August 12, 2015

Visiting BINTEL — V. Vasylenko

Vasylenko Volodymyr Andriyovych

Ukrainian lawyer-expert in foreign affairs

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine

Professor, Doctor of Law

Honored Lawyer of Ukraine












”We must defend ourselves, relying first of all on our own strength. We must not hope that someone will do our work for us!”

— Volodymyr Andriyovych, you were a Consultant of the Verkhovna Rada, when a draft Declaration on the State Sovereignty of Ukraine was being prepared. In fact, you, together with like-minded people can be regarded masons who had laid the foundations of the independent statehood of Ukraine. I wonder who exactly initiated the preparation of the project, what were the principles to create a group of experts for its development, and how much time its development was supposed to take?

— This is a long-standing history. But if you're interested... In March 1990, elections were held for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Those were the first free elections, in which were eligible to participate, apart from representatives of the CPSU and the created by it social organizations, also members of informal public entities, such as the People's Movement of Ukraine for Perestroika, “Memorial”, “Prosvita” (“Enlightenment”). The elections were held on the basis of competing when one parliamentary seat was claimed by several candidates. The new Verkhovna Rada began its work May 15, 1990. That is when and why the idea emerged that it was necessary to adopt the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. At that time I really was a Consultant to the Ukrainian Parliament for legal matters. I note that in the Verkhovna Rada was formed a National Council of 128 members elected by the People's Movement of Ukraine and other informal social organizations. Circa the end of April 1990, on the eve of the first Session of the Verkhovna Rada of the 12th convocation, MP Ivan Zayats meets me and says that it is necessary to prepare a document on the State Sovereignty of Ukraine. And he asked if I could make the project of such a document? Ivan Zayats insisted that this was the Law of the State Sovereignty of Ukraine. I answer that in these circumstances it would be the best to offer to adopt the declaration. In my opinion, the provisions of the program for the development of the sovereign state of Ukraine would be best to take the form of a declaration, as the development and adoption of the law on this issue would cause strong resistance of the communist majority, dominant in the Parliament. Therefore, a better chance of success had a document in the form of a declaration. And from the point of view of the requirements of legal technique, declaration is more appropriate for the formation of program norms of development of Ukraine as a sovereign state.

— On the model of, as it is now fashionable to say, the road map?

— Yes, a kind of a road sign. In a word, I was a supporter of the Declaration, and had an opportunity to write the first variant of it. However, at the urging of the now deceased I. Zayats, Petro Martynenko — a scientist, my colleague at the university, the future judge of the Constitutional Court — also prepared a draft law on state sovereignty. However, later only the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine was developed, the final text of which, after intense debates, was adopted July 16, 1990.

— Did the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine differ from similar documents adopted in other former Soviet republics?

— Yes, there were differences, and quite substantial ones. For example, in the Declarations adopted in the Baltic republics, there were provisions on their secession from the USSR. The those days' resolutions of the Parliament of the Georgian SSR provided for the resumption of the Georgian statehood through negotiations. As for Russia and some other former Soviet republics, their documents provided for preservation of the Soviet Union.

— Therefore, already then someone was eager to continue ruling while some were happy with the rope of a vassal...

— Adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian of the Declaration of Sovereignty of Ukraine was the program of gradual development of an independent national Ukrainian state. Implementation of the Declaration inevitably led to the resumption of the independent statehood of Ukraine. And so it happened. And at the time of the famous Moscow, in August 1991, putsch, Ukraine had already severed ties with the Union. It had stopped, for example, paying taxes to the Union budget, leaving the money for itself and had refused to sign the Treaty of Alliance, which had the aim to revive the Soviet Union. Mind you, it was Ukraine's desire to be independent that caused the coup and accelerated the collapse of the USSR.

— In 1992, you were appointed Ambassador of Ukraine in the Benelux countries. How did you feel in that role, representing the young Ukrainian state in Europe?

— Indeed, in 1992 there was a Decree signed by the President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk on my appointment as Ambassador. But I began my work in Brussels only in 1993, and worked until May 1995. At the same time I was the Representative of Ukraine to the European Community and NATO. In 1993, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) was created, which included representatives of NATO member countries and of countries not members of NATO, which had expressed a desire to cooperate with the Alliance. Such was at that time the model of cooperation with NATO on a regular basis. At that time there was no separate Mission of Ukraine to NATO, that is why I was a Ukrainian Representative in that Council.

— What was the most important result of our cooperation with the EU and NATO?

— In 1994, Ukraine signed a bilateral Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation with the EU, and in 1995 it joined the multilateral NATO's Partnership for Peace Program. These documents constituted the regulatory basis for further development of Ukraine's cooperation with both, the EU and NATO.

