Our talk with Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk the evening before the series of resignations once again confirmed that Mr. Kravchuk is by far the only politician in this country (his successor does not count because he is out of politics) whose considerable presidential experience allows him to make farsighted judgments and shrewd assessments about developments in this country and to offer practical advice.
“Mr. Kravchuk, why did you make that harsh statement in parliament about the current situation, when you reminded the MPs that Ukraine has already experienced the precedent of an early presidential election?”
“This is my standpoint: I am not going to prevent the president from serving Ukraine. I will take not a single step to obstruct the way the president is exercising his constitutional authority. Should any mistakes occur, I will do my best to draw the president’s attention to them. So in May and June I spoke more or less softly and criticized what I considered to be mere mistakes. But later in June I saw that this was the philosophy of thinking, the behavioral pattern of the president and his team, not mistakes. I got the impression that they are playing the role of consumers and a rapid reaction party to tackle the things that the team, or somebody from the team, needs out of expediency instead of serving national strategic interests. In my view, they have three major problems now: winning the 2006 elections, joining the WTO at any cost, and gaining everyone’s love: the European Union, NATO, America, Russia, etc. The government’s actions are dangerous for Ukraine and its future, they pose a threat (I really mean it) to Ukraine’s national security. This is why I said today that the Social Democrats, at least our faction, are withdrawing confidence from the president.”
“Would you comment on the situation with our peacekeeping force in Lebanon? The impression is that our contingent is just being hounded out of that strategically important region. Maybe a small number of servicemen are guilty of wrongdoing, but the problem is that those who were not involved are also being withdrawn. There has been no full investigation. In fact, the Ministry of Defense is not providing any information about what happened there. Meanwhile, our peacekeeping forces have always been our foreign policy trump card.”
“The point is that when a government is considered immature, it is dealt with accordingly. You will never escape this.
“If they knew that the Ukrainian authorities in the person of the president, the cabinet and the foreign ministry could prove the concrete facts of this incident and comment on it for the whole world to see, they would behave differently. Earlier, Russia regarded us as the boondocks, and now Europe, too, will be looking at us as a region that requires no international legal norms that need to be dealt with.”
“Do you think it is possible that next year we will be electing not just the parliament but also the president? Incidentally, you expressed this idea — cautiously enough — last Wednesday in your speech in parliament. Are your new opposition partners prepared to support it?”
“I think they would support this idea if early parliamentary and presidential elections were held now.”
“Would you comment on the following statement: as disappointment in the government grows, the popularity ratings of the opposition parties remain unchanged or are even dropping, as in the case of the Party of Regions? Incidentally, what do you think about this party’s potential? Viktor Yanukovych has not been heard of for a long time. As the country is being rocked with scandals, the Party of Regions has not issued any comments or statements.”
“I can see now that it is impossible to expect determined actions from the Party of Regions. What does the Donetsk region essentially mean? Big business. Never, under no conditions, will a large-scale entrepreneur defend the common people. He can only defend those common people who bring him profit. What he puts first is not high ideals but his own down-to-earth affairs. Now I hear them all urging Yanukovych to strike a deal with the government. These are the very people who recently beat their breasts and said they were 100-% Yanukovych supporters. I do not believe they are really part of the opposition.”
“The government has been making never-ending calls for ‘reconciliation,’ forming a large electoral bloc, etc., although now, after the dismissal, chances look even slimmer than before. But still, why is the opposition not taking similar steps? There was some talk of this earlier, but not now.”
“There is a specific structure of government that envisages a certain dependence on the president and the prime minister. There are certain limits of authority at all levels. So when the president calls for unity, he relies not only on his own and his party’s authority but also on the administrative clout he wields: no one will dare object to the president immediately. First of all, we in fact don’t have an opposition leader. After 2002 Leonid Kuchma began to assess his own work more critically and to listen more attentively to criticism. Why? Because ‘weighing down’ on him was Yushchenko, who was immediately looked upon as the opposition leader — by force of many circumstances. Today, Yushchenko feels more or less confident because there is no opposition figure, as strong as or stronger than him, breathing down his neck. Now he must be thinking: let them criticize me, it’s just fun, it’s nothing serious. And his entourage is only fueling this kind of feeling. The president will only change his behavior and actions when Ukraine gets a leader with overweening ambition and popular support, for he will then feel a real threat to himself.”
“Do you think Yushchenko is capable of forming a different team or even a different government?”
“I doubt it. The principles of forming a government at all levels elicit other conclusions. Some local-level posts were just handed over to criminal honchos. It was not a team of professionals; it was an opposition team that made brilliant use of words, voices, and patriotic slogans. Spiritual and organizational/managerial intellect is not the same thing; they lack the latter. Nor do they have professional cadres. All they can do is get people who are not so closely linked to business, do not care so much about their own interests, and take no bribes.”
“When the powers-that-be talk about the separation of business and government, this looks like sheer hypocrisy. They seem to have brought things to the point that parliament should perhaps urgently pass some laws to level the situation.”
“Here in Ukraine, as well as in Russia, the growth of business and power is an historical process. Even in Kochubei’s time one had to be in power to possess something. Why on earth is the appointment of a deputy minister, a scurvy bureaucrat, pardon the expression, regarded here as a big deal? Because he is being appointed on the presumption that tomorrow he will begin to chip in. What more can I say if people like Petro Poroshenko are being appointed — people who own octopus-type monster companies? For they aim to subjugate the entire economic process to their own interests. The current government is virtually teeming with businessmen. They are ‘shopkeepers’ in power. They are defending their shops. This is terrible. Some say the same situation existed under Kuchma. It did. But in that case everything was so well organized that all the schemes worked. Take the gas scheme, for example. We take 30 billion cubic meters from Russia as payment for the transit of its gas. We ourselves produce 18 billion cu. m. Another 30 billion cu. m. comes from Turkmenistan. According to the deal with Turkmenistan, we pay one half of the bill with money and the other half with investments or supplies of goods. The Turkmens would then sell these goods at an exorbitant price. Everyone was gaining profits, and Ukraine had gas. That was the main result. Can we continue to go this route? Frankly speaking, I don’t think so. But they shattered those schemes without offering up any new ones. If something is bad, it should be replaced, but at first one must offer something new.”