Interview with Oleksandr Danylyuk and Brian Bonner. Part 2

In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guests are Oleksandr Danylyuk – ex minister of finance of Ukraine, and member of the team of Volodymyr Zelenskiy – and Brian Bonner – Kyiv Post’s chief editor.

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

See the text version of the interview: 

Popova: Hello. I present a new episode of the “Eurointegrators” program, and my guest today is Oleksandr Danylyuk – ex minister of finance of Ukraine, and member of the team of Volodymyr Zelenskiy – and Brian Bonner – Kyiv Post’s editor.

Russia. Do you have ideas how to set the issue with such a neighbor – Russia?  What would be the steps of your team? Putin`s decision to provide passports in occupied territories it was like a beginning of active dialogue. What do you think of all that?

Danylyuk: It was rather monolog, like invitation to dialogue.

Popova: How are you going to solve the issue of occupied Ukraine`s territories?

Danylyuk: Regarding so called passports story, Vladymyr Zelensky pointed his clear position. We take it like another Russia`s attempt to undermine  Minsk agreements. That looks like that.  They want to derail the Minsk process. Of course we should not let it happen. This process is vital as the current basic instrument for creating many different processes. I mean sanctions for example. Our task is to keep this Minsk processes alive. But the most important idea is to move to implementation of agreements. Many years passed but we do not see much progress. There is a progress but it is not effective enough

Popova: And people are still dying.

Danylyuk: Right, people really die.  And they die not just in the war but due to humanitarian issues that cannot be solved without agreements. People are dying crossing destroyed bridges for example. So, we need constant progress. Right?  But it should be reached not just by losing our interests.   It must be in the interest of piece and all Ukrainians. Russia is not willing to move forward, Russia is waiting for our concessions. I hope we reach some progress especially in humanitarian sphere. I think in that field we have more arguments. The war could be used by Russia for heating the temperature for pressing the internal processes but I would stress again we need to take care of humanitarian sphere, first of all.

Bonner: What have you learn so far about president’s independence and his decision making? Because, as everybody knows, the president’s personality becomes very clear after being in office for a while. So what did we learn in that regard and what mistakes of Poroshenko and other previous presidents you would advise him to avoid? And how to avoid?

Danylyuk: Very good question. Basically, I am trying to combine what he could avoid because basically he wants to change many things. He is not always – and it’s absolutely understandable – understands how to prioritize it. He still doesn’t feel that the state apparatus is quite weak and sometimes wrongly motivated. So it is important to prioritize and get right people to support priorities, to make them happen. As it always with big changes, there are a lot of weak or strange people flying around, proposing that they can solve any problem. It’s very important to select the people who actually will be on the team through independent professional process. So everybody of the same caliber. The team couldn’t be effective if somewhere we have strong people and somewhere – less strong, weak. The team doesn’t work like this. We need to rely on each other. If it’s not the case – that’s what happening. Also, big mistake – and it’s happening pretty much with every president – don’t get friends or relatives nearby. Except maybe Kuchma. Kuchma didn’t do it, he worked with only professional people. Sometimes he makes mistakes, but if he makes mistake – he corrects it. It’s much more difficult with friends or relatives to correct mistakes, right?  Ans we see, for example, what was doing Yushchenko with friends or Yanukovych with a family. It was shocking when behind the scene the family was running the country pretty much. Or Petro Poroshenko, again, with his business partners and friends who were running big parts of the country in their interest.  So it’s big threat that needs to be avoided, cut at all costs. The team has…Volodymyr Zelenskiy has really couple of month to prove himself. Talking about priorities. It’s not half a year, it’s not 5 months. It’s first decisions that need to be received well. And they need to be important decisions, not just secondary but important decisions. Again: who in the team, tackling the issues of corruption – tough decisions because you are stepping on somebody’s toes. If he succeeds – he will start deliver promises to people. If he doesn’t succeed – it weakens him and the team will have to work on how to get a success later but it will be much more difficult. The first couple of months are crucial.  And that’s understood also by the opponents. They will try to block these two months.

Popova: They already told it before the first tour.

Danylyuk: You see, nothing changes. But there’s one change. One big difference, and I say it Volodymyr. When you win election with 52% and when you’re winning the elections with 73%. Huge difference. So when there are people around saying “that’s possible, that’s not possible, here we need some agreements” – I don’t accept that. This is not why people voted Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the office. I am not saying that he’s involved in this now, I am just saying that it’s being proposed around. “You need to agree with everyone.” No! Because this is a big mistake. People voted for change of elites and change of elites needs to happen. And it requires breaking the links with those who run the country either openly or behind the scenes. That needs to happen. And how to use 73%? That’s we’re talking about 73% in this case. When you compare it with Verkhovna Rada, what is the level of approval of Verkhovna Rada?

Popova: It would be more than Russian media. As far as I remember.

Danylyuk: I think it’s 6 percent of something. And take other institutions – they also have minimal level of approval. He could call on any important action and he will be able to get support of people. How – that’s for us to decide. But using that support he can push all important decisions. I think members of parliament are trying to show their strengths…They better show their strengths in changing the prosecutor general, in appointing the proper prosecutor general, the ministers, the rest of it. And there’s so many things they need to do. For example – law on illicit enrichment, the restore of deliberate crime I would say done with instruction of President Poroshenko by Kosuyshko. Yes, it’s on agenda, do it. Take away the requirement to submit declarations for civil activists. Do it! There are so many things that they could do. Create financial investigation units.

Bonner: That you were championing, yes.

Danylyuk: Do it, it’s already there! No, they are playing the games.

Popova: Why corruptioners will do that? Why they will do it? They didn’t do it in 5 years.

Danylyuk: Well, I think some of them would like to be re-elected.

