Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Donetsk People's Republic

INTERVIEW OF NATALIA NIKONOROVA FOR THE SPUTNIK NEWS AGENCY

22 November 2021
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Good afternoon, dear viewers of "Sputnik in Russian", we continue a series of special interviews from the Donetsk People's Republic. Today we are visiting the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Donetsk People's Republic, Natalia Yurievna Nikonorova. Natalia Yurievna, good afternoon!

Good afternoon! 

Natalia Yurievna, this is the question: I generally understand what the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry is engaged with, they have Donbass, they have Russia, around which it is necessary to constantly create such a halo of hatred. I understand what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation is doing. DPR MFA: what is its functionality and what are you doing today?

Well, about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – generally all ministries have the same function, which is the implementation of foreign policy. Foreign policy itself is usually formed by the head of state, in the DPR as well. It was approved by a decree, we have a concept for the implementation of foreign policy activities, and we actually carry out this decree. Of course our structure and functionality are slightly different due to the fact that both Russia and Ukraine are recognized countries. But nevertheless, we have the same tasks, we just implement them a little differently, in a slightly different way. Our most important platform, of course, an official, large, international is the Minsk one. I am actually the Plenipotentiary of the Donetsk People's Republic on this platform. Also there are relevant working groups carrying out activities in different directions, as it is actually provided for by a Package of measures. And all this work is accompanied by our employees, we have the relevant sectors, departments that are engaged in analytics, accompanying this activity from a scientific, political and any other side.

Of course, we have relations that need to be developed and strengthened with the states that have recognized us. Now I mean South Ossetia, the Lugansk People's Republic, and soon we hope to open a trade representation in the Republic of Abkhazia, this is also a pleasant, important and big step forward for us.

And informational activity, which is now probably almost the most important part in the work of any foreign policy department, because this activity informs the public, other states about real situation. By the way, when you characterized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, you mentioned that their main task is to create a kind of halo, to submit some information, which they consider necessary to submit. Well, we can perfectly see in what way it is given out and what kind of information it is. So, our task is to counteract these information absurdities, which the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry submits and to convey the truth. By the way, there are 7 of our successfully operating representative centers in Europe and we have interaction with other states, particularly in industrial, economic fields. Our delegation was recently in the Syrian Arab Republic at an exhibition, we participate in forums, for example, in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. In fact, the activity is practically the same, it is just that they are carried out in a slightly different way than in the recognized UN member states.

Just recently, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on humanitarian aid to certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, to make it clear for our viewers, it is the admission of goods from the Donetsk People's Republic to the markets of the Russian Federation. Are you ready to position the DPR as a manufacturer of the necessary goods already on the territory of Russia? Maybe this was prepared in advance, and what are you planning to undertake?

In fact, the Donetsk People's Republic worked out this direction from the moment of its creation, as soon as it became clear that this conflict would not end quickly, as soon as it became clear that we built our own state power, our own institutions of power, further thoughts appeared as follows: this is a concern about the population, this is the necessity to develop the economy, this is the necessity to restore some industry branches, and continue to strengthen the others. And this is the logical question that you are asking, we were engaged in this from the very beginning, from the creation of the Republic.

It is worth remembering that Donbass is an industrial region first of all, and of course this is the most important thing. These activities are interconnected and interdependent. You cannot position that does not exist, but if there is something good, if it develops, if it strengthens, if it is a high-quality product, then, accordingly, this product speaks for itself. Therefore, this is the most important decree for us, it is really like a decree on the recognition of our documents, like a decree on the simplified issuance of passports of the Russian Federation to citizens living in Republics, it is also a humanitarian decree. But if the previous decrees restored our violated civil rights, now it is really an opportunity for us to take care of our citizens, because by raising the level of the economy, having the opportunity to deliver our goods, sell our goods to the territory of the Russian Federation, we thereby replenish our budget, we thus have the opportunity to pay stable salaries, social benefits, pensions and so on, and so on. It gives the opportunity to develop our health care, purchase new appropriate equipment, medicines and everything. This is really an opportunity for us to breathe freely and start replenishing our budget even more actively in order to take care of our citizens. Without the decree, of course, it was quite difficult for us to do so due to the blockade that the Ukrainian side had set up: economic, transport, industrial, and in general any, so it was certainly difficult for us to develop. But there was a period when it was necessary, in principle, to restore this industry and economy. Now we are already following the path of development, this is no longer restoration, this is already development. There are corresponding decrees signed for 2022-2024, we already have a kind of integration association with the Lugansk People's Republic. As you know, we have signed a corresponding agreement, we have already exchanged the instruments of ratification, and the Council of the Common Economic Space is already working. Now we are developing, and this decree is so relevant and timely that it is very difficult to overestimate its significance and importance for the Republic.

