Since the arrival of the new Ukrainian ambassador in Iran, we have been witnessing a dynamic trend in the ties between Tehran and Kiev. Sergei Burdyliak, the newly appointed envoy, is interested in catapulting the joint projects of manufacturing airplanes and ships between the two countries into practice and that is why for the purpose of improving political ties between Iran and Ukraine, preparations are underway for the country’s President, which is the first in the past 20 years and much owed to the ambassador’s efforts. Most certainly, such visit can hugely contribute to extension of bilateral political and economic relations.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Sergei Burdyliak,
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Iran
For years, you served as a Ukrainian diplomat in China. Considering the importance China possesses in the international economy, where does it stand strategically for Ukraine?
China is a strategic partner for Ukraine and that has been incorporated into the text of the Kiev-Beijing statement. It is Ukraine’s most significant trade partner in the Pacific region and Southeastern Asia and we have rather long-standing, diversified ties with it. I must say that we proposed the same formula for the bilateral relations between Iran and Ukraine, in which Iran guarantees Ukraine’s supply of energy and Ukraine may guarantee food security of Iran. This is what we concerning the relations between China and Ukraine. This year China enlisted us as a major food supplier and that is why we decided to embody this procedure with Iran, too.
Such conditions can only be actualized once the economic gives and takes between the two countries follow up on a certain protocol, which is initially drafted in joint economic commissions. When was the last joint economic commission held between the two countries? What did it achieve?
The last joint economic commission was held on March 7, 2016 in Tehran. But I have to mention that it had been inactive for the past 12 years, and so, when it was held, a great spectrum of topics were there to discuss.
At the recent session, the Ukrainian delegation was headed by the deputy PM and the Iranian side had the Minister of Agriculture in the driving seat. What it achieved was the signing of an important MOU. But what we actually got is a document which is much more than a simple agreement, because it intends to serve as a “road map” for our cooperation in the closest future.
The agreement addresses various sections such as economic, industrial and cultural ties. They are also important for paving the way for more essential documents once the President of Ukraine visits Iran.
Do you have a certain time frame for the President’s visit to Iran?
The invitation was set forth by Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, who met earlier with Ukraine’s FM. We are currently working on planning and mapping out the details of his visit, especially its date. Preparations for this visit should be made carefully, because the last time a Ukrainian President visited Iran goes back to 20 years ago and that means important documents should be prepared and signed. This has resulted in very serious political talks. It explains why the Iranian and Ukrainian officials visit each other’s countries.
Therefore the visit of the President of Ukraine to Iran shall positively bring the previous visits to fruition. It also creates a pathway and a general perspective for the years to come. All these, of course, are on the task list for the President’s first trip, but I hope the heads of the two countries can pay bilateral visits more often.
It is quite admirable that you have drafted a scheduled, disciplined plan of action to extend the bilateral ties and know what direction they are headed to.
Ukraine is serious about developing ties with Iran and I, as an ambassador, intend to devise a formula for the bilateral ties to put the economic relations into effect as quickly as possible.
Iran is genetically close to the people of Ukraine. It is also a regional leader and Ukraine, too, is becoming a pioneering power in the region, as the conflicts with Russia have inspired national solidarity in the country. In fact, Putin spawned on unity among the people of Ukraine and we have become a patriotic country, for which we are thankful to him.
Apart from all I pointed out, the political interests of the two countries are always pursued in a friendly manner and we help one another; an approach that treads beyond economic, trade and short-term objectives.
In your words, you mentioned that the two countries are ethnically and genetically close. Would you please further explain it?
Ukrainians and Iranians are the two great Aryan nationals that share lots of psychological, historical and cultural common grounds; even in their worldviews.
Today, many Iranians live in Ukraine and most of them married Ukrainian women. In spite of vast cultural and traditional gaps, these marriages are strong at the core, which is indicative of their cultural, historic similarities.
How large is the Iranian population in Ukraine?
