In response to the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC-Quds Force Commander by the Americans in Baghdad, the IRGC rained missiles on Al Asad Airbase, which belonged to the US, at 1:20 A.M., January 8, 2020. In a tension-hit atmosphere that came afterwards and just when most airlines stopped their flights over the skies of Iran and Iraq due to the rising military tensions, Flight 752 of Ukraine International Airline left Imam Khomeini Airport at 6:12 (local time) heading off to Kiev. A few minutes later, the plane, along with 176 passengers and crew members, was shot by the air defense system of Iran which marked the death of everyone on it. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran pointed out “human reliability” within 72 hours of the accident, calling it unintentional. Since the day the plane was shot, there have been continuous negotiations between Tehran and Kiev, and after the second round was over between Iran and Ukraine, we found the opportunity to learn more about both clear and unclear aspects of the case in an interview with Mr. Yevhen Yenin, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with
the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, H.E. Mr. Yevhen Yenin
Your Honor has recently been appointed as the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and before that, you served as Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine. What are your expectations about the negotiation process and is the legal aspect of this disaster the reason for your appointment as the Deputy FM and Chief Negotiator in this case?
I appreciate your questions. I must say that the agenda and negotiations with our Iranian counterparts were tight and tough, but at the same time, very constructive. The downing of Flight 752 in Tehran is a very serious and sensitive matter for the people and government of Ukraine as well as the people and governments of the countries that lost their citizens in it. Brining this matter to justice is very important to us and I am glad to receive assurance from my counterpart, Mr. Baharvand, that in a matter of time, this case would be solved in a trust-building spirit and through adopting constructive approaches. I should also tell you that we have a rather proper atmosphere to investigate and bring to light every detail of this incident and we will cooperate with one another to work things out in this area.
We are happy to get answers to our questions and that is a big step in the right way. In this round of talks, Ukraine represents all countries whose citizens died in that incident, and so, it is trusted with an important, difficult responsibility. In fact, we are negotiating two contexts; first we need to be coordinated in terms of our standpoint with other countries and then, we should take into account the points they bring up and conduct our talks with the Iranian party accordingly. We assess the trust and certainty that other countries have toward us and are delighted seeing the trust-building atmosphere that is shaping up between us and the Iranian side. It is not only a responsibility but also a commitment of ours to take this case to justice for the lives that were lost in this incident. It is good to see that my Iranian counterpart, Mr. Baharvand, also supports this notion, and the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif has expressed his support, too.
My appointment as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is related to what the Government of Ukraine needs when it comes to international cases and courts. As you know, Ukraine is faced with the invasive policies of Russia and the invasion of the Island of Crimea and part of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine is the first country in the world to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice against the policies of Russia for financing terrorism. One of the aspects of this lawsuit concerns the downing of the Malaysian plane, MH17 in the Ukrainian airspace by the Russian aerial defense system. We actually have experience in aerial incidents and plane crashes. Unlike Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran assumed responsibility for the incident immediately. This shows the dignity of the nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and will lead to fine, constructive negotiations between us in the future.
Thank you for bringing that up. In the team that accompanies you, Ms. Oksana Zolotaryova, the Head of International Law Department at the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is present who works on the case of MH17 crash as well as Mr. Gyunduz Mamedov, the Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine who was an ex-coworker, too. These individuals can certainly have an impact on the procedures of this case.
I am honored to have such professional, expert team with me. I am of the main actors in the case we raised against the Russian Federation at the International Court of Justice. Also in the cases such as MH17 and where the Russian Federation has violated the maritime laws in the Ukrainian waters, I play a pivotal role. The true, solid stance of Ukraine empowers us in this case and helps us better understand the truth and reality behind it.
The downing of MH17 is not only discussed on the level of international courts and not limited to it, either. By using the experience and professionalism of the Ukrainian experts and citizens, we have managed to find facts to prove that MH17 was shut down by Russia and the Russian-backed groups and that could be considered to be an act of terror. In cooperation with the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia, we have gathered burgeoning evidence toward the MH17 incident and filed a lawsuit at the ICC. The Netherlands has also opened an independent case on the downing of MH17 against Russia. Ukraine will soon be linked to this case in partnership with the Netherlands.
