Frankly Speaking: What does Russia think it will take to end the war with Ukraine?

Short Url
Updated 31 July 2023

Frankly Speaking: What does Russia think it will take to end the war with Ukraine?

Frankly Speaking: What does Russia think it will take to end the war with Ukraine?
  • Russian diplomat Andrey Baklanov says a negotiated settlement is unlikely, insists Ukrainian government has to be annihilated
  • Thanks Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, for prisoner swap mediation, says bigger Chinese role in the Middle East serves Russia’s interests too

DUBAI: There is no possibility of reaching a truce between Russia and Ukraine and normality can only be achieved after the “annihilation” of the present government in Kyiv, Andrey Baklanov, a Russian diplomat and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has said.

Sharing his insights in the latest episode of “Frankly Speaking,” the weekly Arab News current-affairs talk show, Baklanov reckoned a negotiated settlement to the war was unlikely.

Andrey Baklanov, a Russian diplomat and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, speaks to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

“I think that there is no opportunity for any kind of truce between the present-day government — the so-called government, these fascist people in Kyiv — and us,” he added, referring to the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I’m absolutely sure that the only option we have is to, well, to annihilate this regime in Ukraine and to return Ukraine to normality.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) poses for a selfie with a serviceman during a visit to Donetsk region. (File/AFP)

Besides the Ukraine conflict, the interview touched on issues ranging from the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal and the Wagner Group to Russia’s relations with Syria and the Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iran normalization deal.

Baklanov noted that Russia’s aims in Ukraine remained unchanged.

“The first, denazification; second, demilitarization; and third, the termination of the criminal activities of the criminal regime, which had a coup d’etat in 2014,” he said, referring to the protests that removed pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych from power that year.

An employee walks near mangled warehouses at a grain facility in Pavlivka, Ukraine, Saturday, July 22, 2023, following Russian missile attacks. (File/AFP)

Although the Russian claim that Ukraine is controlled by a fascist clique has been vigorously contested, Baklanov drew on events of World War II to justify the “special military operation” launched against Ukraine 18 months ago.

“We regard what was going on in Ukraine as the prolongation of the Second World War,” he added.

In the present situation, he described Zelensky as a “traitor” who, together with “many other of the criminals, will be answering in our court for the criminal activities during the eight or even nine years against our people in Donbas. They will be caught and will be imprisoned.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) buys an ice cream during a visit to the Donetsk region. (File/AFP)

Baklanov also used the interview to defend Russia’s decision to scrap a UN- and Turkiye-brokered agreement that had allowed grain, foodstuffs, fertilizer, and other commodities to be shipped from Ukraine’s blockaded Black Sea ports to some of the world’s most food-insecure countries.

He contended that the Kremlin was forced to cancel the deal, signed in the Turkish city of Istanbul in July 2022, in order to safeguard Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports.

Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government spokesperson, announced on July 17 that Russia would leave the Black Sea Grain Initiative. He said: “When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal.”

The Kremlin has given the UN three months to agree to its terms.

The Soviet coat of arms on the shield of a 62-meter Motherland Monument in Kyiv will be replaced with the coat of arms of Ukraine in accordance with the law on decommunization. (File/AFP)

Baklanov dismissed the deal as “fraudulent,” claiming that the majority of the grain had in fact been destined for Europe, not to food-insecure countries in Africa, and that Russian farmers were not benefiting from the arrangement.

“Only 3 percent of the grain went to the African continent and to the people that are suffering from hunger. The absolute majority of the grain went to prosperous countries of the West, especially European countries,” he added.

Claiming that only “half of the deal” was being recognized, he said no progress was visible on a related agreement designed to ease Russian food and agricultural exports amid Western sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to the Ukraine invasion.

On the Ukraine war, Baklanov noted that peace talks would not be on the table even though Russia was “very much thankful for the Arab countries and Saudi Arabia for their attempts to mediate.”

Aerial view shows destroyed buildings as a result of intense fighting, amid the Russian invasion, in Bakhmut, Ukraine in this still image from handout video. (File/AFP)

Close to 300 prisoners were exchanged between Ukraine and Russia in a deal brokered by Saudi and Turkiye in September. Both sides had captured hundreds of enemy fighters since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out on Feb. 24, 2022, but only a few prisoner exchanges had occurred since.

Baklanov pointed out that mediation could be very helpful but only as far as some “humanitarian aspects” were concerned, such as exchange of prisoners of war.

“But the origin of the war is something which our colleagues in Arab and Africans countries should understand better. It’s necessary to feel the history — not just to know the history, but to feel the history.

