As deputy head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs, Taras Chornovil is entitled to a little, but very cozy office with an unusual round window, like a ship’s.
“This building has only two windows like this, here and in another office,” he boasted to The Day’s reporter.
However, Chornovil himself, too, is an unusual MP. He has always had his own opinion. His straightforwardness and ease are appealing, as well as his unprecedented frankness, which, however, has often got to be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, this is exactly what makes him so popular with journalists.
If there were no Chornovil in the Verkhovna Rada, he should have to be invented. Otherwise, the country would have never got to know many curious facts from the backstage of Ukrainian political life.
We began our conversation with what was virtually a Hamletian question: will the Association Agreement be signed in Kyiv on December 19, or won’t it?
The historical EU-Ukraine summit is scheduled for December 19, and so far we have got very controversial information. It is still unknown whether the Agreement is going to be signed or not. What is your forecast?
“We are not a kind of country where one can rely on forecasts, predictions, or logic. We are a Terra Incognita of sorts. Personally I cannot ensure that at the very last moment the Ukrainian authorities (especially the top brass) will not play such a fine trick which could bring the summit to a halt.
“However, Europe’s standpoint is still obscure, there are very different views there indeed. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the summit will take place. I give 99 percent guarantee that it will. It is obvious that the Agreement won’t be signed at this summit. This was still possible before, but unfortunately, later the processes were delayed. On the one hand, it happened due to political circumstances, on the other, due to someone’s stupid idea to incorporate a demand for EU membership in the text of the Agreement. Poland did not demand it, nor did the other new EU members. But Ukraine, for some reason, went and did that. I have an impression that the process has been deliberately procrastinated.”
But who has actually procrastinated it? Was it Yanukovych himself, or his entourage? Yushchenko was quoted as saying the famous phrase, “Baloha is me.” Can we say by analogy that the [Presidential] Administration is the same as the President?
“No, we can’t. Today the president is more and more associated with the family and its interests. That’s all. I am convinced that everyone, who thought that they would control the Administration and run the country, realize today how wrong they were. Firtash is obviously losing control of the situation, and apparently, so is the head of the Administration.
“There are rumors that Liovochkin was utterly opposed to the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko. It is hard to suspect me of being Liovochkin’s fan, but he is no fool, unlike many other individuals. Moreover, there is no way back for him. Medvedchuk’s people in the Administration must have some escapeway or another. This group, apparently, has none. There are also some Russian influences over the president, albeit latent.”
What do you mean by “Russian influences”?
“First of all, Medvedchuk. I think there are two key persons in Tymoshenko’s case, and Pshonka isn’t one of them. They are Medvedchuk and Khoroshkovsky. Pshonka became a hostage in the game, but he has been playing by its rules. Now he simply cannot quit.”
What role is Yanukovych playing then?
“The decision to arrest Tymoshenko could have never been taken without Yanukovych’s personal involvement, under no circumstances. Who pulled the strings, prepared the soil, and put him in the right mood, is a different question. I do not even mean the very moment of detention, I mean what followed.
“The decision was rooted in Yanukovych’s phobias and in his lack of responsibility. I don’t think he really meant to arrest her at the start. But later everything fell together.
“There have been several phrases, said by Tymoshenko, which hit the bull’s eye. First, there were very harsh, straightforward insults related to his past criminal records (Yanukovych would never forgive that, even when he was negotiating with her). Then, she began to threaten him saying that times would change, and she would put him in jail. This in fact decided her fate. Just like in 2001, Tymoshenko is now tried for being a rival, and for her sharp tongue. And then the other factors played their role: the escalating of this situation, its turning into a deathtrap, and the abovementioned characters.
“As far as I know, Yushchenko, too, did his best to help get her behind bars. They say that a day or two before her arrest he contacted Yanukovych. Azarov complained that when he was being examined at the trial, Tymoshenko threatened him explicitly. After all, these are secondary issues. The main thing is that Yanukovych himself got messed up, and then others helped implicate him even further.”
