Rus­sia is ad­vanc­ing again, and Ukraine isn’t hav­ing it

The Post’s Lally Wey­mouth talks with Pres­i­dent Poroshenko about cor­rup­tion and U.S. arms

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Lally Wey­mouth is a se­nior as­so­ciate ed­i­tor at The Wash­ing­ton Post. Twit­ter: @Lal­lyWey­mouth

WKIEV hen Ukraini­ans took to the streets in the 2014 Maidan rev­o­lu­tion, they ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and se­lected Petro Poroshenko as his suc­ces­sor to be­gin a pe­riod of re­form. Poroshenko is up for re­elec­tion next spring, and polls show that Ukraini­ans are dis­ap­pointed with him, par­tic­u­larly for what they see as his fail­ure to clean up cor­rup­tion. In a rare in­ter­view, Poroshenko dis­cussed per­sis­tent Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, his wish for more in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions on Moscow and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sale of weapons to his coun­try, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had blocked. Edited ex­cerpts fol­low.

Q: The lat­est Rus­sian ag­gres­sion ap­pears to be in the Sea of Azov near Crimea. Are the Rus­sians try­ing to slice off an­other part of Ukraine?

A: Rus­sia’s pur­pose is to oc­cupy the Azov Sea, the same way it did Crimea. This is a bru­tal vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law, and we can­not ac­cept it. We are strength­en­ing our mil­i­tary there and launch­ing a case against Rus­sia in the in­ter­na­tional Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion. We have ab­so­lutely clear le­gal sta­tus in the Azov Sea. Rus­sia has no right to attack or stop our ves­sels, which carry goods and pas­sen­gers from two im­por­tant Ukrainian ports, Mar­i­upol and Berdyansk. If Rus­sia does not stop, we have only one in­stru­ment, which is sanc­tions. Q: You need more sanc­tions on Rus­sia? A: To halt the po­ten­tial dan­ger of the Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion of Azov. If they block a ves­sel with Ukrainian iron and steel prod­ucts from Mar­i­upol for one day, the cost is thou­sands of dol­lars. Q: So they’re dam­ag­ing your econ­omy? A: Def­i­nitely. The iron and steel prod­ucts from Mar­i­upol pro­vide about 25 per­cent of our ex­port rev­enue. Then the Rus­sians are at­tack­ing Ukrainian fish­er­men in Ukrainian wa­ters all the time — the Rus­sians ar­rest them, stop them and en­dan­ger them. This is part of the hy­brid war against Ukraine that Rus­sia has car­ried out since 2014: cy­ber­at­tacks and mil­i­tary at­tacks that are pre­pared, trained and fi­nanced by Rus­sia.

It is ab­so­lutely not true [as some peo­ple say] that sanc­tions are not ef­fec­tive. Sanc­tions stop Rus­sia’s GDP growth, they stop the in­crease of Rus­sian liv­ing stan­dards, and they de­value the Rus­sian cur­rency. The Rus­sian lead­er­ship pays a very high price for sanc­tions, which can keep Rus­sia at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and stop the ag­gres­sion.

Q: Didn’t Am­bas­sador Kurt Volker, the U.S. spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Ukraine, have talks last year with Rus­sian of­fi­cials about a po­ten­tial with­drawal?

A: Am­bas­sador Volker will or­ga­nize the best com­pro­mise on a peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tion. The role of peace­keep­ing is very sim­ple — to bring peace to Ukraine.

Q: You want U.N. peace­keep­ers in the east of your coun­try?

A: Ab­so­lutely. A U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil man­date should be on the whole ter­ri­tory oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia, in­clud­ing the un­con­trolled part of the Ukrainian-Rus­sian border, in or­der to stop the in­fil­tra­tion of Rus­sian troops and tanks.

Q: Are mer­ce­nar­ies in the east of Ukraine fight­ing for Rus­sia, or there just Rus­sian troops?

A: Th­ese are thou­sands of reg­u­lar Rus­sian troops and thou­sands of mer­ce­nar­ies. Al­to­gether, they have more than 40,000 troops.

Q: Are you happy with the arms that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has sold you?

A: I’m happy with the sup­port and the lethal weapons sup­ply from the ad­min­is­tra­tion. But the bi­par­ti­san sup­port of Congress is also ex­tremely im­por­tant. Ukraine has paid a high price for its free­dom and democ­racy. This is a real hot war. My soldiers are un­der se­vere ar­tillery and sniper attack.

Q: An­a­lysts say the econ­omy must grow at a higher rate. How will you bring this about?

A: I’ll try to give you a few fig­ures. In the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018, we demon­strated eco­nomic growth of 3.6 per­cent. This is dur­ing a war.

Q: Peo­ple say that growth should be at 8 per­cent.

A: In the years 2014 and 2015, in­fla­tion was 45 per­cent. Now, it is be­low 8 per­cent. This is, again, dur­ing a war. Now we have a sta­ble cur­rency. Dur­ing the last year, we launched both ed­u­ca­tion and health-care re­forms. We also launched a pen­sion re­form which was ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar but ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for the coun­try. We in­creased the pen­sion age [of el­i­gi­bil­ity] from 55 to 60 and then to 63. The more you work, the higher the pen­sion. Be­fore­hand, it was a so­cial­ist-style equal­ity, which is not ac­cept­able. We cre­ated the anti-cor­rup­tion court. We launched a pri­va­ti­za­tion re­form, cre­at­ing a trans­par­ent pri­va­ti­za­tion process. Look, if any­body says they can do more in one year, I want to see it.

