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1 July, 2016

"Ukraine should expect another radical change"

MP with the Popular Front and Head of the Public Safety Subcommittee of the Parliament Committee on National Security and Defence, about revolution in government offices and the new political class

Interviewed by Roman Malko

Ukraine went through three revolutions and much has changed over the course of history. We have independence now. But the imperial-based mindset constantly restores itself and reincarnates. Many in society feel that it is impossible to defeat. What's wrong?

In fact, all the recipes were written long ago. Dmytro Dontsov formulated them well in the 20th century. If there are no normal authorities, no leading social group and no political class to take responsibility for everyone, then reforms, the trappings of power and political activity will be reduced to folklore. What does that mean? There are lessons that we haven't learnt, including the main one – don't forgive the enemy. And we always forgive the one that's really destroying the nation. After the revolution in 1990, decommunisation and the destruction of the Soviet system were not completed: from mind-sets to the administration of the country, law enforcement and justice. Before the Orange Revolution, there was a modified version of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic with some elements of Ukraine, but the whole system was preserved and the political class was not changed. Red Directors (Soviet-era company managers – Ed.) and people from local Communist committees continued to rule the country, hidden behind national symbols. The Orange Revolution was the same – an untapped opportunity. Everyone knows the series House of Cards.

Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine and the political process are just like in this series for most of our political scene. It is possible to change the rules of the game, the game itself, the actors and the virtual reality. There are few people for whom the political process is equal to working and struggling. For most, it’s imitation. First, they argue like irreconcilable enemies in front of TV cameras, then sit together in restaurants or return home to Monaco (their real homes are already there), have family barbecues together and laugh at Ukrainians. After the Orange Revolution, this sort of show replaced real processes and yet again the political class was not fully cleaned up. Indeed, they even started to quietly take their revenge: there were memoranda with the enemy, "We have to work together" and no members of the Party of Regions behind bars, which logically brought Yanukovych to power. Now the situation is repeating itself. If it was just about possible to accept these card houses in 2005, though it was a crime then too, now that blood was shed on the Maidan and is being shed in the East, it's awful that people go on talk shows, swear allegiance to Ukraine and hug soldiers from the ATO, but actually continue this imitation game. However sad it may be, it's obvious that Ukraine should expect another radical change. I don't think it will take the form of a Maidan or revolution, perhaps it will be more evolutionary, but it will come. A change of the political class and elite...

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Unfortunately, in the minds of the masses, "elite" means either oligarchs or some sort of slick, creative pseudo-intelligentsia. In reality, the elite is emerging right now, on the Maidan, on the barricades and in the trenches. Those who, despite the disappointment, struggle with officials at their local level every day. These people have not yet reached critical mass in society, but very soon a bifurcation point will emerge, when Ukrainians realise that in addition to the virtual choices imposed on them by political talk shows and other media projects of the pseudo-elite, there is another one: when they see the actions of the new political class, change will come. If we do not oust this political class, we will be doomed to revolts and protests. And revolts are the path of slaves. We now need a revolution not in the streets, but in the offices. Not a pretty picture from the Maidan, but actual results, which will only come when we change the system, destroy the house of cards and turn off this virtual reality.

And one more thing. During a period of change in society, it is necessary to remember what is essential. It is essential to preserve the very structure and architecture of the state, its foundation. Because sometimes the desire for fast reforms and change for the sake of change can lead to ruin. People who are already unhappy with the authorities and political class are being fed the formulas of social aspirin – overly simple solutions. "Well, we'll just get rid of them all" and so on. This really whips up the masses and is supported by the public, but that's exactly what caused The Ruin during the Cossack period, when conservative hetmans gradually developed the state until chieftains came along who said "Let's take our swords and cut them all down".

Yet the system (oligarchs and Red Directors) is too strong to be easily destroyed. The forces of the new and old elite are too uneven...

The oligarchic system is indeed a direct continuation of the Soviet Union. It was impossible for them to earn their first millions without stealing property in the 1990s (and all oligarchs started out then), without the approval of Red Directors and contacts with the security services, especially Russian. That's why there is an active Politburo of oligarchs who feud and compete among themselves. In fact, the fate of the country is often decided not on the Maidan or in Parliament, which would be logical, but at their get-togethers. Agreements are signed according to their own unwritten rules on who will be president, who will be prime minister and who will control which industry. They divide the electorate in the same way too: some finance the Left, others the Right. They divide us. And their will is realised by clowns under the guise of politicians, theatrical characters that have passed the oligarchs' casting.

