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Yulia Tymoshenko: the goal of negotiations can only be the ouster of President Yanukovych

Yulia Tymoshenko: the goal of negotiations can only be the ouster of President Yanukovych
Article by: Yuriy Lukanov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Edited by: A. N.

14 February 2014

Whether Kliuyev visited Tymoshenko or not is no longer relevant. This is immediately clear from our interview with Tymoshenko. Given the current situation, we wanted to hear her views on the barricades and the world behind them. Luckily, we got that opportunity.

And the responses of the imprisoned leader didn’t disappoint. If anybody asked which music these angry words would be composed to, there’d be only one reply: “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner. Technically deprived of any direct influence over the course of events, Yulia Volodymyrivna remains confident about participating in the process. And she isn’t unreasonable.

— Yulia Volodymyrivna, how effective do you consider the negotiations between the opposition and the authorities to be?
— It’s impossible to ascertain the efficacy of something that doesn’t exist.
There are no real negotiations between the authorities and the opposition at the moment. The opposition, Maidan and the western leaders are being “trolled” with the word “negotiation,” thus detracting from the Peoples’ Uprising, spatially and temporally removing focus from it. I believe the opposition must honestly tell that to the people. Those who came to Maidan to give their lives for Ukraine without pretense and empty words, they deserve the TRUTH. When I asked to abandon the negotiation process, I meant that it doesn’t even exist, and we shouldn’t force honest and sincere Ukrainians to believe this bluff.

What is happening today is the forceful suppression of a popular uprising, except this time it’s not being done with Berkut’s batons, rubber bullets and other “peaceful” implements, but rather with a well-organized system of terror, including thugs in uniform, thugs in track suits, and thugs in judicial wigs. They quash the best of Ukrainian citizens—journalists, doctors, opposition—with targeted and confident measures.

If anybody perceives daily imprisonments, house arrests, kidnappings and torture of activists, hostage trade, the burning of middle-class citizens’ cars, and the amnesty of Popov, Sivkovich and others as part of any negotiation process, they are somewhat mistaken.

Yanukovych and the leaders of his clan contemplated real negotiations with Maidan three times. The first time was following the bloody dispersal of the students’ Maidan, when more than a million radically-inclined citizens took to the streets; the second was during the events on Hrushevskiy Street; the third time was when people began to assault the regional administrations and to take power into their own hands. That was it. There is every reason to conclude that the negotiations between the authorities and Maidan ended without ever having started.

— From that point, is there any hope for negotiations, and if so, who might be such a negotiator?
— I am sorry to say, but I don’t believe that real negotiations between the authorities and the opposition are possible. We can take part in negotiations, we can hope for them or simulate them, but we won’t succeed in having them under the circumstances.

In order to commence productive negotiations, three components are required:
Firstly, the negotiations should be conducted by people able to make decisions and implement them; secondly, the negotiations should be conducted by people who have a clear goal; and the third requirement is at least a minimal amount of room for (sincere) compromise. None of these requirements are currently met.

Yanukovych has no freedom to make independent decisions in negotiations with the opposition. After rejecting the EU Trade Agreement, accepting a politically-charged gas price, and receiving the first installment of money from Russia, he stopped being a party in negotiations with the Ukrainian people and the world. His latest visit to Sochi has clearly shown that. Yes, he still can drown his homeland in blood, and he may be clenching the throats of his business partners and party members, but he cannot independently make even a minute decision in Ukraine, or indeed on the global chessboard. Thus, when the opposition or the leaders of the western world enter into negotiations with Yanukovych, they should understand that in fact they are negotiating with Vladimir Putin through an incompetent mediator.

The number one question is: is the opposition ready to negotiate in this format? I don’t believe so. This unacceptable negotiation channel shouldn’t be legalized; instead, the President of Ukraine, having ceased to make independent political decisions, should be lawfully removed.

This situation was described a few days ago ever so gently and precisely by Zbignev Bzezinski. He’s said that a compromise in three planes must be reached to resolve the crisis in Ukraine: between the political parties; between the EU, Russia and Ukraine; and between the US and Russia.

