Ilyas Umakhanov: "We need to promote the unifying principles that bind our peoples"

Interview by Vladimir Nesterov. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Ilyas Umakhanov: "We need to promote the unifying principles that bind our peoples"

The vice-speaker of the Upper House of the Russian parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, summarizes the first year of the Eurasian Economic Union in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

-Were Armenia and Kyrgyzstan able to become full members of the EAEU over this year? It is clear that, in this regard, it is somewhat easier for Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

- Without a doubt, though one year is certainly not a big time for such a union. Certain organizational adaptations were conducted. But, nevertheless, the basic principles, embodied in the creation of the Eurasian Union, are directly working today. Since, as you said, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan only just joined, but, nevertheless, the chairman of the board of the Eurasian Commission is the representative of Armenia. This is the scheme that was originally established. There are also corresponding representatives from Kirghizia on the board of the Eurasian Commission. All of this means that, from a juridical, from a legal standpoint, the principle of equality of all members is fully respected. And the representatives of these countries use the powers provided by the agreement on the creation of the EAEU, to the fullest. Of course, another question is that it requires some intensive work by the relevant bodies of both executive power and legislative power, when it comes to the ratification process, which should be ensured, both in terms of previous agreements and those which are in work. Most recently, at the last meeting we ratified the agreement on turnover of medicines. It affects all states, including Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, and they fully participate in this process. And at the same time, this agreement imposes corresponding obligations on them, which all three countries, which stood at the origins of EAEU – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – assumed.

- Are there any factors that hinder the integration processes within the framework of EAEU?

- It is an open secret that, of course, today the economic conditions are not very favorable to count on any rapid achievements in the integration of countries that form the Eurasian Union today. Achievements in integration, I mean economic indicators. But every case has its own scale of values and system of coordinates and consensuses. This question can be put another way: what would have happened if there was no Eurasian Union? How much would our states, in conditions of this unfavorable conjuncture, feel more economically stable? It would be an even bigger blow in comparison to what is happening today. In this sense, this is also, in my opinion, such a mutual assessment, that the creation of the EAEU and further entry of Kyrgyzstan and Armenia to this alliance softened the consequences of the crisis that hit our states, and not only our states. There is, of course, first of all, the fall in oil prices and the following consequences. There is the economic pressure on Russia from the West, and in this sense the EAEU is a connecting vessel, and inevitably, the consequences are also reflected in the economy and the growth of the GDPs of these countries. But I am convinced that these are temporary difficulties, I am convinced that together it is much easier to overcome these types of difficulties, and we can get out of this unfavorable round of economic conditions much faster.

-How cheap the ruble is, the devaluation of our national currency, affects the economic condition of the EAEU countries. Is this more a positive or a negative factor?

- It is a reality, which must be reckoned with. Changes in the exchange rate difference between the ruble and the dollar would inevitably affect the economic well-being of our economic allies. And after the devaluation of the ruble, a devaluation followed, and maybe even preventive devaluation in Kazakhstan. Then in a number of other countries, something more, somewhere less, in the corridor from 14% to 40%. And it is absolutely understandable, because it is about the competitiveness of goods produced in the countries that form the EAEU, for trade among themselves, but also about the competitiveness of the export potential of these countries. 

Of course, in conditions when the Russian ruble dropped, then, respectively, the cost parameters are becoming cheaper, and these distortions have to be aligned somehow. At the same time, I want to say that, perhaps, for the export-oriented branches of industry of our countries, the weakening national currency is an additional stimulus to expand export opportunities to foreign countries. I still believe that, and I also spoke about this at a meeting of the integration club, that this crisis has shown the need for better coordination of the central banks of our countries in order to, perhaps in proactive order, take some measures and not create any sharp distortions. I think that this work is not only carried out, now it will be carried out on a more systematic basis.

