12 October 2016 Interview to Ukraina.ru
Dmitry Firtash: It’s Time to Sew Ukraine TogetherPoroshenko’s betrayal, attacks on Inter TV channel, national reconciliation and economic resurrection plans discussed in an interview given to Ukraina.ru by Dmitry Firtash – one Ukraine’s leading and most influential businessmen, head of the national employers association. Mr. Firtash, 51, was born in the Western part of Ukraine, in Ternopil region. Today he owns major assets in fuel and energy, in chemical industry and media owning Ukraine’s largest TV station Inter. On March 25, 2014, a month after the Maidan events and right on the eve of presidential elections in Ukraine, Mr. Firtash had a privy meeting with Petro Poroshenko and Vitaliy Klitschko in the capital of Austria. This was something that Sergey Liovochkin, the ex-Chief of Staff of the former president Yanukovych also participating in that meeting revealed under oath a year later testifying in Vienna court. Firtash talked Klitschko, then the most popular Ukrainian politician, into withdrawing from the presidential race in exchange for a Kiev Mayor’s office. The objective was to prevent from winning the supreme post by Yuliya Tymoshenko, to block chances for non-systemic radicals and to secure Poroshenko’s victory after the first round of elections. That was exactly what happened. However, Firtash had to stay in Vienna longer than he had expected. Subject to an FBI request, he was apprehended on charges of corruption activities. Vienna court rendered a complete acquittal decision noting therewith a political bias permeating the accusation. The case is not closed though. Iskander Khisamov, the Editor-in-chief of Ukraina.ru went to Vienna to talk to Dmitry Firtash and the conversation turned out to be quite an exciting one.
When do you want to return home?
But based on real circumstances?
Tentatively in November a hearing of the court of appeal will be held. We have been preparing very seriously and I am ready to any decision.
You mean it won’t be just a formality to merely reconfirm the Vienna court’s decision acquitting you?
No, it’s not all that simple. The party in the proceeding confronting us is by far not the weakest state and all of its resources have been duly mobilized. They are trying real hard. Just imagine: it is the first time in the history of modern Europe that their request was declined, more so on the grounds of political motivation.
Plus, in connection with Ukraine…
And we proved our case in court.
We will speak about Ukraine later. But what’s going on all in all? The US is being after you because someone, as they believe, bribed somebody in India ten years ago. Why would they do it? And why are they in a position to do it?
Americans are referring to the company which doesn’t in any way belong to me. I’ve never been to the US and I have nothing to do with it, fortunately. Moreover, there is no criminal case on this one in India, there is no investigation of any facts of someone being caught red-handed at accepting or giving a bribe. It’s all made up. They were looking for just anything against me and all they could do was staging a case.
What will you do if you win the case?
I win the case and the next thing I do is flying home to Kiev.
Do you expect any problems in your homeland?
Technically and officially, the Ukrainian authorities are unable to charge me with anything.
As I recall, when you announced your return to Kiev late last year, it looked like they were about to introduce martial law there.
What the government did back then was beyond any reason. They blocked the sky for private jets, they fetched several trucks of camouflaged and armed personnel to Borispol airport. And the courtiers living on US Embassy’s grants started squealing that I was going to hide from American justice in Kiev and that turning me in to the US would be a good idea to keep Americans happy. I mean it was really hilarious. But the main question is: if you are so desperate to put me behind bars, why all these means of intimidation? Just let me in, that’s it. So, this is another illustration of the fact that they have nothing against me.
And who was pulling the strings?
I think that it was the US Ambassador who was the key figure, it was a matter of honor for him. That is why some people in the government couldn’t allow my return to happen. More so, the second of December (2015) was the date for which the Congress of the Federation of Employers was scheduled and I had to speak there. Obviously I didn’t expect such a hubbub to be raised.
So, it was the Ambassador’s idea to block the air space?
He would set goals. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian government is not independent in making decisions, it is being controlled from outside. A sort of a collective straw body pretending they have controls.
What are Americans afraid of? Do they fear that your presence might change the Ukrainian political profile?
They understand that I will be doing something but they don’t know what exactly I am up to and they can’t control me. This is enough. I know that they have been pulling off a PR campaign against me. But they still have no causes to furnish against me. They didn’t back then and now – all the more so.
Inter Is Against the Party of War
Is it possible that the arson at Inter and attacks on its offices may be in any way associated with this subject?
