Victor Yanukovich, has been visited the EU headquarters in Brussels for the first time as Ukraine’s new prime minister. The pro-Moscow Yanukovich is back in office having lost power to Viktor Yushchenko in his country’s Orange Revolution in 2004. He returned to government after a strong showing in regional elections earlier this year. EuroNews spoke to him about old rivalries, future policies and the axis of power in Ukraine.
EuroNews: How would you evaluate your return to power? Do you feel that you’re getting revenge?
Yanukovich: I think I didn’t ever leave politics, but in another way it’s like I’ve just started as a politician. Because actually my initiation into real politics only happened during the presidential election and, well really, I would say, when I was in opposition. Because what I feel is that unless you have spent some time in opposition, probably you will never become a real politician.
EuroNews: Who has it been easier for you to work with – the previous president Leonid Kuchma or Viktor Yushchenko?
Yanukovich: In the political system we used to have until 2006 we had a president and a government that were always the “whipping boys” – the people who were blamed. In that situation our president was always stretched – a bit like an Olympic athlete doing gymnastics – because the government pulled him in one direction, the parliament in the other direction. And the state, the people, everyone, suffered because of that system. In other words it wasn’t very effective.
EuroNews: Has the direction of Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy changed because the government has fewer “orange” members and more from your “white-blue” party? What should Europe expect from these changes?
Yanukovich: I am sure that the direction hasn’t changed. What will change, and will change substantially, is our tactics. They will become more concrete, more dynamic. Our task is to make our policy more predictable. And that is the goal for those reforms we want to carry out. Because, for the first time since we got our independence, we have a real mechanism for our parliament and government working together. What happened in 2004 was that the people exploded, that was because they had built up an enormous amount of negative feeling about the political situation. And that is why people wanted change. Everybody, both the “orange” supporters and those of the “white-blue” camp.
EuroNews: The situation of “one country – two Victors” presumes concessions have been made by both sides. What did you concede?
Yanukovich: We had to admit – from both sides – the mistakes we’ve made during the past two years. And we managed to do that. It took protracted negotiations, which sometimes lasted long into the night. We have more in common than separates us. And that allowed us to unite. Anyway it’s not possible that we could go on fighting each other for ever. In the end there has to be a peace. And, certainly, politicians have to sacrifice something.
EuroNews: Brussels’ view is that Ukraine’s path to being closer to Europe lies through the WTO. How are Kiev’s negotiations with the WTO progressing?
Yanukovich: We are in the final stages. We still have to sign two more protocols with Kirghizia (Kirghizstan) and Taiwan. And our government needs to pass 21 laws. All of this needs to be done in the quickest possible time.
EuroNews: Winter is coming. The problem with Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine, as well as to Europe, is acute. Many thought that it would be easier for you to negotiate with Russia. What success have you had?
Yanukovich: Well, I don’t want to talk about a bad situation, but I have to talk about the decision that was made in 2005, and partly in 2006. The people who handled this situation were not competent, they were not the kind of people who should decide such things. The government of Yulia Tymoshenko initiated a change in the nature of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, including the agreements over gas that Ukraine uses and gas that is transported by pipeline via Ukraine to Europe. Russia reacted to that and we know how that ended up. Our government decided to resolve the problems which impede our mutually beneficial economic relations. Another problem is the guarantees for gas deliveries to Europe. What should we do about that? We must work together, together we have to begin to store enough reserves of gas for Ukrainian gas storage to hold a volume of 24.7 billion cubic metres. Ukraine must build a solid link of relations between Europe and Russia.