In other words, on the world chess board Ukraine is not perceived as an independent party anymore. After the failure to sign the Association with the EU and other humiliating episodes, we are perceived by European society as minority shareholders in the Russian portfolio. I don’t see any concessions Ukraine can make to convince Russia to accept our ultimate integration with Europe. But it’s this integration with Europe that we vitally need now. In the meantime in negotiations at the global level we are not even considered as a party.

Our Ukrainian political crisis is supposed to be productively resolved between the US and Russia. I wonder, on what conditions? Would we even be informed of that? But we alone, Ukrainians, are responsible for this situation. We’ve got ourselves to blame. The market price for gas, the EU Agreement and full democratization of the country — that would be our recipe for success, for freedom and European living standards. At this historical point we have lost. And it’s our fault. It’s high time to fix these mistakes, but not through negotiations between Yanukovych and the opposition – because he doesn’t decide anymore, and the opposition and Maidan won’t be able to offer Putin anything satisfactory. The President of Ukraine should be replaced as soon as possible, because he’s hooked by Russia so deeply that this hook could only be extracted together with his political life. I don’t believe the patient [Yanukovych] is ready for this. If we don’t realize this obvious situation, we won’t regain independence on the international arena.

— What did you mean regarding the goal of negotiations and room for compromise?

— The second reason for the lack of real negotiation is the unclear goals of the opposition side.

What Yanukovych wants is clear. He wants to remain the President of Ukraine for a second term with absolute dictatorial authority. That’s why he chose alignment with Russia over the EU, that’s why he shoots and jails Maidaners, that’s why he manipulates the Constitution, that’s why he’s exterminating the opposition. Don’t underestimate Yanukovych. In fights for power, he’s an excellent fighter. There’s no act of cowardice or cruelty he wouldn’t be willing to commit for power. And what ultimate goal do the opposition have? To dismount the totalitarian clan system of anti-European state control through a popular uprising, to set the country on a path towards democratic European development? Or perhaps to reach a consensus regarding the Constitutional amendments with Yanukovych? Or maybe the goal is to obtain more seats in government? Or maybe they are simply gaining points by taking part in the rebellion before the presidential elections? That might be one goal.

The problem is that all these goals are mutually exclusive.

We should define a common goal in the negotiations for Maidan and the opposition. The only common goals can be the resignation of Yanukovych from the President’s post, a complete dismantling of authoritarian clan system, a return to the course of European integration and a sincere acceptance of European values. All the other goals should be postponed until later.

— But how to achieve this result? Today it seems to be quite unrealistic.

— Through real negotiations with Yanukovych. However, they can only start if there is a real room for compromise. Today they are impossible. Given Yanukovych’s insatiable desire to own the country and how deeply he has monopolized the power concentrated in his hands, the potential room for compromise depends on three factors: the power of the national resistance, the prospect of international sanctions, and investigations into corruption and the possibility of initiating an investigation before the International Criminal Court even in the absence of Ukraine’s ratification of the Rome Statute.  To strengthen each of these, the opposition should work with Maidan to organize itself into groups for direct and effective action. We must help renew and strengthen the national uprising, our representatives must ‘live’ in Brussels and Washington until we see real sanctions, and we must start discussions with experts on how to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. It’s still not too late. We just need to direct our efforts in different directions —more efficiently, professionally and simultaneously in all three areas. When Yanukovych is ready for real negotiations, we should begin and conclude them quickly. The only possible topic of the negotiations should be his resignation from power and the safety guarantees for his ‘Family’. I am ready to be a participant in these negotiations.

If the opposition is not able to achieve each of these three factors, then we must struggle for maximally fair elections in 2015. This can become a real goal to work toward, but is probably not a topic for negotiations with Yanukovych. Everything is going to look like this: Yanukovych will do everything possible to falsify the results of future elections, and the opposition, together with international democratic society, must minimize this falsification through intellectual and organizational decisions. But that’s another story and another process.

— Is there a way for the opposition to regain Maidan’s trust in them?

— Undoubtedly. One should take full responsibility and act peacefully but strongly. Parallel authorities should be formed and staffed, and then their Constitutional legalization should be achieved. Ukraine would thus be freed from a dictatorship, and the democratic world from the hard choice between Russia and Ukraine.

The thing I ask of the opposition: have an honest discussion with Maidan. Do not offer them surrogates poisoned with helplessness instead of solving the problem. Maidan will simply not accept those surrogates and will stop trusting the opposition once and for all. Maidan is not a younger brother of the opposition and should not be treated in this way.

