Insight on the turmoil in eastern Ukraine

Dr. Vyacheslav Tetekin[Article in Russian]

The Editor of New Era, Chrispin Inambao, on Saturday had an exclusive interview with visiting Russian parliamentarian Dr Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Tetekin particularly on the volatile situation in the eastern Ukraine.
CIOn the eastern Ukrainian crisis we have pro-Russian separatists opposed to the government in Kiev and the government in Kiev antagonistic towards Kremlin: Why is the Ukrainian government antagonistic towards the Russian Federation?

VT: “You must look at this situation not in terms of a Russian/Western or Russian/Ukrainian conflict. You should probably look at the situation from the point of view of the right of the people for self-determination. Now you see we’ve got the referendum in Scotland. People are saying, no, no we want to depart from England and everybody recognises that as the legitimate thing to do. Catalonians are saying, no, no we’re going to have a referendum and we want to separate from Spain. And everybody says at least it’s a legitimate claim. Flaundria in Belgium is also saying the same thing and everybody recognises their right to raise the question about separating. Whilst in the eastern Ukraine people are saying we don’t want to live under the rule of the Kiev government any longer, we are fed up with this. We want independence and what the West is saying is these people are pro-Russian or separatists which is absolutely wrong.

“On the 11th of May (hardly anyone knows about it) the population of Donetsk and Lugansk regions held a referendum and 85 percent of the people said, ‘We want to go back to the Russian Federation.’ You must understand one important thing: Ukraine never existed as an independent state in the territory that it exists now. It was created fairly recently.  It was created after the Bolshevik October Socialist Revolution of 1917. In the process of administrative reform some Russian regions were fairly artificially included in the territory of Ukraine. Later at the end of the 1930s western Ukraine was added to what existed by then as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the USSR. But it is essential to know that western Ukraine was historically always part of either Poland or the Austrian Empire. Therefore the history and hence mentality of the people of the western Ukraine is radically different from that of the east. They are practically different people.

“As the east was never part of the Ukraine when people there felt that the situation in the Ukraine endangers their vital interests they demanded a referendum. One of the main issues apart from the economic problems was the language issue. After the coup d’état this February in Kiev the forces that came into power said the Russian language should no longer have the status of the second official language in the eastern Ukraine. People rightly perceived that as a major threat to their cultural traditions and that triggered the explosion. One may recall that it was an attempt by the racist government of South Africa to introduce Afrikaans as the language of school education that triggered the Soweto uprising in 1976.”

CI: Why did they come up with such a policy that is quite discriminatory?

VT: “There is eastern Ukraine attached artificially to the Ukraine after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and there is the western Ukraine where people claim to be the only genuine Ukrainians and say something like this: ‘Those people in the eastern Ukraine are not Ukrainians, they are Russians. Therefore we must Ukrainize that area. We must help them forget the Russian language.’ But the people of the east said we want to retain our culture, we want to retain our language, and we want our children to study in their mother tongue. But the pro-independence referendum on the 11th May was perceived by the forces that took power in the February coup d’état as a mutiny to be crushed by force. And this (and not an intervention of Russia) led to the civil war in the east.”

CI: For how long have those Ukrainians been speaking the Russian language and we are looking at which percent of the total population?

VT: “Roughly 30 percent of the population of the Ukraine are Russian speaking. Because as I told you earlier all these were former Russian regions. So with the deep political and economic crisis in the Ukraine they quite naturally said that they are fed up with the rulers of Kiev and they want to return to their historic motherland – Russia. It’s the same with Crimea, which was never in its history part of Ukraine. It was artificially included into Ukraine in 1954 by the former leader of the Soviet Union who has got Ukrainian origin. Nobody looked at that very seriously because it was within the same state – the Soviet Union. But when this policy of Ukrainization of the Russian people started they said no, no we want to go back to Russia. So it’s not the case that Russia is taking over some territories as the West is putting it. It’s a very natural process of the former Russian territories willing to return back democratically by popular vote.”

CI: How many millions is the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine?

VT: “It’s about the third of the total population of Ukraine. The total of Ukraine is about 45 million people, so it will be about 15-plus million.”

CI“On the Ukraine the US and the European Union accuse the Kremlin of meddling in the affairs of the Ukraine, of annexation of Crimea, which Kremlin says is historically part of Russia. How is Crimea historically a part of Russia?”

VT: “You should look at four centuries ago. The current Ukraine was essentially no man’s land at the time. These territories were very sparsely populated just like Namibia. Vast areas were not populated but very fertile. So it was no man’s land and it was contested by different ethnic groups. So Russia proved to be one of the strongest powers in the region and Russians coming from the east together with people coming from the west populated what is now known to be the Ukraine. Previously Crimea was under the Ottoman-Turkish Empire and there were Crimean Tatars living there. About three centuries ago Catherine the Great took over Crimea. But Crimean Tatars still lived there, so for two and half centuries Crimea was part of Russian territory. Therefore to speak about annexation is like having your finger cut and doctors fix it back, but you cannot say this finger is no longer a part of your body. You simply return the finger to your body.

