Nikolay Azarov about Ukrainian Coup d'Etat and Future of the Crimean Peninsular
On February 18, 2014 the situation in Kiev has deteriorated, which led to a clash between security forces and the "Euromaidan" activists. After some days, the power of Viktor Yanukovych collapsed and he fled to Russia.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the "Euromaidan" victory, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told the correspondent of "Kommersant" Ilya Barabanov, how the regime of Viktor Yanukovych collapsed and how he sees the future of Ukraine.
"I found a way out of the situation. I offered the post of Prime Minister to Yatsenyuk and the post of Vice-Premier to Klitschko"- you are quoting Viktor Yanukovych, talking the other day about the circumstances of his resignation in late January 2014. You say a coup d’etat still could have been prevented. How?
After Yanukovych went on a very serious concession to the organizers of the coup and dismissed the government to resign without achieving the withdrawal of militants from Kiev, the course of events became irreversible. The organizers of the coup were Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, Tyagnibok together with U.S. intelligence services, and it became clear that, having handed over the government, Yanukovych lost his support in parliament and the fermentation in the power structures started.
Publicly proposing a compromised figure like Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister, Yanukovych has driven himself into a corner. He certainly didn't want to make Yatsenyuk Prime Minister, and the Verkhovna Rada then adopted him for the position, but publicly declaring another candidate would have been abandoning the compromise and going on confrontation with the US, which pushed Yatsenyuk. With all this maneuvering Yanukovych has put the security forces in a very insecure situation.
To prevent the coup d'etat at that time, there was only one possible solution: a carefully planned operation to neutralize the militants, who took office buildings. All responsibility was in the hands of the President. I assume with the help of special forces all this could have been conducted without casualties, and at least the country would not have had faced such serious consequences. However, Yanukovych did not dare to carry out such operations, and, as far as I know, such a plan was not developed and did not exist.
After your resignation you went to Austria, but soon you had to move to Russia after your name was put on a sanctions list. Recently they have been annulled. Are you now free to move and can you leave Russia?
Your question is not correct. The sanctions have been introduced on March 15 (2014). In December 2013, there were serious threats against the family of my son, he had young children, with attempts to burn his house. They went to Austria after those attacks, but even there, the representatives of the nationalists tried to persecute them. Immediately after the resignation I had the opportunity to visit them and found out the real situation. At the end of January I flew to Austria for two days, and then it became clear to me: what was happening there - the continuation of the plan for the coup and discrediting those, who could actually stop this development. So the move to Moscow was not associated with sanctions, but because of security concerns.
You are probably familiar with the current Ukrainian leaders, do you still have a kind of informal contact with them?
I don't have - no formal or informal contact. For me, it would be humiliating to stay in contact with them. They filed orchestrated criminal cases against me, confiscated my property, apartment and bank account. These people sat in my waiting room for hours, tried to get to me to solve some of their selfish issues, and I didn't take it. Why should I be in contact with them? In reality, these people are just political corpses. What did they do in two years? On their conscience is the blood of my countrymen, a ruined economy, corruption on an unprecedented scale.
Between your resignation and Viktor Yanukovych's escape from Kiev were almost two weeks. Have you ever communicate with him, do you know why he eventually decided to leave Kiev and then Ukraine? Do you have contact with him here in Moscow?
During these two years I never met or talked with Yanukovych. The fact that he had to flee from Kiev, I have no doubt. Otherwise, he would have expected severe violence against him. But the fact that he as the legitimate President did not organize resistance to the coup, while in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Crimea, military units were waiting, internal troops, subordinated to the supreme commander, is unclear to me. But I don't want to argue on this subject, apparently, he had his reasons.
Yanukovych said in a recent interview, that he has plans to return to politics.
Well, let him return.
Do you have such plans?
I'm a politician, I haven't gone anywhere. Yes, I did not speak publicly, as I waited until all these people (the Poroshenko government) would show their true faces. I really know them well, some of them were appointed as top ministers in my government, so I know their level quite well. They are not capable of anything positive. I wanted that the country would realize this fact, and so it happened. In 2014, Ukraine ended up with a giant economic failure, and I have always been confident: if the country's leadership does not ensure economic development and growth, it cannot be successful. Why is it still leading the country? GDP fell by almost 15%, this year another 15%. The export decreased by 36% only in 2015. In my time as Prime Minister, the export was $80 billion, now $34 billion.
Together with a number of politicians, who were also forced to leave Ukraine, you have established a Rescue Committee. It has even a website, also holds press conferences and releases press statements, but it is not obvious what the aims of this structure are.
