'West lost its leeway to influence Russia with sanctions'
RT:President Putin made quite a powerful address - do you think what he said has made Russia's position on Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis any clearer to the rest of the world?
Dmitry Babich: If people in the West bothered to read his speech in full, I think they are going to be impressed, but I am afraid they are going to satisfy themselves with quotes which already have been carefully prepared by the mainstream media, which shall be used to present Russia’s position in a false light. Even Putin’s critics inside Russia, who may be not very sympathetic with the inclusion of Crimea into the Russian Federation, even they will recognize the historical part of Putin’s speech, that his explanation of historic facts that led to this situation was pretty precise.
RT:We’ve already heard some reaction from the West - the UK foreign secretary said he “regrets that President Putin has chosen the route to isolation” by deciding to incorporate Crimea - do you believe isolation is what really awaits Russia?
DB: Sanctions which have been imposed so far were very incompetent, they hit the wrong targets. For example, Yelena Mizulina became infamous in the West because she was one of the initiators of the law on banning homosexual propaganda to minors, but she had a very distant relationship to what happened in Crimea. My impression is that the West’s leaders have just chosen the people who are most hated by the mainstream Western press and by the liberal Russian press and included them all in that list.
I am not sure that future steps of the Western governments will be any wiser. Also, the West shot itself in the foot because there were so many threats before, there were so many indirect sanctions already imposed on Russia. And now when they decided to impose real sanctions they have no leeway. For example, the West threatened to put on hold negotiations on the visa-free regime between Russia and the EU. The problem is that these negotiations had been going on for 10 years. They were initiated by Putin 10 years ago in 2003 and so far they didn’t yield any result, primarily because of the position of the EU. So now, when they say, “We are going to out them on hold,” it is not going to press many Russians because we already expect these negotiations to last for 20, 30, maybe 40 years. So by its anti-Russian position in its 15 preceding years, the West incapacitated itself for imposing real sanctions right now.
RT:Vladimir Putin also addressed the Ukrainian people, urging them not to believe that Russia is looking to split the country. Does that mean that eastern Ukraine - which has also been pushing for referendum - won't face a scenario similar to the one in Crimea?
DB: Putin made it very clear that he does not have the same scenario for Donetsk and Kharkov as the one that had to be used in Crimea. It is very clear that it was not Russia who split Ukraine, it was the Ukrainian nationalists who did in a violent seizure of power in Kiev, and by their preceding policies. For 23 years that Ukraine was independent there was no effort made to make Russian-speaking people in Ukraine feel at home. Instead of creating a multi-ethnic state, where all minorities would feel Ukrainian, instead of creating a civic nation, the Ukrainian presidents from the very beginning have been splitting Ukraine by not giving Russian a status of a state language or even of an official language. What happened in Crimea was a reaction to what happened in Kiev weeks before. I don’t think the same scenario is possible in Kharkov. Let’s not forget that Kharkov was the capital of Soviet Ukraine in the 20s and 30s. There are many Ukrainian-speaking people living in the area around Kharkov. With Crimea, it is indeed a special case because it was lumped together with what was then the Ukrainian Socialist Republic in 1954 by an arbitrary decision of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Putin’s speech characterized that regime as totalitarian. He made it clear that what we do is not gain new territories, it is primarily about protecting the people of Crimea.
RT:Ukraine, just like most Western countries, says it doesn't recognize Crimea as an independent state - but would their recognition or lack of it really change anything?
DB: It will not change anything. We already had this experience with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which had not been recognized by the West, but somehow they survived. The West says that these territories are occupied by Russia - that is a blatant lie. It is enough to go to Abkhazia and see that it is run by Abkhazians. Russia just provides protection from possible takeover from Georgian authorities. It is clear the Crimea will never return to Ukraine because the Crimean people don’t want it. They made it very clear.