Recently I read Olesia Mamchych’s blog. Her calm and sacrificial words are impressive: “With every stage of Maidan we get involved and invested more and more deeply into the situation in a way that makes it impossible to go back to normal life without betraying our close friends. Maybe this is for the best. I had the impression that nothing had really changed during the last 100 years, and that we are going through the same obstacles that our executed peers could not overcome. A real and at the same time perfect way out of this situation is to push toward victory. Otherwise nothing nice is going to happen.” That’s the kind of “extremists” and “terrorists” we have on Maidan. They have more morality and intellect than all the politicians taken together, so I don’t think that a political surrogate will satisfy their high-calibre demands. They want once and for all to break out of those circles that for a long time haven’t let them live. They won’t tolerate even the slightest insincerity from the politicians. The opposition won’t satisfy these people, the best citizens of Ukraine, with meaningless positions and countless constitutional processes. Artificial, theatrical decisions can no longer satisfy Maidan. It needs real results and real changes.

I believe that now is the moment to significantly expand the Maidan Council and to invite all the civil leaders to work together. Right now, in my view, the Council doesn’t fully represent Maidan and it significantly undermines the efficacy of its work.

— Are there maybe other ways out of the crisis? The opposition, the East, and the West are trying to implement them.

— Yes, I’m following all the proposals and analyzing their effectiveness.

I don’t believe in a split in the ranks of the oligarchs, I don’t believe they will abandon Yanukovych and join a democratic coalition. It is impossible for several reasons, as long as their leader keeps his position. Their criminal businesses are so well integrated that they could only be broken up at the cost of their lives.

Yanukovych’s Mezhihyrya [estate] officially belongs to Kliuyev; Akhmetov’s Ukrtelekom belongs to Yanukovych; the Inter TV channel that belongs to Firtash likely has other owners who are close to the Family. This whole snake pit is filled with concrete under the name of [Serhiy] Kurchenko. If you look deep enough into any oligarch business today, you’ll always find Yanukovych’s Family there.

All the talk about democracy with the oligarchs is now a utopian fantasy. We need to engage in negotiations with the oligarchs, but with the understanding that they will only begin to cannibalize each other after the political fall of Yanukovych. And in the meantime they will be steadfast in upholding the status quo.

I do not believe that this convocation of the Ukrainian parliament will bring about a new democratic majority under the current President. That’s another rose-colored story aimed at pacifying the protesters. Communists are serving Putin, and Lytvyn is on Yanykovych’s hook for the Gongadze case. And he’s not alone. The Party of Regions factions are clearly structured according to the names of the clans and those who work for them. I stress that none of them will vote against Yanukovych in the Parliament as long as he remains president. The current majority can only be reconfigured after Yanukovych’s political collapse. There is no other option.

I do not believe that under the current circumstances, Yanukovych can remove the hook of the Customs Union with which Vladimir Putin is reeling Ukraine into his sphere of influence. Putin is his lifeline now.

European friends of Ukraine believe that large loans and long talks can set Yanukovych on the path to Europe. Do not be fooled: this will be determined by Putin, not Yanukovych. The president is no longer in charge of such decisions. Apart from that, Russia has four advantages over Europe in influencing Yanukovych: a pro-Russian electorate, cheap gas, unlimited credit, and no talk of European values. In Russian dealings like these, the European side will always lose in Yanukovych’s games. But did we ever agree to play his games?

Some believe that the Ukrainian government’s negotiations with the opposition will spur the complete socio-economic and financial collapse that has begun in our country. This is not true. I believe that Yanukovych will get all the Russian financial aid that he requires. This, of course, in exchange for the gradual absorption of Ukraine by its “good northern neighbor.” Yanukovych’s financial sustenance will be delivered in return for each successive stage in the surrender of national interests. And he will not hesitate to surrender it all. It has already begun in recent years with the [hosting of the Russian] Black Sea Fleet and now the Association Agreement with the EU. I think the next steps will be a gas transmission system, and then a “lite” version of the Customs Union. Yanukovych’s removal from the presidency is the only way to halt these developments. Otherwise, the chain reaction will go according to plan. If Vladimir Putin paid $50 billion for the Olympics, then there is no limit to what he will pay for Ukraine.

