1. Your Imperial Highness, how do you feel about Crimea becoming part of Russia? Has a historical injustice been rectified?
Over the course of many centuries, my ancestors united many disparate lands into a single Russian State. Crimea is rightfully considered one of the grand “pearls” that adorned our realm.
The Imperial House has always supported the processes of unity and centralization. But if I were simply to say that I was pleased about the return of Crimea to Russia, or that I think that this was the rectification of a historical injustice, then I would be giving a very incomplete and simplistic answer to your question.
I proceed from the firm belief that even with things the way they are today, with the demise of the territorial integrity of the former Russian Empire and USSR and the emergence of new sovereign states, there continues to exist a single spiritual and cultural civilization in this space, which unites these fraternal nations. There may be many states now, but there remains only one Fatherland, in the truest sense of the meaning of that word—one, because our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have together offered their blood and sweat for it.
And so we can hardly welcome without reservation every acquisition of a new slice of territory. It is necessary always to consider if this specific instance will not end up damaging our common civilization, will be nothing more than a time bomb that will someday explode, will only spawn new problems in the interrelations between nations.
Each such instance is entirely unique. And if circumstances in Ukraine and Crimea were different, I would think it necessary to act more cautiously. In my address to all my Ukrainian countrymen on February 21, I called upon them to avoid violence, to resist the temptation for revenge, and to do everything within their power to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine. As we know, the Crimea was incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 by a totalitarian regime in a completely arbitrary way, without considering the opinion of the people of Crimea or even asking them what they wanted. But it would be just as wrong today to reincorporate Crimea into Russia in the same way. One unlawful act cannot be undone by another unlawful act or by violence. If there had not arisen a very real threat to the welfare of the people of Crimea, to the life and dignity of its citizens, then I would have held to the view that Ukraine should remain within its historic borders as they had been drawn up to the present.
Unfortunately, there was a revolution in Kiev, and the new leaders have taken a series of extremist and openly vengeful steps, which have led to a split among the Ukrainian people. Extreme nationalists who control the government in Kiev began by passing a number of discriminatory and demeaning measures with regard to the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, meeting any dissent with brutal violence. There were overt threats against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. There were anti-Semitic speeches with an undisguised Nazi undertone. I consider all this a dreadful and criminal mistake that borders on lunacy.
In the current situation, the duty of the legally elected authorities in Crimea was to protect the population from all excesses—not only at present, but also in the future. I know almost all the leaders of Crimea. They are sensible, experienced, and steady statesmen. There is no hint of extremism in them. They did not make this decision on their own authority; they organized a referendum. We know now the results of that referendum. The results are not the result of some passing gush of emotion, but are based on the entire history of Crimea, on its traditions going back many centuries. The people of Crimea have expressed their will. In a democracy, in which the supreme power constitutionally belongs to the people, there is no higher power that exists than the voice of the people.
We can say with complete confidence that the unification of Crimea with Russia was not the result of some political machinations that were dreamt up in advance by someone or other, but the logical result of historical events in Ukraine.
If the number of supporters of the unification of Crimea with Russia were only slightly more than the number of those opposing it, then the results of the referendum could be treated with some circumspection, so that a decision as important as this would not be decided by a small fraction of the vote, but would rather show the need still to form a consensus on the question. But it is evident even with the naked eye that the Crimean referendum was conducted in an atmosphere of unity, jubilation, and honestly. The majority of the people of Crimea want to return their small Homeland to being a part of Russia. It is a fait accompli.
I share the enthusiasm of the peoples of Russia and Crimea over the unity that they have achieved. At the same time, I understand the frustration and disappointment of the people of Ukraine, and I am distressed for them. I can express my feelings best with the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: I “rejoice with others when they rejoice, and I weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
2. In your estimation, where should the capital of Crimea be?
I had not heard that there was any discussion about this question. From the point of view of historical symbolism, the Crimea has many glorious cities, any one of which could make a good case to be the capital of Crimea. But to transfer the seat of government from one city to another is a costly affair. The Crimea has more important tasks ahead, which must be resolved immediately for the benefit of the people. So I would suppose that the capital would remain in Simferopol. But, in any case, this will be something that will be resolved by the legally elected authorities in accordance with the will of the Crimean people.
3. How do you assess the situation in Ukraine? What do you think will be the future relations between Russia and Ukraine?
The troubles that have gripped Ukraine have brought me and my son, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke George of Russia, tremendous emotional anguish. I have been to Kiev and Odessa; and not long ago George and I were in Crimea. Everywhere we saw how Ukrainians of different ethnic backgrounds, faiths, and political beliefs nonetheless lived together in peace. And this has all now completely changed! And at the moment Ukraine is, without exaggeration, being torn to pieces by revolution, with all the accompanying horrors that accompany it. I pray that all this does not develop into a full-scale fratricidal civil war.
Russia and Ukraine are fraternal countries, and it cannot be any other way. Ukraine is the cradle of the Russian state. No political forces can ever destroy the genetic, spiritual, and cultural kinship that binds together our peoples.
In any case, one cannot see the joining of Crimea to Russia as a “victory of Russia over Ukraine.” “Victory” over one’s own brothers and sisters always turns into defeat. I am certain that the crisis in relations between Russia and Ukraine will be resolved, that the spirit of confrontation will evaporate away, and that love and common sense will prevail.
4. How justified is the criticism of the West against Russia over the Crimean situation, and how justified are the sanctions? Will you be asking the royal houses of Europe to intervene to help alleviate the pressures being put on Russia?
Alas, we see unfairness and an outright double standard.
Naturally, every country defends its own interests and advances its own policies. It would be foolish to resent the fact that the USA or Russia’s other geopolitical rivals take no pleasure in Russia’s expansion and even try to hinder it.
But there are multiple examples of military intervention by the West in the internal affairs of sovereign states. The recognition of the independence of Kosovo and other similar precedents make the current position of Western governments very flimsy, and their argument utterly untenable. Even if we conceded to some degree to their logic, the question nonetheless arises: “Who are they to judge?”
Sanctions are also an unprecedented thing. Even during the “Cold War,” these kinds of sanctions were never imposed against the USSR or its leaders. And back then there really were many more occasions that might have elicited sanctions, with a totalitarian regime in power in our country that really did trample on freedom of conscience and thought and really did repress its people and had many times intervened militarily in the affairs of other countries.
One must bear in mind that sanctions are a two-edged sword. They harm the economy not only of Russia but also the economies of Europe. In the extremely complex circumstances of this global crisis, it makes no sense to play these political games.
Russia is a great country that can withstand the effects of any sanctions. To engage in threats and blackmail with Russia is counterproductive.
In the today’s political system, royal houses, even ones that reign, cannot, alas, exert any decisive influence on the policies of their countries. Therefore any appeals I might make to them about this matter would not be of any help. Of course, in communicating with my royal relatives, I will try to familiarize them with all the aspects of the problem and I will ask them to use all their influence to prevent any escalation of the conflict between Russia and Europe. Many of them were together with me and George in Crimea in September of last year, at the invitation of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff. They met with the Speaker of the Supreme Council, Vladimir Konstantinov, and with other Crimean leaders, and they know firsthand about the life of the people of Crimea. But more than anything else, I am counting on the common sense of Western politicians and on the expression of public opinion among the peoples of Western countries. Everyone would suffer from the resumption of the “Cold War,” and, possibly, the losses and damages to Russia would be less than for others.