On Oct. 3 Radio Liberty invited Larysa IVSHYNA, editor in chief of The Day; Andrii KULYKOV, ICTV’s host of “Freedom of Speech”; and Fidel PAVLENKO of the BBC to discuss the latest Ukrainian-Russian gas problems that are making headlines again. The program was hosted by Zynovii FRYS. Below is the transcript of their discussion (www.radiosvoboda.org) with minor abridgments.
ON THE GAS SAGA
Ms. Ivshyna, was this a big surprise for you?
LI: “No, unfortunately, it was not a surprise. The only bad thing is that once again we will be justifying ourselves to Europe and saying that we are paying but Russia is just playing foul. But, again, we can say very ironically that Russia has spoiled our feast of democracy by these primitive reminders about gas.”
Mr. Pavlenko, your colleague said that the Ukrainian “feast of democracy” was spoiled. But Ukraine should have been prepared for this turn of events, considering the comments that were made by Ambassador Chernomyrdin, for one, who said clearly that the gas price would depend on the election results.
FP: “I would like to say something that may be objectionable: Ukraine should not have prepared for this. As far as I understand, Ukraine as a state has nothing to do with the debt that Gazprom is now urging us to pay. What I don’t understand is why Prime Minister Yanukovych, who says that this is a debt incurred by economic entities, not by the state of Ukraine, claims that this is a very difficult question and that he is ready to go to Moscow to tackle the problem. This is absolutely unclear to me. So in this sense I have to agree with Ms. Ivshyna: yes, this is a very unpleasant surprise, which should have been expected on the eve of winter.”
Mr. Kulykov, do you see any direct connection here with the election results, or is it something else?
AK: “I think these are in fact the rules of the game or of the coexistence of two states, Ukraine and Russia. There are certain steps that one state should take and certain steps that the other one should take to the same effect. And there is nothing unexpected here. What is changing is the figures, not the attitude.”
Ms. Ivshyna, in what way has your newspaper been spotlighting this hot topic?
LI: “As I said, we are constantly addressing this subject. Naturally, Ukraine has problems with retooling energy-intensive businesses. This program is being implemented very slowly. There are some leading enterprises that have taken serious steps in this direction, but in general we are lagging behind because of the political battles and overpolitization resulting from the frequent changes of governments - and this is absolutely irresponsible.
“So when we speak about the prospects for new governments, it is not so important who will manage to occupy a certain office, and how - what really matters is what goals he or she is setting and whether they can meet society’s demands because otherwise we will always look like whipping boys in the eyes of Europe, which is always afraid that it may have problems in the winter because of gas disputes here. In my opinion, this will be a very serious minus in diplomacy and attitudes to us.”
Mr. Kulykov, will “Freedom of Speech” be spotlighting this topic in its upcoming broadcasts?
AK: “By all means. I think the problem of gas and energy resources in general is one of Ukraine’s sensitive points, which is not just caused by external factors. We want to see what is vulnerable in Ukraine both inside and outside the country.
“I’d like to quote what Volodymyr Saprykin from the Razumkov Center said to Radio Liberty about his vision of what journalists have already dubbed ‘the latest Russian-Ukrainian gas war’: ‘This is a kind of warning from the Kremlin because Gazprom is pursuing nothing but a pro-Kremlin policy. Since a chance has appeared to form an Orange coalition, we have now heard a peremptory shout from Gazprom. This is rather odd because those debts cannot possibly have accumulated over a month or two. If Gazprom really cuts gas supplies, debts will be the problem of the two governments, not just of the economic entities. Moreover, this will hinder gas supplies to the EU.’ Saprykin believes ‘this is blatant interference in the Ukrainian political situation.”
Another short quotation from Gazeta: ‘If Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions form a coalition with Yanukovych still as prime minister, the gas price will not be such an acute issue, and a credit may well be made available to clear the $1.3-billion debt.’ Ms. Ivshyna, I think this is the frankest admission yet of what Russia wants.”
LI: “It is possible that Russia will offer a kind of ‘most-favored-nation treatment’ to the government that suits it. But I would like to know why an Orange government is so bad for Russia. What is the problem? Why do they like the Yanukovych government so much? I don’t have a convincing answer to these questions. I don’t think there is something one can emphasize here. I think Russia is making it clear that it will treat any Ukrainian government the way it wants to.”
Mr. Pavlenko, do you know the answer?
