The Truth about 'Russian Influence'
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published June 12, 2017
The Russian Ambassador in Albania, Alexander KarpushinAmbassador Alexander Karpushin has spoken of the significance of Russia Day considering it as the birth of Russian Federation and proclamation of the sovereignty of new Russia in an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News. "At that time, we gave up the communist ideology starting to build the market economy, and I believe that crucial step was necessary and indispensable at that stage," said the Ambassador.
Russian people celebrate June 12 as the birthday of the Russian Federation which has been formed after the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Karpushin mentioned 'the good example' of China where the Communist Party continues to function because the leadership has been smart enough to carry out some important economic reforms. In the meantime, the Ambassador criticized the Western sanctions against Russia, but, however, he saw the positive side in them as the country has gathered forces and has already entered the stage of economic growth.
With regards to the relations with Albania, Moscow's top envoy to Tirana expressed the wish to expand the bilateral cooperation in economic, tourism, and cultural fields. "As far as the cooperation in the tourism field is concerned on behalf of all Russian tourists I want to thank the Albanian leadership for lifting visas for the tourist session," said the Ambassador, who, on other hand, considered as ungrounded the allegations of Russia's drive to expand its influence in the Western Balkans in the following interview:
- Mr. Ambassador on June 12, Russia celebrates one of its youngest national holidays, Russia Day. Which is its significance, and the message conveyed by it internally and to the outside world?
- Yes, it is true that this is now one of the most important holidays in Russia. I can say Russia Day is in its core the birthday of the new Russia, which has been formed after the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the decision of the Russian Parliament to proclaim the sovereignty of this new Russia. Though I believe that crucial step was necessary at that stage, I agree with the words of our President Vladimir Putin that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest tragedies of our nation. A series of mistakes, which have been made by the leadership of the country, led to this tragedy. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a very deep economic and social crisis, liberal economic reforms hastily adopted in Russia had a shocking impact on the national economy.
There is an opinion that the disintegration of the Soviet Union took place due to mistakes made exactly by the Communist Party. But we have a good example of China where the Communist Party continues to function and has carried out some economic reforms in the country. The system of private property, competition with all the attributes of the market economy have been established, and all these reforms have given a boost to the development of economy of that country.
So when we speak about the holiday itself - the June 12 - I can tell that Russian citizens had mixed feelings towards that holiday in the first years.
Now it is a meaningful popular holiday and people like it not only for the reason that it is a day off but as a possibility to reflect on the history of our country on this day. So, it has turned into a national holiday and our Embassy organizes official receptions on the occasion of this holiday each year.
- It's normal to ask on such occasions: How do the Russian people expect this remarkable Day in the sense of the economic, social and security aspects? Which is the general feeling of the people, given also the impact of the sanctions by EU and US?
- In the first place, I would like to say that these sanctions are illegal because they should have been adopted by the UN Security Council and, on the other hand, I should say that we have no reason to say that they have hit the living standards of people in Russia. The blows were more painful on the financial and banking sphere because these sanctions have restrained development of this sector affecting the implementation of some social programs of the society.
I am frequently asked on the Russian sanctions, but I should underline once more that these are not sanctions. Rather they are counter-measures undertaken by the Russian Federation on the basis of reciprocity against those European countries that have backed the EU sanctions. These Russian counter-measures, which have blocked the import of different products, including agricultural ones, were enforced measures because, as I said, the mostly hit by the sanctions have been the banking system in Russia especially affecting the Agricultural Bank. As a result Russian farmers did not have possibilities to get credits and financial resources from abroad. Consequently, the competitiveness of the Russian agriculture was reduced due to such a situation. The counter-measures helped to support Russian farmers. So, the agricultural sector has started working more efficiently and has provided positive results. For example, every year the agricultural sector has marked a growth of 3 to 5 percent over the last three-year period.
I would say the Western sanctions have had both negative and positive impact. I will give an example. At the time of the Soviet Union our county imported great quantity of wheat from other countries and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia bought chicken meat from the US in great quantity. But since last year, Russia has started exporting wheat and chicken meat. The wheat production has grown to 115 million tons. So I am sure that within a few years there will be developments in other sectors of agriculture and Russia will turn into an important exporter. I should say that these sanctions have harmed our business partners. Agriculture export from Albania reduced to 0%.
There is an opinion that these sanctions have been imposed due to the Russian policy towards Ukraine. But in my view this is a wrong stance; these sanctions are part and parcel of aims to deter Russia and their goal is to restrain development of our country.
With regards to Ukraine, I have to say that we did not violate any international laws; including Crimea. On the contrary, we cooperate with this country in the humanitarian aspect and so far we have sent loads of aid to that country like food, medicaments, generators etc. Though there is no reason to keep in force these sanctions, the EU continues to prolong them. I do not want to elaborate on the question of the resolution to the Ukraine crisis, but I want to underline the importance of the agreements of Minsk, or the so called Minsk 2, signed in February 2015. It is clear to everybody that it is official Kiev that does not implement this document. But in the meantime the EU continues say they will lift the sanctions at that moment when Russia implements the Minsk agreements. In connection with this I want to underline that Russia is not part of this agreement, it is only as a guarantor like France and Germany. So we jump to the conclusion that Ukraine is a pretext to keep in force the anti-Russian sanctions with the aim of isolation and restraining the further development of our country.
- The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held on June 2 this year has been one of the highlights of the economic and political circles worldwide. Would you unveil any post-event details on what has been special in this Forum both for Russia and countries and companies which were represented in its deliberations?
