INTERVIEW WITH ANATOLIY M.ZLENKO, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF UKRAINE
Anatoliy Maximovich ZLENKO
is a prominent Ukrainian diplomat and statesman
October 2000 to present - Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
1997-2000 - Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Portuguese Republic and to the French Republic, Permanent Representative to UNESCO.
1994 – 1997 - Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN.
1990 – 1994 - Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
1987 – 1990 - Deputy, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
Q: Mr. Zlenko, you were first appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in the years when Ukraine was born and gained international recognition as an independent state. Furthermore, while being a Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to France (needless to say about a unique role of New York and Paris in global politics and diplomacy, especially nowadays) you directed your efforts at further establishing Ukraine in the world, although in a different diplomatic context. And now, at the beginning of the new century, you have again been entrusted to be at the head of Ukraine’s diplomatic service, which provides evidence of your special role in Ukraine’s new history. What are your specific memories of the day when Ukraine was proclaimed independent?
A: Emotionally, it was an unusual change from an acute disturbance with threats encountered by Ukraine through the glimmering hope to becoming seized with a celebratory atmosphere dominant with the entire nation. As you remember, Ukrainian Act of Independence of August 24, 1991 followed the ill-famed coup in Moscow on August 19-21. The tone of the mutineers’ statements was aggressive, and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, as well as the Government, Verkhovna Rada and security forces were reviewing different scenarios, including the most radical ones. If the mutineers announced state of emergency and sent armoured troops to Ukrainian streets, this would effectively mean a civil war unleashed.
I was present at Verkhovna Rada’s extraordinary session on August 21 and heard the Deputies expressing their own views of the situation and relaying the views of their electorate. People’s determination left no illusion that the nation would yield to a brutal violence. The tense was growing, as many protesters gathered near the parliament buildings demanding to take drastic measures against the mutineers.
From early morning on August 24 I was busy preparing to the meeting with Guido de Marco, Vice Prime Minister of Malta and Chairman of the 45th Session of the UN General Assembly. The negotiations lasted till late night, as the events related to the coup, showed how important the understanding and support of the international community was for Ukraine.
The protocol documents of the meeting were signed in a service building next to Verkhovna Rada. When we were about to close the meeting, we suddenly heard the street burst with cries of joy. A Foreign Ministry officer who was following the situation at Verkhovna Rada said, “People are hailing the Act of Independence”. We began congratulating each other, and our distinguished guest addressed words of congratulation to the Ukrainian people on behalf of the UN General Assembly.
I invited Mr. de Marco to meet Leonid Kravchuk, Chairman of Verkhovna Rada who presided in the session that adopted the historical decision on independence and was at that time the highest Ukrainian official. Mr. de Marco was pleased to accept the invitation. In a few minutes we were out in the street, squeezing through triumphant crowds of hugging, singing and chanting in their celebration of the long awaited independence…
I am so detailed in my reminiscences of that historical day not only to provide a complete answer to your question. It happened so that the metamorphoses of August 24 symbolised to the great extent the atmosphere in which Ukrainian independence has been establishing itself in the last decade. Like elsewhere, promising expectations always go hand in hand with challenges thrown by the rapidly changing time.
Take Ukraine’s recognition throughout the world after Referendum of December 1, 1991. From a side view, it looked as triumphant pace of the independence, the Ukrainian patriots had been awaiting for centuries. However, having been directly involved in the process, I remember the hard work we had to do in order to achieve the recognition. And I also felt the recognition should not be taken lightly, as gaining authority in the world could be achieved through the concerted effort, boldness and nontrivial approach to solving the problems faced by Ukraine.
Fair enough, I remember rapid events of natural lightness and festivity. For instance, Poland reacted promptly to the outcome of the Referendum to become the first country that officially recognised Ukrainian independence. Poland’s special envoy Mr. Jerzy Kozakewycz paid his country’s respect and presented to me the note, whereby Poland recognised Ukraine as an independent state and expressed readiness to establish diplomatic relations with Ukraine next day after the Referendum.
I also remember with pleasure the day, when the first foreign embassy was opened in Ukraine. This priority was taken by other Ukrainian neighbours, our Hungarian friends. I should commend my Hungarian colleagues’ promptness: as the press later wrote with surprise, the new plaque appeared on the embassy’s wall in one hour after the Protocol on establishment of diplomatic relations between Hungary and Ukraine was signed.
