Mr. Fallon, you spent several days “inspecting” the security situation at the Azov Sea port cities of Berdyansk and Mariupol. Can you tell more about it?
We had a privilege of visiting the eastern Ukraine, Berdyansk and Mariupol and it’s very clear now that these ports are very fragile and trade there is decreasing quite rapidly and what Russia has done – ineffectively blockading and squeezing the Kerch strait, it means that the region as a whole is now beginning to suffer.
So, basically can we tell that Ukraine has already lost these two ports or not?
Well, I hope not, entry and access from the Sea of Azov – there are agreements, there are international obligations, in terms of the right to passage. And it’s very important that we object strongly to what is happening there, the delay and shipping, and the foreign shipping, in getting cargos through to the Ukrainian ports, is absolutely unacceptable, boats are going rapidly through to the e Russian ports. There are serious delays for cargo ships coming into Mariupol and Berdyansk. And it’s not acceptable. If it continues, it means, the two ports will suffer and it means the economy of south east Ukraine will suffer.
For the time being how long have to wait these ships in the queues?
We have heard of larger ships having to wait some ten to 12 days wait for inspections, waited to be allocated a pilot, while smaller boats going to the Russian ports are going through much faster. Delays like that are very serious. It means, perhaps next year or a year after foreign shipping companies may start to use other ports. And we will see the international use of the sea of Azov starting to decline. And for Mariupol the industry that depends on shipping, depends on ship cargos and that’s very serious.
What is a way out to this situation? How to save Ukraine to save these ports?
First I think, the west needs to wake up and ensure that there is proper access to the sea of Azov, that it’s not being turned out into some kind of a Russian lake, it’s not acceptable internationally. Second I think we need to look again to some of the programs of assistance to Ukraine to see if we could do more, to end the isolation of cities isolation of the cities like Mariupol. We have poor infrastructure, the road links are not good, the railway links are poor, the railway there is closed. And basic utilities like water is also very very fragile. So, I think Britain and other western countries should look again and see what further assistance could be given to improve the resilience of the ports and the economy of South Eastern Ukraine. 0317
0320 Speaking about the case in the Kerch Strait, you know that the Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksandr Turchinov said that Ukraine will send its navy ships to pass the Kerch Strait again after Russia attacked Ukrainian ships in November. He also offered the partners of Ukraine, the representatives of OSCE and international organizations to join this attempt? How do you think Will UK join in this attempt if Ukraine tries to pass Kerch strait again?
This proposal has just been made and you know the allies and the west has to consider. You know that Ukrainian ships were through the Kerch Strait. And we saw in Mariupol Donbas and Korets? And it’s important that the Ukrainian navy retains its right in access through the Kerch Strait. And the west has to consider how we strengthen that right.
I think, that this is important that Ukraine maintains its access to the sea Azov, may be with smaller craft from the Ukrainian navy, and we are looking now in Britain, I’m no longer the minister but we are looking how we extend the training that we offer. We have done a lot of training with Ukrainian army, but we are looking now how we can help train the Ukrainian navy in some of the techniques that are needed. For better surveillance of the sea, how you deal with the situations like a blockade.
If Ukraine tries to send its navy ships again to this Kerch strait after November incident, probably Russia will consider it as a provocation. What are other effective methods for Ukraine to actually have the access to this Kerch strait and what should be the practical side of Europe to help?
First, I think, Europe should be looking at what happened in the Kerch Strait, to see whether the sanctions that were rolled over, whether they can be extended, whether more individuals or sectors in Russia can be penalized under the sanctions. It is not enough in my view, simply because extend sanctions by time limit, I think these sanctions should be reviewed and extended to cover more Russians that may be involved in that. And secondly we have to look at the political process, which seems to me fairly dead. The Normandy process seems to run to a hold, the Minsk agreement are not respected. And maybe we need to go further back, to a Budapest agreement, where Britain, and Unites States and Russia all respected some responsibility for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. What is happening now in the sea of Azov, is further undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine and default signatures to the Budapest agreement.
House of Lords committee on foreign affairs stated in its report 3 years ago that as “a signatory to the Budapest memorandum, setting out the protection Europe would give Ukraine, “the UK had a particular responsibility towards the country and it has not been as active or as visible as it could have been”. What Could the UK do and what it hasn’t done you think?
