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Ceasefire regime continues: 20 demining sites and 4 new disengagement sites have been agreed at the TCG meeting

On October 5, Ambassador John Herbstinterviewed President Leonid Kravchuk, former president of Ukraine and head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG). Watch the Russian-language interview below or find Ambassador Herbst’s English-language introduction and the English transcript further down.

Ambassador John Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council: OK. Mr President, you were Ukraine’s leader at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise. And according to historian Serhii Plokhii, his book “The Last Empire”, you’ve said that both Gorbachev and Yeltsin had not been happy with your plans to hold a referendum on independence. Do you think Russia’s leaders at that time were ready to recognize Ukraine as an independent state?

President Leonid Kravchuk, Head, Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG); former president of Ukraine: I don’t think so. They were ready for Ukraine, albeit in a slightly different status, to still remain part of the Soviet Union. And they were constantly stating the same thing everywhere—that there will be no Soviet Union without Ukraine. This is something that Gorbachev kept repeating. As soon as the Soviet Union fell apart, it was already Yeltsin who went on about this—that Russia’s interests could not be realized without Ukraine. He and I were sitting and having a conversation, and he said, “Look, Leonid Makarovych, what do you think, can Russia develop if Ukraine takes a separate path and heads West?” I responded, “Well, Boris Nikolayevich, haven’t we signed documents that reflect precisely this understanding—that every country, every people determine their policy on their own?” And he said, “Well, we did sign this, but in reality, our history, the hundreds of years that we’ve lived together, they are such that we should not deviate from our main task. And the main task is the strategic interests of both Russia and Ukraine.” And he showed me a document which said, “Ukraine has been, is and will remain within the system of strategic national interests of Russia.” This was their stance on this, you see.

JH: Which document was that?

LK: It was a document called “The Basis of Russia’s Foreign Policy”. Some time later, it was approved by the Duma [Russian parliament], and Yeltsin… this document was from Yeltsin’s times, and I’m pointing this out because, when many people, or some politicians, among them Western politicians, are saying that Putin is fundamentally different from Yeltsin, I agree up to a point. But the document that I’m talking about was developed by Yeltsin. This means that whoever comes [to power] in Russia—there might be differences in details, but the strategy is the same—Russia’s strategic interests are above all. This is their main purpose in life: Russia should be above all. Oh, to only have one’s beloved country—nothing else matters. The beloved country—this is the main thing for Russia.

JH: That’s very interesting. The next question is related to this, one could say. Certain apologists of Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine place the blame with the West and say that if there had been no NATO expansion and EU expansion, Russia’s war in Ukraine wouldn’t have happened. What do you say?

LK: This is not quite true. This is a sort of an outer shell, I would describe it, a justification, like, if Ukraine is interested in, or moves toward NATO and the European Union, then Russia supposedly wants to stop it. Had there even been no NATO, no European Union, Russia is still focused on the same goal: Ukraine should be an integral part of strategic, historical, national interests of Russia. That is, one should not let Ukraine roam off too far. Because moving out onto [the frontiers of] Russia’s strategic interests, moving out… including Western [frontiers]… As Putin says, he wants to restore the Russian Empire… or, rather, restore Russia in the borders of the old Russian Empire. And how does one do that without Ukraine? How does one move out onto the Western strategic fields? This is why they need Ukraine. Ukraine, in addition to its economic and strategic might, is also a window… a door, or a window, I don’t know how to put it, onto Western Europe and further on. So this is the detail that often gets overlooked, because there is this idea that today Putin, say, will gratify, I’ll say it a bit crudely, his strategic goals with just Ukraine. This is a mistake. Ukraine is merely a stepping stone for him to go further. This is a truth moment. Ukraine is the basis, so to say, a launchpad… not launch, maybe, but a pad, where he will put down one foot in Russia, the other foot in Ukraine, and he will get on from there. He needs this base in Ukraine. This is something that needs to be kept in mind. Some think, “Well, this will be limited to Ukraine”. Oh, if that were so… This is the gravest [possible] mistake. Putin places his strategic goals above everything. This is the first point. Secondly, he has global interests. He wants to be among those countries that define the worldwide agenda… the global order. And here, there are the United States of America. It’s a competition. And this is how this policy is built: Russia, separately, with Ukraine and with other countries that were formerly part of both Soviet union and Tzarist Russia, can create such a basis for moving toward these strategic goals.

