Your Imperial Highness, you have promised to ask your royal relatives to use all their influence to prevent an escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West. What in your view can your relatives hope to achieve?
In answer to a question from INTERFAX as to whether I would appeal to my relatives to intervene on the sanctions against Russia, I replied that, in the modern world, the heads and members of royal families, even those currently reigning, cannot substantively influence the policies of their countries. Whether that is a good thing or not, each person can decide for himself. But that is how modern political systems work. Therefore, to expect some kind of sensational or game-changing political gestures from Europe’s monarchs and heads of dynasties would not be realistic.
However, in the spiritual, social, and cultural spheres, Europe’s royal houses, whether they reign or not, continue to enjoy significant influence. And I will certainly try to familiarize my relatives with the history of the Crimean question and with the current situation there so that they are fully informed. I am sure that they can then exert a calming influence in the social and cultural climate in their countries.
Naturally, every country has its own national interests. It would be naïve to think that the geopolitical rivals of Russia would not protest against the return of Crimea to Russia. But sensible people can call for a stop to radicalism and hysteria, they can call for an even-handed and rational approach to the crisis even in the current circumstances if they do not agree, even partly, with what is transpiring on the ground. Such calls from members of royal dynasties are especially significant because they speak not from the point of view of a single concrete event, but from the broad perspective of historical processes.
What is the attitude of members of Europe’s royal houses to Russia today? Are there some royals who are sharply opposed to Moscow’s policy?
Europe’s monarchs, and the heads and members of Europe’s royal houses, are cultured and well-educated people. They know very well Russia’s literature and music, Russia’s rich traditions in dance and architecture, and Russia’s history; and they pay tribute to our country and recognize its significance to the entire world. Many are interested in the Russian language, in the life of the people, and are sincerely sympathetic to Russia.
But politics is another matter altogether. Both before the revolution and now, admiration for Russia’s cultural achievements and appreciation for Russian national character were not enough to overcome the competition and confrontation between Russia and other great powers. Each country has its own understanding of its place in the world and its own national interests. Royal dynasties share the position of their governments. It cannot be otherwise.
But the monarchist worldview is completely alien to any sort of radicalism. The experience of two world wars in the 20th century, which led to untold misery and, moreover, to the fall of many monarchies, suggests that any “clear intentions” against anyone whatsoever will be destructive not only to those against whom these intentions are directed, but also to those who are predisposed to give themselves over to emotion and lose all sense of proportion.
I have up to now not heard any member of a royal house make any sharp anti-Russian statements of any kind, and I very much hope that it will remain that way going forward.
What is your opinion on Crimea becoming part of Russia? How do you assess the actions of the Russian government?
When the alarming reports began to come out of Ukraine, I initially called on its citizens to remember the terrible lessons of the revolution and Civil War. I called on them not to succumb to fratricide and to make every effort to preserve the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state. And if the situation in Ukraine had played out differently than it has, I would not have such a firm conviction now that the return of Crimea to Russia was appropriate and inevitable.
Unfortunately, events began to develop in the direction of the worse-case scenario. There was a coup in Kiev. The new government fell under the control of extreme nationalists. Those political groups that had triumphed began their rule not with calls for peace, not by taking steps to restore order, but, on the contrary, with chauvinistic and revanchist attacks on Russians and Russian-speaking citizens, with threats against the clergy and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church, and with anti-Semitic proclamations redolent of the Nazis.
The legitimate leaders of Crimea not only had the right, it had the duty to take steps to protect from harm the people who had elected them into office. Yet, the heads of government institutions in Crimea did not take matters into their own hands; they held a referendum. The referendum included the option of keeping Crimea part of Ukraine. But a clear majority voted in favor of Crimea becoming a part of Russia, and Russian authorities, naturally, could not ignore this outcome. To do so would have been not only a political mistake, but also an act of immoral indifference.
When various politicians speak about the situation in Crimea today, I sometimes get the impression that Crimea is some piece of property which had belonged to Ukraine and has now been seized and appropriated by Russia. But that is not the case. Crimea is not just some piece of real estate. It is not an uninhabited territory. It is populated by people who have their own feelings, thoughts, will, and aspirations to live in peace. It is necessary to think first and foremost about their well-being. In my opinion, the analogy here is not with property but with a child of divorce who has to choose with which parent he is going to live. As sad as it was, in 1991 Russia and Ukraine went through a political divorce. Crimea remained with Ukraine as a result of the completely arbitrary decision in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev to transfer Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. But pro-Russian sentiments were always strong in Crimea. And when the course of historical events forced the people of Crimea to express their will, they chose Russia.