But for me it was a kind of surprise. Putin's decree seems to me to be comparable to the decree on the issuance of Russian passports to residents of the DPR and the LPR. As I understand it, there was some kind of active preparation, you probably were aware of it? I mean the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been actively working on this and we have just become the witnesses of the results when we came here to you this week.

Let me put it this way: we assumed that this is a possible next logical step, because it really makes sense. It is necessary to assess all factors: the pandemic, the blockade, and what is happening in the Minsk process. After all, the Ukrainian authorities have openly declared lately that they do not intend to restore relations with the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, that they do not intend to establish peace. They openly conduct militaristic rhetoric, they openly use some new machines to destroy the inhabitants of Republics, for example Bayraktar, and they openly declare this. There are already several cases officially registered when from these Bayraktars, or rather,from these drones, Bayraktar did not fly so far, from drones they drop grenades, explosive devices on civilians, on children.

Of course, we understand what course Ukraine is following, what it is aimed at. There now everything is rather strange by the way: a person who had been taking part in the peace process for two years became the Minister of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, in theory, should establish relations and connections, and so on, conducts openly militaristic rhetoric, this is a kind of reality distortion. So, we realize that peace will definitely not come in the near future, moreover, that Ukraine is frankly going on a completely opposite way. Due to the pandemic, due to the development of the situation in general, it is natural that if it is impossible to take care of the population of these territories, we cannot help but take some next logical step. Therefore, let's put it this way, we assumed and hoped that this step would be taken, so it really marks the next very important stage of development for us.

With Ukraine, besides the Trilateral Contact Group, are there some, maybe formal, maybe informal relations? Well, at least, maybe there are some informal groups that are trying to maintain a dialogue with you, somehow inform each other about certain possible solutions, or Ukraine completely cut off contacts with the Donetsk People's Republic and said, in fact, to do whatever you want there and live as you want?

Rather, the second option. Well, as you know, nothing can be fully described as good or bad, but Ukraine is now trying in every possible way not to participate even in the negotiations that it must conduct in accordance with the resolution of the Security Council. All their actions, all their statements, everything is aimed at the fact that they do not intend to carry on a dialogue with representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. They do everything in order not to communicate directly about anything, not to even transmit correspondence directly, even there, for example, there were some attempts, though maybe those were personal attempts. Representatives of Ukraine complained, for example, that they did not have enough electricity, coal, and so on, and asked us to consider the possibility of cooperation. We reported that we had enough electricity, that Republics were provided with electricity, so we would be ready to consider it, we expected some proposals from them. That is, in order to discuss such a topic, it is necessary to understand both the goals and the volume of work and all the essential, let's say, conditions. But being frightened of such direct contacts, having fear that it might get out in the open, they simply refused. This is what I can say of informal and formal contacts.

So, it actually happened? Because I also read about it in the media, but immediately after the Ukrainian side said that this was not true. So, you confirm that it really was and they applied?

There is also an assumption that it was some kind of provocation. We assume that there is such a possibility, as you can expect anything from Ukraine, that they wanted to hear from us a categorical “no, we do not intend to talk to you about anything at all”. And when they saw our calm reaction, they realized that this provocation failed. That is, this option is also quite possible. But we also know very well and understand from the media that the situation is really difficult in Ukraine. Moreover, this is the most important reason why we reacted so calmly to this proposal, because it concerns, first of all, our citizens living in the territory, controlled now by Ukraine. That is who we are worried about first of all. You know that from the Republics’ point of view and we have a corresponding law, the border runs along the borders of neighboring regions of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions. So far, at the moment, part of this territory is controlled by Ukraine, but our people live there, people, who also took part in the referendum, also opposed the lawlessness that is taking place in Kiev, in the same way they endured this terror from the armed forces, Ukraine, battalions and everyone. We also have a program of the reunification of Donbass people and help the Russian-speaking population, so of course we also cannot leave these people in trouble, in the cold, and so on. Naturally, we reacted calmly, which is why we started asking clarifying questions: why, for what purposes, about all the parameters, and so on. And yes, the Ukrainian side after that immediately refused to continue any possible dialogue in any perspective.

