Last week on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference US State Secretary John Kerry blamed Russian for its actions in Ukraine and continued support of separatists in the Eastern part of the country. Senior European diplomats supported him saying that Russia would continue to be subject to sanctions until it and the rebels it supports come into full compliance with Minsk agreement. New Europe has met with Serghei Taruta, an Independent MP of Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) and former Governor of Donetsk Oblast, the region at present controlled by the rebels, to discuss his view on the perspectives of the end of the conflict and Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO.
NE: How is Ukraine managing with the ongoing problem of internally displaced people – and refugees who are currently in Russia? Are there any obstacles for their return?
Taruta: The problem of displaced people who have fled their homes because of the war in Eastern Ukraine is a very big challenge indeed for our government. At present there are about 1.5 million displaced people in Ukraine alone, from the territories of Donetsk, the Donbas, Lugansk and in part from Crimea. We know that about 300,000 Ukrainians currently reside in Russia but some of them have already come back.
NE: But Russian state reporting suggests there are about 1 million people who at present temporarily reside in Russia and the Ukrainian government does not provide any humanitarian help for them.
Taruta: This figure is detached from reality. We know the statistics, we know exactly how many people are in our own territory, we know how many lived there before and according to these figures we can understand how many have left.
NE: Is there any process for the reintegration of these citizens?
Taruta: Unfortunately, this is not an easy process. The Ministry of Emergencies developed a special programme under which it set up a number of transit points and provided people with necessary help. Subsequently they were allocated to different regions across the country.
However, the Ukrainian government made some mistakes. For instance, it did not take steps to set up state institutions, which could track all displaced people in the country, as well as assist in organizing the process of their further integration.
NE: The IMF recently said that the next tranche of its proposed loan to Ukraine depends on the implementation of certain reforms. How would you evaluate the likelihood of Ukraine to get the loan?
Taruta: I have no doubts that Ukraine will receive the money but it does not mean that we should not continue implementing our reforms. Personally I think that we should do more for the macro-social situation than the macroeconomic because the IMF’s goal is primarily the macro-financial stability and that is not what Ukraine needs now. Ukraine will receive money from the IMF but the demand of the reforms from its side will be tougher to implement.
The remedies suggested by the IMF for Ukraine form part of a compromise offered by the government and the initial demands of the IMF. These transformations in my opinion should be more substantial than the IMF wants. Crucially, governmental power needs to be decentralized. We need a transparent administrative system, and regulation that will build an attractive investment climate. The business community in cooperation with the civil society, experts and our western friends, who have experience in this field have already created Declaration of Business, a programme of economic reforms needed in Ukraine. I would like to underline that this programme is not simply prepared in the West, but is in fact created in Ukraine and tailored according to our needs. In a nutshell it is equivalent to a Marshall Plan for Ukraine, which can substantially change our country for the better.
NE: You mentioned decentralization, which is a very sensitive question now in Ukraine. But the parliament is divided between those who want to keep the present system with strong central government and those who believe that decentralization will bring peace to Ukraine.
Taruta: I think that decentralization is the solution. Unfortunately, the present system as it is in our Constitution is not appropriate. For instance, the executive power of the central institutions is controlled by the government, while the regional power belongs to the President. This contradiction should be removed and all executive power both central and regional should be in the hands of the Prime Minister and the government.
NE: What do you see as the fate for Crimea within Ukraine?
Taruta: No one in Ukraine has forgotten about Crimea, least of all me. I have lost a lot of money there as I invested a lot in Crimea. Everything was nationalized by the Crimean authorities in a very ugly way, without observing any legislation.
NE: Did you get any money back when your assets were nationalized in Crimea?
Taruta: Of course not. It was entirely a raider attack organized by the Crimean authorities assisted by Russia. It does not even meet the requirements of Russian legislation, not to mention international law. Everything was done in a 1990s style. Investors were divided into categories: those who could be cleaned out without punishment and those who got something because of their relationship with the Russians. It was a very bad signal for the future of Crimea. Again, no one has forgotten Crimea and every politician in Ukraine will fight until Crimea comes back to Ukraine. It was very sad to hear from Russian PM Medvedev at the Security Conference in Munich that the question with Crimea is closed. But we want to say thank you to our western partners, who clearly said that until Crimea comes back to Ukraine part of the sanctions imposed on Russia will remain in place.
NE: How do you see the future of Ukraine?
Taruta: In 2015 Ukraine signed the Association Agreement with the EU and we have to follow its terms. We should implement all necessary reforms and as a reliable partner we will do it. As regards membership, I am pretty lucid and see no opportunities at least at this stage to enter the EU. However, we continue adapting our system according to the European standards.
As regards security issues, Ukraine will remain a neutral country. Despite our desire to be a NATO member we understand that again at this stage it is not possible due to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. However, we, Ukrainians, have to find a way to live with all our neighbors, as unfortunately it is not a matter of choice. They are given to us by history and we should learn from Finland or Austria not merely how to survive but how to develop the country considering the given de-facto circumstances. Radicalism is not an option for Ukraine.