Who are the real “ukrops”?
Bohdan Yaremenko, the director of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation, head of the Kyiv branch of the UKROP party gave an interview to Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org Natallia Radzina.
- Bohdan, you were a famous diplomat, Consul General of Ukraine in Edinburgh and Istanbul. However, after the Euromaidan you founded a high-profile analytical center “Maidan of Foreign Affairs”. I know that you plan to participate in the parliamentary elections in Ukraine next year. Why have you decided to go to politics?
- We were in politics one way or another before. The “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” presented itself as an absolutely independent organization. However, our analytical researches referred to the war and peace issues. Here, you need to choose side. On the one hand, you are on your state’s side, the side of your nation, but on the other hand, it’s quite uneasy here in Ukraine: we are very tolerant even to those who practice approaches totally incompatible with the Ukrainian statehood.
That is why we gave a clear message of who we are and we were in politics. We helped to mobilize public opinion somewhere, explained what was going on, so that the Ukrainians understood with what evil they were fighting. On the other hand, for all my life before that, more than 20 years, I worked in state structures and saw their infirmity and inefficiency. Over time, when you rise up the career ladder, it becomes clear that in reality everything is decided not here, but at the political level - tasks are set, priorities are chosen there so it is necessary to be there.
This is quite a conscious decision, to which I have been going for a very long time and which has been realized for a long time, but in several other forms. It's just that the country needs changes so much that you have to be in politics if you really want to influence something. Otherwise, the changes are very slow, uncertain, ambiguous.
“Maidan of Foreign Affairs“ has been linked with the political force "UKROP" by joint work on large projects since 2015 . We prepared politicians for broadcasts, prepared certain theoretical approaches for the party in the matters of war, peace, defense, so we understood perfectly what positions the party had, moreover, we knew that it stuck to the positions that we had partially developed. So for me, running at elections with this party is a very simple, understandable, logical decision. Well, for us, people who have been practicing politics all their lives, it is very important that "UKROP" is a party which has certain resource and is not afraid to use it.
One of the founders of the party Ihor Kolomoisky and the team used all possible resources in 2014-2015, protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. For me, this is an indicator of professionalism, desire and ability to work. With such people it is interesting and promising given all the ambiguity of everything that happens in Ukraine.
- We know separatists called Ukrainians “ukrops”. So, here comes the “UKROP” party. Where does the name come from?
- This is an attempt to turn weakness into strength in a politically correct way. The Russians tried to call us so scornfully at the beginning of the war, but the Ukrainians decided that there was nothing to be offended. Dill — let it be dill, good. Moreover, if you look at words as an abbreviation, it is easily deciphered as the Ukrainian Union of Patriots. This is the real name of the party. Plus, dill - this is a plant that, if you trample it, it sprouts even more.
This is also part of ideology, part of the doctrine of the party. This party uprised during the war, in the period of the deepest crisis of the state. A political force was born that unites the people whom Russia is trying to „trample down to the ground.“ These people are very different. According to nationality, one of the organizers Ihor Kolomoysky is a Jew, but he is a Ukrainian Jew, he is a patriot of Ukraine, a man who does not hesitate to call himself a Ukrainian nationalist.
In the „Maidan of Foreign Affairs“, we have been developing the concept of foreign policy based on human rights and values since 2014. Something similar lies in the core of the political doctrine of „UKROP“. This is a center-right doctrine, although in Ukraine there probably are no parties today, in which there are no left-centrist elements in the economic program, but nevertheless, only „UKROP“ has clearly center-right political platform.
- Who, apart from Kolomoysky, is the “face” of the party?
- Hennadiy Korban, a well-known politician. "UKROP" was founded by Kolomoysky's team, which in 2014 assumed responsibility for the southeast of Ukraine. Kolomoysky did this in the form of consent to head the Dnepropetrovsk regional administration, Hennadiy Korban worked with him as a deputy. Also, the current mayor of Dnepropetrovsk Boris Filatov, one of the partners of Ihor Kolomoysky Ihor Palitsa, who headed the Odesa regional administration immediately after the tragic events of May 2. This team was dealing with the Odesa region, and Zaporizhzhe, and Kherson, in general, all the south and east of Ukraine. Today Ihor Palitsa is the head of the Volyn Regional Council in Western Ukraine.
The party has 8 people's deputies. The party leader is people's deputy Taras Batenko, who represents Lviv. We have a representation in the local authorities in the regional councils of 18 regions. Naturally, a large number of deputies in local, city, and rural councils. There are a lot of combatants, veterans, volunteers in the team, but there is a lot of educated urban electorate - the middle class of Ukraine, who lives by the idea that they are able to change their country themselves.
"UKROP" is the only post-Maidan party that was formed after the loss of the Crimea and which has a Crimean branch. This is also an indicator of the political platform and program. We are going to return to the Crimea and we are already preparing the structures. The branch of the party is headed by the Crimean Tatar Erfan Kudusov, which is also a very uncharacteristic, rare occurrence for Ukraine. And this is again an example that in a party that professes the principles of creating a nation on a political basis, a person of any religion and any ethnic origin finds their place.
