Lawmaker Taras Chornovil broke ranks with the Party of Regions in 2008, remaining a maverick politician since then. Therefore, he speaks frankly about many things in his interview with Tetyana Shtyfurko for the West Ukrainian Information Agency, ZIK[abridged version].
YANUKOVYCH IS RUSSIA’S BIG PAIN IN THE NECK
- Will Russia back up any of the presidential candidates?
- I think, Russia hasn’t made up its mind on who to back up in Ukraine. It has no trust in Yanukovych. The Kremlin has eventually realized that Yanukovych cannot keep the power. He can win the power but he is incapable of keeping it. The Russians are disappointed with Yanukovych. I happen to know several Russian politicians who frankly admit that Yanukovych was Russia’s major disappointment in the past decade.
There’s a lot of talk in Ukraine that Russia will back up Tymoshenko, but it seems to me that it’s basically a stunt emanating from the president’s office. I don’t think the Russians will throw any substantial weight behind any specific candidate.
Russia has tried to play a double game. At first, it tried to cash in on the conflict between the branches of power in Ukraine. However, when the conflict began to endanger Russia’s national interests, when the cut-throat rivalry between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko started to interfere with natural gas transit, economic cooperation and other issues, Russia found itself among the countries which opted for consolidation in Ukraine – because the mess in Ukraine had become dangerous for all, for Europe and Russia. That is why Russia’s politicians eyed with approval a broad coalition between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko.
- Who, do you think, Brussels and Washington will back up in the presidential race in Ukraine?
- I think, the West is in total disarray. Sober and wise politicians in the USA and EU have long started to say that putting the money on Yushchenko had been utter stupidity. However, they would not have dared to back up Yanukovych. Still, I believe the Yanukovych of 2004 was a totally different person from the Yanukovych of today. I guess, he would have done more good and less evil to Ukraine as president than Yushchenko. Brussels’ interest in Yushchenko is at zero, same as Washington’s.
The West has been trying to measure up Yatseniuk, but its interest in this presidential candidate has rapidly dwindled. It seems to me, he is no longer viewed as a potential election winner. Second, they’ve seen that Yatseniuk is an empty shell, he has no ideas and is a puppet.
As regards Tymoshenko, many like her and many are wary of her in the US and Europe.
Summing it up, I see total disarray in the West as to which candidate to support. On the other hand, there is a strong Ukraine fatigue. All the past five years ended up in a huge loss for Ukraine. Yushchenko should not have been elected president. He closed the doors to EU and Nato for Ukraine. Ukraine has become a grey zone. People in the West are aware of this and many are quite pleased about it.
BY LOCKING HORNS WITH TYMOSHENKO YUSHCHENKO WILL SERIOUSLY ASSIST YANUKOVYCH
- What do you think about a new law on the presidential election?
The law is good for Ukraine’s two major parties, BYT and PR. On the other hand, it doesn’t sit well with minor parties.
Yet, it is hard to give an unequivocal assessment to the law. To begin with, if the law is endorsed at the start of the electoral campaign, it is hypothetically bad as it will favor some parties. It’s not clear whether the president’s intention was to improve the legislation or create an absolute mess. I think, the incumbent had the second intention.
- Currently, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych lead in the polls. What can stop them from making it to the second round? Can it be new candidates, like Yatseniuk?
- I wouldn’t view the current approval ratings so seriously, as some of the candidates had a late start. We have a 4+1 arrangement of candidates in Ukraine, with the one already destined to be a loser – I mean Yushchenko. But he can impact the course of the election using his conduct and influence over law enforcement. The way he behaves may seriously help or harm some candidates. It is no secret that Yushchenko will fight Tymoshenko and throw his weight behind Yanukovych. It is a paradox: an about-face from 2004!
As for Tymoshenko, she managed to produce good results despite her vulnerable position as prime minister at the time of the recession. Yanukovych has an ample rating but he has made so many mistakes and stupidities.
What about such divisive for Ukrainians issues as the Russian language status, NATO and UPA?
These will not be major campaign issues. The language issue will be pretty high n Yaukovych agenda, as he has gone too far with it. So, he will continue to hand out promises to do something about the status when he becomes president. But in fact, the Regions do not care much about the status of Russian. As for NATO, only die-hard adventurers will try to play it out. Ukraine won’t be accepted by the alliance – thanks to Yushchenko’s policies. As for historical issues, they may be used in campaigning, most likely by Yushchenko and Yanukovych.
FIRTASH ORDERS YANUKOVYCH AND YATSENIUK TO DISBAND RADA
- Can a snap parliamentary election happen after the presidential one?
- There aren’t many chances for the snap election to happen, I believe. If Tymoshenko wins the highest office, she won’t be interested in disbanding VR. Once the president, she can tighten the screws and get a docile majority in VR. The Regions may pose a problem, but she will be able to offer a stick to some and carrot to others and thus gain total a control of the legislature. The Regions are holding together only on the belief that Yanukovych will become president. If one doesn’t pull his oar for Yanukovych now, he will regret it much when the PR leader becomes president. That is why the PR is a sufficiently monolithic force now. But if Yanukovych loses the race, many of his lawmakers will cross the floor and side with Tymoshenko.
- Why should Firtash want to disband Rada?
At present, Firtash has little ground in VR. Since he has Yanukovych under control, Firtash is eager to win control over the PR faction and dominate in VR. However, at present this is an impossible thing to achieve. Firtash dissenters in PR are regularly brought to heel, some of them by actual beating, like it happened to Liovochkin. Now, there is a deal, effective from October, if I remember it correctly, that Firtash makes up 40% of the PR election roster, Akhmetov the same 40%, with 20% going to PR member parties. As far as I know, Firtash now wants 50% of the roster. He needs it badly. He has burned his heels, with the Russians threatening to arrest him soon, same as the Swiss and, probably, Ukrainians unless either Yankovych or Yatseniuk becomes president.
I HAD NO PLANS TO BACK UP YANUKOVYCH BUT LVIV POLITICIANS MADE ME DO IT
- How did you feel after your defection to PR? When did you decide to say goodbye to PR? Did anyone apply pressure to make you stay in PR?
- A month after I announced I’m leaving the PR, I realized that I had enjoyed a special degree of personal freedom while in the PR. For a month afterwards, they tolerated my public declarations, being sure that I would backtrack and return to the PR fold. As soon as they realized that my decision was final, they tried to pressure me into returning. All PR heavies had face-to-face meeting with me, they all tried to make me change my decision – to no avail. There were some minor attempts to coerce me but they soon stopped. I know how to deal with threats. I just explained that they will pay through their noses politically if they continue to bully me.
- Do you regret having backed up Yanukovych in 2004?
I do not. I acted against Yushchenko. What is being said about Yushchenko now was plain truth to me back in 2003 when I published my article titled “It will be a horrendous presidency.” I had no serious plans to support Yanukovych. In August-September, I had several talks with him, telling him that I could back him up on some issues but would not be seriously involved in campaigning. However, I had been pushed to do this by Lviv politicians and their side-kicks who tried to put my house on fire, wrote obscenities on my fence, took shots at my windows, harassed my relatives and aides. Did I have any choice?
In fact, they gave me no other option but to side with Yanukovych. And they should receive full credit for the fact that I became Yanukovych’s chief of campaign staff. I don’t mean the Yushchenko supporters, I mean those who were in high positions and headed election campaigns.