JH: What do you think Putin is going for with his Crimea land grab and his launching the hybrid war in the Donbas?

LK: In the Donbas? So that… See, he pulled it off with Crimea first. Putin pulled it off with Crimea—he got that done easily. Annexation of Crimea was done swiftly, thanks to a number of mistakes on the part of Ukrainian authorities, this is something we need to admit,—thanks to miscalculations and I would even say a certain fear, also on the part of the United States… at the very least as embodied by those representatives who were then visiting Ukraine and I was meeting with them… [representatives] from the United States of America. They were persuading Ukraine’s leadership: do not bring relations with Putin to a head, do not turn Crimea into the hotspot that unleashes World War III. This is something that we were being constantly told. I was present at these kinds of conversations, this is a real fact. And this concept of pacifying Putin, not objecting to his desire of snatching up Crimea, restitution… or, rather, denouncing of the agreement of 1954—that was the guiding principle. And he pulled it off easily. And when he pulled it off with Crimea, he thought he would get a similarly easy run of the Donbas. That it would be easy, that people of the Donbas would rise up and support Russia—and this did happen initially in many cities of the Donetsk and the Lughansk oblasts. It was really obvious how much active support for Russia was being shown locally by separatists. But once Ukraine mobilized its forces and warded Putin off, the question arose: what comes next? What comes next for the Donbas? The Donbas can be used as something that is hanging over Ukraine constantly and dictating its conditions. OK, but this has a high cost. How long can this be kept up? Because he is making these calculations, both in terms of financial cost and other capabilities. What will be the West’s response? What will be the response of the United States of America—the largest and the strongest country in the world? Will it, as they say, just look on? Or will it actually act strongly to put paid to this violation of international principles and international law? Because this is what it is. So, Russia needs the Donbas so that, as [this situation] hangs over Ukraine, this can be a basis for further steps. We are saying this all the time, Ukraine is just a launchpad. Ukraine is on the forefront today, and we are asking [the world] to understand this. We are not trying to scare anybody, like, oh, be afraid, if Ukraine… I do hear this kind of talk, “You are trying to scare us into helping Ukraine.” Who will be helping? The West? Let us just be frank, if we are talking about serious help, I… we… we do understand that, yes, we are being helped, we don’t deny it. But if we are talking about help on a serious scale, help of a systematic nature, about incorporating Ukraine into the system of strategic interests of Europe, of democratic Europe, and of the United States of America… I often ask: can there be a modern Europe without Ukraine?—in the broad sense of these words. So, the question arises, where should Ukraine be—with Russia or with Europe? Historically, Ukraine was [intertwined] with Europe. Can Europe, and I mean European democratic realm, help Ukraine—and I don’t mean piecemeal help here and there—but help Ukraine become a democratic, law-abiding, civilized state? Can it do this? Yes, it can. Is Ukraine ready for this? Yes, it is. I’m now in constant, almost daily communication with the Office of the President of Ukraine, I talk to many people. I won’t claim everyone is ready. But the majority of Ukrainian politicians, the majority of Ukrainian business people, the people as a whole—they want Ukraine to become one of the countries of the European Union. This is what Ukrainians want. And that is why it’s important to look at Ukraine with this in mind. Yes, Ukraine is able and ready to be transformed, but for that, Ukraine needs not just some petty, excuse my language… petty help. It needs systematic help, which Ukraine has to make happen… of course, for that, it should become… improve governance, beat back corruption, enact reforms—we know all of this, and there are a lot of issues here. But on our own, we will hardly… not just hardly, we simply won’t solve these issues.