Now I’m returning to the question of whether there are effective ways of winning or beginning real negotiations with Yanukovych. In my opinion, there are. There are just three: intensification of the national revolt, international sanctions, and an international anti-corruption investigation against the Family that would search for evidence with which they could be brought to justice before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. All of these ways of intensifying the process of negotiation are extremely difficult. The opposition must organize their work in a professional manner and achieve results both in Ukraine and abroad. We all understand: the current events in Ukraine will determine the future of a united Europe, the future of the peoples of the former Soviet Union, and the global world. The struggle for a European Ukraine cannot be lost, but so far it does not appear victorious. If, for some objective reasons, the people of Ukraine, the opposition, and the democratic world cannot tap into any of these factors of victory, we must honestly say to those protesting on Maidan that there is but one remaining method of achieving democratic change, justice and the return of European prospects: the 2015 elections.

— Do you consider amendments to the Constitution a suitable area for compromise?

— No, absolutely not. In this particular situation, it is not possible to amend the Constitution because both sides have diametrically opposed plans regarding constitutional changes. The opposition wants to achieve a balance of powers: to change the relationship between the government and the citizen, between the government and civil society, to implement European values through the Constitution.

Yanukovych plans to change the Constitution in order to guarantee his own hold on power in case he loses the 2015 [presidential] election. Compromise is not possible. The opposition sincerely seeks a division of powers between the president and parliament where presidential powers are significantly reduced in favor of civil society, local government, and parliament. This requirement is completely reasonable and just and I strongly endorse it. I’m sure it will be implemented in the country under a new president. However, we shouldn’t forget that the parliamentary form of government must be based on an honest system of parliamentary elections that would completely prevent corrupt clans and the corrupt administration from unduly influencing people’s choices. This is why changes to the Constitution that provide for increased parliamentary powers must be implemented, along with a new system of parliamentary elections that will prevent political corruption.

The implementation of a new Constitution with a presidential-parliamentary form of government must be introduced only with the concurrent introduction of scheduled or special parliamentary elections. Only then we can expect positive change. If we leave this oligarchic clan-based parliament in place—especially with the current majority-take-all system of elections that is completely controlled by shadow money—and introduce the 2004 Constitution, then we might as well leave Yanukovych in the presidency. Because this degraded version of Ukraine’s parliament will be more like a den of thieves than a political center for European reform.

Let me repeat. If, under international and popular pressure, the current parliament still manages to adopt the 2004 Constitution, which enables the parliamentary majority to nominate a prime minister and confirm a cabinet, then in 2015 the newly elected president from the democratic opposition will find himself with the same ministers, including the prime minister, currently appointed by Yanukovych—the result of the current clan-based parliamentary majority. In this situation, the new president, in whom the country will place all its hopes, will not be able to change anything in Ukraine. This will be a new disappointment for Ukrainians, a new defeat for a united Europe, followed by new waves of emigration.

You are aware that a couple of days ago I had a meeting with Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov. We came to the same conclusion: that changes to the Constitution either will not be accepted at all, or that only the Yanukovych version will be accepted, as was the case with the recent law on parliamentary elections. We must not allow the constitutional process to be transformed into a delay tactic to steadily weaken the popular uprising. We have decided that at the next plenary session of Parliament the opposition would seek a vote on the question of returning to the 2004 Constitution. We decided to do that to satisfy those who still believe the ruling party will vote to return to the 2004 Constitution. However, if we lack sufficient votes, the Batkivshchyna party will avoid the trap of the constitutional process and will return to it only after the victory of the opposition in the scheduled or snap presidential elections. After this victory, we will accept major changes to the Constitution of Ukraine in a form that is not prepared by politicians, and we will implement it together with the snap elections. I believe that in the next parliamentary elections, each opposition party has to open half of the party list to leaders of civil society, who have every right to it. They deserve it due to their sacrifice, courage and decency during the struggle on all the Maidans.

— Is it necessary that a member of the opposition become the next Prime Minister?

