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Yushchenko: 'I Will Never Say I Failed During These Five Years'

President Victor Yushchenko is lagging in the polls ahead of the January 17 vote.
President Victor Yushchenko is lagging in the polls ahead of the January 17 vote.
By Inna Kuznetsova and Halyna Tereshchuk
LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko survived a near-fatal poisoning and massive election fraud to become Ukraine's first truly pro-Western leader.

Five years later, however, he is trailing badly in the polls as his country prepares to vote in the first presidential elections since the 2004 revolution.

Yushchenko has been criticized for presiding over a half-decade of political chaos and drawing Ukraine into unwelcome conflict with Moscow. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, he was unrepentant.

"As the president, I will never bow my head and say that I failed in some way during these five years. I brought this nation what it needs,” Yushchenko said. “If it can understand this, that will be its salvation. If it can't, then we will have to spend another 15-20 years with Yanukovyches and Tymoshenkos, under a Kremlin project, like during Kuchma’s time. There's a price to this."

The two candidates expected to fare best in the January 17 contest are Yushchenko's worst rival and closest ally from the Orange Revolution -- Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Both have seen their popularity soar on platforms that diverge from Yushchenko's openly pro-Western stance, which has caused Kyiv's ties to Moscow to grow increasingly hostile during the past five years.

'Simple' Choices

In the RFE/RL interview, Yushchenko warned that a presidential victory by either of his two rivals would throw Ukraine back into Russian domination.

"There is a danger of authoritarianism because we have two leaders, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, who represent the best Moscow project, which takes away freedom, democracy, and 'Ukrainianhood,'" Yushchenko said. "Today the choice is very simple -- either this pro-Kremlin couple and pro-Kremlin policy wins, or the pro-European policy does."

Yanukovych, who is supported by many Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the country's east, said in a January 7 interview that he will keep the country out of NATO if he wins.

But Yushchenko, who made NATO membership a priority of his presidency, said it would be a blow to Ukrainian interests for the country to turn its back on the military alliance.

"If Ukraine does not repeat the response of the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians [to join NATO] -- who else did I miss, the Romanians, Hungarians -- if we don't give [a positive] answer [to the question of NATO membership] as a nation, then we will not have independence. We will lose our democracy," Yushchenko said.

But the protracted infighting that has been miring Ukraine's political life, in addition to the country's dismal economic performance, has crippled Yushchenko's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

In 2008, the military alliance rejected Ukraine's bid for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a decisive preparatory stage for NATO membership.

Yushchenko, in his interview with RFE/RL, pinned the blame squarely on Tymoshenko for Ukraine's sluggish progress toward Western integration.

"It is clear that Ukraine the way it is today is not very appealing to the European Union. This is not the EU's problem, it is our problem," he said. "Only the prime minister can conduct reform, but we live without reforms. We are currently experiencing our biggest crisis. And it's not due to the European or the global crisis. The crisis is located on Hrushevsky street, on the seventh floor, in the office of the prime minister of Ukraine."

Oil, Gas, And Politics

Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have said they would use a victory to improve relations with Moscow, which grew increasingly hostile as Yushchenko pursued a pro-Western agenda.

Ties hit a low this time last year, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Ukraine amid a pricing dispute that Yushchenko said was politically motivated. The cutoff caused severe energy shortages in EU countries dependent on gas shipments through Ukraine.

A similar dispute is currently playing out in Belarus, which is accusing Moscow of imposing an unfair pricing structure on shipments of crude oil that Belarus refines and profitably exports to the West.

Yushchenko told RFE/RL the Belarus dispute is no different than Ukraine's gas crisis last year.

"This is pressure. It's obvious. Oil and gas are not only hydrocarbons -- unfortunately, they're also the stuff of politics,” Yushchenko said. “We're talking not only about oil and gas, and not only about economic relations, but also about the big challenge of dependency, including political dependency."

Still, energy security and political stability are likely to override the concerns among many Ukrainian voters about the perils of dependency.

Yushchenko's presidency was marked by near-constant political infighting that brought parliamentary procedures to a frequent standstill. He is also seen as failing to reel in rampant corruption, and has faced allegations by his rivals of financial profiteering in shady gas deals.