The main purpose of the Netherlands’ filing the petition against the Russian Federation is not just to take the minor culprits in the Russian Federation to court, but also to try the President and high-ranking military and political figures of it.
You described the plane crash in which Russia played a role. With your permission, I would like to go back to the incident for which you have come to Tehran. You have said in your interviews at times “compensation after truth.” Did you find the truth on your visit to Tehran?
First and foremost, I would like to thank the I.R.Iran delegation headed by the Deputy FM, Mr. Baharvand for their approach and desire toward working out the crash case. The Ukrainian and Iranian sides have reached an agreement on the provision of supplementary information that sheds light on every aspect of the plane crash in Tehran. We are glad to find that the stance of the Iranian party is in line with us and they will help us get the information and transparency the situation needs.
What information and data did you request from the Iranian party?
The Iranian party has assured us of the formation of an investigative-judicial working group and by doing so; the two sides can exchange information online and have joint investigations.
By online, do you mean that the two sides will not be working face-to-face and will use cyberspace?
By online, I meant in case each side finds any data and evidence, it can deliver it immediately to the other. It is decided within this investigative-judicial working group to jointly prosecute the accused. The formation of such working group will not only expedite the solution to this case, but will also strengthen the trust between the two countries. By creating a proper, trusting atmosphere between our countries on various levels, we can lay suitable foundation to discuss the compensations to the families of the victims. The Iranian side expressed its desire and inclination to finalize the technical investigations and once this is over, we will work on compensations.
Have the Iranian officials agreed with the meeting of the Ukrainian investigation and prosecution team with the Iranians arrested and prosecuted in this case?
The Ukrainian criminal experts and prosecutors have held a few meetings with their Iranian counterparts and are in negotiation with them. These talks get tough sometimes, but the overall perspective is fruitful and constructive. We not only discuss the ordinary soldiers, but also those high-ranking commanders who should have maintained security. The Iranian side has been emphasizing the commitment of the I.R.Iran to the implementation of the Montreal Convention regarding the assumption of responsibility by culprits in court. The painful downing of the Ukrainian airplane can be a valuable lesson in ICAO’s current regulations which can contribute to prepare and regulate proper instructions. Ukraine has used its experience to draft and prepare aviation security instructions for ICAO in the past, and this case has become a reason to increase aviation security in the world.
We acknowledge the inclination from the Iranian party to play an important role on a global level to enhance security on international flights. I must underline notable progress in the investigations over the downing of the Ukrainian plane can normalize and develop bilateral cooperation in different fields between Iran and Ukraine and we are interested in that in Ukraine. Ukraine can play an effective, efficient role in preserving food security of Iran, and the I.R.Iran, for its part, can have a fine share in supplying energy to Ukraine. Given the trend of negotiations over the case of Flight 752, these are the perspectives the two sides are interested in.
So you have requested to meet with the arrested and are interested in discussing the matter with high-ranking military commanders outside the framework of the foresaid working group.
There are international and legal channels of cooperation between our countries which we are using now, and within the framework of these channels, the Ukrainian delegation has handed in a request to prosecute a number of the individuals who were involved in the incident.
Have you conducted research on radar settings and where the missile defense system was stationed?
Considering the confidentiality of this matter, there are certain institutions in both countries that are working on it. I am quite certain that in the future, the two countries will be satisfied by the level of this bilateral cooperation and there will be justice.
Some media announce that the experts in the Ukrainian team believe the place was shot by Iran on purpose. Do you deny this standpoint?
There are comprehensive negotiations which are multidimensional. There are technical and criminal investigations going on at the same time, too. The final word in this matter should be said by technical experts and heard from the court. Preliminary statements can create obstacles and harm the trust in our relations. The judicial system of every country has all the options on the table and will study and choose them in time. Please take note that truths and facts must be proven through legal work.
You respond very diplomatically.
I am a man of the law.