We call it a memorandum of course it is an agreement, it is the international agreement, it is the legal agreement, and clearly it has more status than the Normandy process, Now Britain is one of the three signatures to that agreement, and therefore there is an obligation to great Britain, and as on the States what further steps that have to be taken, we should remember of course that Ukraine gave something up – it gave up its right to nuclear weapons in return for assurances about its territorial integrity. And those I think have been undermined now by what is happening in the Sea of Azov, so we need to look at this again.
What is the practical side? We know that there should be the consultations of the countries who signed the memorandum, but other than talking do you think It’s worth of doing something?
Well, first of all, this is what article 6 of the Budapest memorandum prescribes - that there should be consultations between the signatories. When an instant occurs threatening the territorial integrity of Ukraine and in my view, these consultations should begin, that is an importnant step of recognizing obligations under the Budapest agreement.
Speaking about sanctions that you have already mentioned. Will Europe or the states impose the so called “the Azov package of sanctions”? We have seen resolutions from the European Parliament, and the senate, condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait. Lithuania has imposed national sanctions on the Russian Federation over its aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait. Why aren’t other countries willing to do the same?
I can’t speak for the government, I’m not a member of the government anymore, I used to be the defense minister. But as I have already mentioned to you I was disappointed by the European council statement, its of course good that sanctions have been rolled over, and were extended for the next 6 months, I expected it anyway. I think we need to review the list of sanctions, and see many more individual sanctions need to be applied.
Individual sanctions of Russian federation, you mean?
Indeed, we have to see whether we can extend the sanctions. Not just in terms of time, but in terms of width of the sanctions in the number of people who were actually sanctioned.
Do you think is it an effective method or is there anything else that could be done
Well, there is evidence that sanctions do have an effect on Russia, and there are other things that Britain could consider. For example, many very wealthy Russians take a good care to use the city of London to use Britain as a financial center and we have new legislation passed now to investigate those who are trying to use the city of London and in some cases the wealth are safe guarding or expanding the city of London is being used back home to help finance Russian military. So, we have now some new legislation and I think we should start to deploy it.
So basically to check out this very wealthy people and may be close their accounts so that they couldn’t do any operations?
Some of these people are using London to raise money, to raise funds on the different markets in London, and some of this money is going back to fill the military machine back in Russia that I think has to be stopped. We have the legislation now and it’s time that ministers had to look how we can use it. There are different things that different countries can do. And what’s really important we shouldn’t let this incident sly down the agenda. And forget about it as we go to 2019 in the country. What happened should not be forgotten. We need the sailors back, we need the ships back. We need to send a very strong message to Russia that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.
Families of the captured Ukrainian sailors being held in a Moscow prison wrote a letter to the Queen and asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to release them. Do you think it’s a working mechanism? What are other methods that Putin can release these 24 sailors?
He can release them at any moment and they are relatively they were not responsible for the incident accept they were following orders. So, he should release them. And there is nothing that can prevent him from releasing them. And you would also expect when incidents like this occur, they are very rare but they do occur in serious grown up countries that the men involved in this countries usually are released within few days, that needs to happen.
Do you think it will happen the next year of what would influence this decision?
You are asking me how the Russian machine works I can’t help you with that.
I don’t know either. I just want to understand what could affect its decision – more and more sanctions of the west or may be some other mechanisms?
If Russia wants to avoid further penalties, further sanctions, further solidarity of the west and NATO in the black sea than the right step for them would be to acknowledge that they made a mistake and to release the sailors and return the boats.
Would it be an effective method if a NATO ship would occur or may be NATO mission in the Azov Sea?
First, there ought to be more NATO machines to the Black Sea, I think we had a ship visit from Britain on Friday, that’s importnant
In Odessa. That’s importnant. But it should be more regular. It should be more persistent and I would like to see more NATO naval vessels, visiting the Black Sea, and more NATO naval activity in the Black Sea. I would also like to see the return of NATO southern air policing when I was a defence minister I sent Ariel Taifun aircraft to police the Black Sea based in Romania, I would like this aircraft return, it’s importnant that NATO sends a strong message that the Black Sea is importnant placing stability in the Black Sea, is importnant for the whole region. There are various policing missions each year the NATO agrees: there is Baltic air policing, there is southern air policing in which Britain played a part 2 years and then there is Nordic Iceland policing as well, when NATO keeps an eye on its overall security. And that’s very importnant we focused a lot on the Baltic states, on deploying troops there, to counter any Russian pressure against the Baltic states. But it is also essential that NATO keeps an eye on its security 360 degrees – in the south east, in the south, not just in the north east.