Canada was the first G7 nation to recognise Ukraine, which was another exciting event. I keep warm memories in my heart about meetings with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Secretary of State Barbara MacDougall and their facetious way of saying they were keeping close eye on our state to become the first country in the world to recognise Ukraine. It was in September 1991 when we signed the Declaration on Relations between Ukraine and Canada, the document that had a significant effect on the West’s political and diplomatic stance towards Ukraine.
And we should not forget that the first politician who congratulated Leonid Kravchuk with his victory in presidential elections was Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia, the country, where the idea of Ukrainian state was opposed by many. This allowed eliminating a number of significant issues or even threats to our fledgling sovereignty.
However, a number of other decisions that were broadly discussed in the world and greatly impacted the world’s community stance did not come easy at all.
For instance, my colleagues and me viewed our negotiations with Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German Foreign Minister, as exceptionally important, with the view of Germany’s both enormous influence, powerful economy and cultural and scientific potential, and special mission, through joint effort with France, as European integration’s driving force.
At the time of our negotiations with the German side in December 1991, Hans-Dietrich Genscher was a Head of OBSE Ministerial Council. Therefore, the promptness of Ukraine’s recognition by the European Union, the terms of our joining the Helsinki Act and entry to OBSE and other international organisations largely depended on the outcome of our negotiations.
The negotiations were very intense. I had an opportunity to see Mr.Genscher’s profoundness as a politician and scrupulousness of his country’s each single step in its Eastern policy. Even more exciting was the fact, that our arrangements achieved through the negotiations, cleared the way for Ukraine to become a full member of European community over the time.
We also maintained an intense dialogue with Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, the Scandinavian states, and others. President Kravchuk’s official visits to the United States, France, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, China and other countries made a great contribution to Ukraine’s establishment in the world. In 1993 Verkhovna Rada adopted Main Priorities of Ukraine’s Foreign Policy. And a tripartite agreement signed in Moscow between Presidents of the United States, Russia and Ukraine on January 14, 1994 became a real diplomatic breakthrough, as it created pre-conditions for a new level of Western policy towards Ukraine.
When looking back at the time when Ukraine was establishing itself in the world as a new independent state, I recollect the role of Ukrainian Financial Group and other Ukrainian businesses that actively supported the process. Furthermore, in my view it is quite obvious that the efforts, made by diplomats and politicians could be significantly pointless unless they gain support from businessmen, intellectuals, scientists, artists and other people representing various areas of life. UFG was one of the companies that worked for Ukrainian independence knowingly and willingly from an outset.
Q.: Do you have any specific memories of UFG’s activities in this area?
A.: Well, I wouldn’t like to appraise UFG business strategy or activities, because I do not know them in detail. However, as a diplomat I would like to distinguish this company’s activity persistently aimed at mainly developing and strengthening Ukraine’s international business contacts.
I met Valery Babich, UFG’s founder and CEO when he worked with Council of Ministers of Ukraine, and later when he was President’s economic advisor who was member of Ukrainian delegations in a number of important trips abroad, particularly to the United States. Ukrainian Financial Group was one of the first Ukrainian companies that established contacts and co-operation with Western business leaders in various industries, including MERRILL LYNCH (investments), BMW, COMPAQ and SUN MYCROSYSTEMS, LLOYD’S (insurance), and others. In particular, UFG drew WESTERN UNION, the global leader in fast money transferring services represented almost throughout the world, to operate in Ukraine. In co-operation with Ukrainian Financial Group, WESTERN UNION service network was established in Ukraine.
While I worked as Ukrainian Ambassador to France, UFG sponsored a number of significant Ukrainian-French cultural events, particularly Serge Lifar’s commemoration. UFG also funded Five Nights in Paris TV show telling about Marina Vladi and Robert Hossein, French cinema stars of Ukrainian origin; Ulyana Tschaikivska, an operatic diva that organised Vesna (Spring) Ukrainian-French association involving French leading modern artists that supported Ukraine; and video items on Ukrainian patriots which participated in the anti-fascist Resistance movement, and Simon Petliura’s life in Paris.
In particular, the TV crew sponsored by UFG found that Robert Hossein, the leading French actor and stage manager who is extremely popular in Ukraine due to his starring in ANGÉLIQUE, has roots in Ukraine maternally, fostering memory of our country and trying to share his love with it.