Yushchenko today said he continues to oppose a proposal by Yanukovych to create a gas transport consortium between Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union. In an interview published on January 7, Yanukovych said, "Ukraine should become a reliable partner in gas relations with Russia and the European Union."

Such a move, Yushchenko says, would grant Russia unwelcome leverage over Ukraine's valuable gas-transportation system -- and, by extension, its political independence.

"Why is Ukraine proposing a gas consortium? Why isn't Russia proposing a gas-exploration consortium with Ukrainian participation? Why aren't our European colleagues suggesting a consortium with Ukrainian participation?” Yushchenko asked. “We have a national company that can brilliantly manage, let's say, gas transit. Are we not capable of organizing our own monopoly? This is the surrender of our national interests."
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by: Martin Kay from: merseyside UK
January 09, 2010 03:17
Yushchenko raises some valid and honest thinking.In these elections,Ukrainians can either vote for keeping its indipendence,or else take the backward step of Kremlin interference-theres nothing complicated to understand this...Yushchenkos opponents have all set out their stalls.Corruption cannot be erradicated over night it takes years-how can people complain about corruption in Ukraine when corruption in Russia remains so rife ? Ukraines economy is no different to others-all have suffered it is not the making of Yushchenko.If Yushchenko can be guilty of anything,it is speaking home truths.Indipendence has meant sacrifices there can be no solution for a one fits all...we have seen this all too often before.

by: Pau from: Barcelona
January 09, 2010 15:57
Good try, RFE/RL. I understand you do everything you can in support of the absolutely pro-american Yushchenko. There is only one problem: after only five years of Yushchenko's power, Ucraine is completly ruined. And now has even more corruption than before. Of course, you still can think these are minor problems...

by: Ronin17 from: USA
January 09, 2010 16:56
Ukraine is about to make a monumental mistake just like America did. The election of Obama has done more to erode the values and freedoms of Americans than any other administration. Ukraine is poised to make the same mistake. Neither Yanukovych or Tymoshenko are running for the betterment of Ukraine. Just like Obama, it's all for their own power and glory. But in this case the stakes are higher. Both will subjugate Ukraine to Russia.

by: Michael Baires from: Germany
January 09, 2010 19:28
He is absolutely correct. He was hindered by both parties, BYUT and Regions, simply so that he would fail to bring his PATRIOTIC ideas to fruition. Not very Kosher for Russian politicians. Ukrainians are today told who to vote for by the Kremlin. Ukrainians should simply re-elect Viktor Yushchenko and show Moscow that Moscow no longer rules in Ukraine. As far as the EU is concerned, well for the Russian gas and oil they will sell Ukraine in a New York minute. Ukrainians should elect Yushchenko and his party during future parliamentary elections and Ukraine will be a pillar of stability and prosperity in Central Europe. Then, NATO will be asking Ukraine to join and so will th EU.
Sincerely,
A realist!

by: cherkasy5 from: Lviv
January 09, 2010 20:31
I find Yuschenko's comments on the supposed necessity of joining NATO irresponsible - because Yuschenko ought to know that NATO is both unable and unwilling to defend Ukraine. So Ukraine had first better learn to defend itself and stand on its own legs, but you never hear that message from Yuschenko. From Yuschenko you only hear some pitiful pleading for outside help. That's one of the reasons why Yatseniuk could have been a far superior presidential candidate than Yuschenko as the representative of Ukraine's national-democratic forces in this election. Ultimately, it was Yuschenko who was responsible for ruining Yatseniuk's candidacy, though Yatseniuk himself also made some serious strategic mistakes.

Yuschenko claims he wants Ukraine to join NATO, but apparently he didn't want to do any of the hard work and dirty details of reform that would allow Ukraine to join the European Union - a far more realistic and significant goal.