Specifically, my assumption is that when meetings are held with the Ukrainian side within the framework of the trilateral contact group, they behave inappropriately, to put it mildly, that they are trying to provoke you, ignore you. Although this is essentially a contact group, which implies some kind of contact and communication. It’s all at the level, well, I don’t know, of a kind of rural showdown: you are to blame! You are so bad! You did this! So there is essentially no contact.

Unfortunately, yes, it is so. Of course, representatives of Ukraine work in each working team and in a contact group. There are several people, this is not one person, and each of them behaves in his own way. The delegation of Ukraine also includes quite educated, literate and intelligent people, but unfortunately, apparently they receive exactly such instructions and their demeanor, to put it mildly, is puzzling. At least the statements that are made and the demonstration of such a kind of feigned impudence, perhaps this is the way characterize it, do not even leave the chance and opportunity to talk about some serious things, but in fact the dialogue should be about this. What is the Contact Group for? In order for us, two sides of the conflict, to be in contact, in dialogue and try to decide together how we can continue to live next door to each other. But it is rather difficult to talk about these things when we hear only either militaristic rhetoric, or openly aggressive one, or all the messages are addressed to the OSCE or the Russian Federation, that is, to mediators. Ukraine tries not to address the second side of the conflict and even to not answer direct questions. Well, it is also clear that there is a specificity, because it is difficult for them, for example, to answer the questions "Why did you throw a grenade from a UAV at an 11-year-old child?" It is clear that it is difficult to answer this question being an intelligent person, understanding the consequences of such actions and realizing perfectly well that this is a war crime. But nevertheless, yes, so far we have such a situation, and the negotiation stage, in principle, the entire negotiation process is not easy, but the current stage is literally a crisis.

So, everything that we see on Ukrainian television, all this hate speech and hatred, is not essentially different from what is happening on the sidelines? Because we know about the trilateral contact group only from press releases, statements of certain representatives.

Now there are practically no sidelines, because the meetings of the Contact Group are taking place online due to the pandemic. Immediately as soon as the coronavirus epidemic began, face-to-face meetings stopped in the world, we switched to the online format, so now it is difficult to say what would be on the sidelines, that is, now we have only formal official parts of the negotiations, when the camera turns on, the microphone turns on and all representatives work and participate in this process. Well, rather, we are working, and Ukraine is just pretending.

You mentioned international organizations. Representatives of the OSCE, the UN, the Red Cross operate on the territory of the DPR, maybe you will add some other organizations. Actually, how do you develop relations with their representatives?

In different ways, it is impossible to characterize the relations with each of these organizations in the same way. With the OSCE SMM we have probably the most difficult relations at the moment, because this mission, which should neutrally and impartially monitor the events that occur on the line of contact and record violations of the ceasefire regime, but unfortunately it is not completely so, we would like to see more that very neutrality, impartiality from the side of the respective representatives. We certainly have questions about the work of the mission, but despite this we interact, work, communicate, meet, that is, the work process is not entirely simple and easy, but nevertheless there is communication. About the rest of the missions that you named, yes, there are relevant representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and representatives of the UN. The activity is mainly humanitarian, there are also representatives of the UN ECHR, who monitor the observance of human rights on the territory of the republics. With every of them, more or less, we have built a fruitful and effective contact, that is, we regularly exchange information, for example, about some needs of the republic, they also inform us about those, let's say, points of the mandate that they should implement on the territory of the republic. In principle, today there are no obvious problems in this sphere, in the sphere of communication with representatives of international organizations, neither from our side nor from their side. There is a working process; by the way, we have a committee on accreditation of humanitarian missions on the basis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All these missions have submitted relevant applications, they are accredited on the territory, and we are working in cooperation.

As I understand it, is it easier to work even with foreigners, than with Ukraine?