-The countries of the CIS and post-Soviet countries, are united not only by common history. One of the most central unifying factors, of course, was and remains the Russian language as a language of international communication.  But at the same time, we are seeing such a picture that just recently, a few days ago, the last city in Tajikistan with a Russian name, Chkalovsk city, was renamed as the city of Buston. How to strengthen the status of the Russian language, the positions of the Russian language in the friendly to us CIS countries?

- Of course, if you compare with the Soviet period, the demand for the use of the Russian language is incomparably less, but I would not say that the popularity of the Russian language is dropping sharply. In my opinion, this is not true. The migration processes that took place at the turn of the 90s and 2000s, they lead to the fact that there was a significant outflow of the Russian-speaking population. And what does this mean for the Russian language, for schools, for education? Teachers left, professors, the number of studying Russian-speaking residents of these countries have been reduced. Accordingly, this range of use of the Russian language has decreased. It is absolutely objective, probably even economic, not political or ideological result of the consequences of political or ideological decisions. But on the other hand, look at the same migration processes from the same Tajikistan today, they lead to the fact that the Tajik side appeals to Russia to open Russian-language schools, to give the opportunity to continue, maybe even send Russian language teachers on a rotational basis. There was a great initiative associated with the ambassadors of the Russian language, which was made by a number of student organizations, teachers and so on, which in this very regime, partly on a voluntary basis, are willing to travel in order to provide teaching, spreading of the Russian language in our neighboring states, among our brotherly peoples. I know that there are separate decisions on the establishment of a Russian school in Dushanbe, this work is in progress. 

It seems to me that now a turning point has occurred, when on the one hand Russia wants the great Russian language – the language spoken by Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy – to remain the property of those nations. And on the other hand, there is the desire of the representatives themselves, the inhabitants of these countries, to study the Russian language is an economic necessity. Because there are certain requirements and standards for migrants who intend to come to Russia for work, including knowledge of the Russian language. Therefore, it seems to me that a conjugation of these factors will give us a more positive picture in the near future. 

As for renaming, I have to be honest, I would not attach so much importance to this. Firstly, due to the fact that, let's be honest and self-critical, because we started this whole system of renaming old names of streets and so on. It started here, in Russia. We were cured of this disease, so ... City of Chkalovsk, if I remember correctly, was absolutely the city, such a closed administrative unit, where the scientific personnel, technical personnel were concentrated. Perhaps it is also partly due to the fact that as the result of the outflow of the population, the ethnic composition has changed, and the indigenous population, perhaps for the reasons of national self-identity, wants to restore the old name. But I will say it again, in my opinion it should not be a symbol of some anti-Russian gesture or rejection of Russia. It seems to me that it is a painful, but quite understandable process of strengthening national consciousness

-How to recall the fraternal peoples of their spiritual and cultural relationship? Recently it was proposed to erect a monument to Heydar Aliyev who oversaw the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline. What is your attitude to this initiative? 

-I have absolutely positive attitude to this initiative. I tell you later about it. But I have absolutely positive attitude to this philosophy, the philosophy that we should make the most possible to promote the unifying principles that bind our nations over a long history, when our fathers and grandfathers were building the BAM shoulder to shoulder, protecting the country from the Nazi invaders, restoring destroyed cities, factories, factories of the Soviet Union, when our culture received a completely different sound and flourishing of all the former Soviet republics, the peoples living in the Russian Federation, when we collectively ensured the progress in science, technology and other industries.

