Election Ukrainian politician Borys Tarasyuk

Ukraine clearly became a democratic country after the Orange Revolution because all subsequent elections, the parliamentary elections in 2007 and even the presidential elections of 2010, raised no doubts or concerns from the international community, representing a new reality for Ukraine. However, in a mere matter of months, the perception of Ukraine by the international democratic took a turn for the worse after the last presidential election.

Published on balticworlds.com on March 10, 2011

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Borys Tarasyuk is probably the most well known Ukrainian politician dealing with foreign affairs in Ukraine. He began as a professional diplomat and became deputy minister for foreign affairs shortly after Ukraine declared its full independence in December 1991. He served as deputy minister from March 1992 until September 1995. He then became ambassador to Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands, as well as Ukraine´s representative to NATO. He was the foreign minister of Ukraine from April 1998 to September 2000 and once again after the Orange Revolution from February 2005 to August 2007. He is currently chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration.

Borys Tarasyuk was interviewed in his office in Kiev on February 25, 2011.

Peter Johnsson: Several ministers of the former government are in jail and former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko has been interrogated by the main prosecutor of Ukraine. Why has the present regime taken such actions?

Borys Tarasyuk: Some ministers are in jail awaiting court proceedings, while others are actually on the run, such as the former Minister of Economics, who was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. The current government has several reasons for its actions. First of all, the current authorities—who are well known for falsification of the 2004 election results and for corruption, facts which led to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and later to the 2007 parliamentary elections— on the one hand want to discredit the current opposition by selling a story to the outside world that not only are they the opposition, but they are the bad guys as well. On the other hand, on a psychological level they are trying to justify the fears suddenly experienced after the victory in the Orange Revolution. They were terrified of those massive protests and what is happening today is their way of compensating for the fear they felt five or six years ago.

A third reason is that they want to intimidate the opposition, to threaten the followers of the opposition and the opposition itself.

PJ: And how far do you think the authorities will go with those threats? Investigations are currently in progress. Will they take those former ministers to court?

BT: It depends. The authorities act differently in different cases. If they try to prosecute based on the accusations against former members of the government, logically it should lead to court proceedings. However, if they bring the case involving former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko, one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition, to court and send her to jail, her popularity would skyrocket because the nature of Ukrainian society is such that it supports people who are prosecuted for political reasons. Such was the case with Yulia Timoshenko when she was jailed during the period when Leonid Kuchma was president. It is very difficult to ascertain the ultimate objective of the regime and its behavior. But in practice, their goal seems to be to take the cases to court. Since the courts are now under their control, from the constitutional court and downwards, it is not difficult to predict the verdicts.

PJ: In what other aspects of society do you see Ukraine backsliding from the democratic evolution we have witnessed since 2004?

BT: The facts vary. After the victory of democracy in 2004, as a result of the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians achieved and began to believe that this democracy would last for many years: freedom of expression, freedom of mass media, and so on. Ukraine clearly became a democratic country after the Orange Revolution because all subsequent elections, the parliamentary elections in 2007 and even the presidential elections of 2010, raised no doubts or concerns from the international community, representing a new reality for Ukraine.

However, in a mere matter of months, the perception of Ukraine by the international democratic took a turn for the worse after the last presidential election. For instance, resolutions taken by both the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe on October 4 last year and the European Parliament on November 25, 2010 describe a backslide in democracy within Ukraine. Those negative assessments of democracy in Ukraine came only nine months after the elections. As a result of this negative evolution in Ukraine last year, the country was reclassified from being defined as a free country to a partly free country according to the annual Freedom House rating. At the same time the level of foreign direct investments plummeted. In the years following the Orange Revolution we saw a huge increase in FDI and in just one year the amount of FDI in Ukraine equaled the amount invested in the 14 years prior to the revolution. It took 14 years for Ukraine to attract USD 9.1 billion to be invested in the country and in 2005 alone, foreign companies invested an additional USD 9 billion in Ukraine. During the five years preceding 2010 Ukraine received more than USD 30 billion in FDI. Last year, FDI in Ukraine dropped by 30 percent compared with 2009, which was the year of the financial crisis and therefore a year of comparatively low FDI.