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Accordingly, in order to put an end to all this, the patriotic movement should turn its attention to economic problems as well. The state's energy security and the same old national issues, like the existence or nonexistence of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine... Not because I'm a materialist, but because I know that property gives rise to power. For example, there is MP Vadym Novynskyi, who controls the energy market and could fund the Moscow Patriarchate, which thrusts the "Russian World" concept onto us. We often spend time fighting with clowns and information bubbles (sometimes artificially inflated) instead of confronting the source of this evil. We have to hit oligarchs in the pocket, through the economy. There are no Ukrainian oligarchs in Ukraine, and I want to emphasise the word "no".

Hit them how?

Number one is Russian business. In Ukraine, 70% of the real sector and industry are directly or indirectly linked with Russia. So this is a means of applying pressure on our citizens through their wages, which affects social stability in the country. It's also funding for the "Russian World", separatism and more. Secondly, similar problem is the business dealings of current or former government officials. In fact, they control all the major revenue streams. And with two such large levers of influence on the current authorities (a direct one – social stability, payments to the budget – and corruption), they create a favourable climate for revenge. Because if a super-patriot takes money for economic services from someone like [ex-Minister of Revenue and Duties] Klymenko or his representatives twice, then the third time the request from the money-giver will not be economical but, say, political.

When I was working in the SBU, I found that the people recruited by the Russian FSB were often those involved in corruption. This applies to virtually all frontier regions. Customs officers, border guards, police, Security Service. Say, a person gives cover to a smuggling channel (in Russia, this is only a business for the authorities) for years, and at some stage is recruited. It's all documented and they say "Either you work for us, or become a state criminal". Especially since everyone knows: if they got to me, then my boss, who has a Maserati, not a Toyota Land Cruiser, must not just be on the FSB's hook, he must be their general! These people, middle-ranking representatives of the security forces, explained this to us. By the way, that's how they opened the gates for Crimea, the "DPR", "LPR" and Odesa. There were attempts in Kharkiv too. Precisely through these people. Therefore, it is clear that such corrupt funds and relationships finance the reactionary movement too. Not only through the Opposition Bloc or Ukrainian Choice, but through the funding to the Prosecutor General's Office, SBU, all the way up to the Presidential Administration. They have found a way in to these high-ranking offices, so people there start to go easy and not act so radically.

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What are we doing and what do we propose to do? We have compiled a package of Ukrainian sanctions. We're a unique country, which effectively has not introduced economic sanctions against the aggressor. So our tearful appeals to the Western world that we periodically hear from diplomats are strange to say the least. We must explain this to society and increase pressure on parliament and the president in order to pass a legislative package for these sanctions. It envisages, for example, prohibiting representatives of the aggressor country from being beneficiaries in natural monopolies, which is a primary sector. If we clear them out of there, Ukraine will find it easier to breathe, even with one lung.

It is necessary to modify the draft law on special confiscation, which the human rights advocates didn't like. Maybe they have a point, but it's still necessary to confiscate the property of Yanukovych and his henchmen. At least those who are on the wanted list. Such steps reduce the basis for corruption, especially its political version. I think it is realistic to achieve this. And this, incidentally, is also a giant step in changing the political class. If the Russians and Yanukovychs don't have finances here, they won't have a way to foster new stars for virtual talk shows, publicise or support their pseudo-projects – everything will be honest. If nothing else, the new political class that is forming in Ukraine will have the chance to fight for power on an equal footing or at least in better conditions. In addition, of course, we need to explain the threat of the occupant's business to the public and build up a boycott movement and direct action. From my experience with the company Megapolis: before activists blocked their warehouses, other MPs and myself wrote letters to the SBU, the Public Prosecutor and the Anti-Monopoly Committee for almost a year saying that an FSB firm is operating in our country. But as soon as the direct action took place, in a rather harsh form, dialogue with the authorities started, a sanction committee was convened and at least some sort of progress was noticeable. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to resort to revolutionary methods of influence, because they will definitely get the better of us in bureaucracy and paperwork.