I don’t have an exact number now, but they are at least several thousands, which is now growing.
To extend economic ties, the two banking systems should be connected to each other. How are the banking ties between the two countries now? Are there any plans for making credit lines between the two countries’ banks?
We are faced with two very serious problems that should soon be taken care of. First is the banking relations and the other is the visas. The baking problems have substantially curbed the economic ties between Iran and Ukraine.
During the last joint economic commission where the Ukrainian vice president of the central bank was present, he said Ukraine is ready to open the ESCAP line for Iran to trade and that it is prepared to hotwire NOSTRO ACCOUNT trades. From Ukraine, Exim Bank and from Iran, the bank of the Middle East (Khavar-e-Mianeh) are operative in this plan.
As you know, money tends to be safe and in peace with no one to disturb it! It is the trend that will happen between the banking systems of the two countries, anyway, and I’m quite optimistic about it.
On to the second point, which is the case of visas. In my opinion, the present system of visa issuance is not only old, but also prohibits the development of ties between the two countries. I hope at the joint consular session due on August 6, we can have a free visa issuance discipline.
Is it possible to get rid of visas between the two countries?
The agreement planned for the first step does not mean we can get rid of visas, but it signifies the mechanisms of issuance will be eased. For example, if someone comes to the embassy with their passport and invitation in their hands, their visas will be issued in no time. Furthermore, those travel agencies that visit us at the embassy will simply get their visas, too.
Why should someone have an invitation if they want to travel to Ukraine as tourists?
Tourists do not need invitations and can get their visas using their residence voucher. I’m quite confident we can obtain success in this area, because I was in charge of consular affairs for 5 years in Beijing and another 5 years in Shanghai, which brought me rich experiences.
In fact, in all those years, I was taking care of the visa issuance procedures for the Chinese. For instance, an agreement was placed into effect this year which helped the Chinese get a visa to visit Ukraine during summer merely in 15 days.
That is how we intend to first talk about easing the process in Iran and after that, I promise as the ambassador that we embark on a journey to lift the visa issuance. But we should not forget that diplomacy is the art of moves and tools. This is my point of view as the Ukrainian ambassador to Iran.
I really appreciate your approach here. I find it imperative for our readers to know that the facilities and staff of the Ukrainian embassy have grown less in the past 3 years, but the employees never stop maximizing the services they offer to them.
That is about right. I can now simply walk downstairs in the embassy and talk to people, and if it is too hot for them, I can bring them inside.
When I was the consul, every morning I went directly to people and wondered if anyone had an urgent task to get to or handed out the visa forms to fill out in order to minimize the waste of time. The truth is that some things can be done in one hour. So they do not have to wait 2 hours for them!
At the moment, we should wait for the joint consular meetings between the two countries. If you speak to the applicants who visited the embassy for visas, they will tell you we have granted them sizable support and service. The issuance of visa, of course, is not in its best condition, because the number of applicants is large and they have to wait outside in the street. That is why I decided to stop their street waiting and allowed them to come inside the embassy. That was not an easy decision, though. Our security were not in favor of it, but I made a personal call, because it is too hot out there and children and the elderly are likely to hurt. If you happen to visit our yard, you will see that we have moved all cars outside so we could put seats for Iranian citizens here.
Ukrainian airlines are among the most economical in the world, and after the visas are off, the flights between the two countries can increase.
We have currently boosted the number of our flights, which is 5 flights a week; three of them are carried out by the Ukraine International Airlines and the other two by Mahan Air and Iran Air.
The director general of the UIA has announced that the flights will increase between 6 and 10 a week, and as far as I know, Mahan Air also intends to maximize its flights to Ukraine.
If the same strong will goes for economic ties between the two countries, soon we will see the coming and going of businessmen and development of economic relations between Iran and Ukraine.
