Taruta: The Minsk format should be improved by adding additional platforms for negotiations
Interview with Ukrainian Business Initiative Association (UBI) co-founder, Ukrainian MP, former Head of Donetsk State Administration Serhiy Taruta
Question 1: Nadia Savchenko has recently declared her support for direct negotiations with the DPR and the LPR. What do you think about the idea of a broad-ranging dialogue on the conflict settlement in Donbas?
I have been constantly saying that we have the format of the [Trilateral] Minsk Contact Group is wrong - there is no representative from Donbas. It's absolutely wrong. Why isn't Lukianchenko [Donetsk Mayor since 2002] included? He is respected there up to this day. Why aren't other important people involved?
The Minsk platform is, unfortunately, a politically charged issue. Other platforms should operate under this political structure. I participate in the work of major international groups, which discuss the situation and look at statistics from the occupied territories, which most people are not aware of.
Western organizations with experience in eliminating the consequences of such conflicts provide statistics on the level of medical and social security and living standards in Donbas.They are filled with horror at the sight of it. They offer to help. But we are all politicized, closed at the top level. The president does not let anyone interfere. He thinks that he can resolve the situation on his own. Well, let him work it out then.
The situation shouldn’t be frozen under any circumstances. The longer the situation is suspended, the more we destroy Ukraine. The sooner we resolve the conflict, the sooner we can move on.
Question 2: Are you in favor of reformatting the Minsk agreements? Or should other formats be launched except for the Minsk format?
Today the Minsk agreements are negatively looked upon. But no one is going to make negotiations using other platforms. And we have to accept that all the countries that participate in the settlement of the Ukrainain issue do not even consider any alternative.
The only way to restore peace in Donbas is the Minsk agreements. Within the framework of the Minsk agreement it is possible to improve the working structure, which will be coordinated either between presidents or foreign ministers. We're creating a huge problem, expecting that there will be some other format and delaying the resolution of the conflict.
No one will reconsider the Minsk format. It is an axiom. But within the framework of the Minsk format, there are ways to change the political structure in its current form, to refine them and make easily guaranteed compromises. This is what is required to develop the so-called road map. It may not be public. That is a part of the settlement of all conflicts. Only the upper part of this iceberg is known, no one knows the bottom. Such a roadmap should be developed by platforms, they should unite around a clear strategy, which is, unfortunately, missing so far.
Question 3: Today we are talking about Russia's withdrawal from Donbas. Then we can talk about the settlement of the conflict. What should Ukraine do to get move closer to the resolution of the conflict?
Ukraine should pass those laws which are provided in the Minsk agreements, but which come into effect only if certain conditions are met. Thus, we would give a sign that we are ready for it. We do understand that the elections can be carried out only under certain conditions.
Personally for me, as someone who knows the peculiarities of war, border control is important. This is a basic condition for conflict settlement. Configuration of mutual guarantees is fundamental.
What should Ukraine do? We need to get away from adjusting policies to cater to the public mood.
Negotiations should be ongoing. It is necessary to create additional platforms. A certain part of what is being agreed should be made public. I believe that a fully closed format without public access distorts the real understanding of agreements and of what is happening. If something is arranged, we should not be afraid to go to people and convince them of the correctness of such actions.
The president should cooperate more closely with the parliament on the Donbas issue. There are those who may assist president in resolving this situation.
Unfortunately, everything is closed on one person and is not delegated to anyone. So, the Minsk format doesn’t work. The fact that [former representative of Ukraine in the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk Roman] Bezsmertny refused to continue participating in the negotiation process is a result of ineffective actions, the absence of strategic guidance to resolve the situation [in the talks].
It is important for me that Ukraine has defined a clear strategy through time. We don’t have much time. If we do not solve the conflict over Donbas until the end of the year, there won’t be a clear strategy. This will be a crucial for our country.
Question 4: How, in your opinion, one can accelerate the process of prisoner swaps?
As for the hostages, one shouldn't raise this issue only on the presidential level, because by doing so we immediately raise the price of each manifold.
They are, inter alia, the hostages of improper actions. People are suffering from it. In due time, we released hostages and made agreements. The release of some hostages was remunerated.
Question 5: If the prisoner swap isn't arranged at the presidential level, but on a lower level, will it simplify the procedure for their release?
Of course, it will. As soon as the release of the particular prisoner rises to the presidential level, we will immediately lose time and the release will be delayed. There are those whom you can negotiate with on the uncontrolled territories.
As far as I know, now we are speaking about the "all for all" format. That should be quickly resolved both on the Minsk and presidential level and include other national leaders. That would be the best way.
Question 6: Deputy Minister Heorhiy Tuka said in one of his interviews that it was necessary to restore trade and economic relations with uncontrolled territories. What is your point of view in this regard?
Today, we, unfortunately, have learned to do without a full range of operating enterprises. We thought that the enterprises were automatically obtaining funding from combined Russian-separatist groups. In fact, the militants received funding from other activities they were engaged in.
Military operations in Donbas bring significant profits to certain groups of people on both sides of the conflict. It also concerns [head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Oleksandr] Zakharchenko and [self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Luhansk People's Republic Igor] Plotnitsky. For them, every day of the war is the opportunity to earn money. Their wives control retail chains - it's a big business. And the naive hope that Zakharchenko wants to stop this war … He will be shooting, and we will be dying economically.
We have been losing a lot of money in our country for the last two years. The level of economic decline is among the most pronounced in the world. That is, every day people are getting poorer. And this process cannot be stopped until there is stabilization in Donbas.