Prisoners of war are seen on the tarmac after arriving, following successful mediation efforts by Saudi Arabia, from Russia to King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh. (File/SPA)

“It’s only those people — like me and some others — who understand the origin, the source, of this conflict. For the external people, it’s rather difficult to understand this origin in due manner.

“So, we are very thankful for these attempts to mediate but I think that, in real terms, this mediation can be helpful only for the humanitarian part,” he added.

Baklanov said he regretted that Russia had not started to coordinate its policies with Saudi Arabia earlier, especially regarding oil.

“Unfortunately, I must admit, for many years we didn’t give a clear-cut answer for the proposals of Saudi Arabia to make a common deal on this front. It was a grave mistake of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

“But now, fortunately enough, we have this formal OPEC+, and I will say again that the initiative was from Saudi Arabia, and we backed that, and it was, for a long period of time, a really good gesture from the Russian Federation. Also, we value very much the initiative of Saudi Arabia to sacrifice their own interests,” he added.

He pointed out that from his experience there was “a big difference” between Soviet-era and Russian Federation policies.

Belarusian soldiers of the Special Operations Forces and mercenary fighters from Wagner private military company attend the weeklong maneuvers conducted at a firing range near the city of Brest, Belarus. (File/AFP)

Baklanov said: “When I was for five years the ambassador in Saudi Arabia, I never asked the authorities of Saudi Arabia to make any (decisions) as far as their ties with the US were concerned. Never. We were speaking about our own interests. We had our bilateral interesting things to do.

“We do not (propagandize) against third countries. We criticize certain elements of policy when we see it, but we do not push these countries — the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia — for anything against the interests of third countries.”

Praising the current state of relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia, he added: “It’s easier to be in good relations with us, to be on equal footing with us, to be on friendly footing with the Russian Federation. And we do not urge other people to be on awkward (terms) with some other countries.

“That is the difference with the US, which is pressuring countries to participate in its sanctions against us. The approaches from our side and that from the Western countries are absolutely different.

“I think that the people of the Middle East know this difference, and they are more friendly toward us for knowing these facts.”

Given that Russia has welcomed the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran achieved through a Chinese-brokered deal, the question naturally arises why Moscow did not play the role of honest broker itself considering its own close ties with Riyadh and Tehran.

Baklanov claimed that Russia was indeed ready to undertake mediation, admitting that he, as a specialist in Arab and Middle East countries, was “a little bit disillusioned that our Chinese friends turned out to be successful.”

Nevertheless, he said Russia was mainly interested in the result.

“If the good result of this mediation is the start of the returning to normal relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, we are interested in that. If the Chinese attained this political diplomatic victory, we (simply) congratulate them (on this achievement).

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (C), and Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) pose during a meeting in Beijing. (File/AFP)

“But, also, we are ready to go on the same path, so we are both in one boat. We are interested in (stabilization) and normalization of the situation in the whole region. And, recently, we again resumed our proposal for a regional security system arrangement,” he added.

Baklanov brushed aside the suggestion that China’s growing role in the Middle East was a threat to Russia’s influence as an alternative to a non-Western regional diplomatic power.

“We are seeing what is going on in the Middle East region from a different angle. We do not have disputes with China, and we are not striving for a monopolistic role there against the influence of China. No.”

He described Russia’s interest in the Middle East as a very simple one.

“We would like to have near our boundaries a good situation, tranquil (situation). And if we are (serving the cause of peace), it’s okay. If China is (serving the cause of peace), it’s also okay. The main aim for us is not to be the first in these diplomatic activities, but to have positive results,” he said.


France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza
Updated 15 sec ago

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • The French ambassador to the UN urges council members to take more action to address the conflict because it requires more than only humanitarian pauses
  • More than 700 Palestinians have been killed since Israel resumed its military operations in Gaza on Dec. 1 after a week-long temporary truce

NEW YORK CITY: France on Monday urged the UN Security Council to do more to address the conflict in Gaza, stressing that pauses in the fighting are not enough and what is needed is a truce that can pave the way for a ceasefire.

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s permanent representative to the UN, said that in the short term “we need more than a humanitarian pause. We need a truce leading to a ceasefire, full humanitarian access, full respect of international humanitarian law. Of course, we need the release of hostages.”

He also reiterated that his country respects “Israel’s right to defend itself and go after the terrorists who committed crimes on Oct. 7.”

De Riviere was speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York ahead of a closed meeting of the Security Council. It was called by the UAE, which cited the “deeply concerning resumption of hostilities” at the weekend and the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed since Israel resumed its military operations in Gaza on Dec. 1 after a week-long humanitarian pause in the fighting. Another 15,500 were killed before the temporary truce.