JH: OK. You have mentioned Western help in the current situation. What is your view on the sanctions that were introduced against Russia? Are they effective? Are they sufficient? Or is there a need for more?

LK: Well, you see, both you and I use this phrase, “sanctions introduced against Russia.” No one has so far introduced sanctions against Russia. Sanctions were introduced against specific individuals from Russia. With sanctions like this, Russia can keep on going for another hundred years. If these were sanctions against Russia as a state—financial, economic, banking-related… that is, when it [affects] the whole country… diplomatic, political [sanctions], isolation—for behavior that is out of line, I’m reiterating, out of line with the principles and norms of international law; for behavior that Russia is exhibiting not only toward Ukraine. There are six hot spots right now in the world, Russia has a hand there, and it is present there with its troops. That is to say, those sanctions do have an effect, for sure, but, I’m repeating, Russia can live with these sanctions. Which is why I suggest that sanctions be looked at as they relate to the responsibility of Russia’s power structure for behavior exhibited by Russia, the Kremlin’s responsibility for this kind of foreign and domestic policy, and not just individual businessmen or individual persons who have deviated from certain norms of behavior. The state, the power structure as a whole. Then, I think, these sanctions will have very significant consequences for Russia. This could stop Russia. While selective sanctions won’t stop it—they just spur it on in its interests, and the Russian people are saying, “We can endure even more of it. Russia must be great!” This is their main concern.

JH: You are now responsible for Ukraine’s negotiations within the Minsk process.

LK: Can you say that again?

JH: You are in charge of negotiations in the Minsk process, from the Ukrainian side. We know that there were two instances when Russia and Ukraine agreed on a ceasefire, in September 2014 and February 2015. But up to this very day, every day, there is shooting. In your view, did Moscow fulfill even a single condition of the Minsk process, its obligations under the Minsk process, did it comply with a single thing, or not?

LK: Russia has not even once complied with what was set down in Minsk. Russia has a justification for this: Russia says it is not a party to the negotiations. It is sort of on the side of it all. It says that the conflict in the Donbas—Russia says, this is its official policy—that the conflict in the Donbas is a domestic conflict between Ukraine and certain areas of the Lughansk and Donetsk oblasts. And Russia is [supposedly] not a party to this conflict, there are no Russian troops in the Donbas, there is no Russian military equipment there. And Gryzlov, my current counterpart who is part of the Trilateral Contact Group, he is sort of there, he signs things, but [it’s as if] he says, “I’m not a part of this. Here, these are the representatives of the Donetsk and Lughansk oblasts, it is with them that you should be coming to agreements”. For example, we are in a conference call, like this one, and he doesn’t utter a thing before they join the call. They join the call, and they ask him, Gryzlov, our moderator from the OSCE asks him, “What is your view of this?” — “I’m not speaking until they take their seats, representatives of the Donetsk and Lughansk oblasts, territories that are not controlled by Ukraine.” That is, Russia sort of signs something, sort of participates, but actually says, “No.” And this is the catch in our negotiations. We are holding negotiations in the presence of Gryzlov, who says they don’t partici… that they are not a party to the conflict. And we are saying, “How can you claim this? We can actually see it, this has already come so far, this is clearly obvious to all, not just Ukraine. And that’s why… Even recently, and also earlier, every time we hold meetings like this, Russia keeps… calmly, consistently, steadily—it keeps to its central strategic point, that it is not at war with Ukraine. Those are all militias, maybe there are some mercenaries, but Russia is not present there. This is why we cannot begin to come to an agreement—because Russia is apparently there, but it isn’t there, you see. If we could only get onto a normal footing in our relationship with Russia, maybe there would be in these [arduous] negotiations. But we just cannot get on this normal footing—Russia simply evades us every time when we try to raise these issues.

JH: Well, again, there was a ceasefire agreement six years ago. But every day, there is shooting. But we have noticed, in the last six to eight weeks, that the shooting is getting less intensive. As if someone in Russia decided that it’s best not to have so much shooting right about now. Why do you think they have scaled back their shooting?