On a political level we have seen reemergence of control by the authorities over mass media, a fact which has been noted by mass media representatives within the country and also criticized by international organizations such as Reporters without Borders, which reported that freedom of the press decreased by 42 points in 2010. Ukraine scored lower than Iraq in this survey.

The level of corruption remains as before, and even worse. All these facts and figures, along with the prosecutions and security service attacks against political parties, NGOs, and even journalists are the grounds on which both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe expressed their concerns.

During local elections in October last year Ukraine also deviated from the norms of totally free and democratic elections. Those elections received a negative assessment from the international community. The authorities changed the rules of the game, the electoral procedure, only two months before the elections by creating a new law with loopholes. As a result, all election commissions comprised a majority of people from the ruling party, the Party of Regions. In almost all election districts, the Party of Region was registered as party number one. They also invented something never before seen in Ukraine: they began to create and register “clones” of the opposition parties – the clone of the Bathkivshchyna party of Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev-oblasti, in Kharkiv oblasti, and other regions of the country. They artificially created these “clones,” registered them, and then prevented the real parties with the same name from registering; in other words, the real Bathkivshchyna party led by Yulia Tymoshenko. This was just one of the methods they used in the local elections.

PJ: But were the actual election results falsified?

BT: Well, the whole election process was a fraud! But nobody can prove it. Remember, when Yulia Tymoshenko demanded a recount of votes in the presidential election, the constitutional court refused to allow the sacks of ballots to be reopened.

PJ: Do you personally believe there are grounds to suspect that last year’s presidential election results may have been falsified?

BT: There was an allegation, but it was denied by the constitutional court, which the Yanukovich party controlled.

PJ: But international observers stated that the elections were democratic.

BT: Yes, but it is very difficult to imagine that a few hundred international observers can monitor 33,000 polling stations in the largest country in Europe by size. It is impossible. And remember, falsification takes place by night, when the polling stations are closed and the votes are counted and the observers are not present.

PJ: Do you believe there are any true grounds for the allegations concerning corruption against the members of the former government and former administration who are being held in jail awaiting court proceedings?

BT: The various members of the previous government face a variety of accusations. Yulia Tymoshenko has been accused of having channeled “Kyoto money” to the pension fund for pensioners. In another instance she has been accused of purchasing overpaying for ambulances to be used in rural areas. All these accusations, I am sure, can easily be disproven in the courts. Juri Lutsenko, former Minister of Interior Affairs, has been accused of violating regulations by paying his driver too high a salary. However, this was common practice for all drivers working for the Ministry of Interior Affairs. And we really aren’t talking about large amounts of money here. In the case of our former Minister of Regional Policy, who is also deputy chairman of the party which I myself head (Narodne Ruch Ukrainy – Ukraine’s National Movement), he was accused of corruption, but since the accusation and the supporting material were complete nonsense he was found not guilty first by the primary court and later by the appellate court. Now, the authorities say they will not give up, but will bring new charges against him. These examples show the political repression taking place through selective use of the law.

PJ: Are you personally in the line of fire from the government?

BT: For the time being, no. But I have never been afraid of attempts to bring accusations against me. But there is a difference. Unlike government officials, I am protected by the immunity granted to members of parliament. According to the law, government officials are not.

PJ: So far we have been talking about the internal political situation in Ukraine. If we turn to foreign relations between Ukraine and the European Union, especially the ongoing negotiations for a Comprehensive and Deep Free Trade Agreement, Ukraine seems to present a different picture: a country which in practice has made great forward strides in negotiations with the EU, coming closer than ever to an Association Agreement. How do you explain this? Is it because the present administration is more effective than its predecessor?

BT: First of all, they hastily built an authoritarian vertical structure of power where the person at the top has executive, legislative, and judicial powers. And they are taking full advantage of this structure and this power. For instance, while we used to have problems in parliament passing much needed laws to advance in negotiations with the European Union, the process is far easier for them because they have a controlled majority. The creation of this majority in parliament is in conflict with the constitution since they annexed individual MPs to form the majority. According to the constitution of 2004, a governing coalition can only be formed by party factions in parliament, not by individual MPs who are “transferred” from one faction to another. They amended this part of the constitution by parliamentary vote and when the case was brought before the constitutional court, the court was forced to declare the constitution of 2004 unconstitutional. In effect, the country reverted to the 1996 constitution. For six years, from 2004 to 2010, Ukraine had a constitution that the current regime abruptly abolished by unconstitutional means.