“The overwhelming majority of people living in Crimea are Russians – about 85 percent. So far as annexation is concerned I was in the group of first Russian parliamentarians who landed in Crimea after the coup d’état in Kiev. Before we came the local people in Crimea went out to the streets. They said: ‘We do not agree with this coup, we don’t recognise this Ukrainian government in Kiev, we want to go back to Russia.’ And at that stage Russia was nowhere there. It was the popular will of the people I have seen that with my own eyes. Crimean Tatars incited by Kiev wanted to stop this process, but several thousands of people went out to the town square and said, ‘No we want to go back to Russia.’ And Crimean Tatars wisely pulled back and then they had a popular referendum, very democratic referendum at which 90-plus percent voters supported rejoining Russia.

“So the Western claims that Russia is meddling in the affairs of Ukraine are untrue. These old colonial powers are now the champions of democracy, isn’t it funny?  For centuries they colonised and tortured the people of Africa and Asia and now they are the champions of freedom. You must understand one important thing. Russia and Ukraine are one nation though people call it different names. But otherwise we are brothers. Even the border between Russia and Ukraine practically is non-existent. Because one village is part Ukraine and part Russia when they visit each other they go to a Russian shop. And they go to buy something and there is no border for us, it’s internal affairs it’s not external affairs.”

CIA large percentage of the population in Crimea supported the referendum. Why is the European Union and Washington saying this referendum did not comply with democratic procedures and international norms?

VT: “You know that Swapo was a legitimate national liberation movement? What was the West calling Swapo? Of course ‘terrorists.’ But Swapo were never terrorists. This is very much the same thing. They want to put labels on us. Because they wanted to get Ukraine into NATO and put missiles close to Russian borders. But now they are deprived of this opportunity. And they are angry when the see Russia increasingly occupying independent positions in global affairs. Unfortunately after 1990 Russian leader Boris Yelsin was towing the pro-Western line but the current leadership (of President Vladimir Putin) is taking a more and more independent line on foreign policy issues. One of the examples is our stance on Syria and so they are angry and want to demonise Russia by putting ‘annexationist’ labels on us.”

CI: Russia sees more and more eastward expansion of NATO encroaching towards its territory. Is the Russian policy of the Ukraine a counter-measure towards NATO’s expansion?

VT: “First the force which is carrying out expansion is NATO. While the Soviet Union was there the borders with NATO was Germany very far to the west of Russia. Now NATO is already on the borders of Russia. We have NATO bases in the Baltic republics of the former USSR – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The NATO airbase in Estonia is just 150 kilometres away from St Petersburg. So a NATO attack plane could take off from there and immediately fire missiles against our second capital. Thus it is the expansion of NATO, which is a real threat to our peace. NATO has also expanded into Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. But when we started to protect our vital national interests in the Ukraine they started to cry. In fact it is NATO that is carrying out a very dangerous expansion. It is quite usual for them to shout ‘catch the thief’ to cover up their own wrongdoing. It is hardly known that Vladimir Putin asked the leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk regions to postpone the pro-independence referendum. Russia never sent combat troops there. Yes Russian volunteers are there. You cannot stop people crossing the border because there are no borders. So that is what changed the situation. The Russian government wanted a political settlement between eastern Ukraine and the central government in Kiev. That is the official policy of the Russian government for all these crisis months. There must be political dialogue. But the hardliners in Kiev including powerful Neo-Nazi forces from the western Ukraine decided to crush the popular expression of the will of the people by force and they received a strong answer. Now they are complaining that there are Russian troops crossing the border.  It’s rubbish.”

CI: What kind of assistance is Russia providing to eastern Ukraine?

VT: “Just as I told you the only assistance is of volunteers and it’s not official. It’s not that military men and officers are sent on a (military) mission. There are real volunteers though with military and combat experience. Russia is a big country with over 142 million people so to get four to five thousand volunteers is not a problem at all. But the majority of people fighting against the government are locals who are fighting against the policies of the government in Kiev. So political assistance is there. Diplomatic assistance is there. Information and publicity assistance is there but no troops. As far as military hardware is concerned the Ukrainian army is very weak and their moral spirit is very low so when it comes to a confrontation every now and then they run away leaving the weapons behind. So it’s not Russia arming these people. It is the Ukrainian troops leaving behind tanks, artillery, mortars, weaponry, ammunition and everything. So all the eastern troops are using they are not getting from Russia but from Ukrainian troops who are just leaving them when running away.”

CI: On the removal of the Ukrainian leader who was perceived as pro-Russian, why do you think the West and Washington are silent?

