ASTANA, Kazakhstan – At an international forum in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, opponents and defendants of the interim government in Ukraine held debates in the form of a panel discussion.
Some argued that the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are not treated equally while some others disputed the claim.
Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, the former deputy secretary general of NATO, tried to calm down the tense atmosphere, advising the Kremlin that a “stable” Ukraine will meet the interests of Russia.
“A stable and peaceful Ukraine will benefit Russia,” Minuto-Rizzo told the Eurasian Media Forum which lasted from April 24 to 25.
Gingrich urges West, Russia to avoid confrontation
Addressing hundreds of politicians and top journalists, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, urged the West and Russia to move away from confrontation over the crisis in Ukraine.
Gingrich also said Russia will not give up Crimea and the world must accept this reality.
‘Popular uprising in eastern Ukraine’
Konstantin Zatulin, the chief of the Institute of CIS countries in Moscow, said the ruling government in Kiev which he called “illegitimate” views everybody in the country as “Ukrainian” while a significant portion of the population are “Russians”.
Zatulin also said the number of Russian schools in Ukraine have been reduced to a great extent.
He also described the protest by the Russian speaking people in eastern Ukraine as “popular uprising”.
The Kiev authorities do not listen to all voices and just care about people in the west, he said, adding they “ignore the Russian speaking people.”
He also drew a contrast between Ukraine and Kazakhstan as two former Soviet Republics, saying, “When I arrive in Kazakhstan I go out and see the inscription in three languages: Kazak, Russian and English. However, I go to Crimea I see inscriptions on roads in two languages: Ukrainian and English. And no signs in Russian.”
‘I am not biased against Ukraine’
Maxim Shevchenko, a senior Russian journalist who is expert in ethnic, cultural and religious issues, said the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are not treated equally in Ukraine and this is not acceptable.
But, he said, there are regional laws in Russia which allow for local languages. For example, he said, in the Republic of Dagestan there are 14 national languages and education in these languages in funded by the government.
Shevchenko went on to say that the Kazak language is spoken by the people in the Astrakhan region and classes are conducted in Kazakh language schools and newspapers are printed in Kazak.
“This is guaranteed by the constitution of the Russian Federation,” he insisted.
He added he is not biased against Ukraine, saying his father is Ukrainian and his mother is Russian.
‘Ukrainians were fed up with corruption’
The former Canadian ambassador to the Russian Federation, Jeremy Kinsman, said the Ukrainians were “fed up” with 23 years of corruption in their country and that is why they revolted against the government of Viktor Yanukovich.
He also disputed statements that Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are being discriminated, saying, “80 percent of Ukrainians speak Russian both in the east and the west. They are part of a joint community.”
The former diplomat also said Ukrainians have difficult job ahead to establish an efficient government.
“Getting rid of a bad government is easier than starting a good government.”
He said Ukrainians and Russians have been living together for “hundreds of years” and they should do it “again”.
‘No single model for democracy’
Kinsman went on to say that there is “no single model for democracy”.
“The point is that how you behave or treat your people,” he said, adding for example China is not a democratic system but there is 500 NGOs which defend the rights of the disabled, immigrants, etc.
The former diplomat said he is critical of the Canadian government for not giving economic aid to Ukraine at this difficult time as he was critical of his government for not helping Russia when the Soviet Union broke up.
The former diplomat also said if the Kremlin decides to cut oil and gas flow to Europe for its support of the interim government in Ukraine the “economic system” in the world will not “trust Russia”.
He said the Russian economy is 15 percent dependent on Europe while the European economy is just 1 percent dependent on Russia.
“They (Europeans) will develop alternative sources of energy” if Russia cuts oil and gas to Europe, he commented.
He said finding alternative sources of energy “is not going to happen tomorrow” but it will happen in that situation.
Defending territorial integrity of Ukraine
Levan Pirveli, the leader of the Party of Industrialists in Georgia, said he supports unity in Ukraine as he defends unity in Georgia.
“I am for the integration of Ukraine as I am for the integration of Georgia.”
Pirveli also called on both Russian and the West avoid interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine. “I advise Russia leave Ukraine alone as I advise the West to do so.”
Russia can help fragile Ukraine
Minuto-Rizzo, who was serving as NATO deputy secretary general from 2001-2007, said all countries should help officials in Kiev to run the country efficiently.
“We should help Ukraine to be effective,” Minuto-Rizzo noted.
He called on Russia to help Ukraine. “Russia can help this fragile country.”
The former NATO official said if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity – an indirect reference to the annexation of Crimea by Russia - it will be repeated again. “If you break the law unilaterally it will be repeated.”
Russia has a “responsibility” to help Ukraine, he noted.
Minuto-Rizzo added that Ukraine is “historically interlinked” with Russia and Moscow should not try to “disintegrate” the country.
“A stable and peaceful Ukraine will benefit Russia,” the former NATO official noted.
International law should be respected in Ukraine
Minuto-Rizzo said Russia is pursuing its interests in Ukraine through “outdated mechanism”, saying Moscow should seek its interests in a modern way.
Jelena Milic, director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Serbia, said Ukrainians have democratically decided to go toward “European integration”, meaning to join the European Union.
However, she said sporadic clashes in eastern Ukraine may last for long. She assimilated the current situation in Ukraine to that of western Balkans which followed the breakup of the Republic of Yugoslavia.
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