“The BYuT HAS BLOCKED TYMOSHENKO”
Who then can release her? The European Court?
“The European Court cannot release anyone. But it can rule that human rights were violated in the process of her conviction, and adjudge a compensation.
“If they had left her free, she would quarrel with everyone, and eventually turn into a marginal old lady in politics. This would mean an end of the project. But now she is a political project again. She can again win elections. We sympathize for the insulted and humiliated, and her ratings, which had plummeted, are now steadily climbing. Under such circumstances nothing will make Yanukovych release her. The threats of being banned from Europe, or having to face his worst nightmare, Putin, are not the reason. He will not release her as long as he knows that she is a rival. Therefore the only way for her to be released is Europe giving up demands that Tymoshenko continue her political career. Amnesty or pardon, as an act of humanity, that is all.”
Several hundred people are crowding outside the Court of Appeals. Perhaps if a few dozen thousand came, this would influence the decision.
“No, Ukrainians will not believe anyone anymore. The most they will do is, in case of having to choose between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, vote for Tymoshenko – without having a grain of faith in her. People do not trust anyone. The Russian opposition is absolutely characterless, but it hasn’t been in power for a long time now. And it is at least not tainted with that power.”
What do you think is going on inside the BYuT? Recently there was some hurly-burly, with a change of leadership following. And it is rumored that Tymoshenko was not informed about that. And they also say that she disapproves of her faction’s voting for the new election law.
“For what I know, this is true. She disapproves, and she wasn’t informed. And it all looks very, very mean. They have virtually isolated her. Not the court, nor Yanukovych, but the BYuT members themselves. Well, Vlasenko is seeing her, and some negotiations are under way, but there is no information coming outside.”
By the way, we keep getting messages from Yurii Lutsenko: letters, statements, or interviews. Meanwhile, there were only a couple of letters from Tymoshenko, two months ago.
“The BYuT has blocked Tymoshenko. They would rather let her die in that cell. This sounds cruel, but it’s true. It’s her own fault that she has surrounded herself with brutes like those. There are about 20 people, who are really devoted to Tymoshenko. But now they are in a mourning, tearful mood.
“It seems to me that now a quiet process of the BYuT’s splitting into two projects is under way. One project is Natalia Korolevska (Yefremov and Tykhonov’s group), the other part has defected to Arsenii Yatseniuk. The regime has seized the BYuT.
“I think they have given her up because of the fear of being sent to prison. I even assume that on the eve of the election Yanukovych could even release Tymoshenko. She won’t then be able to stop these processes. She will declare war on both projects, and will start knocking up a new ‘Batkivshchyna’ of her own. Every oblast organization of the BYuT will have three seals. Korolevska’s people will have one, Turchynov’s another, and Yulia herself will have the third.”
This is quite an apocalyptical picture.
“This is the picture of the previous local election. Do you remember the Kyiv oblast organization?”
“YANUKOVYCH IS WELL AWARE THAT THE EURASIAN UNION IS A DEATH TRAP FOR HIM”
Let’s change the subject for a while. You said that Putin is Yanukovych’s worst nightmare. Now, who is actually his horror number-one, Putin or Tymoshenko?
“Well, Putin is certainly number- one, while Tymoshenko comes se-cond. Tymoshenko can be liquidated, arrested, or imprisoned. After all, she can be pardoned without the right to continue a political career. Or her political party can be destroyed (she will actually do it on her own, she only needs a little help). But Putin is a way more serious opponent.”
How feasible do you think is Putin’s idea of the Eurasian Union?
“I would not stake on it. This, too, is one of Yanukovych’s nightmares. He is perfectly aware that to agree to the Eurasian Union means to sign his own death sentence for him. After all, then he will be doing time in Magadan, instead of Donetsk oblast. Putin is a very vindictive man. And he has a lot to avenge on Yanukovych. You remember when Putin arrived in Kyiv with great hopes (something had been promised to him), and then he was quietly sent home empty-handed. And that happened at the hight of the Putin-Medvedev confrontation. Besides, he can’t stand Yanukovych, holds him in contempt, and so on, and so forth.