Israel this week expanded its operations into southern Gaza, forcing tens of thousands of already displaced Gazans into “increasingly compressed spaces, desperate to find food, water, shelter and safety,” according to Lynn Hastings, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Warning that “an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold,” she added: “Nowhere is safe in Gaza and there is nowhere left to go. The conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza do not exist.”

De Riviere meanwhile, also called for the resumption of a political process to address the wider Palestinian issue, saying: “I don’t think we can continue to refuse to address the aspirations of the Palestinians to statehood. It is a necessity. It should not be under the carpet like has been the case for the past seven years.”

Council members have been discussing a draft resolution, proposed by the UAE, for the scaling up and monitoring of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

However, speaking before the closed-doors meeting on Monday, US Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters there is no need at the moment for additional resolutions or statements from the council.

He said it already adopted an “important” resolution on Nov. 15, which calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and aid corridors to be established throughout the Gaza Strip. Resolution 2712, the first one that council members have agreed on since the beginning of the conflict, also calls for the release of all hostages and for all sides to refrain from depriving Gazan civilians of access to the basic goods and services that are critical to their survival.

Wood said what is needed now is a “focus on how we can actually bring relief to the people on the ground, improve the situation, and try to get the negotiations back on again, with regard to the hostages. We’re seeing more aid getting in, although clearly not enough. So that’s where we need to focus our efforts.”

Asked to comment on the latest death toll, and whether or not Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties, Wood said: “Israel is doing more and we have been saying to Israel for quite some time now, ‘You need to do more to protect civilians.’

“It’s a difficult operation when you’re trying to root out Hamas and protect civilians, because Hamas is hiding among the civilians. But they’re listening to us and I think that’s important, and they’re taking steps and we’ll continue to encourage them. Because, obviously, no one is happy with the situation on the ground and it needs to improve and they need to do it.

“The Israelis want to do a better job protecting civilians and we’re going to continue to work with them on that.”

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea
Updated 04 December 2023

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides will visit Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday as part of an initiative to establish a humanitarian aid corridor to Israeli-besieged Gaza.

Cyprus, the closest European Union member state to the Middle East, has offered to host and operate facilities for sustained aid directly into the Gaza Strip once hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas group cease.

Christodoulides planned to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan. There were “technical discussions” on the matter between Cypriot and Israeli officials on Sunday.

The Cypriot plan is aimed at expanding capacity for humanitarian relief directly to the coastal Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries being made through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave.

Such an aid corridor faces logistical, political and security challenges — Gaza has no port and its waters are shallow.

Britain, which sent 80 tons of Gaza-destined aid in the form of mostly blankets and tents to Cyprus last week, has offered watercraft able to access the coastline without the need for special infrastructure if the corridor ever materializes, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

Separately, human rights groups sought to block the Dutch government from exporting F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, arguing in court on Monday that the exports could make the Netherlands complicit in possible war crimes.

The Netherlands houses one of several regional warehouses of US-owned F-35 parts, which are then distributed to countries that request them, including Israel.

The rights groups, which included Oxfam Novib, the Dutch affiliate of the international charity, argued Israel was using the planes in attacks in Gaza that were killing civilians. 

Preventing that was more important than the Netherlands fulfilling its commercial or political obligations to allied countries, they argued.

“The (Dutch) state must immediately stop its deliveries of F-35 parts to Israel,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said in summary proceeding at the Hague District Court.

“That is its obligation under ... Article 1 of the Geneva conventions, it is its obligation under the Genocide Treaty to prevent genocide, and it is its obligation under export law.”

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
Updated 04 December 2023

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
  • If asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t have been in this position today: Sen. Sanders

WASHINGTON: As a ceasefire ticked down last week and Israel prepared to resume its round-the-clock airstrikes, Sen. Bernie Sanders and a robust group of Democratic senators had a message for their president: They were done “asking nicely” for Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

Lawmakers warned President Joe Biden’s national security team that planned US aid to Israel must be met with assurances of concrete steps from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

“The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today,” Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the US to use its “substantial leverage” with its ally, the Vermont senator said.

“And we all know what that leverage is,” he said, adding, “the blank-check approach must end.”

With Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs hanging in the balance, the senators’ tougher line on Israel has gotten the White House’s attention, and that of Israel.

