With only one week until presidential elections Ukraine, much is at stake but little is known about what to expect.
So much attention has focused on what Russian President Vladimir Putin might do, on day-to-day attempts by Russian-backed separatists to take over administrative and security buildings in southeastern Ukraine, and on efforts by Ukrainian forces to conduct “anti-terrorist operations” to force them out, that there hasn’t been much focus in the news on the presidential elections themselves. The attempt by the pro-Russian separatists to stage a phony referendum on 11 May at gunpoint, predictably in their favor, succeeded in distracting journalists from the forthcoming presidential elections on the 25th.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said Ukraine’s 25 May presidential vote will be “crucial” in bringing the country out of its crisis, the BBC reports. On 16 May in Kiev, Steinmeier met acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya. He said he hoped steps in Ukraine would “bring back occupied territory, disarm armed groups step by step, and reinstall the authority of the state.”
All of this seemed in doubt given the very short time-table for campaigning and the conditions of military pressure from Russia, with troops ringed along the border and separatists and Ukrainian forces battling in Kramatorsk, Slavyansk and other towns.
This week Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin of the independent Novaya Gazeta – himself freed 11 May from a day-long kidnapping in Artemovsk in Donetsk Region where he was threatened with murder — interviewed Anna German, former deputy head of administration under deposed former president Viktor Yanukovych, once his closest aide. While she doesn’t “tell all,” she does give us some glimpse into his rule and some informed commentary on the elections.
German believes the 25 May elections cannot be decided in the first round — Yuliya Tymoshenko, past prime minister, will “do everything so that doesn’t happen” because otherwise “it will be a total fiasco.” German thinks Ukrainian chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko has the resources to win the first round, and the confidence of the public but due to Tymoshenko’s “intriguing,” there will be a second round.
“She [Tymoshenko] has very powerful allies,” says German. Asked if this was reference to the current interim leaders of Ukraine, there was this interchange, translated by The Interpreter:
Anna German: They are not important. I’m talking about one country. I will not name it aloud.
Pavel Kanygin: Well, I can. About Russia?
German: If Yuliya can reach an agreement, then in that case the second round will take place not in two weeks, but will be postponed due to the crisis, the anti-terror operation, and so on. It will be postponed exactly as long as it is needed so that Tymoshenko can win. But if after the first round, Poroshenko can gather to himself the reformatted parliamentary majority, then possibly the victory will be his.
German said she herself favored _chocolate-manufacturer and billionaire Petro Poroshenko but wouldn’t work for him — “he’s a good, correct boy, but I like bad boys because they are stronger and more honest.” She admitted that even in 2012, when she visited Poroshenko when he became minister of economics, and slipped him a note — “All hope is in you” — because she thought his office was bugged, she thought Yanukovych would end badly, “because of how he became”:
Kanygin: How did he become?
German: We simply couldn’t change him.
Kanygin: You realized that things were going badly, but preferred to remain with him, even when in the center of Kiev, people were being shot at?
German: He is not the one who gave the order, I tell you that for certain. He wasn’t capable of such a thing. And I couldn’t betray him.”
German describes Yanukovych as a kind of “wall” who kept the country from being split; as soon as he fled, it fell down and unrest broke out in the east. While corruption was bad under Yanukovych, it was “manageable” by his own people. Today, by contrast it is “out of control, chaotic” and she fears that by autumn there will be a new revolution with an anti-corruption theme. She believes that if once corrupt business people could take away property through courts, now they simply take over factories by force. “These people who have come to power with democratic slogans in reality are very far from liberal values.”
She likes Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the acting prime minister, but “he decides little; Yuliya Tymoshenko really runs the country” and that’s why there is chaos such as the loss of Crimea — which she has resigned to herself never to see returned to Ukraine.
Kanygin tries to prod this former trusted Yanukovych aide into some admission of accountability herself for allying with his corrupt regime but she is adamant:
“I don’t believe we made a mistaken in arranging warm relations with Russia. The mistake is that we didn’t organize warm relations with Crimea. It was not integrated into mainland Crimea, it was always on its own. And we didn’t try to change the separatists moods of local residents but exploited them. The elections began and all the candidates knowing the pro-Russian feature of Crimea began to play on this. We couldn’t glue the peninsula to the country. And none of the Ukrainian presidents tried to do this.”
German said Yanukovych hasn’t contacted her since she fled, and she didn’t want to flee the country herself.
Kanygin: Who is advising him now?
