Russian Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan takes questions from Daily Mirror in an interview on bilateral ties and the current position of his country on the war with Ukraine. He spells out the importance of nuclear energy cooperation with Sri Lanka. Excerpts:
QThere are reports about the energy sector cooperation between Russia and Sri Lanka, particularly in the development of nuclear energy. What is the current status?
I made the proposal last year when I came here. I met some high-ranking officials- first of all, the Minister of Energy, and my colleagues in the Foreign Ministry. Before I came here, I had talks with top-ranking officials of Rosatom (Russian State–run Atomic Energy Corporation). Initially, my idea is to set up a small nuclear power plant of 110 megawatts- two blocks each with 55 megawatts. Of course, the number of blocks can be increased to two, four or six. It depends. But, frankly speaking, I am not authorized to go into details. Details should be discussed by specialists. My job is to pave the way for negotiations. I would like the Russian delegation to come here to start talking about conditions, financial, technical matters or which kind of nuclear power plant you need. After my proposal, the local media had very controversial articles- pro and contra. Some people are against this cooperation. I understand whose interests they represent. They always indicate negative experiences- Fukushima in Japan and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Russia. It was not in Russia but in Soviet Ukraine. We have very good examples of our international cooperation with many countries - for example, your close neighour India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the Tamil Nadu State, Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, and the power plants in Turkey and Iran. Recently we signed a very good agreement with Myanmar to set up a small nuclear power station. Now the ball’s in your court. It is up to you. If you need it, let us know.
QIs it practically possible to set up a plant in Sri Lanka?
I am not a specialist. Specialists should decide. Before you face shortages of electricity, it is better to have alternative sources of electricity- not only to rely on coal or thermal. It is very important to have solar, wind, and green energy, but they are not reliable. Climate change is doing its job. Therefore, it is very important to have alternative sources.
QThere were discussions about possible transactions with the Russian currency. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka did not agree to that. Did it affect bilateral ties?
No. We did not talk about transactions in Russian Rouble. We discussed the possibility to implement the Russian payment system card called Mir. It was not accepted by Sri Lanka. We understand it because Americans are pressurizing the countries using this payment system. The countries that will use this payment system will be subjected to secondary sanctions. You have a lot of Russian tourists coming here. We were number one. Now I don’t know because the season is now over. So far we did not hear that the Russian tourists faced some problems when coming here. Anyway, they have cash. They have payment cards from other countries. So, it is not a big problem. If you are not ready to accept it, it is your sovereign right. We don’t pressure, unlike other countries. We respect your decisions.
QWill there be fresh engagements with the government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe with some high-profile visits as happened during the time of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa?
Right now, we are very busy, to be frank, during our special military operation in Ukraine. It does not mean that we stop our activities in other directions. Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited South Africa and the Latin American countries. In August, I will go to Moscow for vacation and ask my colleagues in the Foreign Ministry about the possibility to resume consultations and talks. But we are ready to cooperate with the governments of friendly countries. Let me stress the friendly countries! Sri Lanka is among them. We have no problem with the Government or the President elected by the people. Mr Wickremesinghe is a very respected President. We have no problem.
QSri Lanka-Russia bilateral trade volume is way below the potential. What blocks the unleashing of the full potential?
We have the Inter-Governmental Economic Commission. We are talking about the date it can be conducted in virtual mode. The Sri Lankan side recently suggested July. From your side, it is Mr Atapattu, the Secretary of the Trade Ministry. From our side, it is Federal Agency for Fishery. Our proposal is to organize a meeting between the chiefs of these organizations. From the fisheries sector here, it is Mr Fernando. Mr Fernando is planning to go to Russia in June to participate in the St Petersburg Economic Forum. I just conveyed the message to Moscow. We are waiting for the response. It is quite high time to have the session of the Joint Economic Commission in virtual mode. It is very important. The last session was held in 2019.
QThere was a proposal from the Sri Lankan side to purchase oil from Russia. The Sri Lankan ambassador to Russia initiated some action. What is the progress?
It is a private business. When they are engaged in negotiations with their private partners here for coal or other items, they sometimes don’t inform the embassy. It is a private business. We don’t interfere.
