The Russian president has already stated that he considered the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Recently he made another statement in this concern. According to former head of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Mustafa Dzhemilev, in a phone conversation with him Putin said in particular that declaration of independence by Ukraine from the Soviet Union did not fully comply with Soviet regulations. Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk took an active part in all political processes of late 1980s – early 1990s. Are there any grounds for Putin to make such statements? What do they indicate? What does the pseudo-referendum in the Crimea mean? What was the main mistake made by Yanukovych and his milieu? How adequate are the actions of the new power? These and other questions are raised in an interview with Leonid Kravchuk.
Mr. Kravchuk, what is your assessment of Putin’s statements?
“In Russian elite the topic of unlawfulness of Ukraine’s secession from the USSR has been discussed for a long time. One day I was invited to a Moscow TV show, which was attended by many people who felt nostalgic for the Soviet Union. They said, too, that some procedures were violated during Ukraine’s secession from the USSR. When I asked whether there actually were such procedures, whether any standards documents were approved which defined the mechanisms of these processes, I received a clear answer: no, there weren’t any. So, since there were no mechanisms, it was impossible to violate anything.
“The first thing we did when we gathered in Belovezhskaya Pushcha was putting on the table the Constitution of the USSR and constitutions of the republics, which had an article in black and white which said that every nation has a right for self-identification up to separation. Apart from that, we were accompanied by a group of legal experts, because the destiny of signing corresponding documents was decided. We asked them to assess the documents from the viewpoint of international law, as well as to tell whether it was legal in terms of the constitutions of the USSR and union republics. The reply was unequivocal: this document will have legal power and meet the internal demands of the constitution, as well as the regulations of the international law. As a result, the document which was signed then was ratified by the Ukrainian parliament. The document we signed raised no doubts in any country of the world. It was accepted as a document of international character. Not only did we stick to the regulations of the international law, but also undertook the commitment concerning the agreements made by the former USSR – that was a question of principle.
“So, it is wrong to say now that Ukraine’s secession from the Soviet Union was not quite legal. On the other hand, another question arises: if Ukraine’s secession was illegal, what about Russia? According to Putin’s logic, it turns out that its secession was not quite legal either; then Russia today is not quite a legal state, and President Putin is not quite a legal president. When such questions are broached, we need to rely on political logic and factual documents of international and internal character which regulated then and continue to regulate corresponding relations between states and within them. If Putin has any questions, he may appeal to international courts.”
As we can see, the same logic of Russian authorities is preserved regarding the so-called referendum in the Crimea.
“On the whole, we need to take into account the fact that Vladimir Putin always says what he likes, not what really is. For example, when asked whether the Crimean government is legal, Putin says in no uncertain terms that it is legal because it was elected by the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. But he replies negatively to the question concerning legitimacy of the government in Kyiv, although it was likewise elected by absolutely legitimate Verkhovna Rada. There is no logic here.
“As for his attitude to international documents, it is surprising and dangerous. The supreme principle of the international law is the inheritance of commitments undertaken by previous governments. They are connected not only with the acting premier or president – this is history which was documented and which should be executed by following governments. Why does not Russia keep to the Budapest Memorandum as a guarantor of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine? Putin gave a very interesting answer, saying that in the process of the revolution a new power has come in Kyiv and ‘we have no commitments before this power, because we did not sign anything with this power.’ But it was not him who signed the Belavezha Accords. Does it mean that only the documents that Putin signed are valid?
“Today we should understand that we’re dealing with the president of a big state, which can refuse from the signed documents, interpret them or some political processes in any way he likes, not like it is declared in the Constitution or international law. Who can say today that the referendum scheduled in the Crimea is legal from the point of view of our Constitution and the situation in the country? The whole state should resolve the question of integrity, not some part of it. Questions of local scale are brought to local referendums, but we don’t have a law on local referendum. Moreover, are any referendums held in any part of the world, where armed forces of another state are located, who ride armored vehicles, fly planes, and have modern weapons? It is holding the peninsula in blockade and people as hostages.