Unfortunately, I generally cannot characterize the process that is currently taking place in relation to Ukraine as "work". These are some attempts to agree on at least something. I would like to have an absolutely clear understanding. On our part we have made a lot of efforts to really start the work. Because we offered a lot of projects, a lot of proposals, a draft roadmap, which is generally comprehensive, in principle, it covers everything, each direction covers the implementation of a set of measures of the Minsk Agreements.

Each working group in its direction also proposes a considerable number of projects, let's say the same indefinite truce that we are talking about now, but unfortunately, it was again thwarted by the Ukrainian side. But nevertheless, this is an effort of our negotiators, that is, we have repeatedly, over a year and a half, proposed to the Ukrainian side the very measures to strengthen the stabilization of the ceasefire regime, we constantly heard either political statements of some kind, or I think you remember that there was a period when all the time some thematic truce was announced, now for Easter, then a school truce, then New Year's one, then some other. And we were constantly surprised by this, because for us it was not logical, it was absurd. And if we think about people, and we, from our side, first of all think about people who live close to the contact line, about their lives, about their safety, then why do we conclude a thematic truce? We must conclude, in principle, a complete truce and begin to observe it effectively. We offered this to the Ukrainian side for about two years before finally they had such a political situation, it seems that there were elections, if I am not mistaken, presidential or parliamentary, and finally Ukraine agreed to sign this document. And again, we can observe that was not because of their free will, not because of the concern for people, the anxiety about people, and so on, but only because it was necessary to raise some political rating with such a step. But, accordingly, the fate of this document is the same, that is, literally in a month or about a month and a half, If I am not mistaken, it was signed at the end of July, and on September 9, when the very first action in accordance with this document was to be carried out, the joint inspection in Shumy. Ukraine immediately leveled out this point, refused to implement it, and then violations of this ceasefire began again.

Now we are again for a year, even more than a year, we are proposing to the Ukrainian side to agree on a coordination mechanism in order to be able to have that very bilateral dialogue on the ground between representatives of the JCCC to be able to effectively control and stop, in case of existing violations, these very violations of the ceasefire regime. For more than a year now, Ukraine has been saying no for various reasons, but basically we understand that the main reason here is political will, or rather its absence. That is, Ukraine chose such a demeanor, that they believe they have the aggression of the Russian Federation on their territory, they allegedly have a war with the Russian Federation, and on the basis of these basic messages, they operate in absolutely all platforms, not only in the Minsk one.

In this whole situation, we are surprised by only one thing: a very sluggish reaction of the international community, and somewhere even support for these messages of Ukraine, because it is impossible to imagine a situation when the state like this unfoundedly declares out of nothing that they have some kind of aggression and what Ukraine is claiming is not confirmed neither by anything, not by anyone, not by a single fact, not by a single international organization, not by a single person. That is, it has never been confirmed, for example, the presence of at least some form of regular troops of the Russian Federation. Yes, there were volunteers at different stages, there were militias, there were volunteers from the Russian Federation, no one denies this, no one hides it. But Russia does not participate in what is happening in the territory of Donbass. Ukraine continues to declare this purposefully. The Security Council adopts a resolution on how the conflict should be resolved. There is no mention, if you take a document the phrase "Russian Federation" is never found in it.

Ukraine continues to declare strongly, purposefully, systematically, that Russia must fulfill certain obligations and what surprises us most in this situation is that some representatives of Western states, representatives of some organizations sometimes weakly, but they even start somewhere to echo this Ukrainian rhetoric, they say the Russian Federation must fulfill obligations. But this is apparently such Overton window, when they try to give a little bit of a message, and only then those who have not read the agreements, were not personally in Donbass, do not know what is happening here, have read neither the information nor about the events, nor the facts, they are already slowly beginning to think: maybe it is really so.

You mentioned taking care of the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions controlled by Ukraine. The next question: the inhabitants of, let`s say, the Kherson and Nikolaev, Odessa regions, well, which at one time were included in such a southeastern republic, there were different ideas, are they also close peoples for you or more like hostile elements, I don’t know how to describe, are they taking a back seat of care, or are they still close people to you?

