Spanish Ambassador to Russia Jose Ignacio Carbajal: NATO-Russia clash will make us poor
Spanish Ambassador to Russia Jose Ignacio Carbajal has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about the situation in Ukraine, the possible third phase of sanctions against Russia, and separatist trend that has lately come to shape in Europe.Question: Mr. Ambassador, the vacation season is approaching. There are many controversial reports on the order of acquiring Schengen visas over the situation in Ukraine. What could you say about this on behalf of Spain?
Ambassador: I would like to dispel the delusions that have recently aroused over the events happening between Russia and Ukraine in that sense that whether this will bring damage to Russian citizens in the sphere of acquiring visas. Russian citizens should not have a shred of a doubt in this issue. Spanish consular establishments operating here will continue working and issuing visas, the same as they did before, without changes. Not only Spain, as an EU member state, but also the EU delegation [to Russia] has made a statement in this respect.
About three or four weeks ago everybody started to fall into delusions over this issue. A large number of Russian tourists who intended to go to Spain became anxious. We were to explain that there were no reasons to worry, that everything would work as before. One can express satisfaction with the March statistics. We saw a 16% increase in the number of issued visas in March. This figure deals only with visas issued by Spain. This means that not only the previous trend has continued but also one can witness a growth.
Q.: Are not you afraid that post-Olympic Sochi and Crimea may compete with Spanish resorts?
A.: This is quite possible. We do not have exact information on this regard yet, of course.
As of now Spain is the second or the third in the number of tourists and the income fr om tourists. We are ahead of the United States in this regard. Spain hosted around 59 million - 60 million tourists last year. And 1.532 million of them were from Russia. I think that Russian tourists will continue to see the benefits a trip to Spain grants them. I would like to stress once again that Russian citizens can be absolutely certain amid these difficult political conditions that they will be welcomed with the same affection they received in past years.
Q.: Do you expect that the procedure of acquiring five-year visas, or seven-year visas for some people, will be eased?
A.: It is possible. We on our part do everything for this. As to seven-year visas, I have seen that this figure was voiced somewhere but instructions for the Schengen space, part of which Spain is, do not allow seven-year visas.
Our efforts are that even during high tourist seasons we make it so the timeline of issuing visas does not exceed two days. During high seasons, when the flow of willing people soars, we hire people and increase our staff by 160-200 people.
I am happy to say that of all EU member states except Finland - but it has its own border agreements with Russia - Spain issues the largest number of visas to Russians.
Q.: It was reported that residents of Crimea may be deprived of getting Schengen visas at the place of their residence. Has a final decision at the EU level been made? Does this means that Spain will be able to bypass its EU partners and let Crimeans in?
A.: This is not accurate information. We have so far received no instructions. This issue is under consideration.
Residents of Crimea should ask for visas from the same authorities they did before the occupation of Crimea. As the European Commission has officially stated, EU member states do not recognize the occupation of Crimea by Russia but this does not prevent resident of Crimea from acquiring visas from the same authorities they did before the current events. Moreover, there will be many exceptions of humanitarian nature.
Q.: The vast majority of people of Crimea have Russian passports. So this means that theoretically one can go to the Spanish embassy in Kyiv with a Russian travel passport, apply for a visa and their application will be considered despite a Russian passport, does not it?
A.: Yes, it does.
Q.: The EU has adopted two sanctions packages against Russia and plans to adopt the third one which will be harsher. What is Madrid‘s position? Are there options to avoid using the language of sanctions and solve the issues in a different way? Can this situation impact the bilateral Russian-Spanish relations?
A.: Since Spain is part of the EU, my government always supports the decisions, which are made at the European level. We participated in the work of the European Council. The summit took place on March 21 and these decisions were made then. But at the same time, the Spanish government entertains the idea that cooperation with Russia is strategic cooperation. Russia is a strategic partner for Spain as well as the EU. Spaniards and others in the framework of the EU have always followed the stance that it is necessary to talk to Russia and to achieve political agreements, especially in periods, wh ere difficult circumstances emerge. We have not yet started the third phase of sanctions. My government has expressed hope that it will not be necessary to do this, to expand the sanctions list and resort to economic sanctions. If, of course, circumstances do not change, we do not think that these sanctions can come into effect.
