Viktor Medvedchuk's interview with high-profile Politique Internationale (France)
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH
Mr. Medvedchuk, before we get to the essence of the conversation, a question about you personally: what do you think is the reason for the growth of your political influence from the time of Kuchma’s presidency to the founding of Opposition Platform - For Life, the most influential opposition party? Is it about the means, the power of persuasion? What ‘levers’ brought you to this level?
I can answer your question with a phrase that has become a catchword over the years when I was engaged in social and political activities: “There is no force, stronger than the idea whose time has come”. Now the time has come for many of those ideas that I have consistently and fundamentally defended, despite political pressure and persecution both under Yushchenko, Yanukovych, Poroshenko, and today – under President Zelenskyy.
I have the right to say that there is great demand for our ideas, because today the ratings of the Opposition Platform - For Life party have not only grown, they have already approached the ratings of the Servant of the People party. A recent opinion poll by the Institute for Analysis and Forecasting showed that our political force has 22.1% of support, while the pro-presidential party has 26.9%.
The Ukrainians realized that Zelenskyy did not have a single answer to those questions, the challenges that Ukraine now faces.
The Opposition Platform - For Life party has strategies and step-by-step plans for resolving the conflict in Donbass, for restoring the economy, and for social protection of citizens.
We know how to raise the minimum wage not by UAH 277 (8 euros) – to UAH 5,000 (EUR 151), as Zelenskyy did as an election campaign and handouts for Independence Day, but to UAH 7713 (EUR 233), and most importantly - where to get this money. We know how to make sure that utility rates do not grow at an astronomical rate (while energy prices in the world are falling), but go down.
And we can do it. If the government listened to our recommendations, and not to the requirements of the IMF and the United States, if the mono-majority in the Verkhovna Rada used our best practices, Ukraine today would have economic growth, and not yet another catastrophic fall. Voters see and understand this (based on the results of sociological research in recent months), and for that reason support our political force. In the opinion of the Ukrainians, who assessed the activities of parliamentary parties on economic development, tariffs, and peace establishment, it is our party in all these positions that takes the 1st place among the parties represented in the Verkhovna Rada.
Separatists in Donbass and the Ukrainian authorities have been negotiating for many years, but there has been no progress. Why is the conflict resolution process still at an impasse? What do you think is the reason for this failure?
Lack of political will. President Poroshenko did not have it, and Zelenskyy does not have it, despite all his pretentious, but essentially meaningless and pointless statements about how he seeks peace and how much he allegedly did to achieve it.
Compare late Poroshenko and early Zelenskyy and try to spot a few differences. If you look at what is happening in the country, you get the impression that it was not the second year of Zelenskyy’s presidency, but the seventh year of Poroshenko’s rule. We see all the same flirting with jingoistic patriots and radicals, the same cave-like Russophobia, the same militant aggressive attitude towards the residents of Donbass.
In such conditions, negotiations on peace a priori cannot be effective. Without compromises and rapprochement in positions, it is impossible to reach agreement on any of the issues.
Do you think that the containment of the crisis and war in Donbass is only coming from Russia and pro-Russian forces? Do you regret the blocking on the part of Ukraine, especially from the ardent nationalists?
I think it is not entirely appropriate to talk about regret here. I am convinced that the position of ardent nationalists, as you precisely put it, is that trigger, that destabilizing factor that hinders any attempts to establish dialogue between Kiev and Donbass. Obviously, you have heard the statements of certain politicians and political forces that “Donbass should be cut off like gangrene,” I think you are familiar with the ideas about freezing the conflict or about war to a victorious end (and some figures even agreed before the parade on Red Square)... Add here the policy of forced Ukrainization, attempts to prohibit the celebration of Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War, rewriting history, glorifying Nazism and fascism, harsh sanctions policy (to the point that worldwide-known Hermitage and Russian universities have stuck in someone’s craw)… Now answer the question: is it possible, given such a fervent nationalist approach, which is often supported by President Zelenskyy and his team, to return Donbass to Ukraine, and Ukraine to Donbass? I believe the answer is obvious.
What options do you see for resolving the problem of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in gross violation of laws and international borders, which was the first such violation since the end of the Cold War? Is his loss for Ukraine irreversible? What other options are there to return it to Kiev?
