Kravchuk’s appointment sends Ukraine further down the road of pro-Russian revanche
By Ariana Gic and Roman Sohn
On Thursday, July 30, 2020, Ukrainian President Vladimir* Zelensky appointed former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, to head the Ukrainian delegation of the Trilateral Contact Group to represent Ukraine in the so-called Minsk “peace talks”.
Much has been said about the appointment of the 86-year-old former president of Ukraine to the position of lead negotiator. But what is virtually absent from the discussion are his damning connections to political actors compromised by Russia, and his questionable political track record.
We warned that Zelensky was an oligarchic political project whose presidency would represent a pro-Russian revanche in Ukraine that would invite back many compromised figures of Ukraine’s past into its present. And indeed, many of Ukraine’s corrupt “old guard” are enjoying a revival of their influence in the country under Zelensky. Kravchuk is the latest addition to the considerable list of old faces under the president who promised Ukrainians he would replace old elites with fresh new faces.
Kravchuk’s appointment as Ukraine’s top negotiator in Minsk reveals that Zelensky is taking the pro-Russian revanche in Ukraine to the next level.
Zelensky’s subversion of Ukraine’s defence
Under the Zelensky government, Ukraine’s policy towards Russia’s war of aggression has drastically departed from the strategy of defence of his predecessor, President Petro Poroshenko. Contrary to the firm policy of the post-Maidan governments of defending Ukraine against Russian aggression by building a strong army, forming an international anti-Putin alliance, and pursuing various policies to bring Russia to accountability under international law for its unlawful war on Ukraine, Zelensky has been incrementally subverting Ukraine’s strategy of defence.
In a little over a year, Zelensky (including through his Chief of Staff and Negotiator on foreign relations, Andriy Yermak) has seriously damaged Ukraine’s political and legal positions by making several Russia-friendly concessions. Many members of Ukraine’s patriotic opposition openly call Yermak a Kremlin agent, and demand that Zelensky and his office be investigated for high treason.
The Minsk negotiations is one of the primary battlefields for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s aggression.
Kravchuk representing Ukraine is potentially extremely dangerous, and can gravely harm the country’s interests. Kravchuk’s appointment signals not only that new major concessions to Russia are to come, but also that Zelensky has an informal partnership with Putin’s man in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk.
For decades, Medvedchuk, now the leader of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin party, “For Life”, has pursued a Kremlin-directed political agenda for Ukraine. Under Zelensky, Medvedchuk is enjoying demonstrable growing political influence and power in the country. It is no secret that people close to Medvedchuk have an outsized role in steering policy under Zelensky – particularly in the critical bodies of the State Bureau of Investigations, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the judiciary, where they drive Russia’s subversive political agendas of persecuting Ukrainian patriots and undermining Ukraine’s legal standing on the war. There is also an increasing partnership in the parliament, securing the full political path of bringing Ukraine into Moscow’s fold.
Kravchuk’s compromised track record
Even a cursory review of Kravchuk’s political career reveals a compromised relationship to Medvedchuk, and track record of Russia-friendly political views.
The facts don’t lie.
In 1998, several years after his presidency, Leonid Kravchuk joined Viktor Medvedchuk’s Social Democrats (United) party. In 2002, Kravchuk was elected to lead its parliamentary faction.
In 2004, Kravchuk publicly supported Viktor Yanukovych, the corrupt leader of the pro-Russian “Party of Regions”. Kravchuk was reportedly very proud to claim that he was the first person to suggest that Yanukovych run for the presidency in 2004 as a single candidate of the ruling government. (Yanukovych tried to rig the 2004 presidential elections, a fraud which triggered the pro-democracy, pro-liberal, pro-Western, and patriotic Orange Revolution. Tragically, he would be elected president in 2010, commit high treason, and then in 2014, at the height of the pro-EU Maidan protests, run away from his post to Russia where Putin provides him safe haven to this day.)
