Our today’s guest is Iryna Vereshchuk, MP from Servant of the People party, chairman of the Subcommittee on State Security and Defense of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence.
What changes Ukraine’s military doctrine needs now?
I read Ukraine’s national security strategy, read the security strategies of those states, which have frozen conflicts today – Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan. For example, Georgia’s national security strategy provides for clearly defined relations with the Russian Federation. Do you remember how the Russian-Georgian war began? In 2008, air traffic was closed, diplomatic relations were terminated. Today, although the territories are still occupied, the conflict has not been resolved, but they clearly state in the national security strategy what Russia is for them. Of course, there are no friendly words, but partnership relations are articulated there. It spells out how Georgia would behave in relations with the Russian Federation. I mean, those red lines are written there, which would never be crossed. Our national security strategy today does not have it. Yes, we Russia is an aggressor, this is enshrined in our legislation. But how about a step-by-step, phased vision in various directions is energy security, economic security, and cultural security?
The Constitution spells out Ukraine’s intentions to join the North Atlantic Alliance. Would the new document articulate, for example, the transition to the NATO standards?
Our founding documents, the Constitution and other documents, including the national security strategy, spelled out the path to NATO. We should understand how to do this in practice. Because it is divided into the political part and the security component. We understand what NATO standards are, what we should transform (because we have strategic priorities, operational directions of work in terms of what needs to be changed), then the political component remains open. We speak and often criticize ourselves, but we must tell people the truth. NATO is not waiting for us. Rather, they will take Georgia. And I was very surprised because in 2008 Georgia and Ukraine had the same opportunity to receive the Membership Action Plan (MAP). We are victims of aggression, and today the question of Georgia’s joining NATO is seriously raised, but Ukraine is out of this agenda at all. For example, now the government was considering financing the holding of a NATO assembly in Ukraine. I believe that this will be a very good opportunity for all interested persons, groups, those who today represent the opposition, for example, European Solidarity, to join such a General Assembly.
Let us talk about the notorious fatigue from Ukraine, mentioned at the end of the previous cadence of power. Has it intensified with the change in the political landscape in Ukraine or, on the contrary, started to decline?
If we speak emotionally, it began to decline… People wanted to hear the truth, to help with something, to join the process in order to confront the aggressor. Then fewer and fewer people came because they saw that the rhetoric was getting tougher, the enemy was getting bigger from the positions of those people who represented Ukraine. Corruption has reached unprecedented proportions, but the situation does not change. Today, we are absolutely free in our rhetoric regarding our partners. And this freedom of dialogue always makes it necessary to tell each other the truth.
What trend do you observe in the Norman direction? Will the new Normandy Four meeting become a cold shower for the Ukrainian society?
It might be. Because now we do not have any parameters with which we could measure the effectiveness of such a meeting. The last meeting was in 2016, and it was absolutely futile.
Is Ukraine’s security agenda written in Kyiv, or is the state hoping that it would be decided in other capitals?
At this stage of our life, Kyiv is trying to write it. People who are at the head of the Ukrainian state today are trying to do this. Unfortunately, we as a country have lost the agency, subjectivity. And not because of the people who came today, because a year ago no one would have thought that Volodymyr Zelensky would become a president. So, the situation has reached such a limit that today those people who have not pursued politics for the past 28 years are forced to take responsibility and somehow subjectivize Ukraine. Being the head of a certain subcommittee, as a representative of the government in parliament, as MP, an expert on international issues, I don’t know how to deal with it. Today, in those conditions, it’s very difficult to talk about independent politics in our current paradigm (and I’m talking about the value paradigm and the economic situation because we have a lot of debts), as we are dependent on the EU, Russia, the USA.
US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker says he does not see the scenario when Ukraine will be pushed to hold elections in uncontrolled territories when those territories remain occupied. And the implementation of the "Steinmeier formula" is possible only after the elections are held there.
I think this is a fundamental question: what do we understand in the "Steinmeier formula" and how this formula is understood in the West. And most importantly, how Mr. Putin perceives it. For us, the "Steinmeier formula" is security first, then politics. Actually, our partners in the West do not care. The main thing for them is that we say that we have resolved this issue. For Putin, the main thing is the first political issues, and then security issues. And now we should find the common ground, namely how to correlate our strategy (first security, and then politics) with their strategy (first politics, and then security). It seems to me that we should be more proactive and explain to partners in the West, Volker and the USA what we mean when we say: security first, and politics afterward. I have heard from President Zelensky that there are several options being worked out. I believe that if they exist, then they should be finalized, agreed with partners, interested parties and even, probably, with opponents, to a certain extent, so that later this does not cause any huge emotional blow. We should calmly go out with a ready-made formula. But above all, we care about security.
Given the upcoming US presidential election, will Ukraine temporarily fall out of Washington's focus?
Yes. But it has never been in such a focus of Washington, however, we in Kyiv might think so or the authorities, which are now getting used to being the opposition, wanted to show it. It was very important to understand that the USA was a strategic partner for us. Unfortunately, we were not a strategic partner for the USA: it had other priorities. Nevertheless, we also thank for what we were given.
Finance Minister Oksana Markarova announced the figure from 2020 state budget for different managers involved in security and defense. In particular, some funds should be redistributed by the NSDC (National Security and Defense Council).
I was surprised by the position why so far the National Security and Defense Council has not made such distribution and has not addressed the Minister of Finance during budgeting. The same thing could be done in May and in June. The budget process is continuous. And only now, when a certain amount has been pledged, it became clear that there is no NSDC decision on distribution. It would be sincere if this decision existed, and we would understand where that money goes. I think these are flaws from the past. And next year, of course, it will be done in a different way. We are moving to a 3-year medium-term budgeting system, we will see how the budget revenues and expenditures will change.
Who feels relief after the abolition of parliamentary immunity?
Everyone. This question has already been sharply debated since 2007. It was among the first top-three promises when we talk about political parties. And when they came to power, they pretended that " it's not me, and over there what you see is not my mare." It was already so ill-favored in relation to people and so unworthy that if we did not remove this immunity, I would just be ashamed to look into people’s eyes. And even if the Constitutional Court cancels this decision due to the procedure, we will still consider it and cancel the parliamentary immunity, no matter how anyone manipulates it.
Let us speak about the lifting of the moratorium on the sale of land for agricultural purposes, can we say that this is a kind of a centrifugal movement because the proposal comes from Kyiv?
Right. But the proposal should already come from Kyiv. For two decades now, we have been waiting for the legislation to be developed. 20 years to develop legislation - is this a sufficient period or not? Still, we have a different motive here. If we have the legal right to use, own and dispose of, if we have the right to own a house, garden, to maintain a personal peasant farm - all this is the right provided for us by law: the Land Code and other legislative acts. We can freely sell, exchange, and lease. And only agricultural land and plots... 400,000 shareholders of land plots have already died, and this is actually one and a half million hectares, this is an inheritance from the dead. They could not use this land. 30% of the land shares today are used “off-the-books.” It is a moratorium that is beneficial to the latifundists, they pretend that they need a market, but actually do everything to use it “off-the-books.” Do you think many tenants hastened to declare that there is no shareholder? No. They use those 1.5 million and are not going to pay anyone. Dead souls. I’m from the Lviv region, I know what happens to agricultural land. The Ukrainians go to pick apples and strawberries in Poland, work in the construction in Germany, slave away on foreign soil, but cannot work in their homeland.