This summer, the Ukrainian crisis has raised more and more difficult questions. Who shot down the Malaysian flight over Ukraine? Why has the international investigation of its flight recorders in London failed to yield any information so far? Who are the self-defense forces getting their weapons from? Is Russia supplying the self-defense militias with weapons? Are Ukraine, the US and EU warranted in blaming Russia for everything?
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov answered these and other questions in an interview with Rossiya Segodnya.
Mr. Antonov, what is going on in Ukraine right now?
Anatoly Antonov: What is going on in Ukraine is a disaster; one that has affected Russia, Ukraine and Europe as a whole. We could not have even imagined that such a hotbed of carnage could come into being in Europe after the Second World War.
It is ten times more painful for us, since we and Ukraine have always been and will always be like siblings. A lot of emotions are being expressed in connection with what is happening in Ukraine, and there are also a lot of lies.
There is a full-fledged information war being waged against Russia. There are attempts to present Russia as some kind of monster which is trying to impose its view on what Europe should be like. But it’s far from the truth.
How do weapons get into the hands of the self-defense forces? Practically the whole of the Western world claims that they are being supplied by Russia.
Anatoly Antonov: Ukraine used to be part of the USSR, a country which had very many military warehouses and possessed different types of weapons. When the Soviet Union collapsed the territory of Ukraine was replete with millions of guns, mines, artillery systems and other weaponry.
The area where the combat activity is happening today, where Kiev is leading its punitive operation, is no exception — there were caches of weapons which the self-defense forces seized.
So, it is wrong to say that Russia is supplying weapons to the self-defense forces.
Look at what the Ukrainian army is fighting with… the same Russian, or rather Soviet weapons. However, it does not mean that Russia is supplying weapons to the Ukrainian army or to its National Guard.
Additionally, it is no secret that the military successes of the self-defense forces have enabled them to seize a lot of trophy equipment, which they have proceeded to use against the Ukrainian army. Both CNN and the BBC have reported on hundreds of Ukrainian army soldiers who have crossed the border [with Russia], abandoning their arms. That is where the self-defense forces are getting their Soviet-era weaponry.
How would you evaluate the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus in Minsk?
Anatoly Antonov: Our leaders’ meeting in Minsk is a step in the right direction and a positive sign to the international community that Russia is doing its best to help its Ukrainian colleagues stop the bloodshed.
I’d like to say – enough blood! It is time to start negotiations. This was at the top of the agenda in Minsk, and is exactly what Vladimir Putin said to his counterpart Petro Poroshenko. Recently the Russian President has reiterated yet again that it is necessary to sit down at the negotiating table without any preconditions. He has urged the self-defense forces and [even more importantly] the Kiev authorities to opt for negotiations.
Many in the West perceive Russia’s humanitarian aid as intervention. How would you comment on such claims?
Anatoly Antonov: I would answer in a broader way. Why is anything being said about Russia’s intervention in various countries and regions? Yes, Russia is ready to invade Slovakia or Turkey, and I’ll ask you not to cut this out, but only with tourists and not with its tanks or soldiers; the development of such co-operation is very important to us.
We can’t watch what is going on in the south-east of Ukraine with indifference. We see that there is a humanitarian catastrophe there nowadays. Those are not my words, but the statements that have been made by UN representatives. Just think about it: the number of refugees who have crossed the border with Russia - not to visit their grandmothers, as [US State Department spokesperson] Jen Psaki says, but having been forced to, has reached nearly a million. All of these people must be provided with accommodation and should be given jobs.
Nowadays Donetsk and Luhansk lack electricity and clean drinking water; its sewage system is out of order and the mortuaries are closed.
People there are suffocating from the social mayhem which has been orchestrated by the Kiev government.
In such a situation we just could not simply stand aside.
Our businessmen, non-governmental organizations and the Emergency Ministry are now thinking of sending a second, third, and a tenth humanitarian convoy to Ukraine. We want to establish a regular humanitarian aid connection between Russia and Luhansk and Donetsk.
What are we sending there? Flour, buckwheat, medical supplies, and electric generators to at least ensure that hospitals can function normally. Our humanitarian convoy was thoroughly inspected by representatives of the Red Cross, but they were unable to escort it as on the eve of its departure. As if on purpose, the Ukrainian military forces kept shelling Luhansk, and the Red Cross representatives refused to escort the convoy because their security was not ensured.
Kiev said we would use those trucks to intervene militarily. It’s all nonsense!! The trucks which entered the city, unloaded [supplies], and left empty were all thoroughly counted.
Russia’s president offered Poroshenko [humanitarian aid via a] second and third convoy.
Russia’s Emergency Ministry and Foreign Ministry are currently searching for a border crossing through which it may send in grits, medical supplies, drinking water, and electric generators.
Who is to be blamed for the Malaysian Boeing crash?
Anatoly Antonov: The Boeing 777 catastrophe has raised more and more questions. However, few have been speaking about it recently. In the meantime, the Defense Ministry has tried to obtain information from our colleagues in the United States, Ukraine, and the countries of Europe regarding this issue.
The problem should not be abandoned. We should find out what happened in the sky over Ukraine, and most importantly, what should be done to avoid such tragedies in the future.
What had happened? Several days after the crash, the General Staff revealed the data of from its air recorders – electronic surveillance and satellites. The data from the civil surveillance radio-detector in Rostov had also been retrieved, where we marked everything that was going into the sky that day.
But why hasn’t the radio communication data between air traffic controllers and Boeing pilots, as well as the information recovered form black box recorders been presented yet? Who does not want it?
We traced a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet near the Malaysian Boeing that day. Where is the recording of the conversation between the pilot of that jet and his commander? How could the military jet have gotten so close to the civil airliner? If it is true what they say, that the rocket was shot from the ground at that military jet, I would like to look into the eyes of that military pilot who hid himself up behind the civil airliner. But those are the working theories; and we should not jump to conclusions.
President Poroshenko has openly accused Russia of launching a military intervention. Can you confirm that Russia is not conducting any military activity in the south-east of Ukraine?
Anatoly Antonov: What they say nowadays is that Russia has launched an aggressive campaign or a war against Ukraine – it is all nonsense! Was it Russia that organized Maidan? Was it Russia that killed ordinary civilians in Kiev? Was it Russia that burnt civilians alive in Odessa? Or was it someone else? And do these people belong to any nationality at all? Or are they those militants who are today at war in Libya, tomorrow – in Afghanistan, and the next day – in Iraq and afterwards – anywhere in the word where they can be paid?
Russians are not fighting in the self-defense forces in Ukraine, but Kiev is fighting against its own people in the south-east.
If Poroshenko had gone to the negotiating table from the very beginning, they would have discussed federalization and the budget. There would have been no war. There would be no calls from Ukrainians who no longer want to be part of the same country.
Obviously, Russia is not waging any war. Russia’s policy is not to allow the situation to develop into a worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, there are some forces which are trying to pit these two peoples against one another and start a war between Ukraine and Russia.
We would do our best not to resort to such a worst-case scenario. Russia has never conducted warfare in Ukraine and will not do so.