Arsen Avakov: I have a plan. Let’s say, we can seize control of Horlivka for the starter16 April 2018
“We have a situation evolving outside the bounds of Ukraine, but owing to various temporary circumstances it within the range of our interests now,” the head of MIA Arsen Avakov turns to the substance of the matter at once without even waiting for us to ask the question.
Before this, the UP journalists had kept waiting for the minister for about an hour and a half in the MIA building as Avakov had been unexpectedly “intercepted” by his Turkish counterpart at the Security Forum.
This interview was initiated by Arsen Borysovych himself. A day after the release of his extended conversation with Liga.net journalist, Avakov suggested the UP to meet and talk about the war.
The plan to regain Ukraine’s sovereignty over the temporarily occupied Donbas set forth by S Avakov during the conversation with the UP is not ideal. Most of its points can and, likely, will be the subject of extremely acute political disputes.
But even in its current form, this plan can serve a telling illustration of the set of the most complex compromises which only a few people in Ukraine are now ready to discuss, but without which the return of the occupied territories is hardly possible in principle.
As a matter of fact, during the hour-long conversation with Avakov, one phrase the Minister had said in a conversation with the UP several months earlier stuck in the author’s head: “Poroshenko ought to return the Donbas, no matter how difficult it is, even if it costs him re-election. It is his mission as the President and conscientious state official.”
The beginning of such a sensitive conversation on the eve of the start of the presidential campaign and the feeling that the minister has gone beyond the scope of his responsibility can invite suspicions and doubts about the sincerity of Arsen Borysovych.
Whatever the motives of the Head of the MIA, we should render him his due for his political courage. This is more than a simple matter to initiate a public discussion of an issue that can cost a political career to anyone.
This interview with Arsen Avakov covers the strategy of “part-by-part absorption,” the possibility of amnesty and elections in the Donbas, the law on “collaborators”, joint patrols and “special statuses”.
This interview was initiated by Arsen Borysovych himself. A day after the release of his extended conversation with Liga.net journalist, Avakov suggested the UP to meet and talk about the war.
ALL PHOTOS by ELDAR SARAKHMAN, UP
On two scenarios for Ukraine
“The whole world has got added evidence that the Putin regime is the most dangerous anomaly opposing the civilizational values. Recent developments bring in the final verdict. Starting with the situation of poisoning in the British Salisbury and ending with a chemical attack in Syria. Obviously, given this, the pressure on Russia will hit a new high, and I am very anxious about its impact on Ukraine.
“I see two main possible scenarios on which the situation may develop.
First. Under the influence of sanctions and pressure on the Russian regime, which is gaining strength now, Putin, having made together with Russia new steps going against the values of the civilized world, still applies the brake and decides that it is necessary to look for a point of balance and make some concessions.
To prevent catastrophic political and economic difficulties and losses that could lead to the fall of the current regime. In this case, on the one hand, it is possible to mark the new presidential term “like” the new policy and, after the World Cup, and try a peaceful settlement with the world.
On the other hand, this has to do with money: the oligarchs–beneficiaries and support of Putin’s regime–are hit hard with sanctions…
I believe that such an option is viable.
The second choice leads in the opposite direction: further escalation.
Putin will decide to jack up stakes in this murderous geopolitical game. He is sure that the geopolitical game of new empire is his mission. Even from the reflections of Comrade Surkov, it is clear that they are positioning themselves as doomed to geopolitical suffering in the name of the mission.
In this case, Putin will sharpen the situation. Where? In Syria, in my opinion, they’ve played this out (the interview was recorded on April 12, 2018, before the missile strikes of the West in Syria–UP). Therefore, Russians may start looking for another place.
It can be, e.g., Latvia, where conflicts with Russian schools have recently taken place. This could be the territory of the Balkans, where in Serbia and Kosovo they have recently escalated the conflict.
And, of course, Ukraine. This worries us because the phase of a hot war can begin. It is clear that a large military operation in Ukraine entails risks and losses for Putin because we already know how to hit back. But for us, it can be a huge loss.
For example, Russian mercenaries will advance with two occupying armies, the armored fist that is larger than British armored forces, in the direction of Mariupol or Kramatorsk. This will be a very difficult mission for the Russian Federation because we are not in 2014 now.
But, all the same, it is necessary to understand that the correlation of our forces and those of the Russian Federation is very different. Yes, we also have now new missiles and many other things, but this will be a very difficult encounter. However, we should know and consider such a possibility.
Perhaps such a clash will lead Putin to catastrophic losses, but for Ukraine, these losses will be catastrophic too. However, we have no choice, and we must be ready for this option too, and we will defend ourselves!
“Here are two scenarios: military one with huge losses, and peaceful one in limbo. We should be ready for both, because for both variants of Putin’s political game Ukraine, alas, fits best.