Can society somehow help a government that is unsuccessfully fighting corruption to finally overcome it?

Yes. If it tries to focus on one particular problem, a specific person. I despise theoretical corruption fighters, who hold conferences, masterclasses and beautiful presentations, but with no tangible outcome. I understand that changes in the law are necessary, but I don't believe that this will bring quick results. All these corruption fighters are either populists, which is the impression I have of Mikheil Saakashvili (no proven facts, no strategy, nothing on paper, just words), or people involved with made-to-order investigations, when out of all the bribetakers in Ukraine for some reason they choose their political rivals or the economic competitors of their customers.

So you just need to select a specific point, one name, dig in your heels and get it done. I am sure it will succeed. To see it through to the end, you should ideally focus on a corrupt official who is associated with past or current authorities – there are a lot of them. Without a specific case when society gets to see a corrupt politician behind bars, there will be great despondency. For example, there's Yuriy Boiko. The scandal involving the drilling platforms (purchased at overpriced rates when he was Energy Minister under Yanukovych’s presidency – Ed.) is several years old now. Everyone knows about it. So we have a scandal, we have the platforms, and Boiko still goes to work in parliament. This kills the faith of people who were behind the Revolution of Dignity and the soldiers that are fighting at the front. They can't comprehend it. How? Everyone knows he's a criminal! Moreover, some of the people who called him a criminal are Petro Poroshenko and the head of the president's faction, among others. When I ask why Boiko is not in prison, I hear the theory on national unity: "We can't, it would split society". I can't believe it! I don't know how putting Boiko away could divide society. It's nonsense. I think both the occupied and unoccupied areas of Donetsk Oblast would say, "Well, thank God". Where would this split be? In the mind of Russian TV? I couldn't really care about what they say. There must be punishment and prison – then we can talk about results. If this does not happen soon, then society will fill the niches that the state hasn't. Mob law will take hold and people will establish justice themselves. The Public Prosecutor's inactivity and lack of political will in the government completely legitimises violence in the eyes of the population. And once it starts, it will be impossible to stop. That's why, in my opinion, the main provocateurs and Kremlin agents are not those who shout "Betrayal!" at every opportunity (although they put me on guard too), but officials at the highest level that trigger these thoughts. Because their criminal inaction leads to disappointment, and that in turn brings destabilisation and rebellion.

Is it realistic today to talk about a new social contract and a change in the relationship model between state and citizen?

More than that, during the first two or three months after the Revolution of Dignity, I felt that, even though no social contract was articulated then, the events of the Maidan, the desire for change and people's enthusiasm constructed a certain moral base for that short time. I won't say that everyone stopped stealing or that officials became perfect overnight, but there was at least some prudence and communities had a direct influence on decision-making. Maybe it wasn't always civilised, but it was there.

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In a perfect world, of course, an official should be afraid of the people, their opinion, influence and the prospect that tomorrow he could lose his position. So, paradoxically, such trivial things as decentralisation or the civil service reform that is gradually being implemented are in some way close to that ideal. Communities will have real power and money: if we can reach people with our information so that they realise that their own community is the main manager and that the government is just a support structure that provides them with certain services for their own money, I think that will be the right path for us.

But taking into consideration the inherited Asian model of our state and its multitude of local “authority figures”... Will this not lead to fragmentation and could it not turn out that people will end up with nothing?

Yes, that threat exists. Because there's the decentralisation process, but there's also feudalisation, and they're both taking place in parallel here. Often, the subject of decentralisation is used by semi-separatist figures. We hear about Bessarabia, Transcarpathia, the free port in Odesa. People think that they can construct something of their own on the crest of this wave, but it's more likely to open the gates for invaders. And here we are faced with the problem of clarification and communication between the bureaucracy and government. Decentralisation does not include any functions that are not typical of local communities. We're talking about simple things: where the school will be, where rubbish will be taken and so on. Medvedchuk& Co. are actually making a fuss over the idea of federalisation under the pretence of decentralisation: they often create a parallel process that implies the creation not of territorial communities of villages, towns and cities, but of some kind of micro regions. This process is continuing, and that’s exactly why the idea of prefects is a good safety device for the anticipated amendments to the Constitution. These officials have to make sure that no one crosses the line, when instead of sewage or heating issues there is suddenly talk of languages or another type of association, and ensure compliance with the constitution and territorial integrity. So the model has been designed well. It’s a big question to what extent it will be implemented and how effectively it will be used, which once again brings us back to the political class. If the prefect positions are filled by "enforcers", there will be a problem; if there is a change in the political class, it will work.