We have lost part of our economic potentials because of the tough financial circumstances in Ukraine and the post-war conditions that appeared after Russia occupied part of the Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine is one of the five countries that possesses a complete cycle of manufacturing spaceships and missiles, and the others are France, the US, China and Russia. When I put forward my credentials to Mr. Rouhani, I told him Ukraine wants for Iran to have planes and aerial productions of its own. Ukraine is the only country that helped Iran in the aviation industries.
We have a cargo plane, Mriya, which is the biggest in the world, and two months ago, when it landed in Australia, almost half of the population had gathered to see it at the airport.
There are also 20 countries in the world who can manufacture ships, and Ukraine is one of them.
So why hasn’t there been any collaboration in the ship manufacturing section between Iran and Ukraine?
Yes, you are right. But we have a fine perspective for that.
Given the close relations between Ukraine and the west, esp. the US, it seems a bit impossible that the US allows the transfer of knowledge from Ukraine to Iran in manufacturing planes or ships. What do you think about this?
Our expectations are great in implementing the joint initiative with Iran. We saw that Iran proceeded with its plans regarding the nuclear deal finely and it did it within the frameworks of the JCPOA. Never forget that the JCPOA comes in a 10-year scope, which means that the joint plans between the two countries should not only be viewed from today’s angle of interest. On the contrary, we should support long-term interests, too, which are somehow too little for a 10-year period.
The exchange of scholars and students should be taken much more seriously. Iranian students should come to Ukraine to study important majors such as engineering as well as learning the culture and history of the country. In my opinion, the best technology is the transfer of a thinking style within the means of a school, and as far as I know, there is no limitation, whatsoever, in it. I’m waiting for the number of the post-doctorate Iranian students to increase, as the human brain is the best generator of activities and professions.
In his meeting with the FM of Ukraine, Mr. Rouhani clarified that no country should interfere with the bilateral relations of another two, which was, of course, affirmed by the Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I agree with the President’s statement, too.
How are the oil and gas collaborations between the two countries?
Ukraine owns a record of success in making gas turbines, and a while ago, a Ukrainian oil and gas committee had come to Iran. Iran is quite well facilitated for collaborations to develop.
I want to mention something, however. We, the Ukrainians, do not view Iran only as a market, but we are also interested in joint productions. The world is on the verge of marking the 6th chapter of technological developments. Thus we should not only make trades and we had better make use of the 6th-gen technology and thoughts.
New challenges require new ways of cooperation. In the case of transferring gas, for instance, Ukraine is well experienced and we have large underground storages in the country. We use them not only for preservation but for arranging and setting the entire gas transfer and pressure systems. As much as I know, a Ukrainian company active in the oil and gas section has reached initial agreements with its Iranian counterparts.
Russia transfers gas through Ukraine. Taking into account the challenges between the two countries, how much has the Russian gas export to Europe been affected? Russia had at times accused the Ukrainian officials of stealing gas!
We always wanted us to be registering the deliveries of gas in the Ukraine-Russia borders. But it was them who did it and that caused corruption partly in the transfer cycle and stealth of gas. In this case, both Ukrainian and Russian individuals were at fault. The corruption existed before, but now we are prosecuting the case.
The thing is wherever there is too much money, corruption grows on the side, too. But Ukraine is always trying to recognize and neatly do its responsibilities as the transfer route of gas from Russia.
I would like to make two points in this case; we, as a country, are doing our job in the transfer of gas, in which there is no corruption at all. The second is the selling of gas and some officials from both countries had engaged in the corruption. As I’ve been told, the Ukrainian Department of Justice is pursuing the corruptions and has even issued the arrest warrants of an MP. Yet Ukraine has always done what it was responsible for and Europe can confirm this.
After the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, we saw that Ukraine further geared toward the west, esp. the US. Although Ukraine signed agreements with NATO, there is no speculation on its NATO membership. There was not talk of Ukraine’s membership in the recent session, either. Is it possible that NATO makes a deal with Russia over Ukraine’s membership?