Lawmakers of both major political parties for decades have embraced the US role as Israel’s top protector, and it’s all but inconceivable that they would vote down the wartime aid. The Democratic lawmakers are adamant that’s not their intent, as strong supporters of Israel’s right of self-defense against Hamas. But just the fact that Democratic lawmakers are making that link signals the fractures in Congress amid the daily scenes of suffering among besieged Palestinian civilians.

Sanders and the Democratic senators involved say they are firm in their stand that Israel’s military must adopt substantive measures to lessen civilian deaths in Gaza as part of receiving the supplemental’s $14.3 billion in US aid for Israel’s war.

The warning from friendly Democrats is a complication for the White House as it faces what had already been a challenging task of getting the supplemental aid bill through Congress. Some Republicans are balking at the part of the bill that provides funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia, and the funding for Israel was supposed to be the easy part.

The demand is a warning of more trouble ahead for an Israeli government that’s often at odds with the US in its treatment of Palestinians.

“There’s a big difference between asking and getting a commitment” from Netanyahu’s government on a plan to reduce civilian casualties and improve living conditions in Gaza, Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. Van Hollen has been one of the key senators huddling with administration officials on the demands.

“So our goal is to achieve results,” Van Hollen said. “And not just set expectations.”

Following the senators’ warning, the Biden administration has upped its own demands to Israel since late last week, insisting publicly for the first time that Israeli leaders not just hear out US demands to ease civilian suffering in Gaza, but agree to them.

Over the weekend, as an end to the ceasefire brought the return of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket strikes, the Israeli military said it had begun using one measure directed by the Biden administration: an online map of Gaza neighborhoods to tell civilians which crowded streets, neighborhoods and communities to evacuate before an Israeli attack.

Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory. Many of its 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war, which was sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
Updated 04 December 2023

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
  • Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district 
  • The development comes seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state that killed 180 people 

GUWAHATI: At least 13 people were killed in a gunfight between two unknown militant groups in India’s restive Manipur state on Monday, a police official said, seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state killed at least 180 people. 

Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district where the official said a “massive” gunfight was reported. 

The state has witnessed sporadic violence since the peak of ethnic clashes that erupted on May 3 between members of the majority Meitei ethnic group and minority Kuki community over sharing government benefits and quotas. 

The clashes have marked a rare security failure for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a state ruled by his Bharatiya Janata Party. 

No weapons were found near the bodies, the senior police official told Reuters by phone from state capital Imphal, requesting anonymity. 

“It could be possible the weapons were looted after they were killed,” the official said, adding that they could not immediately identify the dead or the militant groups. 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
Updated 04 December 2023

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
  • Powerful explosion in Marawi killed at least 4, injured 50 others  
  • Daesh reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday

MANILA: Philippine police are looking into possible suspects behind the bombing at a Catholic mass in the country’s south, a regional police chief said on Monday after the blast that killed four people was claimed by Daesh militants. 

On Sunday, a powerful explosion ripped through a gymnasium at Mindanao State University in Marawi, a southern Philippine city that was besieged by pro-Daesh militants for five months in 2017. The death toll stood at four as of Monday, while around 50 others were injured from the blast. 

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday, saying that its members had detonated an explosive device at the gathering, according to reports.  

“Following the explosion, the PNP (Philippine National Police) created a special investigation task group to focus and expedite the investigation relative to this incident … We (now) have persons of interest,” regional police chief Allan Nobleza told reporters, adding that one of the suspects was linked to a local militant group.  

“The investigation is still ongoing. In order not to preempt the investigation, we will not divulge the names.”  

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Philippines’ Armed Forces, said that Sunday’s attack may have been in response to a series of recent military operations that had targeted local militant groups.  

Philippine forces launched an operation targeting the local Dawlah Islamiyah cell in the southern province of Maguindanao on Friday, killing 11 suspected militants including the group’s alleged leader Abdullah Sapal. The militant group, which has been linked to bombings and other deadly attacks in the southern Philippines, pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2015. 

In another operation in Sulu province on Saturday, government forces killed Mudzrimar Sawadjaan, also known as Mundi, a senior leader of another Daesh affiliate, the Abu Sayyaf Group. Brawner said Mundi was the mastermind of two major attacks in the Sulu capital of Jolo, including the 2019 cathedral bombings that killed at least 20 people. 

Both Dawlah Islamiyah —also known as the Maute group — and the ASG were behind the 2017 Marawi siege, a five-month battle that killed more than 1,100 people and forced more than 300,000 others from their homes. 

“Because of the accomplishments … we believe that that could be one of the strong possibilities why this (attack) occurred,” Brawner told reporters in Marawi on Monday.  

“We will go after the perpetrators as soon as possible and use all resources at our disposal in order to make this happen.”