Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko says he can understand why some observers are saying his country is on a “war footing” as the March 16 referendum in Crimea approaches.
“Nobody wants to fight these days,” said the ambassador, who has been working night and day during the crisis in Ukraine. “Everyone wants to be civilized but there are some countries who are OK to fight and to claim their interests in a very 18th-century way. We don’t want to fight and we don’t want to lose any square meters of our territory. Unfortunately, that might be the final outcome if they can’t get back to senses. I see no other way out of it.”
He noted that the referendum later this week has no legal basis as the constitution allows only for nationwide referendums and further stated that Crimea only has two million people but the constitution states you need three million for a fair vote. “The Russians are saying they have support beyond Crimea so why wouldn’t they go for a full referendum?” he asked.
His prediction was that Russia will accept the referendum results. “There’s no legal way they can do it but they will. And in a couple of days, they will pass a law to be able to annex territory.”
He was incredulous about Russia’s position, calling some of their statements “crap.”
“You have the minister of defence and foreign affairs saying there are no Russian forces on the ground and saying you can buy uniforms in the supermarket,” he said.
His Russian counterpart in Canada, Georgiy Mamedov, he said, is just doing his job, and communicating his instructions from Moscow but he said he hopes that, as a person, he doesn’t believe all of what he’s saying.
He also downplays some of the statements coming out of Russia.
“Seriously, how can you tell me you can buy uniforms in the supermarket?” he asked. “That’s a good minister of defence — he has no idea where his tanks and ATVs are? And President Putin, who has a background in intelligence, has no idea what’s going on? Wouldn’t you ask if you don’t know?”
He noted that by sending “unmarked and unidentified” troops, the Russians are breaking the Geneva Convention, “which says that combatants are supposed to be carrying weapons openly and they must be marked. Otherwise, you don’t know who are combatants from a particular state and who are terrorists. Doing this you destroy the world order.”
Asked what he thought about the rotating protests in Ottawa over the weekend — a large group moved among embassies of Western countries they feel should be intervening more — he said he understood their reasons for protesting. But he did feel compelled to call the ambassadors and high commissioners at the missions at which there were protests just to make sure they weren’t bothered by it. He said he feels the countries in question — France, China, the U.S. and Britain — are doing what they can.
“At the same time, Canadian Ukrainians have the right to express themselves,” he said. “How can you limit them?”