Two Ukrainian opposition politicians, Yuriy Boyko, presidential candidate, and his fellow party member Viktor Medvedchuk, have visited Moscow on March 22. Both leaders of the Opposition Platform - For Life were hosted by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Gazprom head Alexei Miller.
It is hard to imagine a clearer hint with which Ukraine’s representatives Moscow is ready to talk.
This meeting has caused a squall of disapproval on the part of the pro-Maidan commentators, however, it can significantly strengthen Boyko’s positions among the southeast electorate, supporters of the so-called “peace party.” It is not known, however, whether it would help him to get into the second round of the elections, but he has got some chances of increasing the results.
March 22, Boyko and Medvedchuk have unexpectedly arrived in Moscow.
Both oppositionists were hosted by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Their conversation was broadcasted by NewsOne TV channel.
The open part of the meeting was generally dedicated to the gas issue. Thus, Russia has shown that it is ready to discuss this question (which is important not only for Ukraine, but also for the EU) with Boyko and Medvedchuk, and our country was promised some very favorable conditions.
The parties talked for about 20 minutes in front of the cameras and then left behind the closed doors.
Russians’ position. Main statements
“Relations between Russia and Ukraine are in a state of deep crisis, I think it is right to hold such a meeting,” said the head of the Russian government.
"We could discuss a number of issues that are particularly relevant, bearing in mind the current state of affairs in the sphere of economic relations. I mean the gas component, because, as is known, this year the gas agreements expire, and you need to decide what to do next," Medvedev added.
According to the Russian prime minister, the current Ukrainian authorities do not give clear signals on this matter. “We have not received any serious signals from Ukraine’s current authorities yet,” he said, thus explaining why he did not negotiate with the Ukrainian authorities, but with the opposition.
In addition, Medvedev proposed to discuss "the overall situation of the trade component and economic cooperation, since in recent years there has been a serious degradation of these relations." He said that, despite the existing difficulties in the relations between the two states at the political level, the companies of both countries continue to interact.
"At the same time, it is clear that cooperation in this area with the Russian Federation, cooperation between Ukrainian and Russian companies still matters very much for the development of the economy, and for the lives of people," the Russian prime minister concluded, urging the interlocutors to discuss this matter, which remains relevant in the context of the need to restore "all that has been lost recently."
In addition, Medvedev stated that the current situation in the economy of Ukraine is "bleak."
"The situation you depicted looks, of course, absolutely bleak. But, unfortunately, it is quite accurate. And it is a direct consequence of the policy, pursued by the current Ukrainian authorities."
Medvedev called the problems of cooperation between Moscow and Kyiv in the economic sphere, including on the issue of gas supplies, "exceptionally acute."
Key points of Ukraine’s side
Yuriy Boyko has explained why he asked for a meeting with Russian government representatives.
"In our opinion, we really had a good reason to ask for a meeting with Moscow, because economic relations between Russia and Ukraine are extremely important for our economy. As well as the return of the Ukrainian goods and products to the Russian market, which we have significantly lost in recent five years. This is especially true of engineering, food industry, and a number of other spheres that were traditionally supplied to the Russian Federation before," he said.
"Now there is a completely abnormal situation when the same Russian gas is supplied to the country not directly, but through Europe and through some incomprehensible intermediaries and schemes," Boyko stressed.
In addition, the head of the political council of the Opposition Platform - For Life, Viktor Medvedchuk, explained the need for negotiations with the Kremlin.
“Tariff debts, directly related to gas, have increased by about 5.2 times since 2014. If we talk about the figures that force us to seek cooperation with the Russian Gazprom, I can say that since January 2014, Ukrainian tariffs have increased by an average of 745%, gas prices have risen by 1080%, and by 1200% for heating. This is indeed a very important step (direct gas supplies to Ukraine, - ed.) Therefore, the subject of our meeting is to conclude a contract on the direct gas supply," said Medvedchuk.
Ukraine should sign a new contract with Gazprom, Boyko said.