About peaceful scenario, “signals” from Russia, and peacekeepers
“Today I want to talk about a positive scenario, which concerns the peace process.
There are various signals that it is possible. They come from different groups within the Putin Empire. The first one contains “hawks”, the second group unites “super-hawks”, the third one includes “hawks with money”, who prefer that their money remain untouched. And the fourth group maintains, “Why would we give ourselves trouble? Let’s work it out.”
And there are a lot of such lines of argument. The body of MIA’s information allows me to say that there are two options. And both are real; it’s 50/50.
Here are two scenarios: military one with huge losses, and peaceful one in limbo.
UP: And why out of the blue in the fourth year of confronting Putin would think about face-saving? The latest events in Syria show that he is ready to inflame the situation.
“You are engaged in journalism, and I am engaged in politics. I feel when the situation reaches the climax. Any crisis includes opportunities. I’m telling you as it is: there are two equivalent variants of the succession of events. But we are now on the same side with the civilized world. And we have to use this.
“Let’s take a relatively problem-free variant. Somewhere at some point in time some official of Putin’s administration, perhaps Putin himself, at some meeting in the Normandy format will suddenly say, “Comrades, you’ve completely misunderstood me. In fact, I want everything to be fine in Ukraine. Let it ride. I take a mild view of their not complying with the Minsk agreements; I reveal my will and take your Donbas back… Here is a list of requirements and wishes…“
UP: About the list… is it theoretically speaking only? Or someone did voice it?
“Theoretically speaking only. It follows from the text of the Minsk agreements, from the rhetoric of the Minsk Group negotiators, from press deliberations, talks at the level of Foreign Ministers and so on.
We, Ukrainians, to tell you the truth, under the current turn of events, cannot plan a military operation to return the occupied territories without the risk of a full-scale clash with the army of RF. It is a fact.
Therefore, President Poroshenko speaks about the peacekeeping mission and the Blue Helmets. This is one of the workable mechanisms. But we must understand why a peacekeeping mission? Should the patrols of the Blue Helmets walk about in Horlivka along with the patrols of the Russian puppet Zakharchenko? This is unacceptable.”
UP: What kind of mission should this be?
“An ideal peacekeeping mission? It should be as follows: the peacekeepers come in, all Russians go out, any paramilitary groups led by the puppet governments of Plotnytskyi, Zakharchenko, or whoever there is, follow the Russians.”
UP: There is a problem. Where should Zakharchenko go?
“The same Girkin and all others went.”
UP: But they were Russians, and these are kind of locals.
“Let the Russians take them with them. The main thing for us is that they leave.
“We are talking about a compromise. When we liberated our territories, all these “local” figures followed the occupation groups on their way out. Their eventual fate was their problem. We will then run them down because they have committed crimes against Ukraine.
Now, after the arrival of the Blue Helmets, a citizen with the Ukrainian flag –Ukrainian justice– should come in on our side. He enters the nearest regional Rada, hoists the Ukrainian flag there and holds elections to local Radas under Ukrainian law. Thus, we’ll get an opportunity to establish legitimate authority elected according to our legislation.”
On the widely acclaimed step-by-step tactics
“I have my plan. It is called “the widely acclaimed step-by-step tactics”. I do not believe that it is possible to reintegrate the whole territory of the occupied Donbas immediately. The strength of Blue Helmets is insufficient to cover the whole territory. Therefore, I propose, to put it tentatively, to begin with seizing control of Horlivka or Novoazovsk Region for the starters.
“The plan is as follows: the peacekeepers arrive and stand on the border of the conditional city of Horlivka or the rural Novoazovsk Region. Immediately, the Blue Helmets and the Ukrainian border guards bring the border with the occupied territory under control. Then the Ukrainian juridical bodies arrive here and carry out elections under our law.”
I have my plan. It is called “the widely acclaimed step-by-step tactics”.
“I do not give a damn who’ll be the winner. I have every confidence that the largest number of votes will be obtained by pro-imperial candidates. But, in a strategic perspective, this is not so important.
“The main thing is to form a transitional administration on the basis of these new bodies and representatives of the state power of Ukraine elected by Ukrainian law. The central authority together with the Ukrainian police forces should be established there.
“After that, Ukraine has to adopt an amnesty law. It should concern everyone, except for those who have blood on their hands, who killed our soldiers and participated in repressions against civilians. The amnesty does not cover them; they are criminals in the eyes of our state and should not escape the punishment of the law!
“But I’m firmly convinced that we will have to pass a law “on collaborators”. Something like the de Gaulle law adopted in France in 1946. This applies to a man from the street who was forced to live and work in the occupied territories.
“The essence is rather simple: we need to determine the degree of conformity. Is it critical complicity with the occupation authorities or you have such circumstances that you do not deserve blame, and in some cases – despite your actions – deserve a public pardon?