Apparently, you wanted to ask me: “Whose Crimea?” My position on this issue does not change. All these years I have been talking about this: de jure, in accordance with our Constitution and current legislation, Crimea is Ukrainian. De facto – Russian. President Zelenskyy publicly admitted this: “When it comes to Crimea, the situation, I think, is even more complicated. To be honest, I’ve thought about it a lot. In the Normandy format no one wants to talk about Crimea, especially Russia. I raised this issue. But we devoted all our time to Donbass. Russia does not want to talk about this, we all understand this... But Crimea is our territory. We will return it back. However, there is no serious and effective platform for discussing this issue, except for our international negotiations and agreements with our foreign partners, which led to sanctions and pressure on Russia...”. At the same time, Poroshenko and now Zelenskyy completely abandoned the people living in Crimea. For them, the main instrument is sanctions, but these are sanctions against those whom they want to return! The authorities have cut off aviation, railroad and road freight traffic, and the supply of electricity and water to the peninsula. So what? They are waiting. For what? The sanctions on which Poroshenko was the only one counting, and today Zelenskyy is the lot of extreme narrow-mindedness and a vivid example of the primitiveness and scarcity of state thinking. It is possible to return people only through their consciousness, and not by force or through international sanctions.
In France, many believed that the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the new President of Ukraine would lead to the end of the war as soon as possible. Unsurprisingly, Paris became the first capital Zelenskyy visited while still a presidential candidate. Why were all these hopes dashed?
I will tell you more: 73% of Ukrainians thought the same as the French when they voted for Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the second round. Most of them are not just disappointed now, they feel betrayed and cheated. And this affects the ratings of both President Zelenskyy himself and his political force. I think that future local elections, if held in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law, will be a cold shower for Zelenskyy.
Do you often meet with President Zelenskyy? What kind of relationship do you have as political opponents? Tell us about him: does the background of a comedian and a person from show business prevent him from being considered a top-level politician who inherited a heavy track record of trying to resolve a military conflict from his predecessors?
I do not meet with President Zelenskyy. On behalf of the millions of Ukrainians who supported our political force in the parliamentary elections, I have twice addressed the President of Ukraine with open letters, where I asked him to give answers to the urgent questions that, no doubt, concern every person in our country today. However, these questions remained unanswered. Alas, Zelenskyy is far from real life, he is in illusions and rosy dreams, refusing to notice that during the year of his presidency, Ukraine has slipped into an economic abyss, and the era of poverty, the end of which his team trumpeted from all sides, has been replaced by an era of total poverty. Ukraine continues to be the most corrupt country, ranked first in Europe in terms of crime, and ranks last in Europe in terms of attractiveness for doing business.
What to answer to those who consider or considered him a Ukrainian, who is too peaceful towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia?
Frankly, I do not know what kind of peacefulness we are talking about. I can only say one thing that in certain issues (for example, the same sanctions policy that even affected cultural and educational institutions of the Russian Federation) Zelenskyy was able to surpass his teacher in matters of Russophobia and radicalism – Petro Poroshenko. Moreover, after his statement at the beginning of activity that only the border remained “out of common” between Ukraine and Russia, I answered him: “I don’t know what Mr. Zelenskyy was thinking for a long time in order to come to such a ‘unique’ conclusion, but I am confident and ready to prove it that Ukrainians and Russians are united by: common thousand-year history; common Slavic roots; common Orthodox faith; common culture and language spoken by more than half of Ukrainian citizens; common millions of relatives living in our countries; common Great Victory in the bloodiest war in the entire history of mankind – the Great Patriotic War. If Mr. Zelenskyy does not know about this, does not want to hear or decided to refuse it, following the path of Poroshenko, I can say one thing: I am very sorry. Sorry for the Ukrainians. Many will be offended when it turns out that they changed the awl for soap when they voted for him”.
Therefore, I realized that it was not possible to talk with him on professional topics, such as the situation in the country or government.
What are the moods in Donbass now? It has been 6 years since the people in Donbass were separated from the rest of Ukraine. Is there still a desire to reunite and what obstacles can the process of reunification face from the side of ordinary people both in Donbass and in ‘Greater Ukraine’?
I think the issue of Ukraine’s return to Donbass does not and cannot lose its relevance. After all, we are talking not only and not so much about the territories, but about our citizens, their spiritual, family and cultural ties. This conflict has divided Ukraine alive. And it must be ‘stitched’. ‘Stitched’ based on what brings us together and unites.