LK: I think that they feel they need to change their strategy, their tactics, and their policy in the Donbas, in these territories that are not controlled by Ukraine, because they failed to move forward [with their goals]—they just failed. Ukraine has stopped them and is actively moving forward, this is a real fact. The fact that we have wrangled out this steady ceasefire, this is Ukraine’s achievement, and the fact that the Normandy meeting took place is also Ukraine’s achievement, and the fact that, right now, a possible meeting in Berlin is being prepared, this will also be Ukraine’s achievement. This is all obvious. Russia sees that Ukraine has stopped Russia. They are spending a lot of money on all of this. They can see that Russia’s reputation and the Kremlin’s reputation’s is, in any event, declining. No doubt about that, both in Europe and worldwide. They are looking for an opening to change, I think, to change their tack with respect to this. And this is the point—my analysis of this allows me to say this—that needs to be reinforced by a better-coordinated, more unified policy on the part of Europe, the United States of America, and the whole civilized world. Because today there is no unity, just look at the Nordstream-2. It is clear that this affects Ukraine’s income from its gas pipeline. But Europeans have asked Trump not to interfere, through his sanctions, not to hinder those countries that are constructing Nordstream-2. And, with all due respect for European politicians, for Germany, for Germany’s Chancellor, they are saying, “Yes, we get it, but whatever is happening with policy or with the war, we will lose too many jobs, we will lose income, we will lose… that is, business considerations are carrying the day, not political interests of Ukraine or of Europe as a whole. I understand.. I think about it this way: do they not understand that all of these Streams can simply make Europe even more dependent on Russia? This is very likely. This is a real [possibility]. And if it will become more dependent, then the policy will also become more dependent. And I don’t know who will be the beneficiary of that policy. So, how does one bring all of this into alignment, so that there is unity between Europe, the United States, and other countries? And then, if there was a unified approach, one could have more influence over Russia, I think.

JH: In your view, is the situation in Minsk, in Belarus, making things complicated for Russia? Does it influence…

LK: What’s that?

JH: The complicated situation in Russia…. I mean in Belarus. Does it influence Russia, its policy, the Kremlin’s policy with respect to Ukraine and with respect to the war in Ukraine?

LK: You know, when I hear [talk about] relations of Russia and Belarus, no one is talking about a very important point. Russia and Belarus have a treaty that creates a single “Union State”. This treaty sets out specific mutual actions [to be undertaken] by Russia and Belarus. Hence, saying today that Putin is making decisions that are outside of [the scope of] this treaty… well, I think that he is acting in accordance with this treaty. It is another matter that the semblance… or rather, the forms of influence or actions of Russia in Belarus today can be changing, but the practice of applying the [terms of the] treaty is like this. How does it work out for Ukraine? Of course, we would like to have a democratic Belarus for a neighbor. We would like that very much because then our relations will be more open, more clear and civilized. But Lukashenka also understands something else—he has already lost all possibility of getting support from Europe. The doors to Europe are closed for him. The only open door that he has left is Russia, on the basis of the Union treaty. And he will do everything that will be suggested to him by Vladimir Putin. He will do anything. That is why we, as Ukraine, are now in a very complicated situation. We wouldn’t want to sour our relations with Belarus, but on the other hand, like [other] civilized nations of Europe, together with them, we adopt the same steps and the same statements, about sanctions, about not recognizing the [result of the] elections in Belarus, against the use of force in Belarus, against repressions that are taking place there. Our official statements, by Ukraine, are in line with what the EU countries are doing. So, here, we can no longer count on some kind of a special relationship with Belarus. We are following what is happening in Belarus, like opening up borders and letting in more people from Belarus. They come over, speak on our TV channels, TV shows, they meet with people. We are doing that. But to talk about relations that are friendly, or, how best to put it, not friendly, but partner relations—that would be a more suitable term—with Belarus, this has become really complicated.