QBut, oil trading sometimes has a strategic component. Then, there is diplomatic involvement. What is your comment?
As they don’t inform us, we don’t ask questions from private companies. I just only follow the issues which are just proposed by the State bodies like Rosatom.
QAs the ambassador, what can you tell us about the profitability of oil trading with Russia?
It is profitable because many countries, despite sanctions imposed by European Union and America, continue to buy. They just increase the purchases from the Russian Federation. For India, China and some other countries, it is not a problem. These sanctions don’t work.
QWith India, you do a lot of oil business?
Yes, we do it with pleasure. We are very grateful to our Indian friends. Despite sanctions, they are buying Russian oil. It is profitable for both countries.
QThe United States designated Sri Lanka’s wartime Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda. You openly criticized it. What prompted you to do it?
I did it with pleasure. I criticized it because we condemn all kinds of attempts to interfere with the domestic affairs of independent countries. Sri Lanka is an independent country. America and some other Western countries like to pressurize other countries by saying what to do and what not to do. We criticize them for double standards. My message was that they have no right to criticize anybody including Mr Karannagoda. I have got a letter from him. He sent his regards to me. It was my pleasure. Sanctions are illegitimate.
QThe Russian war with Ukraine is still going on. How long can Russia sustain it?
We have goals designated by the President. That is the deNazification and demilitarization of Ukraine and it is neutral and non-proliferated to any bloc status. It is a Fascist, Terrorist regime. We want Ukraine not to join NATO, not to threaten us and not to create problems for us. They must admit that new regions are parts of Russia. They historically belong to Russia.
QWith China stepping in, is there any effort now being undertaken to end the war?
China has just appointed an envoy. He will be travelling there. High-ranking officials in Europe, including the NATO Secretary-General, Chancellor of Germany and PM Rishi Sunak of the UK aim at defeating Russia. They don’t talk about negotiations. The regime in Ukraine is their puppet. The puppet cannot be independent. The puppet cannot adopt any decision. How can we negotiate with puppets?
There was a good chance in Istanbul last year. They had good chances. But, the British government told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to stop negotiations.
QYou mean to say that the ball is in their court to end the war?
Yes of course. But, they are pumping Ukraine with weapons. Ukraine is now in Europe begging for money.
QStill, it is Russia that started the war?
We demanded guarantees for our security. If we had not started the Special Military Operation, they would have started a full-scale war to massacre Russians.
The war has been launched by them in 2014 right after the illegal coup d’etat. Inspired by Anglo-Saxons. After this overturn the Nazis came to power in our neighbouring country, the people of which we have designated as our brothers. As my President said, in fact, we are the one people.
Since 2014 Kiev’s junta launched numerous military operations in the regions, which didn’t accept the new Nazi order in their capital. In Odessa, dozens of oppositionists were burnt alive in the House of Trade Unions.
In Zaporizhzhia, Nazis blamed dissidents and using deterrence urged them to leave the country. In Donbas, people managed to and successfully resist the Nazis. But the price was numerous brutal, inhuman bombings of the civil population, conducted by Kiev forces, extrajudicial punishments, waves of plunders and rapes by Nazis that tried to eliminate Russians who have been living there even before entire Ukraine was established.
In 2022 it was a reality that Ukraine can join NATO. After Ukraine had become a part of the Alliance, Western nuclear weapons could be deployed on that territory, and Ukraine would start the aggression against Russian Federation with the usage of all deployed arsenal.
That’s why on February 24, 2022, we started the Special Military Operation to deNazify, demilitarize and assure the neutral status of Ukraine.
QIt means you are ready to continue to fight?
If they are not ready for talks but want to continue fighting, we will fight.
QHow has this impacted economic relations with Sri Lanka?
I don’t think there is any impact. Several times I have expressed my gratitude to Sri Lanka for your balanced position. We know that you are under pressure. For us, Sri Lanka is very important for its neutral position. Russia is important for Sri Lanka. Russian tourists are coming here. They are bringing in a lot of money.
It was my message to Russian tourists. Don’t go to Europe! Come to friendly countries including Sri Lanka! Spend your money here!
QSri Lanka has become a country relevant to most world powers because of its strategic positioning. They talk about the Indo-Pacific. They talk about the rules–based order. What is your view?
