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Filipenko: Crimea will be part of Ukraine

Serbia will have the support of Ukraine and of all OSCE members if it uses its special relationship with Russia to achieve implementation of last year’s Minsk Agreement, said Yevhenia Filipenko, Chargé d'Affaires of the Ukrainian Embassy in Serbia.

Ms. Filipenko, interviewed by RFE/RL Belgrade bureau correspondent recently, said Serbia's policy towards Russia should not dictate Serbian-Ukrainian relations.

RFE/RL: Ms. Filipenko, what are your country’s expectations regarding Serbia’s role in presiding over the OSCE this term?

FILIPENKO: Serbia takes the helm of the OSCE at a very complex moment for Europe and for European security. It is a unique opportunity for Serbia to demonstrate its ability to act as an honest and neutral mediator and its capability to lead under difficult circumstances. Regarding the situation in and around Ukraine, we welcomed the action of the Serbian foreign minister and chairman of the OSCE to leave the Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini as a Special Representative in the trilateral Contact Group. This is a negotiating format which engages Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE in the search for the political solution of the crisis. We also welcome the Serbian chairmanship’s support for the special monitoring mission which… monitors the situation in Ukraine. Even though we completely understand the limitations that the chairmanship implies, especially in a consensus-based organization, we do expect Serbia to play a proactive role in the resolution of the crisis in and around Ukraine. We also believe that, if Serbia uses its special relations with Russia to enforce the implementation of the Minsk agreement, it will certainly have our support and support of all the other 57 participating states.

RFE/RL: Ivica Dacic, Serbian Foreign Minister and the president of the OSCE, has just said that Minsk agreement is not dead, even though the situation on the ground disputes this claim. Is this the position of Ukraine as well? Do you believe that Minsk agreement is still alive?

FILIPENKO: Of course. The Minsk agreement remains the only basis for the peaceful resolution of the crisis in and around Ukraine and the full implementation of the Minsk agreement is the basis for seeking a political solution…. Therefore, the support of the chairmanship for the full implementation of Minsk agreement is very welcome in Ukraine.

RFE/RL: Brussels keeps insisting that Serbia harmonize its foreign and security policies with the European Union. Serbia did not join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. Does your country also expect Serbia to join the European Union in sanctions…?

FILIPENKO: You know, we believe that it is Serbia’s sovereign right, as it is the right of Ukraine, to choose alliances and to choose strategic partners. From our own experience, we can only advise our Serbian friends, once they clearly define Serbia’s policy, to stick to it fully, not occasionally. We do not believe that Serbia’s policy toward Russia should be an indicator of the relations between Serbia and Ukraine. Furthermore, we do not want to look at our relations from this perspective. Our only wish is to develop bilateral relations based on mutual respect, mutual cultural and historical connections and mutual foreign policy goals and aspirations.

RFE/RL: One question that many are interested in is what Ukraine’s position toward Kosovo’s independence is. Does your country consider Kosovo’s independence as a precedent case or as a special case?

FILIPENKO: Ukraine’s position towards Kosovo is clear and straight. The Ukrainian government does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and we do not regard Kosovo to be a precedent, but rather a unique case. Our position is based on our respect for the principles of international law, including the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the states. Our position is similar to Serbia’s in this difficult issue. Let me note that the public and political forces in Ukraine are very carefully monitoring Serbia’s position towards Ukraine, as for instance during the vote for the UN General Assembly Resolution from March last year which supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We also closely follow Serbia’s position in the Council of Ministers, in the Council of Europe and most recently Serbia’s vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on January 28. I would like to emphasize that it is very difficult for the Ukrainian government to maintain its position toward Kosovo under various political pressures. But the Government’s position toward Kosovo remains unchanged.

RFE/RL: And why? Can you explain your reasons?

FILIPENKO: Because it is a principled stand. We are committed to the principles of international law and, above all, we respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every state. This, therefore, is not a position that concerns only Serbia; it concerns each Member State of the United Nations.

RFE/RL: Since the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea, we have heard hard criticism from the West and we have seen various sets of sanctions that were imposed on Russia. However, requests to cancel the annexation and to return Crimea to Ukraine are very rare? Do I have a wrong impression?

FILIPENKO: I will start by saying that Crimea was, is and will be the part of Ukraine, despite the absence of, for instance, the UN Security Council Resolution whose adoption was blocked by veto wielding of the permanent members. There was a UN General Assembly Resolution adopted last year which considered the annexation of Crimea as an illegal and illegitimate act that violated the UN Charter and international law. Most recently, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolutions last year and this year in which they demanded the Russian Federation cancel the annexation of Crimea. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution also considered the annexation as an illegal act which violates the UN Charter, The Statute of the Council of Europe and the principles of international law. As you can see, there is a strong international response to these illegal actions of the Russian Federation. That is why those who do not support these condemnations may be perceived as those who do not support international law, the UN Charter and the Statute of the Council of Europe.

RFE/RL: Do you expect that Russia will give up Crimea?

FILIPENKO: Since Crimea is a part of Ukraine, it will always be a part of Ukraine, so we do not have any doubts that Crimea will remain Ukrainian. There is no question about that.