JH: OK. Once again, you are now in negotiations as part of the Minsk process. What do you think about the current composition of the Minsk process—do you think this composition makes it possible to achieve a real ceasefire and a solution to the Donbas conflict?

LK: You know, I’d say, hardly. We can take steps… and we need to take certain steps to show to the Ukrainian people, and to the European community, and to other civilized countries, the United States of America, that Ukraine is taking these steps constantly and steadily, and is trying to approach things creatively taking into consideration its influence capabilities in this situation. But saying that the Minsk format can bring peace to the Donbas, without expanding influence on Russia, I don’t think it’s a real [prospect]. Influence on Russia must be expanded. Once again, I’m saying, without the United States, I will be speaking very frankly, without the United States of America, without their clear, firm, systematic policy toward Russia, their… not just statements but actions that will push Russia back onto the rails of international law… Russia will not be stopped. Because currently it sees that between countries that have influence over Russia, there are always cracks which one can slip through, and one can use these cracks to exert influence on these countries so that they put less pressure on Russia. It is very adept at using this, and it spends a lot of money on this. So in this, we are very much counting, if I may say so, on the United States of America, and I think it’s not just us who are counting on this. Russia knows this, because the largest, the strongest and the most democratic, historically, country can have lots and lots of influence on the situation in Ukraine. Only this country—yes, together with other countries, together with Ukraine,—can stop Putin. I don’t see any other options. So, the Minsk format is needed as a step that should be built on, possibly in other forms, I don’t know. Currently, we need to exhaust everything that this particular form can give us. And then we’ll see.

JH: Many consider Kurt Volker to have been an outstanding negotiator on the Donbas issues. In your view… And I agree with this, by the way. In your view, should the United States appoint another negotiator to deal with the Donbas conflict?

LK: I don’t think this is the most important issue currently. There was no separate position of negotiator on the Donbas, because everyone is a negotiator on the Donbas. The whole Ukrainian delegation is comprised of negotiators on the Donbas: the humanitarian group, the political group, the economic group. All groups that exist today are negotiators on the Donbas. When the question of a separate person was being discussed, a person who would focus these negotiations and lead them, being knowledgeable about the local context of the Donbas… this was the way this matter was discussed, the way this task was formulated… it has yet to be realized, for a host of reasons, including the difficulty of keeping up communication with the people living in the Donbas. A suitable way of communicating with them has not yet been found. They are closed off. Even the Red Cross finds it very difficult to get in there. We are finding it very difficult to be able to solve the issue of the flooding of mines—although it can become a horrible disaster, ecological disaster, not only for Ukraine. We know this, we bring this up, but they don’t let us participate in these possible corrective measures on mines, or repairing the mines, or, say, restoring… or pumping out water. That is, it’s a whole economic system that they have. And whatever issue you address, everything bumps up against this single thing, the war. The war is ongoing, there is shooting and shelling, there can be no elections—because war, you can’t do anything—because war, there is no responsibility on the part of those people who live there—they are not recognized as separate administrative units, they don’t keep to any norms or principles of international law. So we have it very hard with them. But we think that… well, now… this issue that… or, rather, the situation that arose with respect to Mr. Fokin has borne some positive fruit: now, every day, I get calls from people from different corners of Ukraine, and they say, “You are the head of the Ukrainian delegation, we can offer this, we can offer that…”—people from the Donbas, who know the Donbas, they are suggesting different solutions, they offer to participate in these solutions. And they are, I’m underscoring this, not part of the delegation. They consider it their duty, and I’m very pleased to see this, to help us. In the Verkhovna Rada right now, MPs have decided to create a platform—a political platform to give legislative help to our Trilateral Contact Group, and not only to us, but also to the executive and to the President—a platform that would give legislative support to solving issues that arise in these territories, these parts of the Donetsk and Lughansk oblasts. That is, there is an ongoing process of searching. And this, taking into account the way the situation is, as I’ve just described, this will be useful.

