Vitaliy Kovalchuk: “The agreement on close cooperation between UDAR and Poroshenko has not been voided by anyone”
The chairman of the UDAR faction in parliament speaks about the roots of the Poroshenko-Klitschko union, the need for an early parliamentary election and the tests of power
U.W.: Who initiated the Poroshenko-Klitschko union? Are you satisfied with this combination now?
I would not say this is some kind of combination, because we officially established the union by signing an agreement at a UDAR congress on 29 March. In it, we clearly declared the common political future of two influential politicians and their political forces. The agreement provides for reform-oriented common political activity, joint formation of government structures and implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. I believe that we made an absolutely correct decision and the proof of it was Poroshenko’s landslide victory in the first round. We have always maintained that one candidate, the one who has the highest popular support and hence the highest chance of winning, should be nominated from the democratic forces. In fact, this vision was not spontaneous, because negotiations continued for a long time, ending in the decision I have mentioned. Steps like that are very useful for society, because we were the first to show that highly popular politicians can really unite. President Poroshenko received a huge credit of trust. In my opinion, he has the qualities necessary for fulfilling all the promises he has made. He needs a powerful team with clearly defined spheres of responsibility. We will sincerely support all positiveinitiatives of the president.
U.W.: Is UDAR ready to become a new ruling party, i.e., the team you have mentioned? Poroshenko does not have a party of his own, so it is quite likely that he will want to rely on your political force, especially in the light of the early parliamentary election which UDAR supports and is now actively lobbying for. Aren't you afraid of turning into a new Party of Regions?
UDAR was formed not to obtain power as such but as a tool that would make it possible to implement the policies that would help us to truly transform the country. Of course, we will be represented in the government and government offices, because what do you need a political party for otherwise? But I assure you that we are against the quota-based principle in making appointments and will be guided, above all, by professionalism and readiness to work for results rather than by party allegiance. This is our guarantee against turning into another Party of Regions.
As far as the election is concerned, we do support it and will insist on an early election to the Verkhovna Rada, because it was one of the key demands of the Maidan. No-one has cancelled the principles of open politics which we, as participants of the Revolution of Dignity, also fought for. 70% of Ukrainians want to re-elect parliament this year, because its current composition is clearly at variance with the sentiments in society. This is the reason why we came out with an initiative for parliament to dissolve itself (registered in the Verkhovna Rada at the time of writing. – Ed.). This is our way to give all MPs an opportunity to show their political consciousness and wisdom. Our colleagues from Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Svoboda (Freedom) supported the initiative. It is now only a matter of several other political groups. The Party of Regions and the Communists refuse to support it, which is no surprise, because they are perfectly aware that they have virtually no chances of making it to parliament again and will fade into oblivion after the election. They will be using any chance to prolong their presence in the Verkhovna Rada. In fact, we need 226 votes for this political-legal decision which will then enable the president to sign the edict and declare an election. We have suggested using the proportional electoral system with open lists which will make it possible for citizens to determine the place candidates they support will have on the party list. For politicians, it will be a chance to get rid of political corruption – I mean the sale of places on the party list.
Let me note that our party opened its lists as far back as in 2012 and let the Chesno (Honestly) movement run checks on candidates. In other words, this is normal practice for us, and it is time to extend it to entire Ukrainian politics. The country has changed, and now it is time for politicians to change, too. Everyone has to be ready to go through lustration, because otherwise they will not have any part of the political pie.
Whether we will be a party on which President Poroshenko will rely is a question that is best to address to him. In any case, no-one has voided the agreement on close cooperation, so we intend to act along these lines. However, we would like everyone to understand that we are not someone's men. We are a powerful political team with five years of experience and centre-right ideology. Incidentally, we are an associate member of the European People’s Party. Finally, we want citizens to vote for parties depending on their ideology and would like to make ideology and programmes, rather than just leaders, the main factor in political competition.
U.W.: They call you UDAR’s powerbroker or Klitschko’s main coach. Many people believe that the party does not adopt any decision without your involvement. So who are you, apart from holding the official position of the faction’s chairman, which you took up only recently after Klitschko was elected Kyiv’s mayor?
