Ukraine’s new government has realistic plans for integration with the West; there will be no re-privatization; the government will continue to get rid of officials who served the old regime; and there is no serious opposition in the country. This is President Viktor Yushchenko’s vision of Ukraine after his first 100 days in office. He shared his plans with the nation in an unprecedented three-day media marathon. On May 12 Yushchenko spent two hours live on the air of the three TV channels controlled by tycoon Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former president Leonid Kuchma: ICTV, STB, and Novy Kanal. Yushchenko answered questions from people speaking live from the central squares in Kyiv, Lviv, Simferopol, and Donetsk, and questions sent to the studios by e-mail or called in by telephone. On May 13 Yushchenko gave a 90-minute press conference, and on May 14 he addressed a conference of regional officials in Kyiv.
The issues of NATO and EU membership will be decided in a referendum, but Yushchenko made it clear that these steps will not happen soon. In April Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said that Ukraine hopes to launch NATO membership talks in 2008. Yushchenko admitted that it would take time to persuade Ukrainians of the benefits of joining NATO, as only 2% of them are sure that they know what NATO is about, according to an unspecified poll cited by Yushchenko.
“Issue Number 1 today is integration with Russia and the EU,” Yushchenko said. EU integration is obviously more important for Yushchenko than the Single Economic Space, likely what he meant by “integration with Russia.” But, unlike immediately after the Orange Revolution, when Yushchenko’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Oleh Rybachuk predicted EU membership in five years’ time, the government is more realistic now. “Reaching EU standards will require the adoption of 300-400 laws,” he predicted, and this legislative agenda cannot be launched until after the 2006 parliamentary elections.
The goals for 2005 include obtaining free-market economy status in the West and attaining WTO membership, Yushchenko said. But “the government’s recent decisions have significantly weakened our positions on the two issues.” Yushchenko obviously meant calls for re-privatization and even re-nationalization of the companies that the previous regime sold to “the oligarchs” at artificially low prices, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s price regulation of the oil market (see EDM, April 25). The re-privatization plans are supported by ordinary Ukrainians. A nationwide poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) revealed that more than 70% of Ukrainians believe that the privatization results should be reviewed. But this scares investors. “I do not aim at nationalization or re-privatization of any property,” Yushchenko declared. The government has come up with a list of 29 “suspicious” companies, some of which will be re-sold in repeat privatization tenders, Yushchenko announced. Several months ago Tymoshenko spoke of hundreds of companies to be re-privatized.
Yushchenko denied lustration plans, but said that about 2,000-3,000 bureaucrats will be replaced, including all heads of rayon (district) executives, tax administrators, and police chiefs. The old authorities have discredited themselves, as more than 6,000 proceedings have been launched over the last six week, investigating crimes like bribery and abuse of position. “I cannot work with the old system of the top executive,” Yushchenko declared, but he also added that participation in the Orange Revolution would not be enough to claim high posts: “We need honest, professional, and patriotic people.” Yushchenko, however, defended one hero of the Orange Revolution, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, who the Ukrainian media have accused of lying about his education credentials (see EDM, May 4). Yushchenko brushed away the accusations against Zvarych as “intrigues.”
Yushchenko does not see any serious opposition to his government at the moment. “It seems to me that the opposition is only being formed,” he speculated. The KMIS poll showed that Yushchenko has reason for optimism. More than 50% of those polled positively assessed his government’s performance, and only 16% were unhappy with it. Yushchenko apparently views the current opposition as nothing more than a group of people afraid of punishment for their misdeeds. “I firmly believe that thieves and crooks should not be in politics,” he declared.
Turning to ethnic issues, Yushchenko promised fair land-sharing agreements to Crimean Tatars, but warned against separatist sentiment. He said the Tatar Majlis — the self-styled Tatar representative body — should give up “unconstitutional” plans to establish national autonomy. Yushchenko also repeated his earlier promises that the Russian language would not be discriminated against. He noted that Ukrainian is the only state language according to the constitution, but suggested that those politicians who want to grant Russian some status could try to amend the constitution. They would need to secure the backing of 300 members of the 450-seat parliament for such a change, which likely would be extremely difficult.
(ICTV, April 21, May 12; Channel 5 TV, May 13; Zerkalo nedeli, May 14)