Therefore, I am deeply convinced that we have lost a certain period, when we started to search for some conflict episodes of our history, in the pages that do not cause any other feelings, but bitterness and regret, and lost huge positive reserve, which was laid by the older generations. Therefore, today the picture is still somewhat different, and I'm very grateful to the media, which are now much stronger and more actively use the possibilities of a unifying start, promoting our common values, our common history, our common roots. Here is one of these initiatives, for which I am very grateful to our colleague, Tulohonov, by the way, it is not only his initiative, but also of a number of non-governmental organizations, that the one of the symbols of our cultural cooperation, humanitarian cooperation, the preservation of our common historical memory becomes the perpetuation of the role of Heydar Aliyev in the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline.I'll tell you even more than that: I have already had the consultations with the leadership of the Russian Railways, and we, perhaps even this week, on 11th or 12th  will hold the first working meeting on this subject, because we are talking about the fact that there is an initiative group that is willing to fund this type of project from extra budgetary sources - charities, personal, contributions, donations - to erect a monument, whether it be a bust, or a memorial plaque. This are the details, but the idea, in my opinion, deserves a maximum support, and the Council of the Federation will do everything to implement it as quickly as possible. Ideally, of course, it could be made for the birthday of Heydar Aliyev in May, immediately after the May holidays. If not, it does not matter. We're not working in the mode, when each date is necessary to be provided with a start-up of a facility, factory, warehouse, space rockets, and there can be a lot of such examples, not only in our relations and common history with Azerbaijan, but also with our other neighboring countries. Therefore, it is a grain, which we must  nurture very carefully so that it bears fruit, having in mind primarily, of course, the younger generation, because the older people remember, know, were witnesses or participants in these events.

-I know that you recently returned from a working trip to Israel and Palestine. You were there as part of the Federation Council delegation headed by Valentina Matvienko. Israel is one of the few states in the West, despite the fact that it is located in the east it's called a Western State, that is sympathetic to the Russian operations of the Military Air Forces  in Syria. Despite the fact that between Syria and Israel the relations were very tense, and still remain so. I remember when I was in Syria before the conflict, it was enough to have an Israeli visa in your passport to be arrested and questioned. Did you discuss the situation in Syria in the framework of this visit ? And what is the attitude of the Israeli parliamentarians and politicians in relation to the Military Air Forces?

- I would like, first of all, to say that the visit to Israel was an official one. It was the official visit of the chairwiman of the Federation Council. The visit to Palestine was working visit of Valentina's. It does not change the fact, because in conversations, in consultation with the President of Israel and with the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, during the meetings with Mahmoud Abbas, of course, the problem of Syria was at the top of the agenda, the most relevant and sensitive subject. There were a lot of discussions around this theme, this issue.I want to say, your words confirming that the official and private conversations, the private conversations that we had with our colleagues in Israel to confirm their understanding of the importance and significance of the operation being carried out by the Russian Military Air Forces in the SAR. And then comes to the fore, of course, the realization that the main threat is not the historical rivalries that have divided two countries, Syria and Israel. The main threat is ISIS today, it is terrorism, from which Israel suffers no less, and perhaps, sometimes more than a significant number, if not all, of the Western states. They have experienced what terrorism is, they know. Even during our stay in Jerusalem there were two terrorist attacks. So the first and the most important thing is the fight against terrorism. And the second  is stability, especially stability and peace on Syrian soil.

Based on these two strategic postulates that, of course, for Israel, are extremely important, because it is easy to talk about what is happening in the Middle East from the window of some cozy apartment somewhere in New York or ... I do not want to remember Paris, but in any other western country. But it is much more difficult to be aware of this when you are in close proximity. And let us remember that until recently there was a real threat of use of chemical weapons, and there is a real danger that chemical weapons could get into hands of the terrorist groups, which are bred in large numbers after the events in Iraq, Libya and Syria. And against whom it would be directed, and how it could be used, it is not the abstract issues that cause, of course, very great concern of the leadership of Israel.

And that is why there is a close coordination, the cooperation of the relevant military departments, there is a coordination of the special services, who are the building line of countering terrorism and terrorist attacks, taking into account the position and taking into account the interest of our partners, in this case we are talking about Israel. I believe that the discussion started during the visit will be continued, as we have agreed to hold further consultations between the relevant committees of defense, security and foreign affairs on the part of the Federal Assembly and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security of the Israeli Knesset. In this sense, we also are willing to actively contribute to this kind of interaction, maybe, to a certain extent by connecting with our colleagues from the Syrian Parliament.