German: Someone from the Russian technicians [consultants]. After all, Russians always worked with him, that began even while I was there. And my influence [on the president--PK] at a certain point was simply zero. I sensed, starting some time in 2012, that he was living with other ideas. I know the whole back story and I knew who was putting new ideas into his head.
She now regrets she didn’t do more to get Yanukovych to have closer relations with the western and central part of Ukraine, and that he alienated them. Yet she claims that “the whole country” was backing him when he was close to signing the EU agreement, but that “a parallel structure of advisors” had sprung up by them.
Kanygin: Are you saying that the story with the association was a game?
German: You understand, I can’t claim that now, it’s too serious an accusation. But there were parallel structures which drafted some sort of projects, decisions. Although we worked in the administration and proposed something, the mass of our proposals were rejected.
Kanygin: Could you be more concrete, please? Parallel structures — are you talking about people from Moscow, Kremlin technologists?
German: Yes. They were there from the very beginning of his rule, but actively began to appeal only in recent years.
Kanygin asks if the entire crisis in the southeast has been engineered by Yanukovych and these Kremlin consultants in order to prepare for him at least the position of “ruler of Novorossiya” if not to return him to Kiev. But German, while conceding Yanukovych might take part in such plan, was too proud to take anything less than his previous position. She also admitted she was disappointed by his flight from Ukraine.
“When they were shooting a people in February, we sat at 4:00 a.m. in his office in the administration building. He came in, pale, without a tie, and suddenly said, ‘I don’t need this life any longer.’ It was rare anyone objected to him, he was a very tough man, but at that moment for the first time in my life I dared to put my hand on his hand and said, ‘Since you pledged an oath on the Gospels, this life no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the people, and you no longer control it.’ He shouted at me, although he had never done that before, ‘What nonsense are you saying? Get out of here!” And I repeated what he said. Two hours later, he calmed down, and we taped the famous television address where he agreed to the reforms.’”
While he was not a coward, said German, he did believe what the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] often had told him, that there were people who wanted to assassinate him.
Kanygin: On that night, when the shooting began on Maidan, and Yanukovych was meeting with Western emissaries, [Vladimir Lukin - Russia's special representative to Ukraine] was still there. [Polish Foreign Minister Radek] Sikorski claimed that Yanukovych constantly left the room to call Putin. What was he getting advice about?
German: He called a lot of people. [US Vice President Joe] Biden, too and Secretary of State John Kerry. But Putin more often, of course, everyone saw that. But if the EU agreement had been signed, then I’m telling you, we wouldn’t have had bloodshed. But that was done by the revolutionaries, that Turchynov, when Yanukovych went to Kharkiv — that was the push toward the present chaos. We should have gone according to the script which we had outlined on that difficult night. Then we wouldn’t have lost the Crimea, and there wouldn’t have been victims.
Kanygin: But you haven’t answered why he coordinated every step with Putin.
German: I can’t tell you.
Kanygin says that Tymoshenko, Yanukovych and Putin have formed a certain temporary alliance in order to disrupt the elections and destabilize the country. But German believes that both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko had likely left the political stage although both were desperately trying to make a come-back. German says she refuses to support the occupation by Russia of the Donbass, and that Rinat Akhmetov, the billionaire, also wants to keep the Donbass within Ukraine.
When the Russia-backed separatists robbed a truck carrying payroll to miners this week, that helped workers see what kind of characters they were dealing with. She recounted a family history in the Western Ukraine with Soviet oppression, and said “Better death than the Bolsheviks, you know.”
German believes that the Party of Regions is “more honest” than the democrats because she associates them with Tymoshenko, about whom she had a telling, unflattering anecdote:
“I recall how I once brought Yuliya to Warsaw to meet an influential person from the Jewish American lobby, this was in 2003, I worked at a radio station then still. And Yuliya then said to me, ‘Help me shake down this bag of money.’ I was stupefied! I had believed in her, I had written her letters to Kiev, ‘How great that there is such a woman in our Motherland who is saving the country.’ So believe me, that team in which I’m in now is more honest. There are more decent and noble people. But people steal everything always.”
Kanygin pressed German further to explain why she had backed Yanukovych, and she explained that he was in a “prison” of his own past, his actual prison sentence as a youth, and the excessive guards surrounding him because of perceived threats on his life. Kanygin also asked about rumors that she was a KGB agent in the Soviet era, which she avoided answering definitively – “whether or not I was a KGB agent is not important” — but commented that she had won a defamation case against journalists who had tried to present proof of her status as an agent.