by: Robert from: USA
January 10, 2010 16:39
Well said Martin from UK. I participated in the Orange Revolution. It appeared most people then understood what freedom was. Freedom of speech, press and assembly. Where have these people gone? The poor economic shape of Russia should logically tell Ukrainians their economic problems is not only limited to their country.
Now, like in Russia, the people in Ukraine who fought so hard for their freedoms may see them vanish. Dissenters will disappear.Foreign investment will slow or stop. The economy will worsen.
Freedoms? We will have to see but government control of the press like in Russia is a great possibility.
The window of opportunity to join NATO ( And yes NATO can defend Ukraine),
and the EU membership have faded away.
If Ukrainians think they have a bad time now o under Kuchma...just wait. The dream is over. Independence is hanging by a thread.
We will be seeing many Ukrainians come to the US and western countries for asylum as they are from Russia and Belarus now.
It is hard to believe an educated society of people like in Ukraine don't understand the path they are about to embark on.
The changes are coming, and Putin is in a punishing frame of mind.
The changes Obama promised have never occurred, and he will lose much power n the coming months, perhaps even his presidential 2nd term. Thanks much to an informed, educated, people and a free press. We don't have Siberian prisons here or hit men for our journalists.


by: Zoltan from: Hungary
January 10, 2010 19:58
I do not share those views who say Tymoshenko will subjugate Ukraine to Russia.

She simply realized that Ukraine is and forever will be a neigbour of Russia. She also realized that Russia will be the most important economic partner of Ukraine. Therefore she also realized that it is absolutely nos use to confront day and night endlessly with Russia.

Tymoshenko will not subjugate Ukraine her aim is only to end the fruitless fighting against Russia and begin a much more pragmatic cooperation based on equality and mutual interests.

I liked Yuschenko as he is a man of history. A brave man who did very much for Ukraine. But he is a man of yesteday he did what history needed from him.

I am sure that Yulia will be a much more successfull leader of Ukraine who will manage to get the country closer to EU integration.

Ukraine now need peacful advancement rather than war inspired rhetoric and endless conflicts inside and outside.

by: Peter from: Montreal
January 10, 2010 20:40
I agree Yuschenko is the best choice to vote for if Ukrainians make the mistake of not electing him then it will be thier mistake. Similar to the one the voters made when not electing his party in 2005.

by: A.J.
January 11, 2010 10:22
Well, it is no wonder all these foreigners opinions. They all are eager Luchenko to win. After all they, don't live with a industrial output by 29.6% , an unemployment rate by 9%...

by: Sergey from: Chicago, Illinois, USA
January 11, 2010 11:49
"Yushchenko: 'I Will Never Say I Failed During These Five Years' "

"In 2008, the military alliance rejected Ukraine's bid for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a decisive preparatory stage for NATO membership.Yushchenko, in his interview with RFE/RL, pinned the blame squarely on Tymoshenko for Ukraine's sluggish progress toward Western integration."

The leader who believes in his/her own infallibility while blaming the opponents for all the problems with his/her rule, is NOT a good leader.

""There is a danger of authoritarianism because we have two leaders, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, who represent the best Moscow project, which takes away freedom, democracy, and 'Ukrainianhood,'" Yushchenko said. "Today the choice is very simple -- either this pro-Kremlin couple and pro-Kremlin policy wins, or the pro-European policy does.""

Yushenko 'forgets' to mention, that Tymoshenko (with all her numerous faults and shady gas and oil deals) was a real driving force behind "Orange Revolution"--much more than Yushenko himself. Without Tymoshenko, Yushenko would not get to power and he would not be in power all these years. Moreover, Yushenko 's assertions that he is the only guarantor of "Ukrainianhood" is simply ludicrous. Neither Tymoshenko, nor Yanukovich will abolish Ukrainian sovereignty to become province of Russia. Power is too precious to be shared with anyone, plus I am sure that most of Russian-speaking Ukrainians (or Russian Ukrainians) are not eager to go under Putin-Medvedev "power vertical". Yanukovich and Tymoshenko will simply maneuver differently from Yushenko between Moscow, Brussels and Washington to get the best deal possible for themselves.

Finally, I want to urge commenters to this and other political articles to look beyond simplistic schemes (i.e. Yushenko=Democracy+NATO and EU Membership for Ukraine; Tymoshenko, Yanukovich=Autocracy, Dependency on Putin-Medvedev Russia, etc.). Call me cynic, but I have a reasonable grain of scepticism toward anyone who fights for power. As one British statesman said: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". What's important for Ukraine, Russia, US and the rest of the world is to have proper system of checks and balances on those in power (be it Yushenko, Tymoshenko or Yanukovich) to make sure they won't be inclined to abuse it while in office.
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