Before you came to Tehran and during your meeting with the Ambassadors and representatives of the Embassies of Canada, the UK, Sweden and Afghanistan, you thanked French officials for decoding the black box of the plane. I have a few questions about the black box. What did the three pilots say between the first and second missile explosions?
It was 30 seconds. In accordance with Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the country that conducts the technical research has the right to divulge that information to the media.
So does that mean Iran should make it public because it is doing the research?
There is a more pressing matter we should be really careful about and that is the emotional status of the families and relatives of the victims. The most important result decoding the black box in France has is that we made sure that the crew members did everything right and the plane was in good health, itself, and there was nothing wrong with it. At this moment, it is our expectation from the Iranian side to finish their technical investigations as soon as possible and perform all their commitments in compliance with international rules and regulations.
I am very happy to see Mr. Baharvand and I both support this constructive approach and are of the same mind in it.
Some Ukrainian media speak in full transparency and say that the plane was shot on purpose, but you state that it cannot be said that it was shot on purpose unless the investigations are over. It feels like as if the Ukrainian officials were trying to show a shift of stance and this is gradually appearing in your words, too.
As the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, my standpoint is based on the expectations of the people and the government of my country, which, in the end, are justice. Other things we are focused on are receiving assurance from the Iranian side that such incidents will not occur in the future, the investigations will be carried out transparently and impartially and also, the victims’ families will be reciprocated for their losses. Our priority is to have the talks take place between Iran and Ukraine based on their political will.
You said you wanted to make sure that there will not be such incident in the future. How can you ensure that?
First, the government of Iran should guarantee that and after that, the instructions on global and national laws need to be exercised along with past experiences and the flaws seen therein.
Between 2002 and 2005, you were Operative in the Security Service of Ukraine and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, which means you have complete understanding of security and intelligence contexts. Can a cyber or electronic attack against Iran’s defense system be a possibility?
I would tell you as a lawyer that I am used to collecting evidence and work with it and not bringing up rumors and predictions. Ukrainian experts and professionals currently have no evidence indicating the effect of an external factor on this incident. Before that, they doubted if an external factor had an impact here, but due to the sensitive nature of our negotiations, I cannot say any more than that.
When will the compensation talks begin?
We look into this matter thoroughly and reached an agreement with the Iranian side regarding the reception of authentic info, creation of a trust-building atmosphere between the two countries and also the delivery of compensation to the families of the victims forthwith.
Is the amount of compensations negotiated?
This is related to the joint standpoint of the countries whose citizens have lost their lives in that incident. I think this will be determined in the near future and we will start our talks.
Has Iran proposed a number?
Do not expect us to say the numbers out in the open. One of the most important principals of our negotiations is that we would not get into another topic unless one is agreed upon, and taking into account the feelings of the victims’ families and also their interests, it is better not to get to that now.
When will the third round of talks commence in Kiev?
We have agreed to begin the new round of bilateral talks in late November or early December this year.
While you were negotiating with Iranian officials, a number of the victims’ families had gathered outside and one of their demands was to have related information of this incident, whereas you did not give away much in this interview.
At the end of the talks, Mr. Baharvand and I held a brief press conference and tried to be clear about things as much as we could. That is why we must remember that we are responsible for this and we should respect all families of the victims in different countries; we do need to respect that. I must say that we are committed to maximum efforts to obtain the truth. We are hopeful and sure that the government of Iran will too be committed to such maximum efforts and execution of justice.
I have not found out yet what the Ukrainian experts think about the incident being on purpose or not.
The investigations and the court will respond to that question.
So we can say that the Ukrainian investigation team has no opinion so far; they do not comment whether the crash took place on purpose or due to an error, and we must inquire that from the court.
This case is not restricted to the comments of Ukrainian experts to know if it had been on purpose or not. According to international regulations, Iran has the right to conduct comprehensive technical investigations, because it is a country involved in this incident. The Iranian side is also interested to finalize the talks and end it here.
Will this be taken to The Hague unlike what happened with the MH17 case?
We should use our full potential to work things out.
With this answer before us, this means it may be taken to The Hague.
I hope that the Judiciary of Iran brings this case to a final stop and close the book.