Popova: You just pay money in majoritarian elections.

Danylyuk: Not all of them will be able to get in majoritarian but you’re right, that’s why I am against majoritarian. When I was the minister, I was hugely against it. It’s not black and white.

Bonner: Going back to domestic issues: you talked about 73% – and it was pretty much nationwide – and Poroshenko we were talking Poroshenko made deals with big city mayors that didn’t work out…To what extent you’re aware president-elect is aware of discontent in major regions or capitals like Odesa (what is) called crime capital of Ukraine by Interior Minister Avakov, with the way that mayors are running this cities like fetus in which they are not accountable to anybody. And what could he do about this? What will he do about this? What should he do about this?

Danylyuk: Did I understand you correctly that If they were to listen to Poroshenko and ensure proper voting he wouldn’t consider them as thiefdoms? I am trying to get the link between the level of approval and…

Bonner: They seem to have a deal with mayors that they kind of can do what they want in exchange for support. The voters went another way which shows that local mayors are either very unpopular or the local mayors saw that Poroshenko is going to lose and they didn’t want any part of tip in election in other way.

Danylyuk: I think mayors understood very well what change is coming. I am trying to think constructively. And they have duties to the people of the cities that they represent. That’s the duty. Not to president Poroshenko. So in order for them to influence people’s choice in the elections, the statewide elections, they need to have a reputation. If they campaign for someone, that reputation needs to be so strong that people of his city would listen to it. That’s not the case for many of the cities. So that;s why I think it was too much to expect between the deals of the incumbent and mayors.

Bonner: Okay. And just to follow on that, I was surprised a little bit that you saw a potential for Poroshenko to make a comeback. Do you also see a potential role for him in Zelenskiy administration because even the President has said that we cannot allow Russia to have even one inch of division between us.

 Danylyuk: First of all, I didn’t say that I see him coming back. I’m just saying that it was time for him to leave, and it’s his own interest is to take some time and reflect, and if he wants to come back, he needs to offer something very new so that people will trust him despite everything he’s done in the past. Never say no, never, right? So I’m first seeing this – I’m just saying that that was a wise thing to do. In terms of his role, well it’s, if you don’t mind, it’s long for me to comment. It’s absolutely clear that what is required is a new, energetic team, right – with a lot of trust behind. Only based on that criteria, only based on that criteria, it will be difficult for Poroshenko to find a fit.

Popova: What could you say on further cooperation with international financial institutions.

Danylyuk: To say globally, we have to continue cooperation. We really need it. Many changes that were started, were not finished as the result. Despite the talks about growing our economy, we understand that the overall situation is far from being stable. Any changes in the external markets, slowing the world economy would have immediate impact on the national economy as well. This is first. Secondly, even if the positive signs would remain in the near future, we would not be satisfied with the 3% growth. It’s too low, it’s not even a growth. So, right now, we need effective changes which would trigger a push. This could make us more competitive and stronger ahead of a possible coming crisis. This is our responsibility, so these are our steps to do it. And doing all this we will need financial assistance. A billion dollars for infrastructure, dozens of billions for the modernization of infrastructure. But despite the assistance we need, as I said earlier, we need to fully understand what we want to get. We need assistance just in cases where we are not capable enough. This is what is really important. So the cooperation with International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Bank, reconstruction and development, will continue. All these partners would always support us if we demonstrate changes. They would not help a country which is not developing. It’s money-wasting and it’s the use and it’s issue of the image of institutions mentioned above. We should have some win-win. This year is a tough one. For example, the law of illegal enrichment that was canceled by the constitutional court, but that law was the requirement of the International Monetary Fund, and to set in a new trend we have to bring this enrichment law back. If the Parliament would not make such decision, this will cause problems for all of us. It’s not an easy issue but we need to come to a common decision together with Parliament and government despite all political obstacles. This is the issue of a mutual trust, if we have some other opinions, let’s discuss it.

Bonner: Maybe in English. It seems the press has an ability to taunt Vladimir Putin, almost, get under his skin, you know, by chastising him for an authoritarian regime and saying we have nothing in common aside from the border. Do you expect that statements like this have, like, have removed a lot of doubts about his strength in the foreign policy area? Do you think that can translate into a new diplomatic offensive, toughen sanctions on Russia, get Moray to rebuild the military, and change the equation in the form of Soviet Union?

Danylyuk: I believe so.

Bonner: You would need a good foreign minister for that. A persuasive one.

Danylyuk: Not without a foreign minister. Exactly. He will need – you know, that is giving the skill of threat and risks. We need a very strong – You know, for me, it’s crucial. At that time, Ukraine, as never, has to have a very strong team. That would be able to fight with external opponents, but also with people who even after Revolution of Dignity, so many years already, are still keeping the country hostage. And there are corrupt activities, keeping Ukraine from development. That could be only broken by trust of people, which we have at the moment, a strong team, and knowledge what to do. That’s three components.

Bonner: What’s the risk you see from Russia right now? Do you think it’ll be status quo for a while?

Danylyuk: You know what? I don’t want to predict. We need to be ready for any scenarios. That’s the responsible behavior. Right? We need to be ready, because otherwise, oh, you know what, we’ve thought that and – surprise, surprise. We need to be ready for any, not only negative. You know, again, that’s a right approach, that’s a right approach. And we, as Ukraine, we need to also think about that we’re strong, we can change the situation in Ukraine and around us. That’s an ambition. So we’re not always a target. Because we are so many years got used to being a target. I don’t want to sound populist, but that should be the ambition. If we have such ambition, then we can achieve this. If we have ambition of just being a target and looking for support around, that’s a wrong ambition. That’s a weak country. Weak countries lose, usually. We need to be a strong country.

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