If of course the circumstances do not change, I do not think that these sanctions may come into effect. We do everything possible to urge both sides [Russia and Ukraine] to a conversation. We think that unfortunately the situation that has reached the present day position over the past two weeks is a fruit of the fact that one failed to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Q.: What is needed so that one does not resort to the third sanctions package?
A.: I think that if the situation remains as it now, we will not have to get down to the third stage of sanctions.
Q.: Gazprom and Novatek signed a contract on the delivery of liquefied natural gas to Spanish companies, do you think that these contracts may fall under international sanctions?
A.: I do not think, I do not believe that this may happen if the situation does not deteriorate and continues to be at least at the current level. Our position is quite independent in this sphere. Both Spain and Portugal. We do not use Gazprom gas. We have seven stations producing liquefied gas. We receive gas from Africa through pipelines and 50%-60% more of liquefied gas. We are ready to help our suppliers and supply gas ourselves. We are also ready for Gazprom to have access to our markets.
About three weeks ago I met with Rosneft president Igor Sechin. I proposed him to invest in Spain. Rosneft has already sent the first delegation to Spain. They are now looking to examine what cooperation they could start in Spain. Spain is open to cooperation with Gazprom, Rosneft and others companies.
We believe in free competition. If Russian enterprises invest in Spain they will be welcomed. We will support our suppliers and we will be able to work out better terms between various suppliers guaranteeing competitiveness.
Q.: Russians have bought a lot of real estate in Spain. Many Russian also rent apartments and houses in Spain. May the rules for selling and leasing real estate to Russians change or become tougher?
A.: In no way. This has never been discussed. Everything will continue to be as before. We are glad that 1.5 million Russian visited us last year. In addition, around 65,000 Russians permanently live in Spain.
Indeed, many of our Russian friends bought property in Spain. No changes in rules are implied. I think it is impossible that something that would do harm could be decided against Russia.
Q.: What is your assessment of events in the country neighboring Russia? One often speaks about parallels between the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and other states. Do you see anything in common in the situation in this region and in Spain?
A.: I would not like to make parallels because the situation always corresponds to what is happening in each place relative to certain conditions.
Q.: What is your assessment of the situation in eastern Ukraine? Do you think that if Ukraine had made a decision to consider federalization, the current problems would have been avoided?
A.: One should recall here that international relations are based on the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, and in this sense I cannot allow myself make any judgment.
In the same way I do not like to hear foreigners discussing how they would act and what should be done in Spanish affairs. I especially should adhere to this rule because I am a diplomat.
Q.: Russia has proposed draft constitutional changes for Ukraine that are based on three provisions: the aforementioned federalization, the recognition of the Russian language as the second state language and the nailing down of Ukraine‘s non-allied status. Do you understand Russia‘s position? For example, some regions in your country have a second official language, for example in Catalonia.
A.: I understand well what Russia has been proposing. I can tell you that the 1978 Spanish Constitution was adopted by a broadest consensus in the country. The Constitution set state principles of almost federative nature with autonomous statuses for each of 17 autonomous regions of the country. Each region spends its money itself: for education or for healthcare or for social benefits.
I understand very well the delicacy of the language issue. The 1978 Spanish Constitution provides that every Spaniard has the right and obligation to know the Spanish language but it recognizes that every autonomous community has a language that is the second official language in addition to Spanish. Those are the Galician, the Basque, and the Catalonian languages. Currently the Catalonian language is the language of education in schools. This arouses a problem of quite a different nature compared to the one in Ukraine, because there are people in Catalonia who speak the Castilian dialect of the Spanish language and they want their children to be taught in the Spanish language and they are taught in Catalonian. So as you can see this is a problem almost in the same way as in Ukraine, but of a different nature.
We understand well the delicacy of such a thin matter as the language problem.
Q.: Could Spain give hints as to a way out of the language issue in Ukraine?
A.: I am not a person who can express his opinion on Ukraine. I am telling you what effort we made in Spain. We solved the issue but there are still discussions in Spain on this subject. We solved the issue by giving large powers to regions, respecting their languages and rights. Every region has its own peculiarities in criminal and civil codes. Let me draw an example. In some Spanish regions inheritance goes to sons and in other regions parents of children decide themselves who they will give the inheritance. Some regions have differences in civil laws.