JH: This is a very important step. That is, you are currently in close contact with members of the society from all corners of Ukraine, and with the Rada, specifically with respect to this conflict and what needs to be done to resolve the conflict, correct? Is that what you’re saying?

LK: Yes.

JH: So, this is very important, and I think it is much to your credit that you are doing this. Because in order to really resolve a conflict, one needs support on the part of the society.

LK: Of course. I hear and see… right now, already… I’m repeating, many people, every day I meet people who are offering… yes, sometimes they are naive, but the main thing is that the people are stepping up to offer help in influencing things and bringing about peace.

JH: Several months ago it came to light that the Minsk process would now have a Trilateral Council that would include representatives of DNR and LNR. Back then, it was a dubious proposition. What’s your view on the subject?

LK: Oh, the creation of the National Group?

MK: And there was supposed to be a group that represents Lughansk. So he is asking about your view on this.

LK: Well, you know, I wouldn’t want, right now, to even think about somehow expanding or changing the structure of the Trilateral Contact Group’s influence on the situation in the Donbas. The structure that has emerged over the last five years—the war is now in its sixth year—it emerged, and certain mechanisms have been refined, the roles of specific people have been refined, certain decisions have been made that we need to follow up on and deepen further, to change, to add to, to act upon, to augment with different forms of influence, to work with all of this. And that is why I don’t think there is a need for additional structures. And that is why I don’t support… from the get-go I was saying that we don’t need to create a separate structure. One could create an advisory body that would support—support the work of the Trilateral Contact Group, or an advisory council that has a supporting role. But creating a separate group that would have a decision-making role—we don’t need that. Supporting, advising, like, say, a group of consultants—that could work. But only within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group, without changing the TCG’s mode of functioning. Because any change will call into question every step that we are taking.

JH: OK. Again, as I said, the fact that you are in contact with the Rada and with representatives of the society is very important. But here, a question arises. According to the Minsk agreement, the Donbas is supposed to have a certain degree of autonomy. Do you think the Rada is ready to adopt a law that would give the Donbas, and possibly other regions of the country, such a degree of autonomy.

LK: Well, I don’t think this means a [formal] autonomy [status]. What we need to be talking about is the distinguishing features of local self-governance.

JH: OK, good. I understand the distinction.

LK: That is, if we put the matter of autonomy on the agenda right away, it can prompt statements from neighboring oblasts that they would like to be autonomous too. You know, it’s a possibility here, because Ukraine’s distinct characteristic is—you know this well from your time in Ukraine—that Ukraine in the East and Ukraine in the West, those are two different Ukraines. And it can lead to the spread of this desire for autonomy, and the central government will lose the ability to govern Ukraine as a whole as a unitary state. This is why I alway say, let us think about the distinguishing features of local governance that take into account the distinctive characteristics of these regions and that take into account the fact that over these years, different forms of governance have emerged there. And simply shutting them down or dropping them completely, without taking into account these distinctive features, would probably be a mistake. But we shouldn’t change the system of governance on the state level. That is, this concerns only the local self-governance.

JH: OK. You have noted that Ukraine has warded off Russia’s aggression in the Donbas. Who do you think can be currently seen as the prevailing side in the conflict—Russia or Ukraine?

LK: Well, this is what I think. Right now, Ukraine has shown that it has become a strong military entity—a strong one. It can stand its ground and it does stand its ground. And if, let’s talk frankly, if Ukrainian soldiers had gotten wider permissions to shoot, they would have warded off these combatants at the farthest battle lines. Because we are implementing the decision both of the Normandy format and the Minsk Trilateral Contact group—we are keeping to the ceasefire and we often don’t respond to provocations. We only respond when we see that the enemy is taking advantage of our silence. And I think they understand it too. If they were not clear on this, I think they would be trying to advance further. But they know that they will get a pushback that is very strong, very organized, and very decisive, given our current capabilities that are now vastly different from those that we had previously.

