Moscow expects that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky would start fulfilling the Minsk agreements on Ukrainian reconciliation after the parliamentary election, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Argumenty i Fakty daily.
"We expect Kiev’s recent statements about its readiness to fulfill the Minsk agreements would take a practical political shape after the early elections to Verkhovna Rada," Lavrov said. "The most important task is to end the war, to hear the civilians from southeastern Ukraine who are longing for peace, for an opportunity to speak freely their native language, which is Russian, to have their social and economic rights ensured in full. All of this has been enshrined in the Minsk Complex of Measures."
"The situation in Donbass indeed remains extremely worrying," he continued. "So far, almost nothing was done in order to cease the fire, and shelling attacks continue."
Lavrov noted that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky offered controversial views on Ukrainian reconciliation during his election campaign and immediately after being declared the winner, TASS reports.
"Hopefully, the new Ukrainian leadership will discontinue the disastrous policies of the Poroshenko regime and will be able to convert the present-day credit of trust into real deeds, bringing civilian peace to Ukraine," he continued.
"The long-awaited disengagement of personnel and equipment in Stanitsa Luganskaya, which began in late July after being blocked by the previous government for two years, clearly confirmed that progress can be achieved when there is political will."
The early parliamentary election in Ukraine will take place on Sunday, July 21.
Outside support to Ukrainian reconciliation
Speaking about external support to Ukrainian reconciliation, Lavrov said it might be carried out in various formats, not only as part of the Normandy quartet talks.
When asked whether Russia planned to recognize the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states, Lavrov replied that his country’s stance on the matter "is well-known."
"In line with the Minsk Complex of Measures, to which Russia is one of the guarantors, Donbass should be vested with a special status, sealed by the Ukrainian constitution on a permanent basis. We believe that today we need to focus on implementing the Minsk agreements, which had been approved by the UN Security Council resolution and have a binding status."
The Russian Foreign Minister said the Ukrainian government should address the legitimate rights and demands of its own citizens: to abandon attempts to strangle Donbass economically and to recognize the right of Donetsk and Lugansk citizens to speak their native language, to observe their memorial dates and holidays and to honor their heroes.
"Without those measures, it will be at the very best not serious to speak of restoring the trust of Donetsk and Lugansk citizens into the Kiev government," he continued. "And, of course, creating a meaningful direct dialogue between Kiev and the unrecognized people’s republics, as stipulated by the Minsk agreements, remains the absolute centerpiece."
Lavrov added that in order to achieve this goal, the sides need to establish constructive work within the Contact Group, which brings together Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk with the assistance of Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"In this case, using the Normandy format to support the Contact Group will be efficient," the minister said. "Other variants of foreign support to Donbass settlement process are also possible, if acceptable for all sides and, of course, if they do not erode the basic Minsk agreements. This stance was clearly confirmed by President Vladimir Putin, including during his phone conversation with President Vladimir Zelensky on July 10."
In his Facebook video address on July 8, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky called on the Russian leader to hold a meeting in Minsk, mediated by the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France. According to Zelensky, the parties need to discuss where Crimea belongs and "who is absent from Donbass." Zelensky said he would like US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to participate in the meeting.
Russian citizenship for Donetsk, Lugansk residents
Commenting on the simplified Russian citizenship procedure, earlier introduced for residents of Donetsk and Lugansk, Lavrov said Russia's move was aimed at protecting those people from discriminatory actions on the part of the Ukrainian government.
"Russia is not imposing its citizenship on anyone and is not forcing anyone to reject the Ukrainian citizenship. Every citizen of Donbass makes the decision on his own. Moreover, our policy is nothing new. A number of European countries - such as, for example, Poland, Hungary, Romania - have been implementing this policy for many years."
According to Lavrov, as a result of Kiev’s economic blockade imposed on the self-proclaimed republics, people living there have found themselves in unbearable conditions.
"They were deprived of everything: social benefits, pensions, salaries, national system of financing baking services, education and healthcare. They were also deprived of their electoral rights - neither election commissions nor polling stations have been set up at those territories. In other words, Kiev has de-facto turned the residents of those republics into stateless persons," Lavrov said.
The Russian top diplomat stressed that Russia had to support those people for humanitarian reasons.
"The Russian citizenship will help them to solve day-to-day issues they are facing: to move freely, to have access to medical care, education, banking and transportation services," he said.
On April 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that simplifies the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship by residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. He emphasized that the decision stemmed from the need to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens based on the principles and norms of international law. Around 12,000 residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have applied for the Russian citizenship so far, a Russian Interior Ministry official said earlier.