— And how did the Russians react to that?

— In Brussels, at the time there was a separate Russian Embassy in the Kingdom of Belgium and the separate Representation at the European Communities. The Russian Embassy was headed by a career Soviet diplomat Nikolai Afanasyevskiy, and the Mission to the EU — by Ivan Silaev, the last prime minister of the former Soviet Union and the first head of government of the Russian Federation. My personal relations with him did not go beyond the official framework and were quite correct. While on their part, especially on the part of N. Afanasyevskiy's, there were quite annoying attempts to organize joint activities with the participation of representatives of the CIS countries. I usually refused to take part in such events. In October 1994, the Russian Ambassador in Belgium and at the same time its Representative in the NACC became Vitaliy Churkin. Currently, he is known as the Russian Federation's Representative in the UN Security Council.

— Did he continue the policy of his predecessor?

— Even in those days he was set up anti-Ukrainian, trying to show his disregard. Between us there were clashes during the meetings of the NACC, especially when the issues of nuclear disarmament of Ukraine were discussed. Ukraine's attitude to the first Russian-Chechen war, questions of our country's participation in the CIS and the succession of debts and assets of the former USSR only added to the sharpness of relations with Russian diplomats.

— Please, specific with this point!

— I remember the Decree on my appointment as Ambassador of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Belgium was signed by L. Kravchuk in April 1992, and I handed the credentials to the King of Belgium in March 1993. At that period of time I was actively engaged in addressing issues of personnel and structure of our Embassy, the development of the fundamental duties of its staff and... “wheedling money” for the purchase of the embassy premises and so on. Frankly speaking, I had no desire to go there immediately, because, first of all, we needed a decent building, suitable for the normal work of the Embassy of Ukraine. Especially because it was the embassy of our country in a geopolitically important place in the world where Ukraine had not been present before.

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs Anatoliy Zlenko hurried me up: “Go quickly, we have an agreement with Russia on allocation of embassy facilities for us". He was referring to the signed in June 1992 in Dagomys Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on further development of bilateral relations. Let me remind you, the Agreement was signed on the part of Ukraine by President L. Kravchuk, Head of the Verkhovna Rada I. Plyushch and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers V. Fokin, and on the part of Russia — by President B. Yeltsin, Head of the Supreme Soviet R. Khazbulatov and the Acting Chairman of the Council of Ministers Yegor Gaidar. It is unique and possibly the only one in the world practice case where a bilateral agreement was signed by three highest leaders from each side. It had to ensure the unconditional implementation of the Agreement by the parties. Its point 13, which was formulated by me, as a member of the Ukrainian delegation, called for “the transfer to Ukraine into its ownership the property of the former USSR abroad by allocating in the nearest future of separate houses for accommodation and normal functioning of diplomatic and consular missions”.

— And how was this Agreement implemented afterwards?

— Upon my arrival in Brussels I hear that in the center of the Belgian capital, near the US embassy, there is a sufficiently large vacant building of the former Soviet Trade Mission, since shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, new premises had been built for that mission in a different location.

At my request, I was received by the Russian Ambassador Nikolai Afanasyevskiy. It was in the morning. As soon as our meeting began, a trolley was rolled into the room with a lot of bottles. Realizing that this is a “test” for me, I tell my counterpart that I do not drink intoxicating beverages before midday. N. Afanasyevskiy appreciated my joke, and we were back to the conversation. Referring to the Dagomys Agreement, I asked him to help in resolving the issue with the place for the Embassy of Ukraine. He began explaining that the former premises of the Soviet Trade Mission were quite run-down and needed very large funds for their repair. I politely asked for permission to inspect it. Then N. Afanasyevskiy explained that the permission can be given only by I. Silayev because the building was on the balance of the Representation of Russia in the EU. I asked him to facilitate a meeting with I. Silaev, and N. Afanasyevskiy immediately telephoned him.

On the same day, we met with I. Silaev. I was received with good grace, but without proposals for tasting. Also he began to persuade me that the building had been abandoned and was in need of major repairs, and by his decision alone he could not pass the premises to Ukraine. To do this, the Centre's order is needed. But he did allow to inspect the premises.

The next day, along with the engineer from our diaspora Mr. Khodorovskyy, we entered the house and saw that it did need some repairs, but not major ones. You should know that it was an old building of the palace-type, fully suitable for housing a diplomatic mission. By the way, today it houses the office of the Russian Federation's Mission to the European Union.

Having returned to Kyiv, I again raised the question of the allocation of funds for the purchase of premises for our Embassy in Brussels, because I did not believe that Russia would fulfill its obligations under the Dagomys Agreement. And again I heard the entreaties of the need to go to Brussels, to somehow settle and wait for the Russians to fulfill their obligation under the Agreement.

