An interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych
What does the future hold for Ukraine’s relations with Russia, NATO, and the European Union? How stable is the new government? Will Russian be recognized as a state language? Viktor Yanukovych discussed these issues in this interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych visited Moscow at the end of last week. What does the future hold for Ukraine’s relations with Russia, NATO, and the European Union? How stable is the new government? Will Russian be recognized as a state language? Viktor Yanukovych discussed these issues in this interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Question: Your statements about Ukraine not being ready to join NATO have been widely discussed over the past few days. You had a lengthy conversation on this topic with President Viktor Yushchenko. Was that a private conversation, or in the presence of aides? And how much progress has there been in the process of dividing powers between the president and the prime minister?
Viktor Yanukovych: Advisers and aides were present. It was a discussion – a working meeting. The level of support in Ukraine for a Euro-Atlantic integration policy course has dropped significantly over the past two years. The only debatable point at present is what percentage of Ukrainians do support it – 12% to 25%, no more. So it would probably be wrong to pursue a policy which is not supported by society. I made that point in Brussels. As for powers, the Constitution clearly states that the parliament determines the foundations of domestic and foreign policy. The directives I took to Brussels were approved by the parliamentary coalition.
Question: Is a NATO membership referendum still on the agenda?
Viktor Yanukovych: A referendum can be initiated by the people or by the parliament. As for when it will happen – time will tell. If someone starts turning this into a big issue, saying it should be a priority in our foreign policy, then the referendum will take place very quickly. But the process must happen naturally. It’s impossible to set a referendum date at this point. If there’s an initiative, there will be a referendum.
Question: The government recently revoked seven presidential decrees on the grounds of “procedural violations” in the way they were made public. The Our Ukraine faction in parliament compared this move to something approaching an anti-state revolt. Where might such a confrontation lead?
Viktor Yanukovych: There’s no need to get over-emotional about this. We have to fill the constitutional reforms with content and meaning. We have to pass the appropriate laws, we have to bring our state administration system into line with the new Constitution. Actually, President Yushchenko and I discuss these matters periodically, with understanding on both sides. But there are some problems in the bureaucracy – with officials competing to prove who’s the boss – so there’s a tug-of-war.
Question: What do you think of Ukraine’s prospects of joining the European Union?
Viktor Yanukovych: In our meetings at the European Commission in Brussels, we stated frankly that there can be no talk of Ukraine joining the EU at present – only of the path our country should take. That means economic reforms, political reforms, and so on. Ukraine and the Ukrainians still have a long way to go before integration into European structures is possible.
Question: How are your government’s relations with Russia developing?
Viktor Yanukovych: The most important thing in Ukraine’s relations with Russia is predictability. We are well aware that Russia has its national interests, and Russia is well aware that Ukraine has its national interests. Our negotiations always involve matters of principle, since we are defending the interests of our states. Foreign policy cannot be based on the interests of only one side, one actor, one state. When there’s a balance, compromises and solutions will always be found. Under no circumstances should it be said that one side defeated another, one side won. Victory should always go to the economy and common sense.
Question: What should be the status of the Russian language in Ukraine?
Viktor Yanukovych: The state’s policies shouldn’t create problems in the lives of ordinary people – that’s the most important thing. At the regional level, we no longer have the imbalance we used to have in using the state language. It no longer happens in hospitals, universities, courts, or business. I think the parliament will soon consider some legislation on languages. And the question being raised by our Russian-speaking population – making Russian the second state language – can be resolved in two ways: either by a constitutional majority in parliament, once there is such a majority, or via a referendum.