- They say that “UKROP” is not just the party of patriots, but also the party of well-offs due to its prioritization of the middle class.
- In the Ukrainian culture, the word “well-off’’ has a negative shade, due to the Soviet heritage. However, in my opinion, it means a master who keeps his feet on the ground very firmly.
If we leave aside the irony and negative connotation of the word, which was very widely used in the Soviet Union, then yes, most likely, yes. Although, of course, every party tries to reach as many people as possible, and „UKROP“ tries to be a party of people who need help. But in general, this is a party of business executives, including people who understand very well what life is, what it is to make money, who can do big, medium and small business.
- What is the political landscape in Ukraine on the eve of the elections, both presidential and parliamentary?
- It's quite unpredictable. The most characteristic features of Ukrainians, if we describe their psychology today, are disbelief, mistrust and apathy. They are the result of an ineffective state machine, corruption, war. As a result, about 50% of Ukraine's population have not decided who they would vote for in the presidential and parliamentary elections. Therefore, there is a huge demand for the idea of a new person, new names.
In the conditions when people are looking for a new person they can trust, and 50% are undecided, in theory any Ukrainian in the next year can become either a president or a member of parliament. A large share of unpredictability — this is how you can characterize the political situation in Ukraine.
- What can “UKROP” offer to Ukrainians, that other parties cannot?
- In fact, nothing new can be invented in the modern political world. We understand: there is a center, there are rightists, there are leftists. And then you choose your positioning. The question is different. "UKROP" is a party that can do it. It was created by people who can, want, proved repeatedly in business, politics, and war, that they keep their word and keep their promises. These people embody the idea of a new Ukrainian political nation based on principles and values. This is the platform.
It's new for Ukraine - to create a political nation. This post-revolutionary trend after the Maidan. This is the trend of the war, where we realized what we are fighting for, for which Ukraine. Although we continue, like every very tolerant people, to conduct discussions, even during the war. But nevertheless, most Ukrainians, of course, stand on the same positions. The question is not to invent some new words and new recipes, but to make and outline how this state construction should take place, on what principles, on what foundation, and clearly adhere to it, have a resource and implement it. This is how we differ.
- How does “UKROP” see the de-occupation of the Donbas and the return of the Crimea to the composition of Ukraine?
- I would like to note that the “UKROP“ party remains the only political force and state institution in Ukraine, which has its own published plan of action in this matter. It is called the „Patrilot Doctrine“. This is a great text, wherever possible, when it comes to security and doctrinal things, the approaches to war are outlined. Other political parties have not yet been able to formulate their plan in more detail and more specifically.
Our view is based on several fundamental positions. First, Ukraine will never abandon the occupied territories. Neither the Donbas, nor the Crimea. Secondly, Ukraine today does not have the opportunity to return the occupied territories, having paid an acceptable price for all.
This is connected with the situation inside the country, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the international situation as a whole. Therefore, „UKROP“ considers it promising and important for the near future not to return the territories, but to create international pressure on the Russian Federation, to maximize the breakdown of Ukraine's relations with Russia, to introduce various sanctions, to strengthen the capabilities of our country to resolve the issues of the Crimea and the Donbas militarily.
At the same time, with regard to the current military conflict, the main and solvable task of „UKROP“ is the ceasefire. It should be about freezing the conflict to stop bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. After all, at the moment, citizens loyal to Ukraine are dying. As on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and among the peaceful population of the Donbas.
This is a priority task, simultaneously with which the strengthening of the armed forces and changing tactics for more aggressive behavior on the front line must take place. We must abandon the „compromising“ policy towards Russia, start responding to its aggressive actions, appeal to public opinion in the West, and seek maximum military and technical assistance for Ukraine.
We set the task of increasing the presence of NATO forces at the territory of the country and Ukraine's entry into the North Atlantic Alliance. This is a complex of measures, which in the near future is able to resolve the issue of freezing the conflict and ceasefire. The question of the return of the occupied territories is a matter of a distant future. Today, the solution of this problem is impossible without further damage for Ukraine.
- The movie “Servant of the People” has become a real hit not only in Ukraine, but in the whole post-Soviet space. What is true and what is false in it?
- This is a completely artistic fiction of talented screenwriters and played by talented actors. Many for some reason believe that the political life of the United States can be studied by the TV-series „House of Cards.“ Probably, it is not worthwhile to study Ukraine and Ukrainians by the TV series „Servant of the People“
Another thing is that the principles proposed by the leading actor Volodymyr Zelensky are so in demand that he made a political memorandum thanks to his acting. And without having expressed a desire to become a politician, he became a politician and a person very much expected in politics. A large number of Ukrainians, about 7%, are ready to vote for him at the parliamentary elections. Also we have a well-known singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, leader of the „Ocean of Elsa“ rock band, for whom approximately the same number of people are ready to vote.
- What are the real chance of Zelenski and Vakarchuk to win the election?
- There is a great desire for a new person and a lack of confidence in what exists. And the desire for a new way of life. The desire for change, and productive. The desire for clear rules, and not „iron hands“. These Ukrainians are seriously different from Russians, they do not live by faith in the king or the hetman who comes with a firm hand, but by faith in the rules that we ourselves must come up with, create and adhere to. And in a person who is willing to guarantee that these rules will be the same for everyone. Waiting for this kind of a politician.
