in Kiev and especially in rural central and western Ukraine. The Crimean citizens’ sincere sympathy, closeness, trend for Russia and Putin especially was obvious.”
It became evident after March referendum, which the EU reacted by applying sanctions, as insistently requested by the U.S.
“Sanctions on Russia sure are not convenient to Europe. From a political perspective, whether the purpose was to avoid the Donbass and Crimea issues, they have been totally ineffective. Instead, they have been extremely effective in causing damage to the European economy, compelling us to give up market shares to other countries and pushing Russia to seek for other alliances, especially with China. That’s true: it was the U.S. to propose, but NATO members accepted.”
As if Russia were an enemy of Europe.
“Actually, I don’t think it is. You have to make sure Russia doesn’t become an enemy. Clearly a hostile attitude toward someone is likely to be reciprocated. Then, no doubt some moves made by Russia are not things to trifle with. A changing on the map is always problematic, and can’t be taken lightly by any of the parties. It takes a certain realism on approaching politics towards Russia. You have to figure out whether this attitude has a positive effect regarding the fact it’s based on, and what will be the negative consequence as well. Create a strong alliance among Russia and China, not to mention the other countries, against the West it seems to me far worse than the Donbass and Crimea issues.”
Once again the EU unable to look after its own interest?
“Definitely, a series of self-defeating choices was made. The fact that European economy hasn’t grown up for twenty years can’t be just a bad luck.”
Any chance the EU recognizes the validity of the referendum and Crimea as part of Russian Federation in the future?
“I believe a regular and moderate political realism sooner or later will lead to a form of acceptance though denying it publicly. I find this right to happen. We know Crimea became part of Ukraine because of a Khrushchev’s decision, but that was not a big change in the Soviet Union. Instead, nowadays it’s a huge change. As for the Ukrainians, the concern is understandable. First Crimea, then Donbass. Piece by piece, they risk losing everything.”
On May, following a cooperation plan with IMF, the EU slated a second tranche of the loan without concealing it depended on the suppression of the uprising in the Donbass, being it the main source of income in foreign currency of the Ukrainian treasury, and thus the guarantor of refund. Now, though Kiev is losing the war, the EU will pay Ukrainian debt toward Russia to solve the problem of energy supply.
“The paradox is we prevent our companies to trade with Russia by the embargo, then give 5 billion € cash to Putin—European taxpayers’ money. Yes, as a representative of Italian people, I’ve got some concerns.
Let’s say things as they are: people here don’t seem to regret Ukraine. Obviously Donetsk is an affluent city by Ukrainian standards. Of course this works in favor of the separatists.”
Among the EU representatives, promoting Ukraine’s membership is still on schedule?
“To be honest, there has always been a certain coldness from all parts. Because the implications were well known.”
Russia finds itself surrounded by NATO bases. Kazakhstan, Caucasus, Scandinavia, Poland… NATO’s expansionist policy is there for all to see.
“Indeed there are situations that may give Russia this feeling, and certainly Russian people perceive it. We should try not to feed it. That said, the encirclement issue is a bit rhetorical too. Russia is as large as half the world, and the other half surrounds it. In the end, the main thing about NATO is not the tanks, the planes, and so on, because those are a property of each member state, primarily the U.S. The real weapon of NATO is Article 5. If Ukraine were a NATO member, we should have gone to war against Russia to get back Crimea. Because Crimea is part of Ukrainian territory. Thus, according to Article 5 any kind of military action, even after a referendum, accounted for the extremes of NATO intervention. Everything else is optional. If the U.S. or any other member state wants to make a war somewhere, it takes a unanimous decision, but Article 5 provides for the obligation of military intervention. If someone landed in Sicily, from the U.S. to Estonia it would be mandatory they come and help us. The same would apply for Ukraine as well.”
But no one landed in Ukraine. Western and Ukrainian media repeatedly reported about a Russian invasion, but there was no invasion at all.
“I’m not a military expert, but in Saur-Mogila I realized that hill was not important to control Donetsk—it’s 60 km far away from the city. It was important to cut off a possible supply line from Russia. And the fact that the attack there firstly was inflicted by Ukrainians, clearly proves they were afraid of that. Instead, it seems the militias were all locals.”
If the war was to end today, it would take years to rebuild Donbass and restart the economy. Eight of the major firms in the region are owned by the Russian oil company Rosneft, whose shares are mostly government property. Is Russia going to revive the Donbass as the EU takes over Ukraine’s bankruptcy?
“In my opinion, Ukraine is a country with a great potential even without these two regions. Of course, this potential is far being achieved. I think it takes to deal with it in a realistic way and rebuild peace. Stop war outbreaks is always a good thing.”
Could the war in the Donbass be the testing ground for a wider conflict, a new confrontation between East and West, an attempt to engage Russia on the military level?
“Theoretically, yes. I always said myself that European countries for sure, and the U.S. almost certainly, have neither the strength nor the will to wage wars. Then in Saur-Mogila I saw the graves dug at the time. Graves of young Europeans the age my son killed by fellow Europeans in a real war. It dawned on me there was war here indeed.
A considerable tension between the two blocks is on the upswing. It takes not to underestimate this. One hundred years ago, no one believed, or better someone did, but not the majority of European citizens, that an attack in Serbia, even though it was princely, would wage a war causing millions of deaths. So many as there were never seen before. A few dozens even among my relatives.”