And just as when a child chooses to live with one parent he does not cease to love the other, so too will Crimea not lose entirely its connection with Ukraine in becoming part of Russia. I feel sure that, with time, tempers will cool, Kiev will again have a legitimate government, elected by the people, and many of the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, which now seem so insurmountable, will be resolved in a way that is mutually beneficial to all. And Crimea will not be a stumbling block between Russia and Ukraine, but rather a valuable link—part of Russia, and to the greatest extent possible, close as well to Ukraine.
Were we to draw a parallel between pre-revolutionary Russia and present-day Russia, could we say that Moscow is now trying to revive the Russian Empire?
You can’t step into the same river twice, as they say. Neither the Russian Empire nor the USSR can be reestablished in the form in which they previously existed. Integration is possible, but only in new and different ways, taking into account the positive experiences of the Russian Empire and USSR, and also in analyzing the mistakes they made that led to their downfall.
The situation with Crimea is unique, and one can in no way see it as the beginning of some kind of revanchist action on the part of Russia. Setting the question up that way will only cause harm, will put strong trump cards in the hands of the rivals and critics of our country, and alarm many of our friends and potential allies.
I firmly believe that the territory of the former Russian Empire continues to be a single unified cultural space, which is actually far more important than political unity. Political unity can be ephemeral and fleeting, as the 20th century has amply demonstrated. But cultural unity, sewn together by centuries of spiritual, cultural, and social connections, is stronger, deeper, and more significant. And Russia, and the other sovereign states which arose after the fall of the USSR, must preserve and develop all that brings people together and serves the interests of peace and stability.
Could Western sanctions against Russia lead to positive results, in your view?
I know of no examples when sanctions of this sort have led to positive results. One can understand how, during periods of cooling relations, the privileges, exemptions, and preferences that existed in relations between countries during better times might be suspended. But to impose sanctions specially and clearly directed at causing harm to a country which is fulfilling all its financial and economic obligations to its partners, and which, moreover, is as large and powerful a country as Russia, during a time of today’s global economic crisis, is absurd and harmful. This is a blow not only to our country, but to all other countries, as well.
There are practically no actions in international politics that do not somehow elicit criticism from some party or that are entirely satisfactory to everyone. Those who today are criticizing Russia have many times themselves acted in ways that have violated the principles of international law when it suited their interests to do so. And now, speaking figuratively, they who live in glass houses want to throw stones at Russia. Double standards may be the easy road to take, but they only exacerbate problems.
Then one has to look at the purpose of sanctions. What is the objective and is it achievable? It is clear, after all, that Russia, regardless of the sanctions that have been imposed on it, has not because of them refused to accept the joining of Crimea to Russia. Just as the USA and the nations of Europe will not refuse, for example, to recognize the independence of Kosovo. Therefore the ending of tensions and the reconciliation of all sides should be realized not through threats and sanctions, but through negotiations between equal partners. One can and should seek reciprocal concessions on separate points of dispute, negotiate certain additional reciprocal guarantees which will lower tensions between the parties, and so on. It is an on-going process. But to try to dictate a resolution from a position of strength and with the presumption that your side is absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong is counterproductive.
Do you intend to visit Crimea during your next visit to Russia, which is planned for next August? Do you plan to raise the question of Romanoff property in the Crimea?
The itinerary for all my travels for the current year was arranged at the end of last year, and a visit to Crimea had not been planned.
Of course, I would be very happy to visit Crimea in the future, when my countrymen living there believe that my visit would be useful and appropriate.
Neither I nor my son, Grand Duke George of Russia, involve ourselves in politics. That is the permanent and fundamental position of the Russian Imperial House. We have, of course, our own views on events of the day, and we reserve the right to express those views, as is the right of any citizen. But we do not take part in politics of any kind. Our goal is to serve the cause of inter-confessional, interethnic, and civil peace; to preserve our country’s historical traditions; and to help the needy as much as we possibly can. I hope that everyone understands this and, consequently, will understand that at the present moment it would be inappropriate for me to rush to visit Crimea.
As far as property is concerned, I have many times publically and officially voiced our consistent position. The Russian Imperial House is in principle against the restitution of property and makes no claims on any property. We are very pleased that properties that were constructed and owned by our ancestors today serve the public, and we ask nothing for ourselves. The wonderful LivadiaPalace, so loved by Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II, and also all the other homes and estates owned once by members of our dynasty, should remain the property of the state and always be accessible to all our countrymen as historical and cultural public spaces and health resorts.