Oleksandr Kornienko, First Deputy Speaker of Parliament
Problems with our northern neighbor may end much later than our term in office
03.01.2024 17:17

Investigative journalist Serhiy Leshchenko asked Oleksandr Kornienko, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, about the most pressing political issues in Ukraine today.

They discussed how the European colleagues of Ukrainian MPs react to the massive shelling of Ukraine, what problems we will face on our way to the European Union, what the parliament thinks about the mobilization of MPs themselves, and who will have the highest electoral chance after the war.


- Recently, one of the most massive shelling of Ukraine took place, and missile attacks continue. How does the second person in the Ukrainian parliament feel about this?

- We always tell our foreign partners that there are no first, second, or third persons when Russia is carrying out huge attacks... And I have already written to several of my foreign colleagues, deputies and vice-speakers. And we are now organizing a flash mob in all the chats of parliamentary delegations. We are reminding everywhere that we are not alone in Palestine. Because the main narratives in international circles have recently been devoted to Israel. And we ask, if this is Europe, where are your shells? The glorious million shells, of which we have seen only 300,000. If anyone works with congressmen, they remind us that we need to get the aid package approved. So we try to attract attention right away.

The reaction is always predictable. The Baltic countries, for example, say: yes, yes, we need to put even more pressure, let's put even more pressure. Those who are more neutral say it's bad, it's violence. In fact, there is a very large number of victims [we are talking about the victims of the massive shelling on December 29, 2023] This is a continuation of this Russian logic.

- What is the logic?

- This terror.

- There was an article in the New York Times that Putin seemed to be ready for negotiations. And a day later, an article in the Japanese newspaper Nikkei says that this is actually a sham. He told the Chinese leader that he was ready for five years of war.

- This is their perverse logic. I write to my foreign colleagues that the shelling is a terrible illustration of these articles. There were a very large number of missiles [on December 29] and this has nothing to do with the fact that the aggressor country may have some good will for something other than destroying Ukrainians, Ukraine.

- I have read Ivan Yakovyna, a blogger, who says that the Kremlin's logic is precisely to undermine the Ukrainian people's determination to resist, and to force the people to demand negotiations and a truce from the President, the government and the parliament at any cost. That is, to create the impossibility of living in a war, so that you, as politicians, would agree to a truce, ceasefire, etc.

- If we look back at last year, I think this tactic of Putin's did not work. During that year without electricity, without water, the resolve of the Ukrainian people did not wane. Another thing is that it will soon be two years since the full-scale invasion. And the Kremlin's calculations that everyone will get tired have some argumentation. But I think people will not get tired.

- The question is both simple and complex, but everyone asks it to each other. I'll ask you the same question: when will this war end, in your opinion?

- It will definitely end when we are strong enough to achieve our tactical and strategic goals, which the whole nation sees as regards the return of its territorial integrity, the return of people, and the restoration of justice. After all that has happened and is happening, no one needs a "victory" in which Russia will continue to sit at the table with everyone. We hear some bloggers and young politicians suggesting that Russia and Ukraine should negotiate something with someone...

- Are such sentiments maturing in society or not? We need to agree on something to stop this horror at last. What do you see?

- I don't see any such sentiments. Everyone is tired, it's true. There are a lot of hot-button issues to divide people. And, unfortunately, Russian propaganda uses them very seriously. My colleagues from the European Parliament came to visit, and they set up a temporary commission (in our language) to counter propaganda back in 2016, I think in the last convocation of the European Parliament after the annexation of Crimea. And we discussed with them - in 2016, there was no such development of video hosting as there is now, and there was no TikTok as a video platform. And we discussed how propaganda can now be strengthened by the fact that there is a new popular tool.

This is one of the problems. That's why it's very difficult to talk about some kind of centralized propaganda in a good sense. We have a channel, we have accumulated all the resources there (Single Marathon). It broadcasts verified information and conveys some messages that are important to the state. But at the same time, an absolutely complete independent story has grown in Telegram. And there we can say that we have parity - I believe that Ukrainian Telegram has grown in contrast to the Russian one. There is a huge discussion among media professionals about the quality of information and anonymity. The main thing is that it is pro-Ukrainian. But there is a question about TikTok, because there is no such thing as a pro-Ukrainian TikTok. It is about everything in the world. And it is very easy to manipulate. It seems to be telling the truth, but there is such an emphasis on it...

Or it's some kind of software, as with this newest series, which was popular.

- "The Boy's Word"?

- "The Boy's Word", "The Boy's Heart". Of course, there is a problem here that we have nothing to oppose. I'm not sure that we have the capacity in Ukraine to make a series that would be interesting for teenagers.

- And there is a public demand not to spend money on TV series, but to spend it on drones.