“On the other hand, the Eurasian Union is Putin’s idee fixe. And he will never leave us in peace with it. I am convinced that the Eurasian Union has no good prospects. It is a reproduction of the Soviet Union in its worse form, without the participation of civilized countries. It is a takeover rather than a union. Russia takes control of everything. The imperial ambitions are revived.”
“ALL THIS REGIME IN RUSSIA WILL COME TO AN END WHEN POLAND STARTS PRODUCING ITS OWN SHALE GAS”
Speaking of Russia, now there are very curious events under way there. Unprecedented numbers of people (for Moscow) are crowding on Bolotnaya Square. Do you think democratic processes are possible in Russia?
“At the moment, I don’t think so. Now the regime will have to either ease the pressure a little or, conversely, tighten the screws. Russia without authoritarianism is no Russia. It will start to fall apart. We should not forget that besides certain democratic movements, there are strong national movements: in Tatarstan, Udmurtia, and the North Caucasus. Although these regions give 100 percent votes for United Russia, nothing is simple there. If the pressure is released, all that will flourish. If the pressure grows, it will only make the matters worse. Russia is a country with an inclination to terrorism. I think terrorism in Russia will get a new face then. Russia should have opted for a normal way of development from the start.
“They have virtually destroyed the opposition. If Yabloko is the only legal party, it means that Russians have no other way out but sink into supporting some radical organizations.”
However, one can sense that Russia is pretty much fed up with Putin now. Do you think he is up to staying for another two seven-year terms in office?
“No. I think that these seven years will see some processes happening in Russia. What are their problems? First, so far they lack a strong social factor, even if the Russian provinces are poorer than ours. But they have grown used to it. The main policy-shaping cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, offer a more or less acceptable living standard. Whatever happens in the province, can be subdued with tanks. And no one is going to see that, even Europe. I think all this regime in Russia will come to an end when Poland starts producing its own shale gas. And maybe we will follow suit.
“The second problem factor is that Russia lacks brilliant opposition leaders, who would be taken seriously outside the two capitals. ‘Reformer’ is an abusive word.”
The Communist party of the Russian Federation gained almost 20 percent of votes in the recent election. How come Russia has turned so “Red”?
“I think that it happened merely due to the lack of choice. The people are sick and tired. Russia’s communists have always been more or less of oppositionists, whereas ours have always been dummies.”
In Europe, too, interesting developments are under way at the moment. On the one hand, many countries have supported Sarkozy’s idea of budget union. On the other, countries like Greece, Italy, and Portugal are facing big problems.
“The reports of the EU’s death were an exaggeration. The situation there is far from being desperate. Yes, they are going through a grave crisis because they have made stupid mistakes, but they are handling them fine. Their big problem is that at a certain moment they let in some countries which they should not have added. Greece doesn’t belong in the EU at all. This country was made a member totally artificially. Meanwhile, the Greek-speaking Cyprus fits in perfectly and elegantly.
“Italy has got over Berlusconi’s dementia and said good-bye to him. And I think that now Italy will do just fine. When Berlusconi was there, no one would hear of austerity policies. The same goes for Ukraine: no one here wants to tighten their belts while Mezhyhiria is an issue. I think that in a year Italy will overcome the crisis and forget about it.
“Spain is experiencing some difficulties at the moment, but their situation is not desperate either.
“The EU must upgrade a little. Indeed, the budget union is a must. They should either do away with the Eurozone, or introduce a really tough budget system. Nothing bad can happen to the EU. And that’s where we should aspire.
“Why don’t they give us any special membership prospects? Because they have already done that. Now, no one will let us join the EU till we meet all the criteria, especially economic. The absence of a fair judiciary is one thing, but the messed economy and finances are something totally outrageous.”