From time to time, we hear from the Ukrainian government that in their attempts to end the conflict, they must take into account the reaction of war veterans and ultra-right nationalist groups, who reject any compromise and threaten to destabilize the situation in Kiev if the ruling party tries to grant special status to Donbass or to amnesty the separatists. What options for solving this problem could you suggest to the government?
If President Zelenskyy relies on the opinion of ultra-right nationalist groups, the conflict in eastern Ukraine will remain an open, bleeding wound. We see the attitude towards nationalists and volunteer battalions in Donbass. Zelenskyy’s flirtings with radical ultra-right forces, which insist on a military solution to the conflict, will bury the peace talks and the achievements that have been achieved thanks to the Normandy format negotiations. We have made an offer – our peace plan with a detailed description of steps for a peaceful settlement became part of the program of our party.
As we know, in January you presented in the French Senate your idea to launch a Normandy format parliamentary dimension. Please tell us more about this initiative. How useful can it be in the context of accelerating the peace process?
I am convinced that the Parliamentary dimension of the Normandy format will significantly assist the negotiation process in the Normandy format in order to implement the Minsk agreements. Although today the whole world recognizes that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements, moreover, they are approved by the UN Security Council, Kiev does not abandon attempts to rewrite or amend them (up to and including abandoning the Normandy format). As a result, instead of moving towards peace, which was truly believed in February 2015, we got 5 years of stagnation, recriminations and zero result.
Opposition Platform - For Life, which has developed a Concept Plan for resolving the crisis in the South-East of Ukraine, intends to develop the initiative of inter-parliamentary dialogue. I am convinced that the involvement of parliamentarians from the four countries of the Normandy Four (and our plan was supported not only by parliamentarians from France, but also from Russia and Germany, and even by European parliamentarians) can move the negotiation process off the ground. The parliamentarians of our countries could help the heads of state who are direct participants in the Normandy Four, our states in general, and first of all Ukraine, to solve those problems that are priority for ending the conflict in Donbass. And I have great hopes that parliamentarians from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany will be able to find the denominator that will help a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbass.
It is no secret that Europe is interested not only in resolving the Donbass problem, but also in broader reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia, which can eliminate many barriers that now exist in the dialogue between the East and West of the continent. Do you think it is possible to achieve a fundamental rapprochement between Kiev and Moscow in the near future?
In this vein, it would be appropriate to recall the idea of a Greater Europe – from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The challenges the world has faced over the past six months due to the pandemic and the socio-economic crisis caused by it have shown how illusory the notorious solidarity of the EU countries, their unity and common interests are. The world is on the brink of global changes. Definitely, the United States is interested in establishing the world order, the world order that made it a superpower. That is why Washington generously sowed and continue to sow conflicts between the Russian Federation and the countries of Eastern Europe.
Ukraine is being used by Washington not to strengthen Europe, but to weaken Russia and the European Union. Look who won and who lost from the sanctions imposed by the EU against the Russian Federation. The USA won first. Now Washington is trying to impose expensive liquefied gas on Europeans. The sanctions against Nord Stream 2 are geopolitical in nature, but they hit the economy.
However, on the example of the EU, we see that individual members of the European Union already understand that it is necessary to be guided by the interests of national economies, and not by the geopolitical wishes of Washington. I would prefer to believe that sooner or later the Ukrainian government will also see its light.
You are personally acquainted with Vladimir Putin. Tell us what you really think about him and his political role in Russia.
It is a great honor for me to communicate and have friendly relations with Vladimir Vladimirovich.
If we talk about the political role of Vladimir Putin in Russia, then the most articulate of all is the support that he has from his citizens, the growing level of well-being, the significant transformations that are taking place in the country.
However, I would like to say a few words about Vladimir Putin as one of the world leaders, about his strategic thinking.
Let me give you an example. In 2016, upon the invitation of Vladimir Vladimirovich, I took part in a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi. One of the political scientists asked him a question about relations between Ukraine and Russia. I did not just remember that answer for the rest of my life; I am ready to subscribe to every word.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, speaking about the Russian-Ukrainian situation, said: “First we were separated, and pitted against each other, and we ourselves are to blame for this. We ourselves should find a way out of this situation, and we will find it”.
Then it concerned Ukraine and Russia. Now we are seeing the same situation with Belarus.
