Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Me and Viktor Andriyovych
As promised, the full transcript of my interview yesterday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (that's me on the far right in the photo, looking studious, courtesy of the presidential press service):
MM: The question that a lot of people in the West are wondering is, do you believe Ukraine’s political crisis is now over, or is it on hold until the elections when it will begin again?
VY: I’ll start with the following: the plan has already been adopted regarding all the issues to solve the political crisis.
After the events that took place… in March, the political corruption, the only constitutional way to settle the crisis was early elections. All the political participants in the crisis acknowledged that, and all the political parties approved the date of Sept. 30 [for the elections]. All the decisions are made to hold the elections, from the standpoint of funding, as well as the amendments necessary to the legislation. So this is the essence of the answer: the political crisis is over.
There was a way to settle it through means of early elections. On the basis of this concept, there is some occasional speculation [that elections will not be held], triggered by some political parties, for instance the Socialists and the Communists. The key task for them is to use the parliamentary tribune as much as possible.
Even though they acknowledge the fact that it is an illegitimate parliament, they’re still ready to attend the sessions because this is the only way for them to keep at least some kind of support in Ukrainian society. And they are threatening, blackmailing the Party of Regions to leave the coalition [government] because they are against [early elections].
I’ve sent a verbal note to embassies around the world that the parliament is invalid, and all its decisions are also invalid. It has no impact on domestic or international relations.
This is only a political show, and nothing more.
The main thing is that all Ukrainian politicians have managed to settle probably one of the most complicated political crises ever in Ukrainian history, in a democratic way. I think this is the main victory.
MM: Why did you feel it was necessary, in the middle of this crisis, to take over the Interior Ministry’s troops?
VY: I haven’t given a single instruction to reign in any internal troops beyond the demands of the current situation.
At the end of May, Kyiv was celebrating City Day with activities that involved a lot of people in town, and also there was the Ukrainian soccer final the same day. As a rule, when such events take place, normally 2,000 to 3,000 Interior Ministry troops are brought into the city to maintain order.
It’s normally done without the President, and this is done every single year. The fact that 2,000 troops was sent here to Kyiv was just due to that.
But somebody started a rumour that it was the President’s instructions. You should know that all instructions from the President to the military forces should be in writing, and I have not taken any written decisions.
The case was the following: I was meeting with law enforcement officers and military people almost every day, and persuaded them to keep their distance from any political events.
My main goal was to use any kind of military resistance or any application of force. This is not the way to resolve the crisis, and there’s nothing to it. This was only political rumours and speculation.
MM: In the elections on Sept. 30, what question is Ukraine facing? Is it similar to 2004, West versus East, or is it democracy versus something else?
VY: I think the key issues will be around yesterday’s versus today’s politics…. In the essence of it, democratic values and the establishment of political order on democratic principles, this is the package that the democratic parties are going with.
MM: And what’s the other side offering, in your mind?
VY: The preservation of what exists, and what has been in the past. Untransparent markets and privatizations. The political control over the system of justice, and the prosecutor’s office. It’s also the politicization of the Central Elections Commission and the Constitutional Court. It’s the refusal of pro-Western policy.
MM: Do you, in this struggle, still see the hand of Moscow, the hand of the Kremlin, behind the Communists, the Socialists and the Party of Regions, as in 2004?
VY: I would say that the left forces, the left parties, are pretty much oriented to Moscow’s position. But in any case, this has already passed. Whether somebody wants to accept it or not, this is the old take.
Moscow also needs a predictable Ukraine, and Ukraine’s future is not now decided by Socialists and Communists.
Although, through activation of those forces you can break the process. But this has nothing to do with returning Ukraine back to what it was.
MM: Do you think Moscow wants to break the process now? Or are they more hands-off than in the past?
VY: I don’t exclude the fact that there are some political forces in Russia that want to keep the old political order in Ukraine…. But I emphasize that we are an independent state, a sovereign country. It is us who determine our domestic and foreign policies.
We respect their international role and traditions, but this is actually our politics…. I’m all for building good neighbourly relations with Russia, on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty of the state.
MM: Last week, our newspaper was one of those that met with President Putin in Moscow and he, among other things, threatened to target Europe with missiles in response to the American missile shield. Do you think these sort of comments should be taken seriously? Are they rhetoric? Are you worried about the new breach between Russia and the West?
VY: I think the President of Russia is not kidding. But I wouldn’t like to make any further comment than that. It’s beyond my competence.
I’d like to express my own position… The recent events, I think, show to everyone that we have quite a creaky security balance and this really triggers some concerns and could be really painful.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that the best response to all the challenges regarding defense and security policy can only be given through a collective system of defense. And it’s becoming more apparent that leaders of states have to pay more attention to this fact, particularly building the common system of collective defense.
MM: Just to be clear, are you speaking there of including Russia in this collective?
VY: Frankly speaking, I would not exclude it, for this is only about the entrance of a certain country.