The program is called, I probably did not announce the name to the end, but at the moment, this year, a decision was made about the program called "On the reunification of the people of Donbass and support for the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine", that is, we do not make any difference between people, there are no levels, we do not have aggression, there is no enmity of some kind in relation to normal, sane people in Ukraine. And there are such people, and we know about this, we receive a lot of letters from Ukraine, when people complain, when they want to express their point of view, but they perfectly understand that they will either be sent to prison without trial and investigation, as is done in Ukraine today, or some other sanctions will be applied, or they will be fired from job. Well, that is, it’s hard enough now for adequate people in Ukraine to even try to express their point of view, and, in general it’s hard to live, they can be cursed in a store, they can be denied service, they can be hit. It is enough to just watch the videos about what is happening with the veterans of the Great Patriotic War, that is, with people to whom all of us, descendants, should bow for their feat, and in Ukraine they allow themselves various boorish, openly hostile antics towards veterans. Therefore, yes, it is difficult for sane people in Ukraine now, and all this actually goes to the very top, starting with the president, when he frankly and absolutely calmly admits that 3 channels were closed, and he does not consider this to be something so infringing on freedom of speech in Ukraine.

Therefore, we do not make any distinctions between people with whom we once lived in the same state, who are sane.

I was surprised by the level of freedom of speech in the DPR, when I open my phone, here in the Donetsk People's Republic, I go to the Internet and there is free advertising in the Ukrainian, like, you do not restrict it in any way; I see you have signs in Ukrainian, even on the highway when you drive, it is written "Луганськ", "Донецьк". As I understand you have no hatred for anything Ukrainian? That is, as if this is some kind of analogue of a normal Ukraine, the one that was up to 2013-2014.

I can add one more interesting fact: for a long time in the constitution of the Donetsk People's Republic had two state languages: Russian and Ukrainian. Then the Ukrainian was removed, because, well, after all, the state language is the one in which official work is mainly conducted, and it is simply not in demand. That is, it is not in demand either in schools, or in universities, or in documents. Here mainly 97-98% of the population use Russian, so there was simply no need for it. And yes, he was in the constitution at the state level for a long time.

I would like to end our interview with something positive. Let's assume that if after a certain period of time the Donetsk People's Republic is recognized, well, at least partially by some number of large states, are you ready for such a turn of events? Imagine how much organizational work it is: consuls, ambassadors, missions.

We are not just ready, we are working to make this happen as soon as possible. But seriously, there is certainly some shortage of personnel. It is necessary to be frank and answer this question honestly, and we are sane people and we perfectly understand that until 2014, when Donetsk had been a part of Ukraine, we had not had universities that train diplomats, we had not had practice and experience work in the diplomatic departments, we had never had our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Donetsk. Therefore, yes, of course it was difficult, but nevertheless, work was carried out in this direction, including, not only in the direction of the development of industry and the economic potential of the republics. We also dealt with personnel policy and training. For example, now many of our higher education institutions are accredited by the Russian Federation and the children who graduate, students, they receive a diploma of Russian sample first of all Secondly, we did not waste any time in our direction either, we have faculties of international relations, and the faculties of foreign language work well and provide us with quite strong personnel. We also have such a youth public organization "School of Youth Diplomacy Legatus", and in fact it provides a very strong knowledge base for students. Already some from this organization, which is like such additional education in our sphere, and today some of former students are already working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are very strong guys, who come from this organization, they are very intelligent, very proactive, which is important, creative, that is, sometimes it is easier to work with such a person who does not have, any other practice. Some other person needs to be retrained, explained that today the Donetsk People's Republic is a separate state, respectively, it has other methods of work. And the guys who are graduating now, they already understand the situation, they already understand perfectly well that in a separate state relations are built completely differently, and they already offer some new mechanisms, new methods, they have already defended their works and diploma theses, respectively, in the state of the Donetsk People's Republic. That is, yes, this work is underway, and the guys, by the way, participate in Russian events in sphere of youth diplomacy. Well, we look quite optimistic, to say so, at this situation. Yes, of course, first of all, we are working to bring it closer, but on the other hand and from the point of view of personnel, I think we will be ready.

Natalia Yurievna, I thank you, I wish you that the Donetsk diplomatic school really gets into all textbooks, I also wish to bring victory on all diplomatic fronts closer. For our part, as journalists, we will be very happy to help you with this. Thank you very much for your time!

Thank you very much!