- So there was a public discussion that maybe we should spend money on it, but let someone who knows how to shoot it do it. This is where we run into capacity. I don't remember any good TV series for teenagers in the entire history of independence. Do you remember?

- I can't remember.

- And teenagers are now the most populated age group in Ukraine. Because we had a demographic boom after Yushchenko in 2004-2008, and until 2013 we had a good birth rate. These are people who are now under 20 years old. And we need to work with this category. And Russia is working with them through TikTok. It doesn't tell them to be against Ukraine, but it says, "Don't pay attention, there's politics, something is happening, some kind of war... Well, yes, it's scary there, missiles are flying, but don't worry, play Dota. And then go study in Poland, because you won't be drafted into the army there. This is a problem, because in two years we will not be discussing the law on mobilization, we will be discussing how we will rebuild the country and restore the economy without people.

- Do you have an idea how to counteract this?

- No, I don't. We have a huge challenge, ideologically and strategically, our country has never seen such a challenge - how to completely rebuild the work with its citizens (primarily young people) from informational to ideological, imposing additional factors on it. Accession to the EU, for example. We now need to explain to everyone very clearly what it will be, how it will be. And this should be explained to schoolchildren in the first place, because they will live there. You and I will live there a little less, God bless us, but still... Those who are now in the 5th grade - they will become EU citizens immediately after we join. When we graduated from school, we immediately received two passports.

- An optimistic forecast....

- We understand that it should not be 20 years. It will always be a certain conflict, because because of the war with Russia, we must have a strong defense of national interests. And because of joining the EU, we have to have a high enough level of "sabotage". And society will be constantly shaken. The case of the legislation on national minorities has shown that when we defend ours strongly against everyone, as we have been doing since the late Petro Poroshenko, it turns out that we have violated European rules.

- I understand that the difficult adoption of laws in order to become a negotiating country is only the beginning... You will have to work very hard.

- In fact, the advantage is that we have started with such fundamental things, and then we will talk about judicial reform. And we have already accomplished some of these things. We have adopted a regulation on the Constitutional Court that no other member state has.

- Is it the selection of judges...?

- Yes, with foreign experts. But when we get to the economic sections, there will be a problem. Taxes. This will be a very huge discussion with colleagues from Europe about markets. We already have a demo on the timber market. When we banned exports, they won in arbitration against us, saying that we banned it wrongly, we should let it go, close this ban. And now we are looking for some third option, so that there is an auction and some kind of regulation that will not allow us to lose all the timber.

For the EU, in addition to the economy, inclusiveness and the search for common solutions and agreements are very important. Otherwise, if someone feels oppressed, they will want to fight. They did not want a repeat of the war.

- Is the story that Orban will be expelled from the EU, suspended from membership, deprived of his voting rights more of a speculation?

- I think that this is not the style of European politics. They will try to make him a little bit like in this picture: the animals are standing, Piglet is floating and they are hitting him with a stick. This is a meme. No, there is a different policy. Especially since there is a very serious influence of pan-European parties, pan-European political movements. And if we talk about Orban, he is part of the same coalition with the right-wing conservatives. They have always cooperated quite deeply with the British Conservatives who are in power. Now members of this Conservative Party International are winning little by little in some countries. In Sweden, for example. And all this must be taken into account. We have all seen how this works. The influence of several countries at the same time - and Orban goes out for coffee, and the right decision is made.


- Will anyone leave the parliament when the law on mobilization is being considered? I think the most expected thing in society now is to hear the government's position: what kind of law is it, who wrote it, what will be the final version, what do people expect?

- We heard 2 whole briefings - one on the marathon, the other live, by the head of the Zaluzhnyi. And he confirmed one way or another - at least, he did not deny it - that we need people for the army to continue fighting and defending ourselves. On the other hand, we have long heard in society and from the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff that we need to somehow change our approaches to recruiting, to make it more modern. The President was right to say that this should be discussed on the platform of the specialized committee, and it will be. And I think that by the next meeting of the Verkhovna Rada, which we cannot announce, but it will be in mid-January, there will already be a version that we can try to get to the parliament for the first reading. It will obviously be different from what the government has submitted now. But it will definitely take into account the position of the Ombudsman and the position of the committees, for example, social policy and the medical committee. The Ministry of Finance in the first place, the Budget Committee. I personally, as someone involved in the public administration reform, will defend certain positions on the civil service there.

I think that if we find a certain model before the first reading that will remove some of the questions from society, there will be fewer amendments. It's a good sign that all the critics, both Razumkov and, it seems, European Solidarity, are already introducing an alternative. They have their own vision and want to discuss these different visions. This is normal European politics. We have shown that we are ready to sit for 2-3 days. I sat with Stefanchuk for almost a day, listening to these amendments. It's not difficult.