I remember from history when the Soviet Union was applying to join the North Atlantic bloc. I think that any model that will have resistance behind it will trigger concerns. It will very hard to build any stability on such a basis.
MM: Do you agree with the missile shield currently proposed for Eastern Europe, based in Poland and the Czech Republic, or would you rather see a system based in a place that includes Ukraine in the shield?
VY: Our defense and security doctrine is formally determined in law. And a key aspect of this doctrine is to provide Ukraine’s accession to the European Union and the North Atlantic bloc.
If there’s one thing it emphasizes, it’s Ukraine’s intention to be integrated into the collective security system within the framework of the North Atlantic bloc.
MM: Are you worried about Russian objections to that? They, of course, view NATO as an anti-Russian alliance still.
VY: I’m sure that Ukraine is ready to give all the necessary responses to any of the questions that might arrive, and to emphasize that this is a policy that is not against somebody, this is not a policy that is determining any threat.
According to national legislation, this is the policy that is most suitable for the security and defense of this nation.
MM: Next year, of course, there are presidential elections in both Russia and Ukraine. I guess I should first ask whether or not you intend to run again, and secondly if you have any contacts with like-minded politicians in Russia, like Mikhail Kasyanov and Garry Kasparov?
VY: When speaking about the internal elections in Russia, both parliamentary and presidential, this is purely a domestic affair. It is the right of the people to choose which force they want to align their future with.
For us, as neighbours, what’s important is that [the elections] are performed on a democratic basis and in public. This is the main thing. To preserve people’s right to vote…
This process should go in a democratic way.
MM: I was here, or course, during the Orange Revolution, and just speaking with colleagues and friends of mine who were among your supporters in the streets at the time, there’s a certain amount of disillusionment three years on. I’m wondering if you understand the people who feel they were let down, and where you put the blame for what hasn’t gone right?
VY: Saying that Ukraine has not changed in the last two years is telling lies. Today we have the [fastest growth rate] in Europe. We didn’t have that before. As a whole we were in depression for 13 years.
Today the GDP growth is estimated at 8 per cent. The industrial growth is 13. Agriculture growth is 6.
For the past two years, Ukraine received $10-billion in [foreign direct investment]. More than the previous 15 years altogether. For the last two years, we’ve had our lowed unemployment rate ever.
The real incomes of the population have increased by 21 and 18 per cent respectively. Salary growth is estimated at around 34 per cent. Every year, we’re creating a million new [jobs], and not a single social strike has taken place in the past two years.
Ukrainian pensions are now higher than Russia, Belarus and Moldova. Three years ago it was a different case. We had the lowest salaries, the lowest pension out of all the [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries, except for Armenia and Uzbekistan.
Speaking about social and economic indicators, we have just immense success in two years. It should be mentioned that the reserves of the Central Bank have doubled and now are estimated at $23-billion. We have a stable currency and stable prices. We have one of the most dynamic European economies at the moment, which is developing a lot faster than our neighbours’, including Russia.
Speaking about the political agenda, there are still problems here. These problems are mainly related to the system of political power.
I never had a pro-presidential majority in parliament while I’ve been President. I work in a regime where the political majority is on the other side. When this majority determines the law enforcement institutions, the prosecutor’s office…
Among other issues, I can say that relations between democratic parties are very complicated as well. Uniting two political forces is not an easy task to do. When we were going to the parliament [elections] back in 2002, I had to make a joint bloc which contained 12 political parties. That makes keeping efficient dialogue very complex.
In the course of the last parliamentary elections, if no betrayals took place, like [Socialist leader Oleksandr] Moroz’s, it would have been the first time in the history of Ukraine when the majority in parliament was [controlled] by democratic parties.
It’s necessary to pay considerable attention to the dialogue of democratic forces, which is the biggest political challenge.
I believe the biggest disappointment is related to this very fact. The last election to parliament was not won by the Party of Regions, it was lost by the democratic forces, because of their internal relations.
The President is not always able to settle these issues. We’re speaking of inter-party cooperation, which has been quite complex…
It’s not an easy task.
MM: I have one last, very personal, question for you. One of my friends, again a supporter of yours, says that one of the big signs for him that things haven’t gone as he’d hoped, was that no one has been charged in your poisoning. Do you expect that will happen any time soon?
VY: This is one of the problems, in the context of the political fight between the past and the future.
Ukraine is just about to build an unpoliticized and independent prosecutor’s office…
It has [caused] everyday fighting and disputes, but it is necessary to make the prosecutor-general’s office distant from power and political orders.
Different very loud cases are being seized because of somebody’s wish. Unfortunately, this is the reality Ukraine has faced over the last 10-15 years.
In this very case, I can tell you the following.
There is certain progress in this case. The investigators have received sufficient data on how this poison works, and what’s the technology of its application. Where the poison could be produced, in which lab, and how it could be delivered to Ukraine.”
All the chain is related to when the meals were put on the table, and the people who have done it are already determined.
Right now there is an international search for those people. In my opinion, this case is promising.