Vladimir Chizhov’s private comments at embassy lunch left Western diplomats stunned

By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 9 April 2014

“We all laughed a lot, and even the ambassador laughed” – Source at the embassy lunch

BRUSSELS: Russia’s ambassador to the European Union issued a startling warning to other diplomats at a private lunch, Exaro can reveal.

Vladimir Chizhov, permanent representative of Russia to the EU, warned that Russia could intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians beyond Crimea – in particular in Estonia and Latvia.

Western diplomats and businessmen were taken aback by Chizhov’s private comments, which were made at a lunch club held at the Russian embassy in the Belgian capital a fortnight ago.

Chizhov described Russia as “the most dispersed nation on earth,” and said that its president, Vladimir Putin, was very conscious of this. “President Putin wants to protect them,” he said.

The ambassador referred to a report that he said was produced by Javier Solana during his term as the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy. This, Chizhov claimed, said that if the minority population from one nation made up at least 20 per cent of a country’s people, then it should have equal rights with everybody else.

One source who attended the lunch told Exaro that the Russians were preparing an excuse for intervention further afield than Crimea, saying: “It sounded as if the foreign office in Moscow had been researching busily through obscure documents.”

Russia justified its annexation last month of Crimea, which was a peninsula of Ukraine, on the grounds that it was protecting ethnic Russians in the region – a majority of the population. The region was previously part of Russia.

Chizhov told the lunch club in Brussels that Russians made up 38 per cent of the population in Estonia, and 28 per cent in Latvia, but had been declared “non-citizens” by the two governments.

Russia was concerned about the actions of the governments of Estonia and Latvia towards ethnic Russians in the two countries, he said. His comments come amid growing tension in eastern Ukraine.

During a question-and-answer session, one guest asked the ambassador who were the mysterious masked figures who had appeared in Crimea. The armed men have no identifying markings on their uniforms.

“They were not Russians,” replied Chizhov. “They were the Crimea self-defence organisation that spontaneously sprang into action.”

Nobody questioned the reply. The source said: “It would have been rude, but people agreed afterwards that it was not a very good lie.”

A guest from Greece light-heartedly pointed out that Crimea used to be part of Alexander the Great’s empire. Perhaps, Crimea should be handed back to Greece, he suggested.

The source said: “We all laughed a lot, and even the ambassador laughed. But I do not think that is going to happen.”

The informal group, mainly Brussels-based diplomats and Belgian businessmen, meets once or twice a month at different locations in Brussels. It hears talks from special guests under ‘Chatham House’ rules, meaning that attendees are asked not to attribute comments to the speaker.

Chizhov was scheduled as a speaker several months ago, before tension between Russia and Ukraine reached crisis point over Crimea. A former deputy foreign minister, Chizhov was Russia’s special representative for the Balkans between 2000 and 2002. He speaks English, Greek and French.

The source said: “Having attended many previous lunches, he offered many weeks previously to host a lunch himself, and to give a talk. His subject was not specified at the time. Events happened, and the occasion turned out to be perfect for discussing the hot subject of the day – Crimea.”

Kirill Ivanov, Press attache at Russia’s permanent mission to the EU, declined to comment on Chizhov’s comments. Ivanov said that the meeting was “closed”, under ‘Chatham House’ rules, “and this is why any comments on that are impossible.”

Chizhov’s comments came as Nato’s supreme allied commander for Europe, General Philip Breedlove said that Russia may have another region in its sights after Crimea, mentioning in particular Transdniestria, which declared independence from the former Soviet republic of Moldova in 1990.

Russia says that it is complying with international agreements, and had no plans to invade anywhere.

Chizhov has told the BBC that Russia did not have “expansionist views”.

Last month, Exaro revealed that Valentina Matviyenko, Russia’s highest-ranking woman politician, faces accusations in the High Court in London of helping to “raid” assets worth more than £300 million.

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