ArmInfo's Interview with Ivan Kukhta, Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia
by Emmanuil Mkrtchyan
Mr. Ambassador, your country is going through tough times. It engages the eyes of the whole civilized world. We witness a real information war. What are the underlying causes of the current crisis in Ukraine, which has actually revolted against the ruling power?
The key engine of Maidan, which rose against the ruling power, is the destructive atmosphere in the public and political life of Ukraine. The systemized corruption which has penetrated all the power structures, the clanship of economy, theft, bribery and protectionism started ruining the country like corrosion and leading it to the edge of the economic catastrophe and pre-default situation. At present, specialists, including the western ones, calculated that about $70 billion of the budgetary funds were transferred to the offshore zones. Different ways of the state capital and even gold-value reserve transfer were used. Representatives of the top echelon of the power were openly controlling many branches of economy and gaining much from that. An atmosphere of impunity and all-permissiveness was reigning. Ministers and heads of departments were appointed, who used their high positions for personal gain. It is natural that the people rose against despotism. For this reason, Maidan is not simply a synonym to the word “square”. It has become a household name for everybody who struggles for free life and their rights. The power made the people go to the streets with political demands. Naturally, certain destructive forces and separatists also made use of that. The situation in the Crimea is the brightest evidence of that.
The situation in the Crimea is very complicated and Ukraine may lose it after the referendum.
The Crimea is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, so, it has no authority to hold a referendum for joining Russia. There are no laws allowing this. So, their rush to hold this referendum as early as possible (at first, they planned to do it on May 25, then on Mar 30 and finally on Mar 16) is simply absurd. All this is like a couple of lovers who met only yesterday but are already choosing a name for their future baby. The UN, the EU, the OSCE and other influential international organizations object to this referendum pointblank. Many countries have already said that they will not recognize the referendum as this is an illegal and dangerous step. Before holding a referendum, we should better sit down at a negotiating table and consider ways to solve this problem. If necessary, we might consider enlarging the Crimea's autonomy or even allowing it to hold such a referendum but in a less tensed atmosphere, with no propaganda around, so, people could be really free and impartial in their decisions. There is such a practice in the world but here it needs a legal framework and a special article in Ukraine's Constitution.
Does Ukraine think that it is possible to negotiate and come to an agreement on two basic principles of the international law – peoples’ right to self-determination and inviolability of borders?
Certainly, it is possible to talk and come to a certain agreement and it should be done legally. I mean the effective Constitution of Ukraine and the implementation of the regulatory documents adopted by the country.
The Crimea is a part of the Russian history, the fame of the Russian weapons, the land that was transferred to Ukraine not long ago. After all, it is the historical base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
That's true. The Crimea is a multinational republic and all of its residents speak Russian very well. And those wishing to speak Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian, Armenian, Greek or German have always been free to do so. So, all that clamor raised by some foreign politicians that the rights of the Russian-speaking Crimeans are being violated is nothing but a speculation. For some unknown reasons, this problem has never been raised in the past 22 years and was first mentioned only when the Maidan started.
I have read a lot of interesting analytical articles on the situation in Ukraine. Some of them contain rather wise methods of painless settlement of the crisis. They suggest sitting at a negotiating table and agreeing on the conditions under which Ukraine, for instance, will refrain from signing the Association Agreement with the EU or will refuse to join any military alliances. Others suggest creating international guarantees of establishment of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
Certainly, stabilization of the situation in Ukraine needs compromises, diplomatic solutions, but first of all it is necessary to sit at a negotiating table at least. The new government of Ukraine urges Moscow to do that. It has also applied to the international structures with Russia's membership. The new Prime Minister has said that the authorities are ready for a dialogue but Russia refuses to sit at a negotiating table with the new authorities of our country.
Don’t you think that the hastiness of the Supreme Rada, which has adopted a new law "On the language", has created a certain negative landscape?
It’s hard to disagree with it. However, the Acting President of Ukraine has already stated that the law adopted in a force majeure situation will not be ratified and that the Parliament has set up a working group to elaborate a new law regulating the interrelation of languages and national cultures. Today everybody is aware that Ukraine is a multinational state. Ukraine consists of not only Ukrainians, but also Russians, Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Azeris, Poles, Russinians and dozens of other nationalities, which have peacefully been living side by side on the Ukrainian land for centuries. Therefore, it is necessary to elaborate laws and rules similar to those observed by the whole civilized world. Look at the example of Switzerland and Belgium, which have two or three official languages. It is a very sensitive issue and it should be treated from the legal point of view with due regard for the world experience. However, I wouldn't say that this problem was so acute in Ukraine. All the nationalities get along well in Ukraine and there have been no serious problems related to xenophobia or national hatred for a long time. For instance, Armenians in Ukraine have made themselves at home for many centuries. They have preserved their culture, religion, language, churches, and schools. The fact that Ukrainian citizens of Armenian origin died in Maidan demonstrates that these people were not indifferent to the destiny of the country.