The Committee's main task is information work. Our task is to break the blockade of Kiev and Western media regarding the coup in Ukraine, its consequences, the militarization of the country, the impoverishment of its population, the glorification of nazism, the terror against dissents, censorship of the media, the monstrous rampant corruption.
A lot of time the Committee devotes its activities to the support of our people in prison and detention. We provide information to the International Red Cross, meeting with political leaders of EU countries and provide them with information concerning the chaos happening in Ukraine, a crisis management program and the program of reforms. We represent the real Ukraine and give the Ukrainian people an alternative to the current regime. We must not forget that Western advisers helped the Kiev regime come to power through a national revolution, and, of course, they strongly hinder our work. But we are confident that this situation will not persist forever. The Kiev regime has outlived its usefulness.
Do you expect to return to Kiev? What needs to be provided for your safe return?
Conditions for a return can only be realized after the change of Kiev's repressive regime. I think it's a matter of the nearest future. For me it is important that a government in Kiev will come to power that understands what the national interests of Ukraine are. For those who are now in power, national interests mean to fill their own pockets, and they are successfully doing it. The economy ended last year with huge losses, and at the same time the business empire of Poroshenko increased sevenfold. With such economy data? Mysterious.
Take now for example the mortality rate just in the controlled territory, without Crimea and part of Donbass, it increased by 104.000 people. These 104.000 are direct victims of Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and their team. This is because of poor nutrition, the lack of medicine and medical care, the stress, the enormous payment for housing - and that 104.000 people prematurely died. Who should take responsibility for this? Currently, people are starving. The average pension is 1000 UAH, and for heating in the old kitchen you have to pay 995 UAH. In my four years in office of Prime Minister, we managed to increase the life expectancy. Then I left. For two years, not one case of corruption.
Inflation in 2013 was 0.5%, and now under Yatsenyuk it is 50%. The average salary - $500 per month and the average pension - nearly $200. Yes, we lived poorly, but not as bad as now. When I took over my duties, for example 70% of cucumbers were Turkish, and when I left, only 30%. If we could have worked a little more - the result would have been a complete self sufficiency production of vegetables. The need of importing tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers was practically closed. To summarize: we had some negative aspects associated with corruption, arbitrariness in the judicial system. Many reforms we have started, but did not have the chance to finish.
Now there is a lot of chatter about my work, and look at the statistics of all periods when the national GDP has grown,- it belongs to my work, when I was responsible for economic policy in the office of first Vice-Premier or Prime Minister. So I have the right to say that my results were positive. And this should be taken into account.
In your opinion, how can after the loss of Crimea and a significant part of the Donbass pro-Russian political forces like the former Party of Regions expect to win elections?
I would like to correct you. The Party of Regions, that I founded in 1997, has never been a pro-Russian political force. It was a party that reflects the fact that interests of the Ukrainian and Russian people are largely the same, the priority for us has always been the cooperation and development of relations with Russia, including cooperation and economic integration projects.
Now, judging by the polls, about 65% of the population expressed their negative attitude towards Russia, about 30% are conditionally Pro-Russian. I think in the atmosphere of fear and terror, such surveys are not very convincing. Many people are afraid to express their opinions in public. So the reality looks different. On the other hand, anti-Russian sentiments will finally lead to a collapse of the economy and the population to poverty. So there is no alternative. The rise of truly patriotic forces is the only way out of poverty and humiliation. So it's up to the people themselves, and our task is to help them make the right choice.
A simple example: the bandits of the "Right sector" have organized a boycott of Russia's transport through Ukraine, and Russia responded in a similar way. The Ukrainians stopped the trucks crossing the Russian border on their transit route. As a result, damage was caused by both Ukraine and Russia, but considering that for Ukraine the transit of goods is of great, but for Russia of secondary importance, then judge for yourself what a strike to the Ukrainian economy this is, caused by the Ukrainian authorities that support such actions of "the Right Sector".
The arrival of some of today's political forces, in your opinion, might lead to such a turn?
It's like asking: Do you see in Nazi Germany some leftists, who could win? This is how a regime of totalitarian repression is working against any dissident. Oles Buzina for example, definitely no opposition figure. He insulted us and me personally, but I never thought a second to do him any harm, and then he was killed in front of his own porch. Nowadays his murderers are the heroes of Ukraine, they could leave the court room without being detained. I was sentenced to jail in absentia, and Buzin’s murderers - lax house arrest, the only demand for them is to spend the nights at home. There are thousands of such examples: hundreds are missing, thousands are political prisoners, on television - terrible censorship. Want to throw mud on Russia and Putin? - please. But don't dare to say that Russia has something done good for Ukraine in the past, or that Putin made a right decision, or with the help of Azarov the country has developed. Under no circumstances you can say this.
