An Interview with Valeriy Chaly, Deputy Director the Razumkov Centre. Interviewer: Andrzej Brzeziecki
ANDRZEJ BRZEZIECKI: What do you see in common between the Euromaidan demonstrations and the Orange Revolution?
VALERIY CHALY: The events taking place currently indeed resemble the Orange Revolution. The protesters are using the same techniques as ten years ago. Today and then we can observe youth being actively involved. And today as well as ten years ago, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) has been occupied by people of various nationalities, speaking different languages: both Russian and Ukrainian. Today and then protesters are opting for changes in their country.
Are there differences?
The main difference is that this time the square is mainly occupied by ordinary people. Only later were they joined by politicians. Secondly, ten years ago the economic situation in the country was far better and demonstrations were mainly of political nature. Currently, people are out there also for social reasons. In approximation with the European Union they see a chance for improving their own social situation. They also see that huge sums of money are being stolen or transferred to the military sector-and hence the result: the police forces are not serving their nation; instead they are using force against peaceful protesters. Thirdly, in 2004 the goal was obvious: to achieve fair elections. Currently the goals are less obvious and are set during the rallies. At first it was a movement for signing the Association Agreement with the European Union; now it has become more of a protest against the authorities that have been using force and have shed blood. For the first time in the history of independent Ukraine it motivated hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions across the country.
The opposition claims that the use of force is still a realistic threat.
If the Ukrainian authorities and President Viktor Yanukovych use force then the situation might get out of control. In this case Ukraine could turn into a dictatorship. Let’s hope it will never happen. I personally believe that the round table option will bring a solution. Unfortunately, neither the president nor the government wishes to meet the protesters.
What can we say about the people who decided to come out to the Maidan? Do pro-Europeans understand that the Association Agreement also equals difficult reforms?
Those who were out there during the first days do understand this. I was there on the first day and I can assure you that as the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs I am acquainted with the Association Agreement and I understand how important this document is. This is a reform program that the Ukrainian authorities are afraid of since it would totally transform the situation in the country. Another issue is why it took the authorities so long to lead the negotiations for the Association Agreement. It was probably a game aiming at obtaining more money from Moscow.
Even if not everyone out there on Maidan realises what association with the EU means they are protesting against Ukraine returning to the alliance with Russia within the Eurasian Union. This is also a matter of deciding on the future for Ukraine for the years to come. People went out onto the streets also because they wish for a better future for their grandchildren. Ukrainians do not want to live in an authoritarian state where they have to be scared of the police.
The current rallies prove that Yanukovych could count on support when implementing the difficult reforms that association with the EU surely requires. The authorities confirmed, however, that they are not interested in it, they wish for the situation to remain as it is, to be able to shift between the West and the East.
Opposition leaders bid high, demanding the resignations of the government and president as well as early parliamentary elections. To what degree is it a political game and to what degree are these real demands?
I am more interested in demands of the people on the street, in other words the ones concerning a return to integration with Europe. The opposition is playing its role, but I have the impression that it mainly follows the people’s demands. If the current government is unable to return to the negotiations with the EU it means that the government needs to be changed. If the parliament ignores the fact that force is being used towards the citizens a new one shall be elected. If the president cannot guarantee the protection of constitutional rights of the citizens then he should be held responsible for it. I think that government resignation is a logical thing to do since a number of ministers turned out to be deaf to the social demands. If the parliament does not take a decision concerning the police using force towards the protesters then the parliament should be dissolved.
How can the EU help Ukraine?
First of all, in the short run the authorities might be stopped from using force. On Thursday and Friday the OECD summit has been taking place in Ukraine and ministers of western countries are participating. They should take advantage of being close to the Ukrainian authorities and attempt to convince them to a peaceful settlement. It is very important that the EU send a clear signal against the use of force.
How can Russia influence the situation?
Russia has been influencing the situation the whole time. Yanukovych publicly admitted that he suspended the integration process with the EU because of pressure by Vladimir Putin. Russia has a number of ways to influence Ukraine. I will give one example only: in Ukraine there is a Russian military base – the Black Sea Fleet. There is also a Russian intelligence service there. Russian special service agents operate in Sevastopol.
Russia is putting pressure on Ukraine but it does not understand that it will be counterproductive. It is unappealing. It seems to me that in Russia the long-term outcome of these politics is underestimated. Russian media also show Russia through a twisted lens; they create the image of an enemy. Putin himself has called the peaceful rallies pogroms. But the Russian president has been wrong several times before when it comes to his evaluation of the situation in Ukraine. In 2004 he congratulated Yanukovych on winning the presidential elections. He also stated that in Ukraine there are 17 million Russians, whereas in fact they constitute 17 per cent of the society (that is approximately eight million people).
You mentioned that in Sevastopol Russian intelligence service is very active. Do we need to be afraid of Crimean separatism?
What distinguishes Crimea from the rest of Ukraine? This is the only region of Ukraine where the majority of inhabitants are not Ukrainians. Secondly, there are Russian military forces there. There are pro-Russian organisations, but also Islamic ones. This could all be dangerous if anyone wished to artificially stimulate emotions.
How is the Euromaidan situation going to end?
In the short run there are many unknowns for Ukraine, but in the long run I believe it will lead to closer ties with the European Union. If this government fails to do so during its term, then the next one will do it; if not this president, then the next one. The only thing that worries me is that Ukraine is wasting a lot of time. The time for not taking decisions is coming to an end.
Translated by Justyna Chada
Valeriy Chaly is the Deputy Director of the Razumkov Centre. He is also former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine.
Andrzej Brzeziecki is a Polish journalist and editor-in-chief of the bimonthly Nowa Europa Wschodnia.