- This was the 21st edition of that annual great forum and this year it achieved extraordinary dimensions. Some 14, 000 people from 143 countries of the world, about 700 Russian companies and 400 foreign companies from the US, France, Germany, Italy, China and many other countries took part in the Forum. Some 475 agreements and memorandums have been signed between different companies totaling a value of 32bn dollars, which means that it is twice higher if compared with a year ago. There have been many events - about 127, and for the first time in three years it was held the Russian- US economic panel and the US was represented by 560 people from 140 companies. They are continuing the cooperation with the Russian business irrespective of the sanctions imposed on our country. And this panel was visited by President Putin. In the meantime I have unfortunately to say that besides your respected media - Albanian Daily News, no other Albanian media have reported on this activity.
- Sources of the Economy Ministry have told Albanian Daily News that Ms. Mirela Muca, Director General for Economic Development and Integration at the Ministry of Economy of Albania, and the Albanian Ambassador to Russia, Arben Gazioni, attended the two- day Forum in St. Petersburg. How do you consider their participation in the Forum?
- With regards to the participation of Albania in this Forum, its representation was lower as compared to the last year when the Albanian delegation was headed by the Minister of Energy and Industry, Mr. Damian Gjiknuri. This time the Albanian side was represented by two authorities. I understand very well that now the Albanian officials are engaged in the electoral campaign and this is meaningful. I think that the failure of senior Albanian officials to participate was a loss of opportunity to establish links with Russian, as well as foreign businessmen and investors, who are interested to cooperate with Albania. The forum included various items of discussion, and a broad cultural program. We hope that the Albanian colleagues with take this into consideration for the next year.
- As a follow up, the co - chairmen of Joint Intergovernmental Economic and Trade Commission, Adela Karapici, Deputy Economy Minister of Albania, and Sergey Gerasimov, First Deputy Justice Minister of Russia, held a meeting in Tirana on April 4 this year. In the meantime, Albania has recently lifted visas for Russian citizens for the tourist season. Which is the significance of these developments and other ones in the growth of economic cooperation between the two countries in different fields?
- With regards to the meeting we consider it as an important event for our bilateral agenda concerning the economic and trade aspects. Such a meeting was held for the first time in the last four years. It is very important that the Albanian side was represented by officials of different ministries of the economic field as well as of the Chambers of Commerce and Trade of Albania. Another very important result was that we have agreed to hold the consecutive session of the Joint Intergovernmental Economic and Trade Commission within this year. A clear evidence of how important this meeting was for the Russian side is the fact that Mr. Gerasimov after returning to Moscow from Tirana prepared a list of activities and concrete measures that should be taken and this list was presented to the Russian government. So it is a very serious approach of the Russian side to the following meeting.
As far as for the cooperation in the tourism field I want to thank the Albanian leadership for lifting visas for the tourist session. This year we have already agreed to establish a charter air line from Moscow to Tirana. I hope that such a step would be a strong push for the increase of the tourists' flux from Russia. I’d like to thank to the personal engagement of Mr. Ardit Collaku, General Director of the Albanian Tourism Agency for his personal engagement in preparing and publishing brochures, tourist guides, and maps in Russian language, which help the spread of positive information on Albania in the tourist market of Russia.
The economic and tourist issues are closely interlinked. The higher tourist exchanges the more possibilities are created to set links in the field of business. We have a very good example which is close to you - Montenegro, where 270, 000 Russian tourists spent their holidays last year, while Albania was visited by 15, 000 Russian tourists. A greater economic cooperation is the best information on Albania which can bring about a growth of the flux of tourists from Russia to Albania.
- The last question, Mr. Ambassador, addresses an alleged worry according to which Russia's drive to expand its influence in the Western Balkans is growing, and Albania has often been mentioned as one of the targets. In your view, how much truth is in such claims and do they affect the normal proceedings of the Albanian- Russian relations?
- It is true that not only Albanian media outlets, but others too, have lately published many articles on the alleged growth of the Russian influence in the Balkans and the alleged interference of Russia in the electoral processes, like for example in the US. It is also spoken that Russia is allegedly against the EU integration of Albania, Macedonia and other countries of the region. All of these are ungrounded accusations and claims, which are not based in any proofs or evidence. As the Foreign Minister, Lavrov said Russia has never been against the enlargement of the EU. We are only against the enlargement of NATO which was established at the beginning as a counter-balance towards the Warsaw Treaty. After the dissolution of the latter we have heard many promises from the Western partners that NATO will not enlarge and will not carry out military activities near Russia. But now the Alliance has got closer to the Russian borders and the troops of NATO are stationed at the border of the Russian Federation.
I want to repeat once more that the EU integration and membership in it are the sovereign right of any concrete state and this process is a possibility for Russia to develop better the economic cooperation with the European countries. With regards to the alleged Russian influence I think that there is no country in the world which does not want to increase its influence. The core of our wish is to broaden the economic cooperation with the Albanian side on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and confidence.
We want to fulfill the demand of Albanians to learn more on Russian culture and language. We have opened Russian language courses, which are free of charge, and currently 300 students take part in them. In the next academic year we hope the number will increase. Do you see anything bad in this initiative? I believe that 'No'. We do not intend to build any military basis in Albania differently from certain other Western countries which have done this in the region. In addition, we do not want to increase our influence by harming the interests of Albania or of any other countries of the region. All the claims you mentioned are just absurd!