My key function is to develop the party structure, strengthen our regional teams and participate in decision-making. I am also responsible for preparing and conducting elections. Now about the power broker image. I believe this stereotype became widespread because I was fairly non-public for a while, which probably prompted journalists to speculate. All decisions in our party are team decisions, because the key condition for effective joint activity is the absence of omissions and non-transparent decisions.
As far as my alleged influence on Klitschko is concerned, let me put it this way: he is a leader and always has an opinion of his own, and he is able to persuade the party that he is right. Understandably, I am actively involved in solving issues and decision making. A journalist once told me that I am a man of shadow, because it is hard to predict what steps I will take. This is actually the reason why many have a reserved attitude to me and my role in the party. I want to accomplish changes in the country even if it sounds so lofty. It seems to me that a critical mass of people who can think and act in new ways is emerging right now. Most important, these people are able to accept responsibility for the results. So, I'm personally interested in not only authority but also responsibility.
U.W.: Why are you still without an office? You and your party are close to the new president and you have been proposed for the position of the head of the Presidential Administration for a long time.
I am in charge of UDAR’s faction in parliament and it is enough for me. It is not about office – it is about opportunities to have influence and help our team in achieving established goals. My appointment to the Presidential Administration was a rumour circulated only among experts. Moreover, I don't like commenting on rumours. I did not set a goal of attaining any office now in light of the coming parliamentary election. The main objective for us is to succeed in having an early election and winning it. And then we will form a government through which we will have real influence on events in the country. We will work to decentralize the government, better separate the branches of the government, etc. The biggest problem today is to change the personnel, the executive government and parliament itself. In general, every person and every political party go through two major tests – the test of power and the test of money. It is now UDAR’s turn, and I believe we are doing it successfully.
U.W.: In this connection, what can you say about Heorhiy Yaroshenko, a candidate to the Kyiv City Council from UDAR and an assistant to UDAR’s MP Valeriy Ishchenko? Yaroshenko is being accused of attempted racketeering in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, committed allegedly under the cover of SBU Chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who is also a member of your faction.
This is precisely what I mean by being tested. If the facts published in the mass media are confirmed in the course of investigation, this person will be expelled from our organization regardless of his place in the party or parliament. I will not offer any more comments until the end of the investigation, but let me assure you that if all of this is true, the decisions will be quick and strict. This is what Vitaliy Klitschko also emphasized – we are not going to tolerate corruption inside our party.
U.W.: When did you form your tandem with Klitschko, and how?
We met in February 2006 when he first ran for Kyiv’s mayor and was also the number one candidate on the parliamentary election list from the PORA-PRP bloc. Friends introduced us to each other, and I started helping him in the campaign. This led to a relationship which by now has been tested by time and events. Most important, we trust each other, because we know that the words we say are promises we pledge to fulfil. It is not often that you come across people with whom you can so easily, reliably and calmly engage in such a turbulent activity as politics.
U.W.: At one point, you were accused of having close commercial links with oligarch Viktor Pinchuk and ex-president Leonid Kuchma. UDAR is also being described as Dmytro Firtash’s project.
It is sad that no-one calls me my parents’ project. On a more serious note, the information about my alleged links to Pinchuk and Kuchma made me smile when it appeared five years ago because it had nothing to do with reality. To make matters clearer, I first met Kuchma in 2011 at some public event. Let me say with full authority: I am not a creature of Kuchma, Pinchuk, Firtash or anyone else to whom some people try to link me and our party. At one point, all these leaks were made to undermine our popularity and suggest that it was impossible for a party not to belong to anyone. UDAR depends on exactly two factors – its team and its voters.
Vitaliy Kovalchuk is deputy head of UDAR and chairman of its faction in parliament. He received a degree in law from Kyiv National University and studied at the National Academy of Public Administration. In 1993-2007, he worked in various commercial entities as a top manager. In 2007-2010, Kovalchuk was deputy head of the Holosiyivsky District State Administration in Kyiv. Since April 2010, he has been in UDAR, where he is now in charge of the Central Election Committee. He led the campaign headquarters for UDAR in the 2012 parliamentary election and for Poroshenko in the 2014 presidential election