PLACARD READS: “I AM RUSSIAN! VLADIMIR PUTIN BETRAYED ME!” / Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day
“The Ukrainian government was formed by the legitimate Verkhovna Rada. Why not sit at a negotiating table? If you have any complaints, let’s find ways of eliminating problems and contradictions. The Kremlin has questions concerning some special attitude to Russians in Ukraine. Sorry, but the problem of robberies, looting, and killings has no national attributes. However, the Russian propaganda is built in such a way that this seems to be happening only to Russians. Moreover, workers of Russian culture wrote a letter which proves that they got into political mud which they will never be able to wash. This is disgrace.
“At the moment the purposeful information war has given way to a real war – pressure is exerted with the help of weapons and military force. We cannot look at this calmly. As a person, who in spite of geopolitical location and special relations with Russia, used to profess the principle of neutrality of Ukraine (I was one of the authors of the declaration of the 1990s on the neutral, non-bloc, and nuclear-free status of the state), I now consider that we should immediately apply for entry to NATO. There is simply no other way to defend ourselves from the ‘older brother.’ Persuasion, concessions, and humiliation – all this has been present in our common history – don’t have any effect on Russia. We need either to use force, or tame down and perform their will. But we cannot accept these conditions.”
What way out do you see in the situation with the Crimea?
“We have external and internal problems of reacting to the events in the Crimea. On external level the power is reacting in an active and positive way. Within a short period of time the attitude of the EU has changed, and the attitude of the US has changed drastically. Ukraine has been accepted as a state which wants to build a legal democratic society. The situation with internal reaction is worse. There is still no legal order in the streets, in the state. There are questions concerning staff deployment and concerning the Crimea – we haven’t decided yet upon our positions and counter-information.
“Why haven’t we appealed yet to the world community to bring peacekeeping forces to the Crimea, the same Blue Helmets? We need to do something rather than wait till the conflict develops into something more serious with unpredicted consequences. Why haven’t the representatives of the new power come to the Crimea yet? To say that the power is illegal, like Putin does concerning the Kyiv power, is the easiest thing to do, but it does not improve the situation, rather aggravates it. When we are speaking about the state, its borders, ambitions should be excluded from the process of communication.
“There are many questions to the incumbent power. Quick cancellation of laws, broaching of the language question, which stirred the situation. They need to be very prudent. While approving any decision, the power should take into consideration the fact that there is Sevastopol and Lviv in Ukraine. If the interests of only one of the sides are taken into account, we will always have a reason for conflict. Statesmen should not make hasty decisions when the thing is about territorial integrity, church, language, and international relations – these are the most painful points of internal policy. Guided by emotions, we will never achieve harmonization of relations in Ukraine and build a state with a single nation and people. None of the presidents has carried out such policy, and it is not developed now.
“Another question needs to be solved. When we see that local self-governing is abandoned, local governments have no power, because everyone was trying to bring the power to the center and went to regions for money, offices, brought bribes, we need to define clearly that local self-government should be deep and all-embracing. We need to tell the Crimea today what directions will be taken into consideration in the new Constitution. At the same time, we need to immediately start working on the text of the new Constitution and bring the state to order.
“Nothing has changed now. Already today the basis for the new Maidan is being laid – people don’t want to dismantle the barricades, because they might need them. The system of power should be changed, and if a person is at least a bit stained in some connections or stories, they may be involved in anything they like, but they cannot be allowed to power. Otherwise we won’t get out of this mud and will live from Maidan to Maidan.”
You have many times met with former president Yanukovych and headed the Constitutional Assembly. In your opinion, what was the main mistake made by Yanukovych and his milieu?
“The main mistake made by Yanukovych and his milieu is belief that after seizing power they could rule without asking for people’s opinion. They wanted to do everything by forcible breaking, form policy and pass it like manna from heaven, so that it was executed by everyone; they never took into consideration the fact that Ukraine is a multinational state and there are certain historical, economic, and mental peculiarities of certain regions. They thought they seized power for a long time and their vertical would stand. But so much hatred had accumulated to this power in people that we saw such processes – although I don’t justify them – when governors were forced to their knees. If the latter want to remain a party, not leave the stage as a political force that led to this conflict, suffering, and victims, it should hold an assembly and cleanse itself. The program should be open, honest, and firm. Then the past will be the past. Otherwise, people will never believe them.”