VT: “Pro-Russian leader? Why don’t you ask me about the Malaysian Boeing knocked down in Ukraine. They killed about 300 people, over 200 of them are Dutch citizens of the European Union (EU). Why don’t they continue with their investigation? The remains of the plane are still there, go and check what brought the plane down? The ‘international investigators’ are refusing to go to the place claiming there is no security. There is security. And if you want to find the truth why should you risk your security? The people in self-defence units in the east are saying we are ready to provide 100 percent security and the Western truth-seekers are still reluctant to investigate. Why? Because they will immediately find that there was complicity from the Kiev government that gave the orders that led to the shooting down of this plane. I am 100 percent convinced that it was brought down on the direct orders from the people in power in Kiev. It’s most probable that plane was shot down with an aircraft borne ‘air to air’ missile and a 30-millimetre aircraft gun. But the self-defence units do not have combat aircraft.  This is a terrible complicity of the West. I believe that their special services were involved in knocking down this plane. It is confirmed by their absolute reluctance to have a proper investigation. This speaks about the double standards of the West. They speak about human rights but you have over 200 citizens of the European Union killed and they are reluctant to investigate. Isn’t this strange?”

CI: America has stepped up its sanctions on Russia targeting among others Russia’s biggest bank and its oil industry. Are these sanctions having any impact and how is Russia affected?

VT: “They have a very positive impact.  We welcome these sanctions. I personally and the party which I represent which is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, we say these sanctions are extremely positive for the Russian economy. Why? Because you must understand one simple thing: the trade and economic relations between Russia and the West are strongly in favour of the West like with countries in Africa. They get the raw material at low prices and sell the industrial goods at exaggerated prices. In this process they are destroying the Russian manufacturing industry and agriculture. So if we stop this economic relationship it will benefit the Russian economy. If we have to revive our agriculture and manufacturing industry, the Western sanctions are compelling us to do it. So the sanctions are extremely positive and we want them to continue as long as possible.

“Until 1990-91 the Soviet Union was able to produce everything for ourselves. Why can’t we do it now? Who really suffers is the Western business because they are losing profits. This is why they (Western businesses) are crying: stop sanctions against Russia. So far as banking is concerned the profits from the Russian oil and gas industry are going to the Western banks. So now they stop the supply of credit to Russia and we stop sending our money to the West. That is all. We should invest our money in our manufacturing industries and agriculture. The Western sanctions strategically, historically are extremely positive for the resurrection of the Russian economy.”

CI: The Ukrainian crisis aside. The former USSR was seen as an anti-imperialist power supporting many African liberation movements such as Swapo? Why have we seen little Russian investment in agriculture, mining, fisheries among a litany of other economic spheres in Africa?

VT: “What happened since 1991 in Russia was a change not only in political structure. There was a change in economic philosophy. Before 1990 everything was state-controlled and the state was having a global agenda. So it was operating everywhere in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. For instance, my first acquaintance with Africa goes back to 1972 when I came to work in Uganda at Busitema Agricultural Mechanisation College. We helped Uganda to create the first African agriculture mechanisation college now it is the Uganda national university. So the Soviet Union had a global agenda including a global economic agenda. Now there is government with a free market economy. Business looks for profits and it does not see profits in Africa because Africa needs long-term investments and Russian business is not prepared to make long-term investments (in Africa). Unfortunately our businesses are still looking for quick money. And Africa is still the field of competition of America, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and other highly industrialised states. So the competition here is very difficult. Russian business is also not yet ready to compete with those well-established ones which are already here. But the tendency is changing, there is a shift in our bilateral relationships, economic relations and we hope Namibia will be one of the countries where Russia will be coming back especially in the economic field.”

CI: You have been here for a few days  – what have been your general impressions on Namibia considering the fact you have interacted with various politicians?

VT: “My general impressions are extremely good. Today (Saturday) at this rally at the national stadium in honour of Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, (former Ghana) president Jerry Rawlings made a very interesting remark. He said that Namibia is on top of the neatest countries of the world. So is my impression. I always like Namibia. My first visit here was in 1989. In some African states independence led to the deterioration of living standards of the people, political instability, crime, etecetra. In my view Namibia not only retained the stability but it’s a very stable country with a government that is smart. Yesterday I had a very profound discussion with Major General (Charles) Namoloh who is now the Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development and it was extremely interesting to see how the former military man creatively approached the issue of running municipal and local government. I am very happy that the Swapo government adopted very creative economic programmes devoted to eradication of the economic consequences of the colonial occupation and to building a new society oriented at raising the living standards of all the people of Namibia.”

• Dr Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Tetekin was born in Siberia and he finished secondary school in Byelorussia. His first job was as an auto-mechanic. He did his university education in Byelorussia.  He worked at the Busitema Agricultural Mechanisation College in Uganda, then at the USSR State Committee for Vocational-Technical Training, then at the Organising Committee of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (Africa Section) where he had his first contacts with Swapo and the ANC. Since 2011, he has been an MP (Communist Party) and a member of the Parliamentary Defence Committee.