“RURAL CONSTITUENCIES? THERE YOU HAVE TO PAY FROM 5 TO 15 MILLION DOLLARS RIGHT AWAY”
You said that we have no judiciary. Last week the Pechersk court dismissed Kuchma’s case. In the spring, many experts surmised that it could be the trial of the century. Now, this is what happened.
“We are apt to begin something, but then we don’t have a clue what to do next. I made a big mistake when I conjectured that there would be some big plans involving the use of Melnychenko’s tapes and their legalization, and that a great purge would follow. Absolute nonsense!
“What actually happened was that they just wanted to brag their bravery: see, we prosecute Tymoshenko, moreover, we even try Kuchma! And they started the ball rolling. There were no contingency plans. But if you want to tackle such powerful mechanisms as Kuchma and Pinchuk, you should probably prepare better. I also thought that they were sincere when they returned to this case. But it turned out they weren’t.”
It appears then that the Constitutional Court, too, made an uncontrolled decision concerning Melnychenko’s tapes.
“I don’t want to insist I’m absolutely right, but it seems to me that the Constitutional Court’s decision (which, by the way, is totally illiterate from the legal point of view) was not ordered by the president. From my perspective, it was merely bought with the money of one very rich man from Kuchma’s closest entourage (I won’t give the name, everyone knows him as it is). Our courts are very high-principled and fair when they get straightforward instructions from the President’s Administration. They carry them out most enthusiastically. If there are no instructions (in this case I think it was stark negligence), the court does what it is paid for.
“No one in this government is interested in Kuchma’s case anymore. It became obvious that it had slipped in the background, and you can hardly earn any political dividends there. Thus it was just soft-pedaled.”
However, the Prosecutor General’s Office promises to appeal the decision.
“Ok, they will do it. What’s the use? This is just another proof to the fact that our leaders are by far not the smartest people. This resembles the case of Tymoshenko, who has ceased to be a major political player.”
By the way, it looks as if Kuchma were going to return to big politics. At least, he has made statements to this effect.
“Yes, Kuchma is now becoming quite a character. The Kuchma prior to opening the criminal case and the Kuchma of today are two different men. He can easily win an election somewhere in a single-seat constituency at his home in Chernihiv oblast or in Dnipropetrovsk, supposing there is no counteraction. Then, he will join the pro-regime majority. I think that in the next parliament he will try to play a certain centralizing role. And the weaker the government, the stronger the indignation, caused by Yanukovych’s policies, the more serious game Kuchma will play. Let us also remember that Kuchma will be playing exclusively in Yanukovych’s field. Therefore, this can gravely affect the interests of Yanukovych, whereas Kuchma is ‘open to negotiations.’ Moreover, the scope of possible negotiators is very wide.”
What are your further plans? Have you decided on a constituency or a party list for yourself?
“The oncoming election is going to be even something more than just the election of administrative resource: it will involve filth, bandits, and money. People suddenly spotted an opportunity to get into power without passing any filters. Frankly, I’m not very interested in playing these games.
“Rural constituencies? There you have to pay from 5 to 15 million dollars right away. I’m not ready to invest this money, moreover, I don’t have that much. If I did, why would I need this power? (Laughs.)
“I don’t rule out that I will run in the oncoming election in my present constituency, Darnytsia. And I will simply address the citizens. I will send everyone a letter, which I will sign with my own hand (this is my dream so far). But I’m not going to invest in electioneering. I’m not going to smear the walls with my posters. And I’m not going to promise anything. You know me well enough, so take me or leave me.
“As far as party lists go, there are parties which I don’t care for, and there are parties which don’t care for me. I’m not interested in offers from the Party of Regions. You can be sure that there are individuals who come up with suggestions. They say, Taras, you need to make a U-turn. We need you very much. I say, ‘Guys, I’m not really interested, and then, it won’t look good.’
“I quite like UDAR [Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform. – Ed.]. I have decided that I’m going to vote for them, although I have never spoken with Vitali Klitschko, we only met once at a TV talk show.”