- But how can we find something that will satisfy the brigades and calm the residents of peaceful cities?

- The solutions will not be simple, I think simple solutions are over. We need to look for a format that will be more fair, with fewer questions - why this guy is not serving and I am. There will be fewer opportunities to solve this somehow corruptly and more opportunities and access for a person liable for military service who is mobilized. The draft law already contains provisions on vacations and other things. But we need to have a serious, in-depth discussion about internal rotations, about the possibility of training, preparing, etc. And, of course, we need to find an answer to the question of the guys who have been there for almost two years - what's next for them.

- Just before the broadcast, I returned from the Donetsk region and saw soldiers in different brigades. Both among them and among the population there is a thesis that sounds very attractive: why not mobilize the deputies?

- As Kim [Vitaliy Kim, head of Mykolaiv Regional State Administration] said yesterday, what good are we?

- And then unpopular decisions on mobilization will look, perhaps, more truthful in the eyes of society. This is not my thesis. This is a thesis that I hear, and I took the liberty of voicing it in an interview, because it is heard very often. This question needs an answer. And what can be the answer?

- There are several answers. There is a boring legislative and constitutional answer: there will be no one else to vote and pass laws, including the budget. And this will definitely interfere with the victory and the functioning of the state. The other answer is more moral and ethical. I think that if MPs, their families, and their entourage demonstrated less behavior that could be condemned in society, this issue would arise less. During the war, we have already had 3 or 4 cases with NABU, with NABU suspicions or with NABU cases. As for trust in the parliament in general: we have recently seen American polls, and they show even less trust than we do. This is probably a global phenomenon, that parliamentarism is not very popular in society, but everyone understands that it is necessary for some reason.

Again, going back to what Vitaliy Kim said about this: to apply the same approaches to MPs as to people in general. It's only fair, right - someone has children, someone is disabled, someone is beyond the age limit. It turns out that you can draft 200 people. Well, it won't even be a battalion. And there is an argument that people will not like: they will have to pay more. Now a deputy receives about UAH 80,000, and will receive more than 100,000 if he fights.

That is, we need to understand that this is Russian propaganda (it is for sure, because it is most beneficial for the Russians to have no working parliament).

On the other hand, there is this demand from society for MPs to be normal people, not to steal money or throw it over the fence. During the war, to behave adequately. Not to spend it. If you have extra money, give it to the army or something else. And this is where the whole story oscillates. I was also asked this question, but I explained. In fact, I plan to take a course either in drone piloting or, if there are adequate short-term courses in creating Electronic warfare (EW)s or drones, I will take a course in creating drones. That is, I would like to get some additional function, because I suspect that this is a long-term thing, and having an additional semi-military specialty would be very useful.

Yes, if I get into the army, I can work in the kitchen. I'm not sure there are many vacancies in kitchens. I've fed and cooked for dozens of people, I have this experience. No one has been poisoned. But I want to be useful to the state if our term ends sooner or later. And the problems with our northern neighbor may end much later than our term. Therefore, we must understand that we will all come to this anyway.

Whether you have three children, like me, or not, whether you are disabled or not, I'm not talking about the newest Israel, it will definitely be a different model, but everyone should understand that we are in a serious mess with Russia. We all need to have the makings, the beginnings of military thinking, paramilitary professions. The whole country must be able to provide first aid to each other. These are things that we, as a nation, need to master. You have to admit that this is a little bit on the other side than the "Monaco battalion", than going on a business trip to one country and finding yourself in another, where your children are, etc.

- This has now been directed at Poroshenko.

- And not only that.

- By the way, he wants a government of national unity, and he has been actively talking about it in recent days. They give the figure that 25% want to see Poroshenko as head of the government of national unity. But if you look at the entire poll, which they don't show, 75% say they are not interested in this issue at all. They don't know what to answer, it's not relevant to them. And among those who stayed, they say Poroshenko. That is, in total, 6% only say that they would like to see him. And this does not look like a figure of national unity.

- You know, I don't want to comment on politics right now. But it seems to me that post-war politics will be largely without past politicians, that is, without us. I think the trend for renewal will continue. And now there is a huge demand for people who have either fought themselves, or veterans, or volunteers, or someone close to them. Well, we see these surveys, they all say that military experience or experience of direct participation in events... I saw a survey where they asked very interesting questions. People who have been directly affected by Russia will also be expected to be better politicians than those who have just seen it on TV. I think there will be a demand for this. And the previous stories with an anti-rating of 80%, I think, are all very bad.

Serhiy Leshchenko

Photo: Ruslan Kanyuka

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