JH: I agree that American strategic interests require us to provide more help to Ukraine. And I think that in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats understand this too. But now a question to you—you have already touched upon this, but I would like to give you an opportunity to expand on this: What should America do now to help Ukraine?

LK: America… There are two aspects to this. It could just help Ukraine. Like, the first option: America has concentrated [its efforts] and is helping Ukraine, but by this it does not help resolve the conflict. The second option is, America helps Ukraine in a wider sense, but it also takes a leading role in putting pressure on Russia. We don’t need to be in combat. We don’t need, today, to arm ourselves to the teeth in order to stop the enemy. We need to cause the enemy to leave the Donbas. So that they just leave. Let Russia—its weaponry, its troops, its special forces—leave the Donbas. And then we will take care of things, we will find the solution, like I said, we will implement, by law, the special features of local self-governance, we will allow wider rights, wider economic freedom for these people, possibly we’ll even think about introducing a special economic zone for these regions. That is, there are many examples worldwide of how one can give more rights and freedoms to these areas. But we need Russia to leave, we need Russia to stop helping, both in a direct way and in a hybrid way, to organize this war against Ukraine. Thus, for me, help on the part of the United States would mean marshaling the international community to put pressure on Russia and providing not just military, but first and foremost economic aid to Ukraine. We want Ukraine to undergo transformation as a state, as a structure that is on the same level as European countries, civilized countries of Western Europe. And then, all these factors which are at play, they will become just… they will go away, they will be no more, and we will be able to focus on developing our domestic economy, our domestic life, organizing civilized life, the market economy, implementing reforms, beating back corruption, moving step by step out of that state we have found ourselves in. Because, to be honest, if we address this issue, Ukraine has so far never had a systematic approach to moving forward. We’ve had some standalone fire-alarm kind of situations. One day we are focusing on something—like, today, there is an emergency, let’s say, this kind of emergency is currently happening everywhere—the coronavirus… one needs to shore up funds—and those are very limited—to stop the spread of this severe, complicated disease. Reforms—we dart from one reform to the second one, to the third one. We abandon the previous one and focus on the new one—but this needs to be a system of reforms. Governing the country—there needs to be a system for governing the country. Do we have help from the West? Yes, we do, but what kind of help is it? It’s often conditional help. To be honest, I’m not aware that there is this kind of help for other countries, where they say, we’ll help you, but you need to do this, and that, and that, and that. That, and that, and that, and that. As soon as we go about something, you know, from our point of view, we do have a right, as a nation state, to deal with our issues the way that they are… immediately, the G7 embassies gather and tell us, “Don’t do that”. They tell us this publicly, the G7 embassies do. This shouldn’t be like this. Yes, I understand that they are helping us, these countries, they give us certain opportunities, they see that we are not always capable of organizing these things. Help is needed. But this needs to be help for Ukraine, and Ukraine has to [be able to] use this help on its own, with the advisory role, we accept that, of Western experts. But not to turn this into a situation where Western experts are governing Ukraine. It does look like this sometimes. Do you know how many questions I’m getting, and I can’t find answers for the people who are calling me, “Leonid Makarovych, you escaped the Kremlin[’s control],” they are telling me. “Why did you escape the Kremlin? Because Kremlin was governing Ukraine. You said Ukraine would be independent and we would be getting things done on our own. And now, we are being governed out of Brussels.” How should I answer these questions? I find it hard [to answer them]. But I put a question to you, very openly, because you know Ukraine—Why does this need to be brought out into the public, given that half of Ukraine still [mentally] lives in the Soviet Union? Ukraine is not like… the background is not like it is in France, or in Belgium, the background is just different. What I am getting at is that these kinds of open [statements] look like interference in Ukraine’s domestic matters. Why, is the question, why are embassies trying to stop Ukraine? Why, just think about this, how can this be happening? How does it look to people who sometimes live in the context of times past? How does it look to economic agents, who respond with, But we can’t do anything… The bank can’t [do something], because it is under the supervision of a board, and the board is 90% foreigners. Why? Does Ukraine not have people who can be on a board? That is, there are many questions… I think that Ukraine is treated as a retarded country. I think this is a huge mistake. Ukraine has a lot of potential, [_unclear_], technical capabilities, IT technologies. It has the lead in many spheres. It just needs some organizing. And organizing, helping to organize all of this, we are very much in favor of [such an approach]. But taking away Ukraine’s agency in this—thanks but no thanks.