The biggest robbery has been committed. Many enterprises, which, unfortunately, were immediately brought to stop, and were cut into metal scrap. They won't recover even if we permit them to continue working.
But as for the large city-forming enterprises, this is, surely, a sensitive issue. Apparently, the militants didn't have mandate on the destruction of such enterprises. On the other hand, they were afraid to provoke the population.
With respect to these enterprises, we need to do our best to make them work. Non-operating enterprises will automatically increase the ranks of the militant army with those who are unemployed.
Question 7: Militants excluded the business representatives who had previously left Donetsk and Luhansk. The list includes almost everyone. What does it testify to?
Militants who were initially seizing power believed that this territory would become part of Russia and all that they captured will remain theirs. This situation stimulated them. But last autumn they received the task to make arrangements with Ukraine, because Russia will not take them.
Today they understand that they have no other way. Anyway, these territories will remain Ukrainian. We need to make efforts for eliminating militant leaders in the negotiating group who are interested in business today and who will provoke the war to retain their business...
The militants were also told that elections, though quasi-elections, would take place. I think they realize that elections will [eventually] take place. It’s important for them not to allow them to take place, because it will open the door for people with solid reputation and influence.
They need to eliminate the threat posed by powerful businessmen. After all, they have become businessmen themselves. Zakharchenko is a number one businessman there.
Question 8: Do you think they will be able to nationalize the enterprises that are located there? It is discussed from time to time.
No, I don’t.
Question 9: What is your relation to the idea of voting for constitutional changes regarding decentralization, but without the norm for Donbas?
The issue of Donbas and that of decentralization are two different issues. I am sure that it was intentionally interconnected, so that the pressure of Western partners on decisions taken in Donbas would help the president to push through the perverse model of decentralization, which actually gives a greater concentration of power in his hands. I did not vote in favor because of this. Decentralization in this form will not help us to give real powers to the public and won’t create new investment opportunities for the country. Question 10: Some people take UBI, co-founded by you, as the club of oligarchs and big business lobbying their interests. What can you say to that? That model of relations in the state, which was primarily established by representatives of big business, is a dead end for them. We have joined forces in order to change it, change the terms and conditions of conducting business in Ukraine, to establish new principles of interaction between business, government and society. These principles imply rejection of the oligarchic business: instead of backroom agreements – an open dialogue, instead of buying political forces and individual politicians - a clear investment in the political process, the establishment of a new political culture. These efforts will eventually result in a new understanding of the country structure and a new social contract. UBI speaks out in favor of the creation of a new social contract. The civil sector should undertake this responsibility. We need to completely reformat the Constitution. Today, the country's construction is the collapse of the building structure. We are trying to put the shards back into a broken window, presenting the exercise as reform. But the construction is falling to pieces. The construction of our country with a post-Soviet Constitution is an anachronism. We have a chance to build a new structure. The UBI union spoke out in favor of a new country model where the responsible business together with the civil society will determine the appropriate governmental model. It is necessary to transfer maximum powers to localities and communities, to create a balanced representation, where the power isn't concentrated in the hands of one person. Question 11: That is, should we have a parliamentary republic? We need a parliamentary republic with two chambers of parliament. The government should be very small and functions delegated to localities. It is necessary to change the structure of state institutions. The structure of the new Constitution should be the basis of a new social contract. Question 12: Is the new Constitution being written? Before we talk about the content of the new Constitution, it is necessary to radically change the procedure to adopt it. Since the legitimacy of the Basic Law, the status of the country's supreme legal act, can only be achieved by maximum involvement of the society in its adoption. We have provided more than the current procedure for adopting the Basic Law. It’s been written by constitutionalists - 15 active public figures have prepared a draft law, which has been initiated by some MPs. It states that the new Constitution should be passed at the constitutional assembly, which is formed on the basis of electoral districts, stipulating that politicians or officials shouldn’t be delegated there. Representatives of the communities will be required to prepare the concept of the Basic Law, which will be put to a referendum. This will enable the dialogue. The task of the business community is to publicly help finance the development of the Constitution draft. The second task is a new economic model covering a 10-year term. I think UBI will publish the appropriate economic doctrine during the next ten days. The programs for achieving the relevant objectives will be based on the doctrine. The new Constitution and economic model are two main tasks. And we are ready to participate in their creation. Question 13: Has the communication with the authorities been established? Were the president and the prime minister told about these initiatives and the number of like-minded people in the parliament? The President acknowledged our platform. We had the third Hayatt meeting attended by the president, the prime minister, the head of the National Bank and the Finance Minister. The dialogue with the president as such did not take place, but we must be grateful that he came. We would like to be heard by the president. He understands a lot, but, unfortunately, is doing the opposite [of what he should do]... The premier tries to understand. We offered the premier our help in creating correct and fair economic model. But we see that routine is tedious. The prime minister requires a team of highly qualified professionals who understand not micromanagement but macro management. Unfortunately, he doesn't have such a team. He has his faithful people, but they represent micromanagement. I definitely do not expect great results from the current government, but we are ready to provide assistance from our side. We hope that the dialogue will take place. If there is no dialogue, the new Cabinet will be discredited and this will lead, ultimately, to the formation of another Cabinet. Question 14: Do you mean to early elections? I believe that elections are a good, correct and civilized way for governing Ukraine. There are many worse scenarios than holding elections. Nevertheless, a 'restart' is required.