PJ: Nevertheless, the fact is that negotiations with the European Union have been running smoothly in many respects over the past year?

BT: As you know, I have been involved in international relations for decades and dare I say that I set the prime course of nearly all major foreign policy decisions made by Ukraine concerning integration with EU and NATO. I know how we developed our relations with NATO and the EU from the very beginning. Last year the current regime reversed a fundamental strategy in Ukraine’s foreign policy: the intent to become a member of NATO. According to current policy, Ukraine will remain a “non-bloc” country.

Concerning negotiations with the EU –EU membership remains a stated goal of Ukraine’s foreign policy, but remember that the inertia factor is present in all negotiations. So they are continuing what we initiated after the Orange Revolution. There is no pretext not to continue this EU strategy. We abolished visa requirements for EU citizens traveling to Ukraine to provide incentive for negotiations for Ukrainian citizens to be able to travel visa-free to the EU. These negotiations began in 2008. We initiated negotiations for an Association Agreement, including a Comprehensive and Deep Free Trade Area, and managed to convince the EU that we should have an Association Agreement. These were our achievements. The current government is still enjoying the fruits of what we initiated. Why should the European Union stop the process? There is no reason and the fact is that a new government is almost always given credit and the EU is giving this credit to the new authorities.

But I think we must realize in Ukraine that this line of credit was rather quickly over-used. Here, I refer once again to the European Parliament resolution. If the situation inside Ukraine does not change, I cannot rule out the possibility that the European Union will take a political decision to delay action on the Association Agreement. Nor can I exclude the possibility that the European Union will delay introduction of the long awaited visa-free policy for Ukrainians. Should the situation inside the country continue to deteriorate in terms of one of the pillars of the European Union—democracy and the rule of law—I believe the EU will take a political decision.

PJ: And how do you, as an opposition politician in Ukraine view this: how should the European Union act today?

BT: Sometimes there are two conflicting views within me. One is the professional: as a professional diplomat I am interesting in bringing Ukraine into the European Union as quickly as possible and of course for our citizens to enjoy visa-free travel. This is my wish as a diplomat, politician and citizen of this country.

However, as a politician I also wonder how I can help stop the current political trend within Ukraine which is contrary to both the constitution and the law. What can we do to stop it? If the European Union is the only option and last resort to help us, I might support that.

PJ: Does this mean supporting a delay in negotiations, perhaps accompanied by some ultimatums from the EU?

BT: I am saying that this could happen and would be nothing new. In the past the European Union viewed us with a very negative attitude, for example during the time when Leonid Kuchma was president. I cannot exclude the possibility of a repetition of this scenario. Of course this does not mean that I favor such developments, but I cannot exclude the possibility that the EU will ultimately resort to such means if our country continues to evolve in a negative direction.

PT: But you do agree with me, that if we set aside political issues relating to the situation inside Ukraine, and instead consider the technical aspects of the negotiations, we actually seem to be very close to signing the Association Agreement?

BT: Yes I agree and I expect the agreement to be signed in the second half of this year. I think it is quite reasonable to believe that it can be signed while Poland holds the presidency of the EU. Please note, I do not oppose this and when high-ranking EU politicians asked for my opinion, as chairman of the parliamentary commission for EU integration as well as a leading politician for the opposition, my answer was quite clear: I always support every step that brings Ukraine closer to full integration with the European Union. Moreover: I am in a position to convince my colleagues from the opposition to support this as well. If the lack of democracy in Ukraine results in failure to sign the Agreement with the EU, my conscience as a politician will be clear since I will know that I have done all I could. If this happens it is because the European Union has so decided and the fault will be that of the current Ukrainian authorities and not mine. Once again: although a member of the political opposition, I am doing nothing to prevent Ukraine from getting the Association Agreement signed this year.

PJ: So the decision rests with the EU: whether to sign or to delay due to the political situation. But regarding technical issues, I suppose that even there we have some disputed questions to be resolved in the coming months if the Agreement is to be signed this year.

BT: Yes we have some questions related to free trade between Ukraine and the EU. In those questions, I support the position of the Ukrainian negotiators.

PJ: Is the main concern exports of agricultural products from Ukraine to the EU?