Q.: How could you generally appraise the role of Ukrainian businessmen in establishing and strengthening Ukraine’s position in the world?
A.: My appraisal is unconditionally positive. Take Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (UUIE), a powerful, influential association of Ukrainian businessmen. UUIE has always maintained extensive international activities, assisting Ukrainian businessmen in establishing contacts abroad. Many prominent Ukrainian politicians that greatly impact the development and implementation of the country’s foreign policy came from UUIE. The most well known example is current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who presided UUIE at the moment he was first elected President.
In my opinion, the role of UUIE and other businessmen associations, as well as Ukraine’s large and small businesses in our country’s foreign relations will permanently increase. This is an important constituent part of the country’s policy aimed at enhancement of the economic component of its foreign relations, which is consistently pursued by Ministry for Foreign Affairs in conjunction with Ministry of Economics and other government agencies involved in making Ukraine’s foreign policy.
Our fundamental assumption is that Ukraine’s each step on the international scene should be verified from the standpoint of the national economic interests. Establishing a mechanism to provide an on-going co-operation with Ukrainian business is one of the priorities of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
Leading Ukrainian companies should become our steady partners in implementing Ukraine’s national economic interests abroad. Ultimately, interests of domestic businesses, especially those investing in the production sector, largely correspond with the interests of the Ukrainian state. And we should identify and optimise the mechanism to secure continuity of such correspondence to the benefit of the Ukrainian people.
Q.: Now let us come back to the early 1990’s. Which of your meetings abroad was the most complex at that time?
A.: Actually, none of our trips ran easily. However, President Kravchuk’s first official visit to the United States has remained in my memory. There is no need to say much on the exceptional role of the United States in the West. However, at the initial stage our relations developed rather dramatically. Everybody knows that President George Bush Sr. initially took quite a hard stance on Ukrainian independence. This was clearly manifested in his memorable speech on August 1, 1991 before the Ukrainian Parliament, when he made an explicit call to preserve the Soviet Union. It took both Ukrainian and American side immense effort through a number of meetings, consultations and negotiations to finally achieve the recognition of independent Ukraine by the United States on December 25, 1991, and establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states on January 2, 1992. And it was George Bush who was the first Western leader to congratulate Leonid Kravchuk as the newly elected President of Ukraine, the fact that was specially noticed by politicians and diplomats.
It should be also noted that at the moment of the President’s official visit to the US, the diplomatic relations between the two countries, as well as the entire framework of Ukrainian foreign policy, were at their formative stage.
Q.: France plays a special role in your life. You worked there as Permanent Representative to UNESCO headquarters and then – as Ambassador. What do you specifically remember of the period when Ukraine and France established their diplomatic relations? As we know, France is politically an exceptionally important country in Europe and throughout the world..
A.: First of all, I will remember President Kravhuk’s first official visit to France in June 1992. Before that time, France took a rather expectant position towards Ukraine, cautiously scrutinizing the new independent state in the centre of Europe practically equal to itself in territory and population. It also makes no secret that France have had historically close ties with Russia.
The collapse of the Soviet totalitarian regime added economic and political tint to historical criteria, making President Francois Mitterand’s stance especially cautious.
This is why, the moment when the negotiations were completed and the documents on co-operation between the two countries were signed at Elysee Palace made me feel happy with the results of our work. I was pleased to attach my signature to some of these documents together with Prime Minister Pierre Beregovoy, who was, incidentally, of Ukrainian origin, and some of Ukrainian journalists accredited with our delegation transliterated his name in Ukrainian manner as “Petro Beregoviy". It should be noted, that he himself made no secret of having his roots in Slobozhanschina (East Ukraine) and communicated with our delegation in an openhearted manner, although, being a person of exceptional honesty, he advocated France’s interests in the most professional and responsible manner.
Q.: Being a diplomat in a Soviet republic and independent state means totally different things. How did Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry get accustomed to that?
A.: After proclaiming independence, Ukrainian diplomacy had to start almost from a scratch. Practically the entire Soviet Foreign Ministry infrastructure was inherited by Russia. Therefore, we had to re-establish our own infrastructure to meet the needs of independent Ukraine. Political, administrative, logistical, financial and staffing issues had to be resolved on a “do it as you go” basis. That was the time of great challenges and great romanticism. Now when Ukraine encounters new challenges and tasks, it is always pleasant to look back at the years when the foundation of independent Ukrainian diplomacy was laid.