No, this is a purely Ukrainian story. When they accuse Inter of being pro-Russian these are absolutely false statements. The newsroom is even working in a reverse direction perhaps. The problem stems from Arseniy Yatseniuk’s and Arsen Avakov’s People’s Front party while President Poroshenko kind of mediates the conflict. Why? You should be clear on the fact that these are the people who assumed responsibility for the war. They told everyone how they would be marching down Sevastopol streets, they pledged a fast victory. And when Poroshenko was being elected President, he was voted for as the president of peace. The East of Ukraine voted for him too because people there wanted peace. All this allowed him to win in the first round.
But the war still broke out. What does the People’s Front want from Inter anyway?
First of all, due to Inter, their ratings are zero or even below zero today. Because Inter’s newsbreaks reveal on a daily basis what the guys do and how they lie. It tells how they stir up the war and how they make up more and more lies. Clearly, they would be annoyed. They can’t find a way to stop criticism and couldn’t come up with a better idea than putting a newsroom full of people on fire.
Thus you do agree with a statement that Inter takes a more critical stance towards the government than other stations?
Absolutely. Inter perhaps is the only large broadcaster criticizing the government. Studio 1+1 doesn’t do that because the network belongs to Igor Kolomoisky who is in good terms with Poroshenko and Yatseniuk and Avakov. And when Inter’s newsroom was put on fire, what was the first media outlet available for Arsen Avakov’s comment? Studio 1+1. That’s where the Minister of the Interiors spoke offering in particular his adverse remarks concerning Inter.
Is it fair to assume then that the hypotheses of raider usurpation of the station are erroneous? There’s no business involved, it’s all over the information policy?
Look: for Ukraine, Inter is a number one button on their remotes, whatever they say. People watch it: the concert show on occasion of the Victory Day, the Cross procession for peace and many other things that other broadcasters don’t show but people want to see. Our opponents would love to gain control over this button, no matter how: whether by seizing it, or by buying it, or by intimidating us. It doesn’t work though. And what they did was an act of sheer despair.
In other words, Inter stands on the way of the party of war?
Yes, they’ve messed up with the war way too far. If they achieve peace today, there will be more questions to them than answers. They will fail the next elections, they don’t face any political future but what they do face is responsibility. So, as long as the war is on and the enemy is out there, they can survive.
Yes, the logic is clear. As soon as these people are out of power, they will have to face a court trial, no matter who takes over from them.
Any new government taking over will investigate at least four key issues. Number one: how could Crimea be surrendered? Number two: fire in Odessa. Number three: Maidan. The investigations underway today are just props. They are trying to hide the truth realizing that they will be held responsible. And number four – Donbass and the war.
The questions will definitely be asked: who was issuing instructions and orders. And most importantly: they wouldn’t call the spade the spade. No martial law was declared…
But maybe the US will help them stay adrift?
I believe Americans are quite pragmatic people. They won’t struggle for anyone, they will look at what is to their benefit and what balance of power with Russia will exist as at the time. If they see that there is an option which is to their advantage in any way they will switch promptly enough and will support another political force because they too realize that moving on with these folks is a way to a dead end.
Could it be that they are interested in precisely this dead end? Obama says straightforwardly that Russia is an enemy and must be confronted. And Ukraine’s current regime is against Russia which is why it has to be sustained as is.
When I say that war is no longer popular in Ukraine they, for some reason, think that I am part of the pro-Trump campaign. But I do sincerely believe that the US doesn’t need an enemy. I am sure that inasmuch as they keep pursuing their current policy, in five years from now Ukrainians will most passionately hate the US and Americans.
Today it sounds weird because the government keeps back-scratching the US as it is their happiness and hope. But remember this: it’s not before long that Ukrainians will attribute all of their mishaps – tariffs, unemployment, failed reforms, etc. – to the US. And there will be no nation hating America more passionately than Ukrainians. It’s just a matter of time.
We Are Fighting For the Market Stretching From Lisbon To Vladivostok Yes, the hangover will be tough. But one has to rise from any bottom. Last year you hosted an international forum Ukraine Tomorrow here in Vienna. A certain plan of curbing the crisis and the country’s modernization was worked out, the establishment of the Reconstruction Fund and the Agency for Modernization of Ukraine was announced. How has this project been advancing?
I should emphasize that we invited not only Ukrainian and European scholars, experts and business people. Among attendees there was, in particular, Alexander Shokhin, president of Russia’s Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs too. I am convinced that where politicians can’t sit down at a negotiations table, business people have to start talking. From the part of Ukrainian politicians we heard lots of indignant rhetoric. I don’t care. I am sure that remedying the existing situation is impossible without Russia. At the end of the day, Ukrainians wrote the Modernization Program for Ukraine jointly with Europeans. The first part of it is focused on a detailed analysis of where Ukraine is at this point in time and what minimum development indices must be referenced. It was like a cold shower. If the GDP growth rate is below 5 percent, the country has no future. We can’t sustain the military, we can’t pay pensions, we can’t do anything. I mean, it’s not evolution, it’s not just living a normal life – it’s about survival.
