Earlier this month, the Czech Republic gave political asylum to a former Ukrainian minister wanted at home on charges of abuse of office.
One of many top officials from the previous, pro-Western government to have come under investigation since the election of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last year, Bohdan Danylyshyn says the accusations are part of a drive to stifle opposition in Ukraine. He sat down with RFE/RL's Gregory Feifer in Prague.
RFE/RL: Can you explain the charges the Ukrainian government has made against you?
Bohdan Danylyshyn: I've been accused of approving government purchases involving the Defense Ministry and the Boryspil international airport through a single agent. The years 2008 and 2009, during the global financial crisis, were difficult ones for Ukraine. I was doing everything I could to reduce the number of deals through that one broker.
In 2007 [before I took office], deals worth 133 billion hryvnia ($16.5 billion), or 52 percent of all government procurements, were made through him. In the first quarter of 2008, it was 61 billion hryvnia, or more than 77 percent of all deals.
When the Economy Ministry began dealing with the issue [after I took office], the amount dropped to 21 percent in 2008, and around 30 percent in 2009. In those years, especially in 2008, I had conflicts with the former managers of the agency overseeing tenders, especially members of the Regions and Communist parties from the former government led by Yanukovych.
I want to stress that there wasn't a single criminal case launched into activities during the period 2007 to 2008 [when President Viktor Yanukovych was prime minister]. We don’t even have documents showing spending from that time because they’ve disappeared and law enforcers aren’t even interested in them. It shows Ukraine has a system of selective justice.
In any case, the Economy Ministry could only approve procedures and issue permission letters. It didn’t make final decisions about deals. That was taken by other ministries or executive agencies -- in my case, the Defense Ministry.
RFE/RL: Can you explain why the government targeted you?
Danylyshyn: I criticized the authorities after the new government took office. In one article, I wrote about 2 billion rubles ($67 million) in Russian credits used for filling holes in the government's budget. The authorities couldn’t have liked that. They've taken measures to make it impossible for the opposition and members of the previous government to speak to the media. They created an atmosphere of fear.
RFE/RL: Before last year's presidential election brought Viktor Yanukovych to power, many in Ukraine and in the West said they didn’t see any real difference between him and his main rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Were they wrong?
Danylyshyn: [Yanukovych's] world view is that since I spent time in jail, so will you. I don't have to repeat well-known descriptions of what's going on in Ukraine's legal system. But comparing the two people, one shouldn't look at differences on narrow points. One should look at how they broadly see Ukraine in the near future.
Tymoshenko sees Ukraine as a European country that must integrate into the European system of security and values. When I was economy minister, Tymoshenko and I did much to ensure Ukraine would enter the World Trade Organization in 2008. We had 13 rounds of talks with the European Union over the creation of a free-trade zone. Now those talks are ending. There were many such processes. I frequently held talks with the European Commission over monetary and fiscal policies and trade.
RFE/RL: Many in the West believe the Orange Revolution leaders squandered their opportunity to democratize Ukraine because they were too busy squabbling with each other. They say that since Yanukovych won a democratic election, there's very little that can be done about Kyiv's shift back to Moscow's embrace.
Danylyshyn: I was upset about the situation in Ukraine especially in 2008 to 2010, when relations were worsening between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko. The people had given them a big vote of confidence after the Orange Revolution in 2004. But the authorities didn’t use the opportunities they had.
It's upsetting that the Ukrainian people didn’t learn lessons from the period between 2005 and 2010. The opposition should be unified, but they mark Independence Day and other holidays alone, while members of the current government do it together. If we want to see Ukraine as a democratic country, we must form a unified opposition that can take on the current authorities.
But Ukraine isn’t isolated and it shouldn’t be a closed country. The West shouldn’t forget that Ukraine is a young democracy with its own patterns of development, but also that it shouldn't return to the situation in other [undemocratic] former Soviet republics. Western countries must speak up. That doesn’t mean enacting sanctions, but using other forms of influence.
RFE/RL: What are your plans now?
Danylyshyn: I'm not going to do anything against Ukraine. On the contrary, I'm going to concentrate on helping Ukraine integrate into global economic and political systems. That includes the creation of joint venture companies and advocating Ukraine's trade ties and possibilities in various sectors. Ukraine must open up, conduct open politics even under the current authorities.
I'll do everything to contribute to that open system and help society in the West understand what's going on in Ukraine. It's very important for the West to know. It can’t allow Ukraine to close itself off.