Also, in a week, our par­lia­ment will hope­fully sup­port a con­sti­tu­tional change ini­ti­ated by me, which men­tions that Ukraine has as the pur­pose of its for­eign pol­icy to be­come a full mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union and of NATO. Q: Not just as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship? A: Not just as­so­ci­a­tion, full mem­ber­ship. This is the guar­an­tee for not re­turn­ing back to Rus­sia, not re­turn­ing back to the Rus­sian em­pire, not re­turn­ing back to the sta­tus of a colony of Rus­sia. We want to be­come a Euro­pean na­tion.

Q: You think Vladimir Putin wants to re­turn Ukraine to a Rus­sian colony?

A: Def­i­nitely. Be­cause the Rus­sian em­pire is im­pos­si­ble with­out Ukraine. This is the key el­e­ment of the leg­end Rus­sia cre­ated: A thou­sand years ago, Kiev was the cen­ter of the Slavic cul­ture. But now, can you imag­ine that [the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity] of Ukraini­ans sup­port Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion and 54 per­cent of Ukraini­ans now sup­port NATO in­te­gra­tion? Why? Be­cause NATO has demon­strated it is the only in­stru­ment of se­cu­rity which is ef­fi­cient in the world. The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil does not work when one na­tion abuses its veto right, whether it is re­gard­ing Malaysia Air­lines Flight 17 or the il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. This leaves Ukraine face to face with the sec­ond-big­gest mil­i­tary ma­chine in the world. Rus­sia has no red lines in Ukraine, in Syria or in Libya. Who knows where they will ap­pear next?

We have an­other topic — the in­de­pen­dence of the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church from Rus­sia.

Q: I hear that you’re the ar­chi­tect of an im­mi­nent deal re­gard­ing the or­tho­dox church.

A: I am proud of that. I hate the idea that the Ukrainian church is ma­nip­u­lated from Moscow. Q: Has it been ma­nip­u­lated by Moscow? A: Yes, be­cause the for­mal pa­tri­arch of part of our church is Rus­sian, Pa­tri­arch Kir­ill of Moscow. We hate to ac­cept that. We asked the ec­u­meni­cal pa­tri­arch of Con­stantino­ple, Bartholomew I, to give us in­de­pen­dence. Shortly, we will have an in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian church as part of an in­de­pen­dent Ukraine. This will cre­ate a spir­i­tual in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia.

Q: Will Rus­sia try to in­ter­vene in the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion set to take place in March?

A: We have ev­i­dence about Rus­sia try­ing to in­ter­vene in the elec­tion process.

Q: If they did it in the U.S., you would think they’d try it here.

A: Def­i­nitely. I know that for sure. And the scale, the vol­ume, the size of this in­ter­ven­tion is much big­ger than . . .

Q: Do you be­lieve Pres­i­dent Putin’s aim is to weaken Ukraine?

A: To un­der­mine the sta­bil­ity and to change its course. Be­cause they’re very much in­ter­ested in the fight against cor­rup­tion, the re­form for pri­va­ti­za­tion, the re­form of the army, the re­form of the ju­di­cial sys­tem — they are com­pletely against those. They want to can­cel them and re­turn to the year 2014 when we had a dis­as­trous sit­u­a­tion. Q: How do you feel about the next elec­tion? A: I’m con­fi­dent that ev­ery­thing will be okay. Q: For you? A: In­clud­ing for me. Q: Why do you have such low poll numbers? A: I’m not an­a­lyz­ing the polls. Q: What do you say to all the re­form­ers who com­plain that more se­nior of­fi­cials should have been ar­rested for cor­rup­tion?

A: It is not the mis­sion of the pres­i­dent to ar­rest peo­ple.

Q: But you must have heard this over and over.

A: I do my best to cre­ate the con­di­tions for the in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion in­sti­tu­tions to ar­rest and put in prison cor­rupt per­sons.

Q: Ex­perts say you cre­ated the anti-cor­rup­tion court be­cause the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund de­manded it — and that the pros­e­cu­tor is cor­rupt, so no cases make it to the courts.

A: I did not do this re­form be­cause of the IMF. I did this re­form for my coun­try. To­day, 1.2 mil­lion Ukrainian pub­lic ser­vants fill out an elec­tronic [anti-cor­rup­tion] dec­la­ra­tion. We voted [into] law an anti-cor­rup­tion in­fra­struc­ture, and the di­rec­tor of the anti-cor­rup­tion bureau and the anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tor are com­pletely in­de­pen­dent, in­clud­ing from the pres­i­dent. They have launched cases against min­is­ters, mem­bers of par­lia­ment and gov­er­nors. Q: So the al­le­ga­tions are not true? A: I would pre­fer to have more court de­ci­sions — to put in prison any­one who is cor­rupt, no mat­ter what po­si­tion they hold. I promised that we should cre­ate an anti-cor­rup­tion court by the end of the year, and we are fin­ish­ing the com­pe­ti­tion for can­di­dates for the new anti-cor­rup­tion judges.

Q: Re­form­ers com­plain that of­fi­cials and oth­ers are tak­ing money and en­rich­ing them­selves.

A: Yes, this is the prob­lem of the whole coun­try. Q: Peo­ple blame you, of course. A: This is the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. To com­bat cor­rup­tion, I made sure that ev­ery sin­gle per­son who has the abil­ity to spend state money must fill out an elec­tronic dec­la­ra­tion and ex­plain to the whole world where [they’re get­ting the money to pay for] a villa or a car. A vi­o­la­tion of this dec­la­ra­tion is two years in prison.

MIKHAIL PALINCHAK/PRES­I­DEN­TIAL PRESS SER­VICE/POOL/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko poses with soldiers at a re­hearsal for the In­de­pen­dence Day pa­rade in Kiev last month. Poroshenko says his coun­try is “face to face with the sec­ond-big­gest mil­i­tary ma­chine in the world. Rus­sia has no red lines in Ukraine, in Syria or in Libya. Who knows where they will ap­pear next?”

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