It is clear that the people of the scene, the people of art are sufficiently promoted, known, to them the trust is not political, but more media, but, nevertheless, it reflects on politics, there are many speculations around this. Around it there are completely theoretical battles, they are constantly being tried to measure the sociological opinion of Ukrainians, although, I repeat, none of them has ever stated about their desire to run for any positions.
- We see the ratings. Why is “Batkivshchina” the most popular party, although Tymoshenko is not a new person in the Ukrainian politics at all?
- This is the oldest party in the parliament. It has certain traditions and it is the most structured, the most systematic one. The party has representation throughout Ukraine, it seems to me, in practically every small region, up to the villages. It is clear that for such a party it is much easier to conduct agitation work. But the success of the party is largely based on the personal success and popularity of Yulia Tymoshenko, not on the program. This also works all over the world.
We see that very often in order to be elected, it is enough to have charisma and character: Donald Trump, for example. And do not be some kind of theorist or successful politician until then. This is a series of factors, but nevertheless, it is indisputable that Yulia Tymoshenko and her party are among the leaders in the ratings. But even her and her party ratings do not rise above 15%.
If we take presidential elections next year, most likely in the first round the first two candidates will get less than 15% - this is quite low support, including for the leaders, which will cause problems for Ukraine in the future. If a leader does not have the confidence of the majority, then they will not be able to find it already in office, and it will be very difficult, given that the country has a lot of problems. It is clear that such a political regime cannot be stable.
- You speak and write about Belarus a lot. Is there a common party position with regard to the Lukashenka dictatorship?
- We look at Belarus through the prism of Ukrainian state interests. In this respect, Belarus is undoubtedly an ally of the Russian Federation, with a regime the essence of which is directly opposite to what Ukrainians would like to see in their country, that is, despotism. At a time when Ukrainians, albeit somehow inconsistently, with big problems, but still move toward the rule of law, toward democracy.
Because of this, the Belarusian state (it should be clearly understood and not speculated - not the people, not the Belarusians, but the Belarusian state, Lukashenka's regime) becomes, at least, diplomatically speaking, our opponent. But, in principle, it is a latent enemy, whose regime is essentially hostile to Ukraine, moreover, it is a continuation of the Kremlin. Therefore, our approach is to keep the trade and trying not to sever ties at the lowest level between people, between enterprises, as much as possible to limit contacts with the Belarusian authorities. We will defend this approach, and I will personally be both an analyst and a political scientist. Also, it will be the political agenda of the party in case of its coming to power.
- What laws will you lobby first when elected into parliament?
- I think that, in Ukraine, the question now is not making new laws. There are much more complicated and acute issues: bringing the activities of all public authorities in line with the law and reducing their number; deregulation - reducing the number of legal acts, by-laws, laws. In Ukraine, the culture and quality of the laws has fallen. We see this problem because we are very active, especially with regard to laws that we consider to be the most important in the field of defense and foreign policy. But the government rejects any proposals. It's not just about our party. Any suggestions, attempts to improve legislation, make it better quality are rejected.
This is the second important issue - improving the quality of laws. As for their focus, then "UKROP", most likely, will not be alone to have a majority. Therefore, we can not single-handedly determine the agenda of the parliament. In any case, it should be the work of consolidating the majority, and therefore the agenda will be worked out jointly.
Ukraine simply has no choice. Whoever comes to power, they will have to deal with defense issues. Obviously, some diplomatic decisions over Russia and its allies have overruled. We will have to deal with the economy and its reform. But on the order of priority of the solution of these issues, I think it's very presumptuous to talk a year and a half before the elections. Some changes are taking place in Ukraine now, it will be necessary to react to strategic needs and to the real financial and economic situation that will be at the moment when the new parliament starts its activities.
Our direction is center-right policy. We will be very active in creating conditions for the development of small and medium-sized businesses. To create the same rules of the game, and legislative acts - this work is already more systematic, and it requires organization outside the party framework.
- I have known you for many years. You make an impression of a very optimistic person who manages to get everywhere on time.
- This is when I eat on time (laughing).
I know for sure that you can not try to catch everything. There are some important points. Now I have a new period - party activities. I'm a person who is totally new at this. Moreover, this leads out of the zone of psychological comfort. You cannot manage everything, but you can do what you can.
- What gives you strength?
- It’s very simple. In 2014, I managed to gather around myself those for whom a person usually cries – the friends. I spend much less effort to gather friends. They are around me, they are with me every day. That is why it’s very easy for me. These are intellectuals, the people with a position, with knowledge, with profound experience. I learn and get inspired.
We have a very interesting collective, including generals of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, an Intelligence Colonel, several ambassadors, journalists. This is a team that is capable of giving birth to ideas, accumulating some very fresh views on life, and they are based on reality and can be embodied. It's interesting when you, even outside government structures, operate with ideas that can be easily implemented and sometimes take power. This also causes a certain rise.
You realize that, it turns out, you are so strong that you do not even need to have official authority to influence.