On 28 January, The Washington Post published an interview with Viktor Yanukovych by Lally Weymouth, one of its editors, from Davos. She asked about EU integration, warmer relations with Russia, a missing journalist, and the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko on corruption charges, among other things.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Ukraine, but I think it was a valuable opportunity, fumbled. I ran it by Sergey Sydorenko, a TOL correspondent in Kyiv who writes for Kommersant. He agreed.

Here are excerpts, with additions in brackets to show how I wish it had gone or what Yanukovych actually gets wrong (those courtesy of Sergey). Passages struck through are those I think the interview could have done without:

V.Y.: “Ukraine and Russia have had traditional strategic relations. There was just one period in the history of our countries – during my predecessor’s rule – when those good relations deteriorated. Trade between our countries fell from $40 billion to $13 billion [Sergey: actually it was $25 billion] in 2009. The confrontation between Ukraine and Russia led – at least two times – to the inefficient delivery of energy through Ukraine to the European Union. At least twice, Ukraine violated its obligations to the European Union when gas deliveries from Russia which cross Ukraine were cut down significantly, and Europe suffered.”

[Sergey: Yanukovych here says that Ukraine was involved in creation of a gas crisis in early 2009. This is totally wrong and, finally, it does not correspond with the official Ukrainian position.]

L.W.: Your critics also speak of selective prosecutions, and they claim that the current investigations [against politicians] are politically motivated. Why is your government only investigating the opposition?

V.Y.: I would strongly disagree with that suggestion. It is just not true.

L.W.: The U.S. government says it is true.

V.Y.: In reality, one perhaps should pay less attention to what is said by whom. One has to use the facts. I can give you some of these facts. The country has started a broad campaign against corruption and violation of the law. It is not a selective approach based on political reasons. This campaign affects representatives [regardless of] political party.

L.W.: Has anyone in your party been investigated?

V.Y.: Yes, by all means.

L.W.: But the famous names are former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former minister of the economy Bohdan Danylyshyn, who fled to the Czech Republic and was given asylum under NATO rules. [Yury Lutsenko, who served as Tymoshenko’s interior minister and is popular enough to lead the opposition in her absence.]

V.Y.: Let me answer that. As examples, a member of my party, the former chairman of the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea – and his position today is an adviser to me – he has been detained on charges of corruption. His last name is Hrytsenko. Getting back to the former minister of the economy—Mr. Danylyshyn—he had never been involved in politics. He was a minister in the previous government. He is accused of committing some acts of corruption against Ukrainian law. I believe the Czech decision to grant him political asylum was not based on any specific facts that they received from Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies.

What Mr. Danylyshyn should be doing is trying to use his own legal experts to prove that he is innocent instead of hiding and trying to avoid responsibility.

[L.W.: Do you think it is appropriate to have kept Mr. Lutsenko in prison for a month while he awaits trial on abuse of power charges, accused of helping his driver get a job at the Interior Ministry? And do you think it appropriate that he could be facing 12 years in prison? Should we worry that by sidelining the opposition you are leading Ukraine toward a one-party future?]

L.W.: People in the United States are also worried about pressure applied to civil society offices and journalists in your country. They say that they believe the pressure is to suppress any opposition activity. Is this fair?

V.Y.: Perhaps you are aware of some specific facts. What civil organizations are we talking about? What officers?

[L.W: Your top-rated news organizations now run extensive coverage of members of the government while virtually ignoring opposition politicians. Also, your security services attempted to bar from the country Niko Lange, director of the Ukrainian office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, after he had met with opposition leaders and urged them to unite. Opposition protesters also say police push them away from your appearances while your supporters are ushered to the front. Parliament has also passed a law limiting meetings and demonstrations.]

L.W.: One journalist disappeared, didn’t he?

V.Y.: Many journalists disappear all over the world.

L.W.: That is something to worry about.

V.Y.: By all means that does worry us, but that was many years ago. The investigation is under way.

[L.W.: I am not speaking of Georgiy Gongadze, who disappeared in 2000, but of Vasyl Klymentiev, who disappeared in August 2010.]

[Sergey: Does the president know about Klymentiev's disappearance at all???]

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email: barbara.frye@tol.org

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