Not all are traitors, there are normal people, with whom we will work. But the paradox is that the guys who know how to work with their hands are not in Ukraine now, they are displaced. In Moscow, two members of the Ukrainian government are waiting, they are ready to go to work, working not like these well-known idiots and people. We know how to conduct fiscal policy. The people over the years have gained administrative and manager experience.
In this regard, wasn’t it then not unfortunate to leave Kiev? Sergey Levochkin (the Head of Presidential Administration from 2010-2014, "Kommersant") stayed, as many other prominent "regionals" did and joined the current political system.
It is impossible for me to be compared with Levochkin, because he participated in the coup, but I didn’t. His wife brought gingerbread cookies to the Maidan, and he constantly advised the opposition until he resigned: where is the President, what is he thinking. I told you that the President should not allow the coup. Because of this, my resignation was demanded by the Maidan. Levochkin somehow was spinning the parliament, and I can't spin. I have the following position: puppets came to power that behave like aggressive troops.
Assuming that the people you are talking about will return to Kiev, what position should be taken in relation to the Crimea?
Well, what position should the leaders of Serbia take in relation to Kosovo? Kosovo is already recognized by about 80 countries in the world.
Crimea is not yet recognized by anybody.
Recognizing is not going anywhere if you argue, that Kosovo is the historical center of Serbia. It is one region with Serbia. We can't say that for Ukraine and the Crimea. Crimea never was part of Ukraine, except for 1954, when it was administratively given to one single state.
Now, no-one needs to accept the West, some still will not admit it, but in fact everything already happened, and as painful as for any Ukrainian leader it may sound, you need to accept reality as it is. Kaliningrad, or Koenigsberg, was once the capital of the Prussian state, but today none of the German politicians would ever demand giving back Kaliningrad. So no one should think to raise the question about returning Crimea. There was a referendum, and clearly the Crimeans decided not to live with the Bandera regime. It is their right, they became in the end and autonomous republic.
Between Ukraine and Russia, there must be an agreement on the demarcation of borders sooner or later. We still live in not completely arranged borders. I dealt with this issue and was told that I have to find some compromise. Any serious Ukrainian government has the duty to finalize its borders. When you start to resolve this issue, the question of Crimea will come up. For me it is a very painful issue. For many years I was engaged in the development of the Crimea, and now I hear that the Ukrainian government did nothing, this is not true. We did everything we could for the Crimea. But as it is always the case: The "Orange" arrive, and all pelt, everything comes to a stop. So it's cyclical: something we did, we throw away then. This cycle has marked its print on the Crimean development.
Have you ever, after the outbreak of the crisis in the East of the country, visited Donetsk or Luhansk? Do you have contacts with the leadership of the autonomous republics?
No, I did not happen to be there, but we have a lot of contacts with people of Donbass.
The implementation of the Minsk agreements seem to have hit a dead end, and none of the responsible parties want to fulfill them. How do you see the prospects for a return of Donetsk and Lugansk to Ukraine? And whether it is possible in principle, that it could become another frozen conflict within the post-Soviet space like Transnistria?
A perspective is only possible in the event of a regime change in Kiev, the elimination of all Nazi militia, the adoption of the new Constitution, establishing a broader autonomy of the Donbass region.
Ukraine is not Moldova, and the Donbass is not Transnistria, so no long frozen conflict by definition can be possible. Transnistria has not the Donbass population. The region is in fact comparable to an average European country. Donbass is responsible for about 20% of Ukraine's industry - 35% in terms of export. Transnistria is strongly dependent on the blockade of the hostile states Moldova and Ukraine. Moreover, the current Ukraine became in this matter anti-Ukrainian, because in Transnistria 300.000 of the 500.000 inhabitants are ethnic Ukrainians. And we never forgot this fact. It was important for us to support the lives of our compatriots. Today, the anti-Ukrainian leadership in Kiev took the position of a pro-American policy, which means Romania’s possible annexation of all Moldova. The Kiev puppets do not understand that the annexation of Moldova by Romania would only mean a first step. The Chernovitsky region and several other regions in present Ukraine have long been the subject of territorial claims by Romania towards Ukraine.