Based on these premises we drafted the Modernization Program. We engaged the National Academy of Sciences, leading European experts. We had a round of discussions with both employers and unions. We ended up with a massive and detailed document encompassing a period up to 2025. And on behalf of the Federation of Employers which I led it was presented to the president and prime minister of Ukraine last fall. We estimated that it would take US$300 billion to get the industry, the economy back to work.
Speaking of which, the government of Ukraine initiates a committee for the industry restoration…
I call it industry salvation. Today, one third of companies are loss-making, many of them are either at the brink of shut-down or have halted already. It takes examining each company’s case individually and working on restarting them. For instance, Antonov aerospace concern will not build a single aircraft until the end of this year as components supplies were discontinued due to the breach of relations with Russia. These games must be ceased and direct negotiations with Russians must be resumed. Obviously, neither the Minsk arrangements nor the Normandy Four will address the economic difficulties. Whether or not we like it, we have to sit down and talk. A solution on all issues must be found. Even a solution to the Crimean dilemma can be found.
I can only guess the Ukrainian government’s response to your speaking about normalizing economic ties with Russia…
We are very straightforward in our saying that we are fighting for the market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. We equally need European, Russian and Chinese investments. We need markets and partners. The Russian market is of paramount importance. Whatever they say we must take this advantage. Clearly, our government is not prepared to discuss it. But Ukraine is not confined to these people in offices. Sobering up is inevitable – whether today or tomorrow. I am sure that by 2019, the political inclinations and political landscape will be quite different. Whoever takes over will need something as a reference point and our Modernization Program based on its vision of Ukraine in 20 years will be quite instrumental. Yet I hope that the acting government will realize that going on with game wars and ignoring national interests and economy laws must be stopped. Once Kolomoisky said a very wise phrase: the life is a supermarket where you pick anything you like but there’s always a cash desk before you exit.
Except he forgot that this rule applies to him too but otherwise the phrase is absolutely right. They will pay. We don’t know when but they will approach the cash desk once.
They All Have Same Ideology: To Cut Off A Slice Your message about Lisbon and Vladivostok rests on the understanding that the Minsk process has to be completed, doesn’t it?
The current parliament is unable to approve the laws enabling the Minsk agreements implementation. Both the People’s Front and Poroshenko’s Bloc are too deeply entangled in the war. Initiating such talks will mean an end to their political careers. What is needed is either early elections or a radical reset of the parliament including new arrangements, political alliances and so on. My estimate of such a reset likelihood is 50 percent.
Such a high probability?
I hope it is possible. One thing I know for sure though is that we have to sit down at a negotiations table with Russians, to discuss issues and to warrant to people in Donbass that things will improve. I am a man of business and my attitudes are quite pragmatic: where there is a goal there is a way. That’s why my message is: time to start direct negotiations. Somebody may not like it, someone may be hurt. According to sociological polls, over 60 % of Ukrainians have a negative perception of the Russian government. But this is a result of TV activity: the people have been told that all their misfortunes come from Russians. The government at the same time can’t admit that they are to blame.
Then, something needs to be mended in this box?
It is the government that needs mending in the first instance. We must devise an ideology aiming at sewing the country together. Everything disintegrating us needs to be put away leaving only the things that unite us. We have heroes both in the East and in the West, and likewise victims can be found both in the East and in the West. No one wins in this war, either party will be a loser.
National reconciliation, mutual repentance – virtually every successful nation has been through it, including the US. Those that failed were erased from the world map. It is all clear but how can you make it happen in Ukraine? What political prerequisites must be there?
I don’t see such prerequisites in Ukraine today. Even if early elections take place, almost all of the present MPs will return to their seats. The problem is within us. It was not Putin who instilled corruption nor did he break the country into three grades. Our Ukrainian politicians did. Why? Each wanted to have their own playfield. So much blood has been shed, so much grief and sorrow in the country but politicians can’t settle down. And time and again, the elections are based on the East vs. West principle and people are broken down into grades and into friends or foes.