JH: OK. Those are strong words. I have no more questions. If you want to add something, you can do so.

LK: Well, I have something here. I was reading some literature and thinking about this interview, I have prepared some… well, say, the following points.

JH: OK.

LK: I will now try to [put] them to you. … I would like our Western friends to understand some peculiarities about the opposition here in Ukraine. I’m observing how foreign delegations arrive here… I understand that they want to know not only the opinion of the authorities, but also the opinion of the opposition. But they probably are not fully aware of the characteristic features of our opposition. Part of the opposition, even in the Verkhovna Rada, and not only there, is oriented toward the Kremlin. They don’t even hide it. And any actions or statements of theirs, any stirring on their part is meant to support the Kremlin’s policy. Another part of the opposition, the so-called national-patriotic opposition, is oriented toward the West, but this orientation toward the West is seen through the prism of their own interests and their desire to get power. And this power struggle here often translates into revolutions of different colors. And these revolutions are destroying the possibility of everyone getting united and working toward common goals. So my wish, or, rather, my request is that our Western friends take all of this into account. And often, one shouldn’t draw conclusions from information that is officially presented in Ukraine. Information is being presented by non-professionals and non-professional organizations. These information bits often result from political, imperfect, technological[ly flawed] processes of obtaining information, or are colored by interests of political forces. This is an important point to keep in mind, because often, assessment of our authorities is built… yes, I understand that our government has its flaws and its unsolved issues, and sometimes it is incapable in some areas, not because it doesn’t want to deal with them, but because they lack certain skills, to put it crudely. But listening to statements put out by the opposition… For example, I live here in Ukraine, and every evening I turn on my TV and listen, I read papers, et cetera, and there is an incessant avalanche of smearing, of criticism that has no grounds for it, except for one—to stop, or, better said, to prevent this government/administration from fulfilling its important functions. I would ask that this be kept in mind and that one do not listen only to the opposition, because our opposition is of a peculiar kind. It is not Ukrainian. Take opposition in Poland, for example. Yes, their population is 96% Polish. They come together, they have discussions, they are looking for better ways of achieving goals. But in Poland, no one questions Poland’s independence—no one. And in Ukraine, when they come together, part of them questions Ukraine’s independence and its policy, their being oriented toward the Kremlin, and another part is oriented toward other regions, and through this, Ukraine is being torn apart. And I see that when our Western friends come here to study the situation in Ukraine, they measure Ukrainian opposition by the yardstick of their own idea of what opposition is like in their countries. Our opposition is different. And this needs to be kept in mind.

JH: All right.

LK: And the second thing, I’m already repeating myself, it is important for the West… Ukraine, in the nearest future… I’ve written this in that article, or rather, in the interview… Ukraine will present a plan for Ukraine’s transformation modeled on Poland, Ukraine’s transformation taking Poland as an example. But we’ll only be able to implement this transformation, like Poland did, if we do it together with the United States of America, our Polish friends, and other countries. We need this transformation to be integrated into the system of highest interests of Ukrainian authorities, first and foremost, and also interests of countries that would like to walk the path forward together with Ukraine. Thank you.

JH: OK. Mr. President, thank you for this interview, and see you, I hope, rather soon, but when coronavirus [infections rate] declines.

LK: Thank you. Wishing you success… wishing you health and success. Keep it up, fight on, and don’t succumb to the coronavirus, because I know that in the United States, even more than in Ukraine, this disease is raging. Keep safe. There is no other way, only to keep safe.

Interview by John E. Herbst

Atlantic Council

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