In 2005, still associated with Medvedchuk’s party, Kravchuk drove the pro-Russian agenda of impeaching Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s fiercely patriotic, pro-Western president, who had been elected on the wave of the Orange Revolution which he led. (Note that a year earlier, in 2004, Moscow made an unsuccessful attempt on Yushchenko’s life, poisoning him with the toxin, dioxin, to prevent Ukraine from pursuing pro-western ambitions and true independence from Russia.)
The campaign to impeach Yushchenko was coordinated with other pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Importantly, and relevant to modern day political circumstances, that campaign brought together Medvedchuk and one of Zelensky’s business partners and key political backers (who is the apparent beneficiary of many of Zelensky’s policies as president), Ukrainian oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky. Kolomoisky and Medvedchuk are business partners in a leading TV media group in Ukraine, 1+1.
Kravchuk was the public face of the impeachment campaign, and made meritless statements attacking Yushchenko. According to Kravchuk, one of the grounds for impeachment was that Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch who opposed Putin, financed Viktor Yushchenko’s presidential campaign. To this very day, Kravchuk’s accusations against the former president have never been verified or proven.
In 2006, Kravchuk was number one on the party list of the Pro-Russian political block “Ne Tak” or “Not Yes”. Medvedchuk was number three on the list. The political block united pro-Russian politicians and pursued an openly pro-Russian agenda. The block campaigned on the harsh criticism of the Orange Revolution and of President Yushchenko personally. “Ne Tak” also opposed Yushchenko’s aspirations for Ukraine’s NATO membership and EU integration. Instead, they championed a closer relationship with Moscow, including Ukraine joining a Trade Union with Russia. (It’s worth noting that the block’s name, “Ne Tak” mocked Victor Yushchenko’s 2004 presidential campaign slogan, “Tak” or “Yes”. It would be like naming an anti-American party in the United States, “No We Can’t” in opposition to Obama’s 2008 “Yes We Can”.)
Kravchuk has also been a long standing supporter of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who has always been suspected of having close ties to Medvedchuk as well.
During her time as Prime Minister (2007-2010), Tymoshenko, who had been dubbed the “Gas Princess”, established a close relationship with Putin.
In 2008, as PM, and leader of the ruling coalition, Tymoshenko thwarted Ukraine’s response to Russia’s aggression against Georgia, in opposition to President Yushchenko who bravely visited Tbilisi with the heads of state of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to prevent Moscow from bombing the city.
In 2009, Tymoshenko signed a gas contract with Russia. That contract turned out to be the most detrimental economic deal in Ukraine’s history. In fact, the Stockholm Court of Arbitration held in 2017 and 2018 decisions that the contract with Russia’s Gazprom was heavily and unfairly skewed to Moscow’s interests to Ukraine’s detriment.
It was also widely reported that in 2009, Medvedchuk was the facilitator of talks between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych to create a co-ruling regime. Medvedchuk reportedly mediated their meetings. He was also said to be responsible for drafting the text of the revised Constitution in the secret deal between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych to make Ukraine a parliamentary republic. In reality, that revised constitution was an attempted coup d’état, designed to deprive Ukrainians of democracy, and create a co-ruling regime between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych for the next 20 years. It was widely believed in expert circles that because of the high level of distrust between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych (both representing different oligarchic clans) they had the Kremlin as the “guarantor” of their deal – hence Medvedchuk’s role in the negotiations and the drafting of the revised Constitution.
One of the key elements of conspiracy between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych was the removal of then President Yushchenko from his post via impeachment procedure. It was around the same time that Kravchuk made his public call to Yushchenko to resign from the presidency in a move which seemed to be coordinated with the political agenda of the co-conspirators.
In 2010, and again in 2018, Kravchuk publicly supported Tymoshenko’s bid for presidency.