Political technologists call the consolidation of own constituents…
Yuliya Tymoshenko, PPB and others will enter the next parliament on a crest of the same “Western” wave. The Opposition Bloc will capitalize on Eastern regions as they are the only growth resource for them. But they will under no circumstances be let into the ruling majority. At the same time they all have the same ideology – to cut off their slice. Maybe they do understand that they are doing evil but they can’t act otherwise. They can’t say what I say because they care about their constituents’ numbers and about their ratings.
They Won’t Make The Black Square Happen Democracy imperfectness… This leads us back to the television and media subject. Voters’ attitudes, politicians’ ratings, universal human values originate exactly from media outlets. At the same time though, the majority of largest broadcasters do not belong to either politicians or parties. They clearly are expected to play to the rules and experience pressure – you would know it better than anyone. But still is there a way to alter the agenda?
The nation has to be reunited, the country has to be sewn together and that’s what Inter has been doing. For example, it broadcast the Cross procession for peace. People from the East and from the West walked with a prayer for the country’s unity, for ending the bloodshed. What’s so bad about it? But politicians demanded that it should not be shown. I said: yes, we will show it! We can’t come to terms on this one as we understand things differently. I want to live in this country, I want to spend my life sunset in my native village. I don’t want to go to the US like Yatseniuk. He takes pictures of himself wearing shorts in Washington DC. I would have understood pictures like that made in Donetsk but why would you do that in the US? We know well enough that you are there, what’s so new about it? Who is this picture intended for? My point is that the job that needs to be done today is slow-paced, dangerous and hard, a brick-by-brick effort, but it needs to be done. It is the people who assess this effort. The Cross procession I mentioned featured phenomenal ratings: one third of Ukrainians watched it. And my message to my opponents is this: here is your opinion and here is what people think. That is why they wanted to turn Inter into a “black square”, i.e. into a screen with no picture. I will not tell you how broadcasting was ensured after the arson and attacks on Inter. For three days people were being besieged in the TV center and couldn’t leave. They are no rebels, no warriors, they are not supposed to fight. But they did what they did because it was important that viewers don’t have a black square on their screens and that we remain heard and seen. Trust me, Inter will withstand everything. Yes, it’s tough, yes, we are being terrorized but that’s the price.
To survive, to get by?
Look: our strategy is not to just survive, our goal is to win. In order to survive you don’t have to fight, all you need is to adjust to the right people and you’ll be their champion, you’ll be happy, free from any pressure and secured against any seizures. They do it not because I am good or bad. Our distinctions are based on the ideological rather than on commercial grounds. I would always find ways to reach an agreement in business but here things are way different. If we can advocate our position it will motivate others accordingly.
Who do you mean: owners of major TV networks? Rinat Akhmetov, Victor Pinchuk, Igor Kolomoisky?
Anyone including politicians. The situation is changing with the presidential elections two and a half years away.
Many talk of early elections however.
Whether or not they’ll take place remains to be seen. What is clear however is that Petro Poroshenko won’t step off his office until the 2019 elections.
But until 2019 the country may be driven to the edge.
Here is what I’ll say: when something has been dropped from a balcony you can’t catch it. It will break into pieces. It makes more sense to think how you are going to put it back together. One shouldn’t set impracticable goals and plans like at any rate organizing early elections or a revolt, all the more so as much as I hate revolts.
All these things may happen by themselves.
Anything can happen. And some of these aspirations are obvious. These people, these ‘insurgents’ who I dislike have to be talked to as well. And they should be told this: come on guys, stay away from becoming hostage of the games somebody wishes to play, don’t do stupid things you will later regret. After all, we’ve seen one revolution, we’ve seen Maidan, we’ve seen war – is it really not enough and do you really want more of this?
Meanwhile, you are considered to be one of the authors of the ‘President Poroshenko’ project. Sergey Liovochkin, the ex-Chief of Presidential Staff and your business partner, testified in Vienna court last April saying that prior to the 2014 presidential elections you had met with Poroshenko and Vitaliy Klitschko here.
I can’t comment on this question as it is directly related to my court proceeding. In general terms though I might say that at that time we thought that Poroshenko was less aggressive and less prone to the war. He promised to instill peace. But he lied to everyone across the board. We had regarded Poroshenko to be a lesser evil but he turned out to be a greater one.
What is the status of your business in Ukraine at large, what’s going on there?
Today’s business in Ukraine is a virtual notion, it doesn’t exist. And it refers not only to me, it’s typical of the whole country. Everybody suffers losses, everybody is struggling to survive.
Are you experiencing any special kind of pressure?
Of course we are. We have problems on a daily basis – either at the parliament or with regulatory agencies. But we are good at fighting for ourselves