"We have discussed a number of issues on cooperation in the gas industry. First of all, this is the conclusion of a contract on gas supply. We have also discussed tariffs in Ukraine and prices for products since the gas component is included in the cost of all types of goods. In addition, we have discussed the possibility of extending the gas supplies contract because it is significant for Ukraine’s budget, the gas transportation system, and almost 50 thousand jobs," the presidential candidate emphasized.
Medvedchuk also added that the Russian side has already announced a possible reduction in gas tariffs.
"According to the head of Gazprom, now there is a possibility of reducing the price of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine by 25%, and we are negotiating on it. This will directly affect the reduction of tariffs for gas, heating, and water supply," Medvedchuk assured.
Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller has also confirmed the information about the possibility of reducing the price of gas for Ukraine and the preservation of transit.
Gazprom is ready to negotiate a new contract with Ukraine and a direct supply.
"At the same time, the price for end-users would be a quarter lower than it is now; we can confidently say it. As for the transit, we are ready to continue it on the basis of a valid agreement. We are ready to discuss the creation of a gas transportation consortium," Miller said.
What does the meeting in Moscow mean?
On the one hand, the discussion of gas issues with Boyko and Medvedchuk is theorizing. After all, currently, both of them do not have the necessary power to solve these issues.
And, of course, Medvedev understands this well.
On the other hand, a meeting with the Prime Minister of Russia sends some important messages to Boyko’s voters on the eve of the elections.
First, Moscow is ready to talk about lowering the price of gas only with these politicians. And consequently, the prices of utility tariffs and the total burden on the economy. Now Ukraine buys Russian gas in Europe at inflated prices.
In this context, Boyko gets a great promotion over his election rivals, who also promise to reduce the gas prices. But they do not always explain how it might be done.
Wannabe prez Tymoshenko suggests reducing the gas price of the domestic production, but she does not offer mechanisms for reducing gas prices for industry, which holds the economy of the south-east of Ukraine.
Now Moscow, through the person of Medvedchuk, declares that it will give Ukraine a huge discount of 25% and keep transit through our country. But, of course, such a discount is not everybody's cup of tea.
Secondly, it is a signal to Europe: some Ukrainian politicians will help the continent avoid a new gas war at the turn of 2019-2020.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it is a signal about whom Russia sees as its partners in Ukraine. Today it was about gas. But, as you know, there is another major issue in relations between our countries – peace in Donbas.
For pro-Maidan voters, this meeting is like a red rag for a bull. But they would never vote for Boyko anyway.
But for many voters in the southeast, for supporters of the conditional “peace party,” this is a strong message showing which candidates could realize the promise to achieve reconciliation in Donbas and end the war. Boyko is not the only presidential candidate who talks about direct negotiations with Russia. But he is the only one whom Moscow treats as a negotiator. That is, in fact, the only one who can implement the key program message of setting up peace.
In this regard, the meeting in Moscow can consolidate the "south-eastern" voter under Boyko. And this is not the best news for another candidate from the same niche, Oleksandr Vilkul, backed by Akhmetov’s part (Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch, who has 12,2 billion dollars - ed.)of the Opposition Bloc. And now, despite the fact that Yevgen Murayev (former Opposition Bloc member, who created his own political force, - ed.) withdrew in his favor, the rating of Vilkul fluctuates around 3%, which is three times lower than Boyko’s rating.
And after the meeting in Moscow, this gap might widen further.
Moreover, Vilkul and standing behind him Rinat Akhmetov (according to the media, Akhmetov is a close business partner of Petro Poroshenko) have long been accused of participation in elections as an alleged way to pull votes away from Boyko so that he would not bypass Poroshenko in the first round. In addition, Russian sanctions were already imposed against Vilkul and other representatives of the Akhmetov’s wing of the Opposition block. Thus, Moscow has clearly stated that it considers them to be people who split the south-east political camp thus meeting the interests of Poroshenko.
After the meeting in Moscow, these arguments would receive the additional weight.
It is difficult to say whether this would help Boyko to get in the second round, however, it might help him to seriously increase the result. It would be a good base for the participation of the Opposition platform in the parliamentary elections.
And if this force shows a strong result, then its representatives will get the offices in the new Cabinet of Ministers and may realize peace and gas issues, negotiated in Moscow. Even before the expiration of the current gas contract.