Who invented these rules? Where are the rules? We are speaking about international law. We are not going to commit to any rule other than that. They want to neglect international law. We don’t accept it.
QWhat is Russia’s perspective?
We would like to see the Indian Ocean peaceful and cooperative based on open equal rights without militarization, without threatening independent countries, without sanctions and so on.
QBut, the Western powers also say equal rights. Aren’t ’they?
But they have military bases. Why? Their military infrastructure is very close to the Russian Federation. Can you imagine Russian missiles in Mexico? Can you imagine the American reaction? We installed them in Cuba in 1962, America was about to start World War III. They can install missiles close to Russia. But, they don’t allow you to deploy it close to them. Double standards and hypocrisy! It is totally unacceptable.
We are against military bases in the Indian Ocean. They are against whom? Does China pose any threat to you? I don’t think so. China does not pose any threat to anybody. China is focusing on economic cooperation and helping other countries. They help a lot. That is why we appreciate our relationship with Beijing.
Sokrates Thursday, 25 May 2023 10:59 AM
PART 2 4. Every country in Europe has the right to join the EU and NATO. NATO is a defensive alliance and, unlike Russia, does not wage aggressive wars and could never be a threat to Russia. 5. Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world in the early 1990s. In 1994, nuclear weapons were handed over to Russia. In return, Russia guaranteed Ukraine's sovereignty. Russia broke this treaty in 2014 by occupying Ukraine's Crimea. However, an eastward expansion of NATO was never contractually stipulated. 6. It is only a supposition on the part of Russia that nuclear weapons should be stationed there if Ukraine joins NATO. The fact is, however, that Russia has stationed nuclear weapons in its exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders on the EU and NATO countries Poland and Lithuania.
Sokrates Thursday, 25 May 2023 11:02 AM
PART 3 7. There have been no illegal attacks on people in Ukraine. Ukraine has only defended its eastern border after unofficial Russian troops infiltrated there and instigated a popular uprising among the Russian minority. Long-term investigations have shown that Russian soldiers and the Russian secret service were responsible for shooting down civilian Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. 8. The Russian invading forces have committed the most horrific war crimes in Ukraine. Killings of civilians, mass rapes, kidnappings of children, looting and many more terrible acts. The Bucha massacre has already gone down in history. Mass graves are discovered daily in the areas liberated by the Ukrainian military. 9. The government of Ukraine is not a puppet government of the West. However, Ukraine is conducting its defensive war on behalf of all western democracies. To that extent it is justified that many countries support this fight with all means.
Gert Jan, The Netherlands Thursday, 25 May 2023 06:05 PM
Reply to Socrates : I admire your patience and I hope you keep up the good work. I am giving up myself. In fact I am completely disgusted by this newspaper to give this ambassador a platform again and again. Why not interview an Ukrainian refugee or another Ukrainian representative. Or a Russian refugee. Why not make more effort to surpass the quality of an superficial tabloid paper. I start to believe this newspaper is on the payroll of Russia.
Dieter Ulrich, born in DDR Thursday, 25 May 2023 10:55 PM
How dare you calling a part of sovereign Ukraine Soviet Ukraine! We will never be part of the USSR again! Sri Lanka can have those vulgar and obnoxious Russian tourists. Have fun with them and don't expect a lot of tourists from Europe.
German Saturday, 27 May 2023 01:44 PM
Ukraine NEVER belonged historically to Russia! On 30 December 1922 the USSR incorporated sovereign Ukraine. Ukraine became an independent sovereign country again since 24th August 1991. In 2014 Russia illegally annexed parts of Ukraine, for example Crimea. Be careful Sri Lanka: Russia has ALWAYS been the aggressor.
Brit Saturday, 27 May 2023 02:21 PM
#German: you are right. Russia and the USSR are 2 different things. The USSR is dissolved, thank God.
lester Tuesday, 30 May 2023 05:34 PM
Russia should take back not only Ukraine, Kazakhstan too. West played all kinds of tricks during Reagan administration to bring down USSR with the help of westerner in disguise Gorbachev who was secretly working with Regan and Thatcher to bring down USSR.
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