This is a knotty problem; it concerns the level of compromise within the society. This is the life of our people in difficult conditions, and this will need to be honestly admitted.
But the law “on collaborators” is a must, because it is necessary to determine the status of each person. It should be officially established if he is a citizen of Ukraine like everyone else. He is either a victim, like the majority of locals, or the participant, but not critical. Or he still deserves a reprimand.
“If you went to serve in the office and worked there, then this is either inevitable, or good, or bad. But society has passed the law, and you will not be punished for it. And if you shot Protestant priests in Slovyansk and buried them in a pit, which actually took place, then there cannot be any compromise: you should answer to justice.
“Evidently, it will be necessary to tackle issues with the “transition status” of these occupied territories. First, it will concern a special economic status. After the occupation, this territory will have to be restored at a higher rate.
“Here you can see the possibility of attracting international funds. At the same time, I’m certain, Russia will offer to be one of the donors, but we should not take her money. For the transition period, funds should be obtained with the help of our Western partners and the state budget.
“There are special development mechanisms above and beyond! I think this is absolutely possible!
“Assume that the Ukrainian authorities have entered a region shut off the separatists or Horlivka. Accordingly, the Ukrainian police start to maintain public order there. I even admit some, perhaps transitional, joint patrolling by MIA officers and local representatives of territorial communities delegated by the local regional Radas.
There was such experience in transitional situations, in particular, in Croatia. This is a very difficult police function, fraught with conflicts, fraught with nuances of the transition period. But this is much better than head-on collisions. Compromise is always a compromise.
“Then what happens? Then begins the restoration of infrastructure and improving the quality of life of people who were in occupation. We arrive, restore water supply, hot water, electricity, restore normal school and begin issuing standard Ukrainian passports. Here too, there is a nuance, because there should be a special checkup of people from the occupied territories so that we do not issue Ukrainian passports to anybody, but only to Ukrainian citizens.”
UW: But the majority of locals there are Ukrainian citizens.
“Yes. But there may emerge a situation like in the occupied Crimea. There the separatists seized a large part of the forms and managed to issue Ukrainian passports to the strangers, often to foreign criminals. We have now identified and nullified them.
“But back to the topic at hand. Obviously, there will be nuances of the interim period, but the essence is that gradually the inhabitants of the occupied territories enter into the civil rights of normal Ukrainians and receive the corresponding quality of life: schools, institutes, education, medicine, visa-free regime, roads, and bridges are rebuilt and so on.
“After all this, a man from the street tired of living in a reservation begins to compare. We, for our part, also compare with the conditional Horlivka or Novoazovsk Region. I believe, or I do not believe… Good or bad?
“And if “I believe”, then the second step follows; the same procedure, say, takes place in five neighboring regions. Everything depends on our grit and trust.
“But, again, there will be nuances related to the features of the transition period. I think that people from the occupied territories will be disabled regarding elections to the central authorities, i.e., parliament, president and so on. But this is a standard international practice.
It was used in all post-conflict zones, from post-Franco Spain to the Balkans. Time heals all wounds. The relevant period makes 5-to-10 years. After that, the territory will enjoy all rights.
“Why do I say, for example, that it does not really matter who wins the local elections in the conditional Horlivka now? Obviously, not the lovers of the current “Ukrainian junta.” But these newly elected authorities will think, first of all, about life inside Horlivka. And then time and common sense will tell.
Does it suit us? From the point of view of geopolitics, it suits because we will delegate to this local authority an intelligent representative of the state as a partner. And the level of his compromise will be balanced with the size of the compromise suitable for the Ukrainian state.
“Each territory will badly need extra, in addition to the local budget, money to finance appropriate construction or restoration programs. And only the representative of the state of Ukraine will hold the purse strings.
“And, believe me, the loyalty to the central Ukrainian authorities will gradually return. Like the state’s loyalty to people in the occupied territories.
“Then the real people will return there, starting from the “top brass”, who are now all in Kyiv, and ending with internally displaced persons who have settled in Ukrainian cities, but yearn for their native places.
“The Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkey, because of the meeting with whom I was late for our interview, told me about their situation in the area of settlement of the Kurds. They also saw that the local authorities were separatist.
But the central government sent there one of them and through him carried out financing and monitored that 100% of this money reached municipal projects and people. People saw this and began to trust central authorities. And all this gradually transformed.
“This is a viable model that has come to my and his mind concurrently and, believe me, this is a sensible practice.
“If we do it right, then gradually we will be able to reach a situation where the Ukrainian border guards will fully control the border of Ukraine and Russia. Together with them, there will be the Blue Helmets whose role Poroshenko is negotiating now.”
About political will
“Now we will go into the issue of political will, firstly ours and secondly of the occupation authorities and the Russian Federation.
“Least of all I take an interest in the local occupation authority because I consider it to be nothing more than a puppet of the Russian Empire. And if there were no Russian Empire, we would have wiped them off even by military means without any problems.
