Zbigniew Brzezinski, the distinguished expert on geopolitics, recently made another visit to Kyiv. His visit was brief but packed with meetings with journalists and Ukrainian politicians. The former US National Security Advisor and adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Dr. Brzezinski is a professor of international relations at John Hopkins University. He was in Ukraine at the invitation of the International Republican Institute. While he was in Kyiv, he took part in a forum organized by the “Democratic Choice Community” held at the end of last week.
I began my interview with Dr. Brzezinski by discussing the latest, more than fantastic, rumors that his visit was aimed at reconciling Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko. Is this true? His reply was that his visit had to do with the forum. Was there also an unofficial purpose? “I have many goals in my life. However, the purpose of this visit is to participate in the conference,” Brzezinski said. He was more forthcoming in answering subsequent questions.
UKRAINE IS NEITHER PARADISE NOR HELL
A year has elapsed since the revolution. What is your assessment of the events that have taken place in the postrevolutionary period in Ukraine?
Z.B.: There has been significant progress in Ukraine, a lot has been achieved, and we must not ignore any of this. In the first place, Ukraine is considerably more important internationally than a year ago. It is being treated with more respect in the international arena, it has become more attractive to foreign capital; this country is valued more for its dedication to democracy; it is respected for its political culture demonstrated by the peaceful revolution on the Maidan. These are very positive and important accomplishments. Ukraine today is incomparably more democratic than Russia. At the same time there are obvious shortcomings. The campaign against corruption is not being conducted as quickly and on the scale that many expected. Investigations into criminal cases were not as successful as many people wanted. There is a definite feeling of political disillusionment among the “foot soldiers” of the Orange Revolution because of the differences between their leaders Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. There is uncertainty about the results of the upcoming elections because of social despair, and to a degree, because of loss of public hope. So there is a mixed picture. But, the whole picture can be clear and understandable only in two places: in heaven, where everything is wonderful, and in hell, where everything is extraordinarily bad. Ukraine is neither heaven nor hell.
This picture was also very mixed when Leonid Kuchma came to power in 1994. At first they spoke of him in the West only as a reformer, but over the years the attitude to official Kyiv changed radically. Some experts are saying that no revolution has taken place in Ukraine in the sense that there are still negative phenomena that existed under the previous regime.
Z.B.: Ukraine has experienced three presidential elections. During these elections you didn’t know who would win the campaign. This is a significant democratic achievement. Kuchma, therefore, has earned some credit because of this element of a renewal of power. At the same time there is no doubt that he became increasingly opportunistic over time and there were people, including those who were very close to him, who received advantages from political power for their self-enrichment. Therefore, the words that were spoken during the revolution — that this state of affairs must be completely stopped and in a manner visible to the people, a manner that the people would trust — were extremely important. By no means am I proposing that a Roman circus be staged, but since the time those statements were made before the Orange Revolution, when corruption was rampant on the highest level, it has been apparent that public influence and punishment for such manifestations of corruption must be stronger.
During your speech in Kyiv, you said that Ukraine is facing a critical choice between being ruled by a coalition that will lead this country to a better future or a coalition that will lead it to the past. Who should be in the coalition that will lead this country into the future?
Z.B.: I actually said that Ukraine will have to choose between a coalition that will shape its future, or a coalition that will continue the past. Who should be part of this coalition? I didn’t come here to get involved in the election campaign. I simply outlined the paths that I believe Ukraine is facing, which will influence its place in the world. Ukraine has a very intelligent population and this was demonstrated by its true political maturity and political common sense. I believe that Ukraine knows the difference between a coalition that shapes the future and one that continues the past.
UKRAINE IS NOT TINY LIECHTENSTEIN
Russia was very disappointed by last year’s events in Kyiv. Since then Ukrainian-Russian relations have been experiencing difficulties. Who is more to blame for creating this atmosphere of problems?
Z.B.: I think difficulties are unavoidable consequences in a transformation of historical relations. Many years ago the Russians accepted — at first reluctantly — the reality of Poland’s complete independence. That was a hard process for them. I guess it’s hard for them to accept the reality of Ukraine’s complete independence. In a sense it’s even harder than in Poland’s case. A lot of Russians regard Ukrainians as their younger brothers. One day they learned that Ukrainians aren’t their younger brothers and that they’re getting up on their feet. They realized that Ukrainians have a political culture that’s more advanced than the Russian one; you can figure out your problems in a democratic manner; you can preserve democracy while solving problems. For Russians it has turned out to be more difficult to solve political problems without violence. It has turned out to be more difficult to visualize political stability without authoritarianism. You didn’t turn the Crimean problem into a Ukrainian Chechnya. You are solving language problems by using a subtle and clever approach. You lived through a political revolution without a single person being killed or imprisoned. I think that the Russians find it hard to reconcile themselves with the idea of Ukraine as a mature and independent European country, not a province. But changes will take place, just like they happened between Russia and Poland. I believe that Russia and Ukraine should have good relations. They are very close and interconnected, yet these relations must be based on respect and recognition of mutual independence. All this will happen. I’m convinced that Russia will also change.
But perhaps in the more distant future?
Z.B.: Yes. But we’re living in an age when time moves faster.
Meanwhile, Ukraine may find it difficult to solve its problems with Russia. Can Ukraine count on support from the West?
Z.B.: You mean the energy issue?
That’s just one question...
Z.B.: If the Russians don’t honor the agreements that they have concluded with you, what can they do? Stop all energy supplies? Can they do this? If they do, they’ll cut off gas supplies to all of Europe. There must be serious talks between Ukraine and Russia. If Russia wants to change the contract, there are the usual negotiating procedures, but not based on threats, especially if these threats are a danger for Russia and Europe. Ukraine is not a baby. It’s a serious country that is seriously protecting its interests. Ukraine isn’t tiny Liechtenstein and you can defend your interests. If you make it perfectly clear that you’re protecting your interests, then those who treat them disdainfully will have to figure out how much it will cost them. You are a big enough country to convince them that it will cost expensive even to a country like Russia. The Russians know from their own experience that dictates are a fine way to convince historical enemies. That is why they are doing this. The Russians are doing this to the Muslims, including Muslims who are Russian citizens. Russia is creating a problem for itself that will last for years. I do not support an anti-Russian policy in Ukraine, far from it. However, yours is an important country, you have your own interests. The Russians are not prepared for talks on the energy situation. In the end, they will realize that a confrontation with Ukraine will have very negative results in their commercial and financial relations with Europe. Ukraine cannot be cut off from gas supplies without cutting off Europe. The Russians are very clever and they don’t like weak people.
After the Orange Revolution you talked about the so-called domino effect, the spread of revolutionary changes to other post- Soviet countries. Among those countries you mentioned Russia and Belarus. Do you still think that revolutions can happen there using the Georgian or Ukrainian scenarios?
Z.B.: With time, yes. But it’s not an automatic process. It takes time. Without a doubt an effective, stable, and democratic Ukraine will influence Russia and Belarus through their close historical ties. If your country shows a high living standard and if it opens the door to Europe, an increasing number of Belarusians and Russians will say that this is a better life. Authoritarianism can be attractive if the alternative is worse.