Like the two dozen Russians who died on the barricades together with Ukrainians and Armenians… It is irrelevant to conceal this fact. But I’d like to ask you about the CIS, which could have played a certain role in reducing the escalation in Ukraine. Hasn’t new official Kyiv changed its attitude towards the CIS?
Ukraine goes on successfully working in the CIS structures and wonders why the CIS did not react to such a deep crisis at its territory. The CIS should have immediately reacted to the situation in Ukraine, at least through gathering the foreign ministers who would be able to jointly discuss the problems and try to settle them, present their own viewpoints and offer compromises to the parties to the conflict. But they delayed, and we have got an impression that this structure is not effective. We have come across the situation when Ukraine, which has taken presidency in this international structure, comes forward with an initiative, and the members of this structure simply ignore it.
Analysts say that if the CIS fails to pass the endurance test today, it will fall into oblivion tomorrow.
I think that the CIS should have been the first to react to the situation in Ukraine and to react even earlier than the UN or the OSCE or any other international organizations, as the conflict rose at the CIS territory. For instance, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter has made a statement to emphasize the illegality of the referendum to be held in the Crimea on 16 March 2014 and the recognition of the Crimea’s independence. He called on all the parties to the conflict to hold back from supporting unauthorized actions in the Crimea, and ruled out the possibility of involving the OSCE as an observer during the “referendum”, as the latter is not a constitutional event. He recalled that the key precondition of any monitoring mission is invitation of the relevant member-state, and called on all the OSCE member-states to adopt a decision on creation of the OSCE monitoring mission on Ukraine as soon as possible.
I’d like to ask you of the Customs Union and European integration. Both the Customs Union and the European Union state that they have never made either Ukraine or Armenia to choose between Eurasian and European integrations. Is that a diplomatic trick or do you think they haven’t really made the countries choose?
One of the factors that caused the crisis in Ukraine was undoubtedly Kyiv's refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. The public opinion polls in Ukraine showed that the major part of the population came out for European integration and the President was aware of those sentiments. His refusal to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius sparked protests. It was a rebellious urge, because the people hoped that the Agreement would be signed. The signing of the Agreement offered hope to overcome the domestic problems of the country and to improve the economic affairs in the evolutionary rather than revolutionary way. Moreover, European integration was legislatively declared as a priority of Ukraine's foreign policy and it implied signing the Association Agreement. In the meantime, everyone realizes today that Ukraine's European integration cannot drive a wedge into the close relations with the Russian Federation, because Russia is our closest neighbor and the strategic partner of Ukraine. Russia is a large market and Ukraine, in turn, is a big market for Russia. No one has made the country make a choice. Ukrainians have never considered Russia to be a potential enemy.
What can you say of the politological idea that the crisis has given Ukraine an opportunity to display a new approach to the construction of a civilized, national, independent state?
It’s a purely politologial take on the historical logic. Ukraine has been building its independent state de jure and de facto for 22 years. The question is how that construction went on. There were a lot of mistakes and shifts in the power. As you know, the developments in Maidan were not the first protests in the country, but there was almost no progress. There was stagnation in both economy and social life. We have received a new chance to be totally reset. Тhe most important issue for Ukraine now is economic reforms. Today Ukraine is applying to international financial structures because it perfectly realizes that at the moment it cannot overcome the economic difficulties all by itself. The lack of rules in the economic life causes apathy and beggary, which are found side by side with a group of insatiable embezzlers of state property. Therefore, free and fair presidential elections on May 25 will guarantee further strengthening of Ukraine's independence.
How much self-sufficient is Ukraine? There are different views. It will receive an immense aid. What will it do next?
Ukraine has a favorable geographical and economic location, because it is situated in the center of the European continent. This allows the country to effectively use its transit potential and to be a bridge between the West and the East of Eurasia. Another advantage is the big domestic economic potential. Since Soviet times, Ukraine has had numerous metallurgical, chemical, machine-building, and processing plants. Most of them, however, are obsolete now. The economy has lost its competitiveness in the world markets. So, the economy should be modernized. Radical reforms are needed. The businessmen, officials and, unfortunately, the common citizens should tighten their belts. The new government has already adopted the first regulatory documents toughly controlling the budget fulfillment. Most privileges have been canceled. The positions of civil servants are being reduced. The economy should be transparent, the decisions should be transparent, predictable and substantiated. It is necessary to create a reliable business environment which will help eradicate the corruption and embezzlement of the state property.
Thanks for the interesting interview.