— No, it isn’t necessary, because this Prime Minister will obviously not be allowed to be effective. Under the same roof as Yanukovych, an opposition PM would not be able to dismantle the system of dictatorship and corruption, nor sign an agreement with the EU, nor save the country from social and economic collapse. Such a PM would very quickly become a disappointment to the people, and most importantly, would not help the country or its citizens. Rather, such an arrangement would be quite harmful because the regime only needs a Prime Minister from the opposition in order to pacify the protesters and place the blame for its own failures on the opposition. Regarding the prospect of an opposition PM, Anders Aslund, a longtime friend of Ukraine and indisputable expert on Ukrainian issues, said: “The opposition forces will be exhausted and the radical forces will be further radicalized if the situation is not resolved soon. Any member of the technical government is likely to become a ‘political corpse,’ and we don’t want that to happen to good people.”

Yuriy Stets, whom I truly respect, expressed the same sentiments in a recent interview. He said he did not advise Petro Poroshenko to head the Yanukovych government [as PM] before the presidential election. I don’t really see why it would be any more appropriate for Arseniy Yatsenyuk to do so.

— Under what conditions would the Batkivshchyna faction give votes to such a candidate?

— I wouldn’t advise them to do it at all, but if the faction were so inclined, it should do so only on three main conditions: first, full exoneration and release of all Maidan protesters and the opening of criminal proceedings against all who murdered, maimed, and kidnapped activists, journalists, or doctors. Any joint vote with the Party of Regions without this requirement is unacceptable.

The second condition I would advise Batkivshchyna to impose for the vote is that, along with a PM from the opposition, the whole Cabinet—or at least the lion’s share of Cabinet posts—should be appointed from the opposition (including the law enforcement posts).

In my last meeting with Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleksandr Tyrchinov, we agreed that a highly professional government should be proposed on Maidan, which would be formed in large part by representatives of civil society. When my colleagues and friends came to visit me, I asked them to conduct broad public consultations with the civil society leaders and moral authorities of our nation in order to form the next government of Ukraine—the Maidan government—that will have the trust of democratic Ukraine. Perhaps they can even propose this government by tomorrow, Sunday [17 February], at the traditional council. If the people give this government a mandate of trust, it will be worth proposing this government to Yanukovych publicly.

Somehow I am convinced that Yanukovych has other plans and he will refuse to cooperate. This government, in the same configuration that is approved by Maidan, will be established after a new president comes to power. It will be a new government, a new Ukraine, and it will be worthy of its title.

But there is a third condition under which Batkivshchyna would vote for a PM under Yanukovych. The resolution of the Verkhovna Rada on the appointment of the new head of government must include, as a second clause, the obligation of the new prime minister to sign the Association Agreement with EU. Any other option, in my opinion, is unacceptable.

— The Ukrainian Economy is in desperate need of foreign aid. In your opinion, which would be more acceptable for Ukraine: money from Russia, or from the West?

— In this case, the choice should not depend on where the money comes from, but rather how it aids Ukraine’s global integration strategy. I believe that Ukraine’s return to its European family is the only viable option, which means that Western aid is the right choice. Only this money will be a stimulus for the deep democratic reconstruction of our country, and will signal Ukraine’s readiness for strategic investments.

At the same time I am asking the Western financial institutions to refrain from giving any monetary resources to the new-old government of Yanukovych because this cash will be spent on corruption and the buttressing of the dictatorship. If, instead of justified sanctions, the dictator receives Western money, it’s unlikely to be met with understanding from democratic Ukraine and the worldwide Ukrainian diaspora. I call upon the West not to fund the blood-soaked regime.

— Is it true that you’ve been visited by Andriy Kliuyev, the head of the Presidential Administration?

— The day after I actually receive a visit from Andriy Kliuyev, Yanukovych will be forced to recognize me as a party in negotiations. You must understand that this would be a lethal move for them. Do not believe the rumours and gossip saying it’s possible. I do hope that in the near future the European Court will reach a fair judgment in my case and rather than meeting with Andriy Kliuyev in prison, I will meet with Viktor Yanukovych, if I’m lucky enough to find him.

With love, Yulia Tymoshenko,

Kachaniv Penal Colony, Kharkiv.


Translated: Oleg Mihailik, Oksana Poliakova, Anna Mostovych, Shaun Williams

Edited: Lesia Stangret, Robin Rohrback, Shaun Williams

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Edited by: A. N.
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