In 2016, Kravchuk said Ukraine should offer “state autonomy” to Crimea (which would de facto turn Ukraine into a confederation), as well as give formal “special status” for Donbas, proposals which were both undoubtedly music to Putin’s ears. Kravchuk also advocated for direct talks between Ukraine and Putin without international mediators. Setting aside the disproportionate bargaining power Putin would have in direct negotiations, such an approach would have harmed Ukraine’s efforts of building an international coalition to increase pressure on Putin. In fact, Russia has been pursuing a strategy to downgrade the perception of its aggression against Ukraine from an international to a local conflict to try to make it disappear from the international political agenda entirely so Moscow can have sanctions related to the conflict lifted.
In 2018, Yanukovych’s defence lawyers filed a court petition to have Kravchuk testify in court in Ukraine’s high treason case against Yanukovych to help the defence prove that Yanukovych was forced to flee the country because he feared for his life. Yanukovych’s lawyer explained that Kravchuk had knowledge about the supposed threat to Yanukovych’s life in 2014, and the “plan of Yanukovych’s extermination”. (The presiding judge denied that petition on the grounds that Kravchuk’s testimony primarily relied on the accounts of others. In 2019, Yanukovych was found guilty of high treason in absentia.)
Signs of future concessions to Russia
With such a dubious track-record – which many inexplicably tend to ignore – it is no surprise that Kravchuk’s first comments as Ukraine’s newly appointed top negotiator in Minsk were about making concessions to Russia which he poorly concealed with his emotional statement about “caring for our poor boys fighting in the East”. He proposed two major concessions – a “special system of governance” and a “free economic zone” for Russia-occupied Donbas – which would substantially weaken Ukraine’s negotiating position, and would mean that Donbas would de facto remain under Russia’s control and influence. These concessions are particularly alarming as they go above and beyond the concessions already made under considerable duress in the Minsk Accords.
It should also come as no surprise that Kravchuk gave his first post appointment interview to the vile Kremlin propagandist, Olga Skabeeva, on Russian state TV channel “Rossiya 1”. In his interview, Kravchuk called the Ukraine-hating Skabeeva “Dear”, and whitewashed Russia’s responsibility for waging war on Ukraine, blaming not Russia, but “separatists” for the war. He spoke about inviting “separatist leaders” for talks to Kyiv, publicly legitimizing the Russian occupation administrations in Donbas as representatives of “separatist entities” who have a right to represent the residents of occupied Donbas. To finish it all off, Kravchuk invited Skabeeva, who is persona non grata in Ukraine, to visit Kyiv.
A good outcome for Ukraine cannot be negotiated by a compromised negotiator making statements favourable to Russia right at the outset, even before sitting down at the negotiation table. Kravchuk’s statements should be understood as being part of the path Zelensky has been pursuing for “normalizing” relations with Russia: whitewashing Russia’s responsibility for the war, and indirectly and directly validating Russia’s propaganda lie about a “separatist, civil conflict” in Ukraine.
Like many of Zelensky’s own statements and actions, Kravchuk’s first comments reveal Zelensky’s underling policy of undermining Ukraine’s statehood. Zelensky’s policies regarding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine demonstrate that his vision of “peace” for the country is about making massive concessions to the Kremlin which will erode and destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. Kravchuk’s appointment is just another tool to that end, with the added benefit of shielding Zelensky from any negative outcome of the negotiations.
By entrusting Kravchuk with representing Kyiv in the trilateral negotiations on Donbas, Zelensky moves Ukraine another step towards compromising its hard fought and defended sovereignty and independence from Moscow.
The longer this ugly and dangerous reality is ignored, the more difficult it will become to return Ukraine to its post-Maidan Euro-Atlantic course, and even more critically, to preserve the country’s sovereignty. Ukrainians will have lost many thousands of lives to Russia in vain, the country will be independent in name only, and the Western world will have the Kremlin one step closer to its doorstep.
*Zelensky always went by the Russian “Vladimir”. He took on the Ukrainian “Volodymyr” after becoming president. His identity has always been Russian, making his comedy career mocking Ukrainian traditions and culture in Moscow for audiences of Russian oligarchs. He is not a Ukrainian “Volodymyr”, but a Russian “Vladimir”. We cannot play along with the public relations farce of referring to him as “Volodymyr”.