FP: “No, I don’t. On the contrary, I’d like to add to what Ms. Ivshyna just said: that the most illustrative example is the devoted, friendly, and fraternal Belarusian people and President Lukashenko. How is he bad for Moscow? But we can see clearly that Russia’s strategic idea is to control the gas pipelines through which Russian gas is exported to Europe. And, although President Lukashenko is completely loyal to Russia and is prepared to join the Single Economic Space and form a united state, Russia raised the gas price twofold in order to grab half the Belarus gas transportation system. Then they will raise it two more times again to grab the rest of the system. If the same strategy is applied to the Ukrainian gas transportation system, I will not be surprised at all.”
Mr. Kulykov, perhaps the root cause is that Yulia Tymoshenko said the other day that she doesn’t want such a corrupt intermediary as RosUkrEnergo and will get rid of it? Could this have scared the Kremlin and somebody in Kyiv?
AK: “I don’t think the statements of a prospective prime minister of Ukraine can scare the Kremlin. In fact, the Kremlin is now feeling very strong (which my colleagues have also noted). I will repeat that this is the customary way of reminding us who is the boss in the post-Soviet space. That’s all.”
Ms. Ivshyna, Mr. Kulykov said that he links President Yushchenko’s call to form a broad coalition with the latest gas problems. Do you think so too?
LI: “You know, I think it is also important to note the way influential Ukrainian politicians should behave vis-a-vis the realities. I also noted another statement by Ms. Tymoshenko. She said they can offer Russia a policy that nobody has ever pursued before, a policy of an extremely high level. I don’t know. It seems to me some dangerous hints are hidden in that statement.
“So, if you look into the heart of the matter, I think that responsible politicians should say to Ukrainians, ‘We have missed out on so much, and we have done nothing to retool our national economy and all our private companies, and now we are going to have problems in the winter. But if we do it this year, nobody will be able to twist our arms next year, and we will be able to form the coalition we want.’ But as long as they keep playing a cat and mouse game with their own people and secretly horse-trading with Russia over some advantages, we will always look beaten up in the eyes of the world. It is only their sympathy that saves us from receiving a bad mark for our government’s policies.”
And what about Yushchenko?
LI: “I think that now one can say anything about the coalition. But there is one thing: the one who most effectively implements the program of restructuring the energy-dependent economy will win the prize.”
ON THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT
Now that we have discussed the gas saga, we are going to devote our remaining time to Viktor Yushchenko’s latest statement on the future coalition. Some consider it an overt call to form a broad-based coalition, while others say it is just a hint that the future coalition and opposition should cooperate peacefully and harmoniously. Others have a different viewpoint. Mr. Kulykov, what does this statement mean to you personally? How do you interpret it?
AK: “I look on it as a well-prepared statement that leaves one free to interpret it. And it is very good that it leaves one free to do this.”
FP: “Frankly, I don’t agree that the president made an unexpected statement. I just can’t imagine that the president of Ukraine could say anything different. He did not say that he was calling for a broad-based coalition. He did not say he was supporting a democratic coalition only, as he was doing until right before the elections. As president, he was simply obliged to say that there are three winners and two smaller parties. He is calling upon them to launch preliminary consultations on the principles of forming a coalition and the opposition.
“Incidentally, the Party of Regions members with whom I talked today and who consider this a very positive comment and a hint at a broad-based coalition note primarily that this was possibly the first time that the president acted like the president of all of Ukraine. Frankly, I look at it the same way.”
LI: “From a purely political angle, the president made a somewhat risky statement because our society has a short prehistory of preliminary coalition deals - a nerve-wracking process that made Ukrainians’ blood boil. So, in my view, it would be wrong to resort to the same protracted consultations again.
“Secondly, if the NU-NS and BYuT have signed a viable agreement, I see no point in holding consultations. But if they are not necessary, one should explain to the public what kind of evolution the Party of Regions has had and why a broad-based coalition with this party is possible. But I have not seen a single person in NU capable of speaking on this subject. Now they will obviously have serious problems if this coalition suddenly begins to form. Meanwhile, the president is thinking about his presidential prospects. I think this is also an explanation of his statement.”
In other words, everything is linked to some pragmatic goal, including a second presidential term?
LI: “It’s not the worst scenario to be guided by pragmatic goals. I think this is normal.”
Mr. Pavlenko, why do you think the president is not making it clear that there will be an Orange coalition, since it gained the majority?
FP: “First of all, it has not yet gained the majority pending the announcement of the final results.”