“But we discuss now a calm tackling of the conflict when this decision is made by all parties. At this very moment, we need Russia to go home. We will abide by the norms of international law starting from adequate elections and through ensuring the civil rights of the population.
“There is no worry about some transitional issues concerning special statuses of languages and special economic zones to name a few, because we are talking about much larger institutions, in fact, about the success of statehood in Ukraine.
“As a result, the Russian Empire will be able to tell the West that ”you see, we’re good guys, and you can begin easing sanctions.“
However, the sanctions, like our claims, will not be lifted until the Crimea returns to us. This is a second issue, much more complicated and painful for the RF. But, of course, we cannot say, “You return us Donbas, and we give you the Crimea, and that’s the ticket”. No sane Ukrainian politician will ever say this.
“But when I say ”the concept of steps getting ovations,“ what does that mean? The Ukrainian government came in, hoisted the Ukrainian flag, held elections under the Ukrainian law, Ukrainian police and other state institutions began to work. Does Ukrainian society applaud? It applauds.
“The Ukrainian people, who were in occupation, get access to all the benefits of a peaceful life… Do they applaud? Yes.
“Russia says that it “assured” status for the Russian language, achieved elections in this territory, their so-and-so was elected to the regional Rada, a special economic zone was established… Are they applauding? Yes. Putin will easily sell this to his media and society as a great victory.
“What about us? As a result, strategically, a year or two or three elapse… We’ve got back our territory and can develop according to the strategy of Ukrainian statehood? Yes.
The Ukrainian people, who were in occupation, get access to all the benefits of a peaceful life… Do they applaud? Yes.
“If we have a heart-to-heart talk with people about what we want and what we are doing, why we are going to make painful compromises, I think, the Ukrainian people will support this situation.
“If we take steps that I, President Poroshenko and five others are in the know, then no compromise is possible. Because then, no matter what good goals we had in mind, there will always be fights in the parliament, confusion in the society, and war around it. We need to start an honest and open dialogue with the society and let it make a decision.
“If society accepts such a philosophy of small steps and unavoidable compromises, then the law “on collaborators”, and the more transparent procedure of the law on amnesty, laws on special transition statuses, on special elections, on temporary deprivation for the transition period will become possible.
UP: Do you think the current parliament may vote for such initiatives?
“I am 100% sure. If there is an honest conversation, a clear-cut plan, no behind-the-scenes games, and a very accurate conversation that in this way we return the state sovereignty over the occupied territories, the Verkhovna Rada can vote for such decisions. Including, I admit, by the constitutional majority.
“The devil will be in the details. We should lay out the specifics of them. By the way, I think that we need the joint work of the parliamentary masses from different factions.
But I think that all of them will be active from “Batkivshchyna”, “Samopomich” and Oleg Liashko through to the “Opposition block”; they latter will also be highly motivated. Like the “Narodnyi Front”, and the BPP.
UW: Is the plan that you have laid out is the plan of the Ukrainian establishment or personally of Arsen Avakov?
“This is a delicate topic. I have a plan which I’m discussing. It is understandable and known to everyone in the political establishment to varying degree of fullness. Moreover, it is known abroad.
“But. The international policy of Ukraine is the area of responsibility of President Poroshenko. He has his own feelings and his views, priorities, and procedures for achieving goals, which I also respect.
For example, he talks about a peacekeeping operation. Is it working? I say to myself: yes, why is it bad? Only, if just “helmets” arrive, it won’t work in any way! We need someone who will take the keys and will go on managing the cities. Therefore I suggest details and procedures.
“Answering your question, whether this plan is generally accepted. No, it’s not. But, in my opinion, it is an element of a larger plan, which Poroshenko has in mind when he talks about peacekeepers.
“Simply, I’ve been walking on two feet for most of my adult life. I’m not afraid of a little grease, and I understand that there is a real mechanism of implementation.
“It isn’t viable that 20-40 thousand Blue Helmets stay throughout the territory… I do not believe it is a right project! While I believe in the mechanism of step-by-step reintegration.
“To put it tentatively, Poroshenko and Klimkin carry out negotiations about international observers… And then it will be necessary to ensure the efficacy of this mechanism up one side and down the other and explain how to enter and pass through all these cities and settlements. It’s, like, the hardest job for all of us. The same for justice. The same for communication throughout the country.
“However, the peace plan cannot be easy to implement. Show me where it was an easy job! It will be the hardest work of both souls and hands. A difficult path of compromise. And this, perhaps, will burn not a single political career.
“Because here it is possible and necessary to do unpopular things that may not be approved by society. Though they are acceptable from the point of view of statehood during some time.
“Or such steps may be understood by society, but … To understand and forgive are different things. Therefore, stop looking back at political careers: we should be statesmen!
“There is no other way.”