Change is really happening, but the processes are not that fast. There has never been so many members of the national movement, civil society activists, patriots and soldiers in parliament. In this respect, the current Verkhovna Rada is unique. The same goes for local councils. Maybe it's only 10%, maybe they argue over party affairs, but when it comes to decommunisation, these patriotic deputies unite and make the right decisions. And these active people will eventually lead their communities. Moreover, if we clean out – and we should aspire to this – the economic basis of the system, oligarchic parties have less influence, so there will be more for other, independent political forces. They will have real power at the local level. Everything depends on what the president is going to do. But the system dryly described in the Constitution, at least as I see it, can give us some shoots of new life. These patriotic, active citizens should do their best to get involved in local community elections and take on a zone of responsibility. This is the thing that will distinguish them from the populists. Do something small and then there will be a big school. This evolutionary process can bring fruit in just a few years.

Will the system allow these changes? It won't swallow the idealists one by one?

The system is not something that is completely devoid of identity. It is always based on certain names – if you can kick them out (especially if they are symbolic and iconic), it can be destroyed. There are specific oligarchs, corrupt officials, Russian agents and concrete people that impede the reform process. We must document them, which we are doing, and start the destruction in a precise way. Politically, economically, through direct action.

But you have repeatedly spoken about the significant role of the president...

I think he's in the most difficult situation that anyone in this country could be in. The head of state is the most unfortunate man here. Why? Because I feel his hesitation. So he has to be pushed in the right direction. Don't wait, motivate. The fact is that there are always mistakes in making simple solutions when subordinates come and say that we have to stabilise or maintain our rating, for example, in Sumy Oblast: Andriy Derkach is there, who has represented the oblast under every president – let's back him. That's what the Petro Poroshenko Bloc did at the last local elections. Obviously not openly, but... This gives quick results, but in fact the president is being misled and becomes dependent on them, this regional mafia, which, by the way, instead of decentralisation wants to organise feudal dominions for themselves.

Moreover, Poroshenko is under the illusion that they are his men, whereas these "comrades" have already changed their party membership ten times. In 2013, they were all against the Maidan, then in 2014 many of them supported the "Russian World" and saw themselves leading a microregion of "Novorossia". Therefore, the president must be informed of this; they should be made outcasts and politically undesirable. The Ukrainian leader cannot work with such scoundrels. We need to force them out, and I believe that this is possible.

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These names should have such a bad reputation that when people want to advise the president that "there's an old scheme that might work", they hear the reply "Not him! I don't even want to hear it". This is painstaking work that doesn't attract a lot of likes on Facebook, does not give fast results and does not open, but rather shuts the door to TV shows, but it is extremely necessary. This is what we're doing at the moment. Specifically for Yuriy Ivaniushchenko and his clique. This is, of course, like carrying water in a sieve, but it's also a sort of education for people in the executive branch and presidential vertical. Countering these relationships and the oligarchs also means training and identifying new passionate people who are able to organise the process themselves. After all, it's the re-orientation of the national movement from embroidered shirts and songs towards issues of economic nationalism, de-occupation of the economic and information space. And if we end up with a social group that will be as effective in de-occupation and undermining of the oligarchic class as they were on the Maidan and are when fighting in the East for idealistic concepts – if they realise how everything can be controlled – that's when we'll get a new political class. We need patriots to not only quote poems, but also study international economic law, learn how to identify offshores, have a better understanding of the country’s economic map: what should be de-occupied and how. It's a question of world view – there's no other way. Only these processes can fortify a new political class. In 1917-1918, Ukraine was ruined chiefly by a similar problem: patriots were sincere, but didn't know how to govern. I don't believe that you can just put anyone in an office and teach them all this, nor that you can take people who do not have idealistic national feelings and make them Ukrainian. But it's quite realistic to teach nationalists how to be more pragmatic and efficient, as well as new management styles – how to organise themselves and act. Moreover, we showed a tremendous example of self-organisation on the Maidan, and if we redirect this towards de-occupying the country, it will bear fruit.

Translated by Jonathan Reilly

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