OK, let’s say that everything is already...
FP: “Once everything has been counted, I would like to hear one more statement from the president. After all, he is allowing participants of the political process to continue the dialogue.
“I don’t understand why the president, who positions himself as the president of all of Ukraine, has to say right at this moment: I instruct these two parties to form a coalition or, on the contrary, let us all come together, which is impossible in principle.”
Ms. Ivshyna’s argument that there is a deal between the NU and BYuT is not the reason why Yushchenko should...
FP: “This is in fact the argument advanced by the NU-NS and BYuT. This is an argument of the two political forces that have really reached an agreement on the principles of forming the future coalition. They have not yet begun consultations, nor have they in fact signed a coalition agreement.
“You asked Andrii Kulykov about the most serious threats. In my view, the gravest threat is the distribution of portfolios. That is if you look at the situation today. And tomorrow or, to be more exact, the day after tomorrow, it is the presidential elections.”
ABOUT THE COALITION
Ms. Ivshyna, what are we to expect? What can we expect from Yulia Tymoshenko, who has already said that there will be no broad-based coalition and that she hopes Yushchenko meant something entirely different in his statement? But people know that Tymoshenko always means business.
LI: “My colleagues, have you ever heard a more interesting question than the one Zynovii Frys asked me? What can we expect from Yulia Tymoshenko? The entire nation is pondering this question and cannot answer it.”
But you are a well-known journalist.
LI: “Thank you for the compliment. I’d like to suggest the following, not very original, vision of this situation. Tymoshenko’s logic is that she may prove incapable of carrying the load if she does not enlist some serious parliamentary support. So she might not dare assume the prime minister’s post; moreover, the image of chief oppositionist, who was hurt by being betrayed after the deals were reached, suits her very well.”
In other words, this is what Mr. Kulykov was saying: that the victory will not be a victory at all?
LI: “In my opinion, it is a victory for a certain period of time. But the problem is whether this will be a victory for Ukraine and which of the likely scenarios would be better for Ukrainians.
“We must admit that there is a colossal shortage of professionals in our government. We have already seen a cabinet that includes people, like the socialist Mr. Rudkovsky, the Party of Region’s Mr. Shufrych, and other colorful personalities. When Ukraine confronts serious players who have no scruples about their choice of instruments, we will have to field a serious national team. To be honest, all the champions of ‘Orange chastity’ can calm down a little if this government really proves to be a professional and effective one.”
Mr. Kulykov, there is talk that Yulia Tymoshenko will only benefit from this course of events: it is much more advantageous for her to remain in the opposition and think about the next presidential elections or even demand early presidential elections. Do you think this scenario is possible?
AK: “I think it is. I believe Ms. Ivshyna has offered enough proof of this probability. I agree this scenario is likely.”
Mr. Pavlenko, will Yulia Tymoshenko be the next president?
FP: “She will if you and we vote for her. First of all, I do not entirely share my colleagues’ position. Tymoshenko will be president, or at least she will run for the presidency, provided this office regains most of its lost powers, if the constitutional reform brings about a result that will suit her, i.e., that the presidency is not a ceremonial position but one that plays a strong executive role. Now that Ukraine is at a crossroads with an unclear and imperfect constitutional reform, I don’t think that Tymoshenko is very much interested in being president with the powers that Yushchenko now wields.”
Ms. Ivshyna, on “Freedom of Speech,” two days before the parliamentary elections, you said that every new election in Ukraine is better and more democratic but the elected parliament is worse. Do you think these words still hold true now, after the elections?
LI: “We see that the previous parliament could not work. This means it is ineffective. This time the overall situation has not changed much: only Volodymyr Lytvyn replaced Moroz in the top political league - also through the efforts of the Presidential Secretariat, in my opinion. But will this really make parliament more effective?
“If we see that they have learned their lessons and learned from their mistakes, this may become a turning point and everything may change a little in Ukrainian politics.”
Mr. Kulykov, what is your forecast for the next coalition?
AK: “I think it is very likely that there will be a coalition between the Party of Regions and NU-NS.”
FP: “Even the conversations that I had today with representatives of all these blocs allow me to say that an Orange coalition, i.e., one between NU-NS and BYuT, is more likely. Lytvyn may join it, too, if he drops his claim for the speaker’s chair.”
Ms. Ivshyna, your forecast?
LI: “I think there will be an Orange coalition.”
So two against Kulykov.