Q.: Do you share Russia‘s fears over Ukraine‘s possible accession to NATO and do you agree with the opinion that NATO has regained its breath over the Ukrainian crisis?
A.: I cannot be an arbiter because Spain is a part of NATO. Naturally we are aligned with the decisions of the organization of which we are a part. But I work here and of course I understand every concern expressed by Russia.
My government has worked out a very clear position: one should talk through and discuss all aspects of any issue and subject. Russia is a very important country for us. And with such an important country we should find options that would suit such organizations as the EU, NATO and Russia itself.
Q.: Is a real confrontation between NATO and Russia possible?
A.: It is hard for me to image it. We had the cooperation and partnership agreement dated back in 1996. Now given the current situation we are freezing it, but I can see no reason for cancelling it. For 20 years we were able to discuss things and come to agreements, to cooperate in the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Afghan conflict. Any clash would impoverish us, make us poor. I think we will find an opportunity to come to an agreement.
Q.: Do you think that the example of Crimea may inspire activists in Spain?
A.: I do not think so. On the contrary. By using a very polite word "activists" you tried to separate from any comparison with Crimea. Because if we start to compare the situation with Crimea, the comparison will not be for your benefit.
The EU, since its emergence 60 years ago, has been based on the integration of cultures, countries, peculiarities and big differences. Some EU members fought against each other not so long ago. Such movements are inconceivable in the framework of the EU. The repetition of World War I or World War II is inconceivable inside the EU. These principles have served us well for 60 years.
Let‘s have a look at the history of my country. We joined the EU about 30 years ago. Significant changes have happened in the country over these 30 years largely thanks to funds that we were able to use joining the EU. That is Spain in 2014 is absolutely unlike Spain in 1985. The whole of our infrastructure has changed. Now Spain is the leader in terms of the number of highways, we have the largest network of high speed railroads, which is bigger than in France and Germany. Our country would not have such significant changes without the European Union.
Q.: Do you think that separatist movements in the EU have become a trend in the 21st century? A referendum for Scotland‘s independence will take place in September, November will see a referendum on Catalonia‘s independence. What is your assessment?
A.: We are passing through cycles. We are now exiting a very deep economic crisis that has affected all of us. We will see in several months how we were able to overcome the crisis. Such ups and downs will always exist. But we pin our hopes on these fluctuations. I speak about my personal view on these things. We go down the road of integration rather than the road of separation. I am sure that integration forces would defeat centrifugal forces. I am sure of that. This is the common trend that I have been witnessing for 40 years.
I would like to once again draw attention to my country. Shortly after World War II and until 1958 - 1960 autarchy was the ruling principle in Spain. The principle of this rule was as follows: we were self-sufficient and able to complete the set tasks. Starting from 1958 Spain started to open up and become liberal. That is why we became one of the five countries that has reached the biggest results in our development over the past 50 years. Being open to others and being liberal is very useful for a country and its residents. No one will convince me of the opposite. I speak about this keeping in mind an example of how Spain has lived these decades.
Q.: Are rumors that allegedly, in various countries, businessmen are being talked out of dealing with Russians and are advised against attending meetings at which people from sanctions list may appear true?
A.: I think that everything that has any relations to the return of the Cold War is harmful. I would speak about the U.S. but as to EU-Russia trade, it has topped 500 billion [euro]. I think that all that is needed is to more actively deepen trade. This would bring profit to both the EU and Russia. We will all benefit.
It is very painful for me to hear what you have mentioned. We do not tolerate such things. The position of a diplomat requires improving relationships rather than working to spoil them. We should do our best to understand the position of another person trying at the same time to protect our own interests. Only when the interests of both parties are winning, then begins the period of prosperity. When I hear about clashes, I fell very unpleasant. We all should overcome the tensions. The sooner the better.
I understand that present-day conditions are far from being favorable. But I think that everything should be looked at from the point of view of perspective. I would like to finish with what I have started. Russia is a strategic country for both Spain and other EU member states. There are countries - and you know them well, they have more 6,000 enterprises each that work for Russia, hundreds of thousands of people work in these countries thanks to ties with Russia. So I hope that the current circumstances will find their due course and today‘s difficulties will be overcome. We believe that solutions should be found through dialog and agreements that would serve the interests of all.