BT: Yes, mainly agricultural products and access to the EU market for Ukrainian products, but as well as problems relating to geographical names. Ukraine is one of the main producers of agricultural products in the world and we have to defend our interests when negotiating with the European Union. We cannot completely open our market to EU member countries and in return have a quota imposed limiting our exports to the EU to ten percent of our current total volume of trade for agricultural products. We do not want such quotas. Why should the EU discriminate against us as a partner? If we are opening our market, why don’t they open theirs? They must do the same thing we do! If they expect us to totally open up our market, why should they be allowed to place quotas on our most competitive export products? We are asking these questions in the negotiations. We are simply demanding the same terms from that EU that we are offering to EU member states.

PJ: But the EU also requires that all agricultural products imported into the EU comply with EU regulations for sanitary rules and standards.

BT: That’s not the problem. The problem is that the EU is trying to impose quotas on our production instead of telling us that we may export goods provided we meet all required standards.

That approach would provide plenty of incentive for Ukrainian farmers to improve the standard in our country in agricultural production.

PJ: And what possible compromise can be reached to crack this hard nut in the negotiations? Higher quotas? Transition periods?

BT: The European Union should not expect Ukraine, which is the weaker party in the negotiations, to abandon its position and just accept what has been offered. I can only say that we cannot afford to sacrifice Ukrainian national interests simply to be nice to the EU for the benefit of the national interests of its member states.

PJ: But I suppose Ukraine would accept a limited transitional period if free access to the EU market for its agricultural products was clearly in view?

BT: That may be so. These are specifics. I cannot go into such details since I am not involved in the negotiations on this  matter.

PJ: On the other hand you have products that you are trying to protect; that must concern the steel industry?

BT: For the moment this issue is not the main problem in the negotiations. It will be solved.

PJ: In speaking with several of my friends in Kiev this week, including a number of activists in various NGOs, I repeatedly heard that more demonstrations are expected in the spring and due to the political and economic situation in the country, a new revolution cannot be excluded. Does the current internal situation in any way remind you of the situation in the summer and autumn of 2004 ?

BT: Nobody in Ukraine can predict what is going to happen. Remember that in June 2004, four to five months before the Orange Revolution, only 6% of the population of Kiev said in a poll that they were prepared to take to the streets and protest. What happened subsequently was that hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Kiev participated in the demonstrations. Polls on social issues do not provide a clear indication of the mood among the people in this country. Today we have the result of another poll conducted by the Razumkov Centre and published last week in which 66% of Ukrainian citizens – all over Ukraine – said they are ready to participate in street demonstrations against the current authorities. I do not believe this poll argues that we will have massive demonstrations in the country this spring. We just don’t know. What we do know is that the potential for such protests is building among the population. That’s for sure. We had a 50%-increase in the gas tariff for millions of Ukrainians last August and there will be another 50% increase this year. There was an increase in the electricity tariff, an increase in the costs of municipal services, increased food prices, and failure of the present authorities to fulfill their promise to significantly raise real wages. All those things, combined with the political situation create the potential for new protests. There is no doubt that the popularity of President Janukovich has fallen drastically, from 40 % last year to only 20% in the latest poll. Interestingly, those polls also show that support for Janukovich is declining in regions where he traditionally enjoyed very strong support – the eastern and southern part of Ukraine, as well as in Crimea and the Donetsk area.

But whether these events explode in a new wave of protests no-one can predict. We should also keep in mind that the Orange Revolution broke out only after the highly cynical falsification of voting in the second round of the presidential election. That was what initiated the protest. What might cause such an explosion today, who can tell? Personally, I do not believe that any political force or leader today is capable of leading such a broad protest as in 2003 and 2004. At that time in Ukraine we had a leader with nationwide appeal, Viktor Jushchenko, who managed to gain backing by rallying all democratic forces. Today the opposition is splintered. Instead of a unified opposition, we have at least three major separate opposition parties, each with their own leaders. For the time being the strongest opposition politician is Yulia Tymoshenko, who received more than eleven million votes in the presidential election last year.

Please read more about the current situation in Ukraine at http://balticworlds.com/ukraine-2/

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  • by Peter Johnsson

    Peter Johnsson is a foreign correspondent. Working for Nordic media and based in Warsaw he has covered the countries in East-Central Europe since 1980. He is the author of several books on Poland and polish history.

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