Soon a compromise solution was achieved, that I was going to Brussels after the decision on the placement of the Embassy of Ukraine during the meeting of the CIS Heads of State in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), which had to be held October 10, 1992. By agreement with A. Zlenko, I personally asked the President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk to sign with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a specific agreement on transfer to Ukraine of the particular building at a particular address in Brussels. Leonid Makarovych did not agree, saying, we had already signed such an agreement, and it is not right to address Boris Yeltsin with again with such a proposal. “Leonid Makarovych, — I say, — that Agreement was general, without specifics. A new one has to be the implementation of the joint framework agreement". L. Kravchuk shakes his head in disagreement and agrees that an agreement can be signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs A. Zlenko and A. Kozyrev, because the conversation is about the property, managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation!

— And at the meeting in Bishkek, the Russians gave their consent?

— ...Our representatives returned from Bishkek dejected. It turns out, the Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said that he was willing to sign the proposed agreement, which had been properly issued and was ready for signature, but on condition that the RF Vice-Prime Minister A. Shokhin agreed on it. When the members of both delegations came to the Russian Vice Prime Minister A. Shokhin, who participated in the summit in Bishkek, the latter, in the presence of A. Zlenko and other members of the Ukrainian delegation, told off Kozyrev, shouting: “Remember, Russia has never given away anything it owns and it never will! “... So I was right from the beginning, when I proposed not to ask for something from the Russians, but to buy the building for our money. Eventually, the money for the purchase of the premises of our Embassy in Brussels was allocated, with the active assistance of the Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine Ihor Rafailovych Yukhnovskyi.

— So, already the very first steps of the Ukrainian diplomacy in relations with Russia were difficult, and showed that we always need to solve our problems ourselves. In the circle of your responsibilities of the Ambassador to Belgium, then there were matters, with which at the time our peacekeepers had to deal. I remember the difficulties were very often spoken about.

— Sure. But the problems that were quite relevant at that time, were solved. I cooperated with our Ukrainian peacekeepers well. I think everything was fulfilled well

— Did you have to work in the International Criminal Tribunal later?

— Yes, I mean the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I worked there a little later, in 2002-2005. It was created in 1999 by the decision of the UN Security Council, it has its own charter, under which judges are elected. Each member of the United Nations proposes a candidate.

— To what extent was that activity interesting in professional terms?

— It was a very difficult job. Frankly speaking, I, as a judge, did not feel too comfortable psychologically. After all, throughout the working day one had to listen to witnesses of war crimes in the war in the Balkans. One hears how people were tortured, bullied, maimed. I had to participate in the consideration of five cases. This, I tell you, is emotionally difficult, and the experience you gain is not easy, and it can't be uninteresting professionally.

— Now our military are countering the enemy in the East of our country. And there are people trying to accuse them of being not resolute enough, acting not properly…

— I should not say so. It all depends on the determination of our top state leadership. And, I think, on our senior officers' from the highest echelon being prepared to the conduct of combat actions.

— What do you think about some European politicians' attempt to draw an analogy between the events in the former Yugoslavia and in the Crimea?

— No, this statement is absolutely wrong. In Yugoslavia, there was a process of disintegration of the country. The spontaneous disintegration of the country, in the course of which there began fighting between former Yugoslavian republics based on ethnic issues. In the case of Ukraine — it is different, it is recognized by the world as a sovereign state, attacked by Russia with weapon.

— The Russian leadership always claims that there are no their troops on the territory of Ukraine.

— They are trying to avoid sanctions of the international community in order not to take responsibility for their criminal actions. But the whole world knows the truth.

— How can you explain very shortly the Russian military aggression against Ukraine?

— Russia's aggression against Ukraine is not an accidental phenomenon. This is a continuation of the traditional aggressive policy, which was common to all the stages of the development of the Russian Empire. Russia's ultimate goal is total destruction of Ukraine as an ethnic unity and a subject of international law and geopolitical reality. As the events unfolding in the course of Russia's planned military attack show, even under adverse conditions Ukraine managed to give a fitting rebuff to the aggressor.

We must defend ourselves, relying first of all on our own strength. One should not hope that someone will do this work for us. To counter Russia, Ukraine must develop an effective security sector and powerful Armed Forces as its component. The Armed Forces of Ukraine should be able to cause Russia's tangible losses. Only in this case we can hope for its giving up attacks on the independence of Ukraine.

An extremely important factor in the development of security of Ukraine is its cooperation with NATO, which should develop into Ukraine's membership in the Alliance.

— Thank you for answering my questions.

Recorded by Oleh Makhno