External forces are deliberately playing off our peoples to please the collective West (primarily the United States), weakening Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Today, as the chair of the political council of Opposition Platform - For Life, the second largest faction in the Verkhovna Rada and the second party in the country, I refer to these words when I defend the interests of the inhabitants of the South-East, Russian-speaking citizens, all those who do not want to put up with cave-like Russophobia and hurray-patriotic hysteria.
Our political force represents all those who do not want Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians to be played off and forced to dance ‘American gopachok’. We stand for mutually beneficial relations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, for a radical change in the economic course and good-neighborly mutually beneficial relations with all countries, primarily with neighbors.
You know, coming back to the question we started our interview with, I think that this very position of our political force largely explains the growing influence of the Opposition Platform - For Life party.
Which Western politicians in general and French politicians in particular made the biggest impression on you? Whose convictions are closest to you, and who would you reward for political courage?
There are many of them, and it will not be possible to tell about each in an interview format. I was deeply impressed by the Socialist presidential candidate (2007) Marie-Ségolene Royal as an outstanding female politician: the first woman in France to get nominated as a presidential candidate from a major party (2006) and the first woman in France, who passed to the second round of the presidential elections in 2007.
She waged an honest struggle, and following the results of the will of the citizens, she did not ‘complain and appeal’, but simply congratulated her opponent on the victory and asked him to remember her supporters.
I cannot but mention François Mitterrand – a politician who twice managed to come to an agreement with the opposition and, without a crisis, lead his country through cooperation with political opponents, proving the possibility of successful coexistence of the President and Prime Minister with different political tendencies, and most importantly – a lawyer who perfectly understood the significance of the coexistence of France both the Soviet Union and the President, who ensured the warmth of relations between these countries.
I cannot but pay tribute also to Nicolas Sarkozy, a politician who, without a crisis, was able to carry out a large-scale reform of the French Constitution in 2008; the leader who managed to lead his country through the severe crisis of 2008, while setting and achieving the goal ‘not to force the French to bear exorbitant costs’; the President who left France stronger and more influential than it was before him.
Who, in your opinion, plays a negative role? What is your attitude towards Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently threatening two European countries in the Mediterranean – Cyprus and Greece?
I believe that the President of Turkey follows the same principle in his foreign policy as the President of the United States Donald Trump: national interests come first. Naturally, neighbors and great powers do not always like this. But it is hard to argue with one thing for sure: Ankara, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is pursuing a completely independent course in the international arena. Even NATO membership in this sense does not force the country to sacrifice its national interests. This proves that the North Atlantic Alliance in the modern system of international relations looks like an anachronism. Even if military tension periodically arises between its members, it is obvious that the bloc is going through hard times. And Ukraine has nothing to do here. However, when it comes to basic values, disputes over this between the EU and Turkey, my fellow party members and I proceed from the assumption that we belong to the common European Christian civilization. This is the determining factor as to whom our sympathies are attached to.
Are you close to the so-called populists in Europe? Are you inspired by the political actions of some of them, for example Viktor Orban in Hungary?
I am familiar with Viktor Orban. I consider him a principled and consistent defender of the interests of my country. And his support by the majority of Hungarian citizens testifies that he puts their interests and the interests of the state at the fore
Will you one day become the President of Ukraine and, if so, under what conditions?
I am advocating a parliamentary form of government. Today Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential form of government, which was introduced as a result of the 2004 constitutional reform, of which I am the author. Our country needs to carry out the second stage of this reform – the transition to a parliamentary form of government, of which I am a firm and consistent supporter.
What do you think of key European politicians such as Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy or even Ursula von der Leyen?
As a consistent supporter of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, I cannot give personal assessments to the aforementioned democratically elected European leaders. Each of them faces a multitude of challenges to which they have to respond every day in the interests of their countries and peoples. All the more important is their readiness to find time to participate in the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbass. And all the more indignation is the persistent desire of the previous and current Ukrainian authorities to delay the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which, among other things, takes time from official Paris and Berlin on issues that in fact could have been resolved long ago.
Separately, I would like to note that, unfortunately, some European leaders do not always proceed entirely from the interests of their countries, and not from a certain general matrix of approaches of the global Western elite. This is very harmful to both security and the economic development of Europe. All the more valuable are such steps as the commitment of President Emmanuel Macron to the development of a pragmatic dialogue with Russia or the determination of the German leadership to resist the desire of the United States to drag the EU into the Cold War with China. It is high time for Europeans to realize that so-called transatlantic solidarity in practice often means sacrificing the interests of the continent to the ambitions of a superpower on the other side of the ocean.