Even though Ukraine is not the member of NATO, right?
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but Ukraine is a neighbor of NATO, and many of the NATO countries have been assisting Ukraine and training and have missions here, trying to bring stability of Ukraine, so it’s importnant that NATO doesn’t forget its neighbors.
You know that Ukraine wants to mark European Union and NATO aspirations in the constitution – do you think it will eventually help to become the member of the alliance?
Well, it’s up to Ukraine to decide its – whether to move further to western organizations, like NATO or the European Union, whether to stay neutral or whether to move back towards Russia. This is for Ukraine to choose. It’s important, it should not be for anybody else to veto that choice, it should not be mister Putin to decide who is allowed to apply for NATO membership and who is not allowed. Of course, there are processes, there are criteria, for NATO membership, Montenegro has just joined, and there should not be shortcuts to NATO membership, it’s an importnant principle of membership that you should be ready to undertake the obligations of membership, as well as enjoy the rights of membership. So, they can’t be initial cuts, but equally nobody should have a veto.
As you said you were the UK Defense Secretary from 2014 till 2017 - very important for Ukraine years, because Russian aggression began. Do you think that Ukraine has become closer to NATO alliance right now than it used to be in 2014?
Certainly, the military has become modernized, as new equipment was supplied. And because we and another countries have been assisting with training Ukrainian military is now beginning to adopt some of the NATO doctrine. So, from the military point of view, you see Ukraine slowly moving further towards the West – but I’m emphasizing it’s a decision for Ukraine, it’s not for me or any of the Ukraine’s friends in Britain to say – Ukraine should do this, or should do that, it’s a matter for Ukraine to decide.
So do you think there should be any type of referendum?
Well, we had a referendum in Britain which has proved quite a divisive experience and I’m not I would like to recommend it for necessarily for anybody else. Look, this is a matter for the people, for the parliament, to decide, but Ukraine now has many friends in the west and the links for the west, for the European union are strengthening all the time, and that’s what we ought to do – make it clear and with that we are ready to help…
I think, there is a better understanding of the purpose of NATO that NATO was a defensive organization NATO doesn’t threatening anybody, NATO’s job is defense, Self-defense. If you join NATO, then you are entitled to protection, of the other countries and NATO. And you too must be ready to go and protect any other member of NATO that is threatened. NATO is a defensive organization, self-defense, its not threatening anyone.
Many experts say that if Ukraine were the member of NATO, then probably it wouldn’t see the Russian aggression.
It’s for Ukraine to make this judgement but what we have seen in the last few years, is Russian aggression obviously, illegal occupation of Crimea, we’ve seen the support for separatism in Luhansk and Donetsk region, we’ve also seen Russian pressure right along with NATO borders – we saw it in the Baltic states, we saw it in north Atlantic, trough submarine activity and some interference with cables and … We’ve seen in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly prolonging the civil war in Syria, so, what’s happening – so Ukraine is the worst example of the Russian aggression but there are others, we’ve seen different type of Russia, since 2014.
Martial law in Ukraine should not be extended after Dec. 26 – said Kurt Volker. What do you think?
We have to keep demanding that 24 sailors on the boat – keep demanding them released. Keep the sanctions, and review. NATO needs to look what other naval presence can be made more persistent in the black sea area and make sure these visits by NATO navies are more regular, Britain too can look at the training and extend it to the Ukrainian navy and look at our programs to see if we can do more to strengthen the resilient of south east Ukraine and in particular the infrastructure that surrounds Mariupol and Berdyansk, and then internationally right across the wall we need to look and see what can be done to prevent a repetition of the aggression that we have seen in the Kerch straights and to ensure for commercial shipping regular and proper access to the city of Azov
Thank you for the interview.