One of the major parameters in gaining a NATO membership is “not having border disputes with other countries”, and because part of Ukraine is now occupied by Russia, it bars Ukraine from joining the NATO forces. That is why, in his speech at the Warsaw Conference, the FM of Poland said Ukraine can be a nominee for NATO membership once these problems are resolved.
In addition, in the joint statement of NATO and Ukraine, it was said that NATO does not recognize the occupation of Crimea and Donetsk, and that is how at the final Warsaw meeting, two threats were referred to; the IS in the south and the one in the east, which is Russia that has violated its international commitments. The NATO members and Ukraine announced they will deepen their bilateral relations. In fact, today, NATO sees Ukraine as a stronghold against the invasive policies of Russia.
While Ukraine now has rich experience in fighting a country that is much bigger than itself, it also acquired skills and experience in mixed wars on the side.
I believe the notion of the west making a deal with Russia over Ukraine is an unyielding equation. That is why what Russia, Ukraine or other countries decide doesn’t matter. As a point of fact, I must say we are only after preserving our independence and integrity and we are committed to the 1994 Budapest Treaty in which Ukraine accepted to hand over the third largest reserves of nuclear weapons it owned back at the time, and in return, the five world nuclear powers such as Russia, France, China, the UK and the US guarantee its security and integrity. Of those five, Russia has completely violated its military commitments, but the rest have been on their words and kept their promises.
In the feud between Ukraine and Russia, how did the world powers you referred to support Ukraine? Perhaps Ukraine would have never lost part of its territory if it had nuclear weapon in the first place.
Unfortunately, history cannot be altered. Regarding what relates to the western help about Russia’s invasion, I should say that because of the interior developments, after the Revolution of Dignity we found our military system to be broken. The strategic management performed rather weakly in the country. Many individuals in the Army’s Central Staff were agents for Russia. In fact, Ukraine started mobilizing the voluntary squads as the power was not that strong at the very top. Therefore it was voluntary squads who formed forces and fought. Two thirds of their soldiers were people from the east of Ukraine and Russians were trying to delude them about their Russian origins by calling them “Novorossiya”. In fact, Russians expected them to fight on Russia’s side, but well, that did not happen.
Are so called “Novorossiya people” really Russian?
No, their language is Russian, not their ethnicity. Our Russian population is only 17%. The Moscow leader thought they will support the idea of reviving the Russian empire, but they declined and said Europe is where they belonged; that they are Europeans and will fight for their homeland. That was Mr. Putin’s miscalculation who did not correctly comprehend the matter.
Europe, the US and the whole world, of course, backed up Ukraine. In 2014, the voting at the UN Assembly was held and of all the UN members, only 11 countries who were pro-Russia recognized the independence of a part of the Ukrainian territory and the rest did not advocate it.
Why has Ukraine asked Germany and some other European countries to deploy Europolice forces for securing the country?
That is not a police mission. It is the international mission of the OSCE. Currently, the Donetsk border region to Russia is open and it can have its army enter the area without having to lift a finger. At the moment, there are two Russian military corps deployed in the temporally occupied regions. Thus, the international mission of OSCE is essential, in particular, to regain the Ukrainian control of the border.
Is Ukraine asking for help from the European police because of the deployment of Russian brigades in the borders?
No, the reason is that our borders to Russia are open and the forces at the ready in these MC are one 20 thousand and another 14,5 thousand. All the officers and the top brass of these MC’s, even the privates, are Russian.
What we ask for is that the Russian armed forces leave the area. According to the Minsk Agreement, we have to hold elections in these regions. But when we have no access to them, we cannot have it and things would get out of control.
Coupled with the latter, they constantly violate the armistice. Russians tell us, “First you should hold the elections and we have to control the border and interior security of the area”. This is what we intend to do by asking the OSCE. A major proportion of the forces at this organization are Russian, though.
These forces are now deployed in the region, but are not allowed to open fire and can simply go on vigils unless fired at. Our request, of course, is for them to be granted more weaponry and freedom of action.