Life is no sugar: Main messages of Poroshenko's big presser
A rather rare occasion, the big press conference of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has over the four years turned from a platform for broad discussions into one of the many PR events for the head of state.
In September 2014, on the eve of Poroshenko's first press conference as President of Ukraine, his administration, the Bankova, several times reiterated that the new team realized that the format of a broad press conference, with participation of both major and regional media, with no restrictions on topics, was the best way to arrange communications. Back then, the Bankova assured journalists that such a format would be respected for the future. Moreover, the president promised to answer all pressing questions almost every quarter.
But four years have passed and promises have sunk to oblivion.
The president now prefers to meet with the media only at times convenient for himself. For example, last year, it happened on the occasion of the start of visa liberalization with the EU. This year, it's the day when the European Commission approved a new EUR 24 million program of financial assistance to Ukraine.
Besides, this time, communication with the press was nothing but "broad discussion" announced four years ago - of the two hours the presser lasted, one-fourth was taken up by... the president's address (in the remaining time, no more than two dozen media outlets have time to ask questions, and in this case it was no exception). So what were the "Challenges-2018" Poroshenko was talking about?
For several years in a row, the main topics remain the same - war, personnel issues, and "unstoppable" reform... He noted high efficiency of cooperation with the Verkhovna Rada. Autumn brought pension, educational, and healthcare reforms, he said. The new Supreme Court has launched its work. Decentralization brings its fruits. Ukrainians were granted visa-free travel across the EU, and half a million citizens have already used it. However, the president admits that "Ukrainians don't feel the effect of most reforms as their lives have not improved". "As a president, I'm not satisfied with the slow pace, either," Poroshenko said.
Staffing issues and NATO in Constitution
One of the important issues noted by the head of state among this year's challenges is the cadres. It is about completing the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, the need to appoint a new head of the National Bank of Ukraine [the Verkhovna Rada is expected to vote in the coming days], resolve the issue with the NABU auditor, and appoint the upgraded Central Election Commission ...
"I am sure that the candidates have been thoroughly discussed in factions. I hope the parliament will make a decision and support my proposal," Poroshenko said.
Incidentally, when answering a question about Mikhail Saakashvili, whose nomination had also been once "thoroughly discussed" (at least at the president's office), the head of state stated that he "was, like most, fascinated by the prospects that Mr. Saakashvili could bring for Ukraine, and I tried to create all opportunities to this end." "We all saw the results. They were none. And when I saw a report from law enforcers about violations in the process of obtaining citizenship, apart from the commission report, I had no other models of how to terminate citizenship in full compliance with the Constitution. Who knows, maybe, had there been no such vetting, dreams and ideals would have remained. Unfortunately, Mikheil has destroyed them, himself, and I regret it. I don't believe he is now a happy man, but it's his problems and his business to deal with," Poroshenko stressed.
"I can note that the issues of readmission to Poland after the violation of law by Saakashvili and a group of other people at the border crossing, confirmed in court, were legally flawless in terms of Ukrainian legislation and Ukraine's international obligations, as well as from the point of view of the rule of law. This is absolutely obvious today. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been readmitted, and there would be a different reaction," the head of state summed up.
Further, as regards personnel issues, he said that, despite the war in the east of Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea by Russia, there is a need to appoint a civilian defense minister. "I hesitated for a long time but decided that even at the time of war we must accept the appointment of a civilian defense minister. That is, to separate positions of commander-in-chief and chief of General Staff; to introduce a number of tremendous reforms in order to switch the country to NATO standards and implement the norms that I noted in the Strategic Defense Bulletin," he said, adding that he submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a Bill on National Security of Ukraine, which provides for the transition of the Ukrainian sector security to NATO standards.
The document's key provision, according to the president, is the introduction of "democratic civil control over the army, law enforcement agencies, and special services."
In general, strengthening the army is another top issue, which was voiced at the Poroshenko press conference. According to the president, thanks to the bolstering of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and continued sanctions policy against the Kremlin, the price of aggression has been increasing for the aggressor state: "This significantly reduces the risk of Russia's full-scale aggression in all azimuths, but I would like to emphasize that this does not reduce the threat to zero. Therefore, our army must ensure security along the entire line of the state border. Strengthening its combat capability will remain my top priority."
This can be facilitated, among other things, by lethal defensive weapons expected to come from the United States (in particular, sniper complexes). The first delivery should be carried out "in a few weeks".
At the same time, the head of state says that currently there is no alternative to peaceful political and diplomatic means of restoring territorial integrity: "We will observe Minsk agreements and persistently seek the deployment of UN peacekeepers on conditions acceptable to Ukraine."
As something that evidences to the viability of Minsk agreements, the president noted that, in the framework of ongoing talks, by the end of this week, "we will be able to return [to Ukraine] two hostages", now held in Russia.
In addition, Poroshenko said that the ideas of European and Euro-Atlantic integration would be great to enshrine in the Constitution of Ukraine. "Seeking EU and NATO membership could be envisaged in the preamble of the Constitution. The support by two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada would be enough to ensure that this happens. And those bills on national defense and security issues that are now in the voting stage give me grounds for restrained optimism," the president said.
However, he chose not to elaborate on how he would find 300 votes to safeguard passing of Constitutional amendments and even more so, to ensure an effective vote (one year before the elections) at two parliamentary sessions.
Elections and fighting corruption
Another top issue was anti-corruption legislation. Of course, this is a bill on the anti-corruption court, as well as a bill on the abolition of electronic declaration of assets for anti-graft activists. "It is not easy to collect votes for these drafts. For my part, I've done everything depending on me. I appeal to the Verkhovna Rada, I appeal to the coalition to convince people's deputies to support these extremely important decisions. I also rely heavily on the support of the activists themselves," Poroshenko said.
"We should make a step toward civil society as soon as possible. I stressed several times that the bills I'd submitted to the Verkhovna Rada last summer provide for the replacement of the principles of electronic declaration of assets for anti-corruption activists, abolition of criminal responsibility, and transition to the European reporting principles. And there is nowhere to delay the corresponding decision," he added.
Despite the fact that it's the Bankova where the issue of possible early parliamentary elections has started spinning from, Petro Poroshenko, when answering a question on whether he has reached an agreement with political partners from the Popular Front, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on creating a single political project before the presidential and parliamentary elections, said: "I'm not going to participate in parliamentary elections. Therefore, the issue of political alliances is a very important issue in order to coordinate efforts, including within the framework of the current coalition, to strengthen relations between the government and coalition, and to maintain and improve the efficiency of both the Verkhovna Rada and the coalition."
According to Poroshenko, he is completely satisfied with the pace of parliament's work – "plenty of reforms have been passed ". "I will do everything possible to ensure effective coordination of the efforts by president, government, parliamentary coalition, and parliament. When conditions are different, we will then discuss this [the dissolution of parliament]," he said.
As for the presidential elections and his participation in them, Poroshenko, firstly, said that he is currently engaged in "state transformation, reform, defense, and foreign policy rather than ratings", and the decision to participate in the election campaign will then be taken "when the campaign begins".
Secondly, in the context of a possible loss in the presidential race, he says he does not understand the rumors about some kind of Plan "B", adding that he hasn't lost a single campaign in his life. Speaking today about his participation in the presidential elections, he said he will "participate 100%, as a voter".
Life is no sugar
An experienced orator, Poroshenko has reduced the whole issue of his Maldivian vacation to claiming he has not delegated his powers to anyone over the past four years and, resting in the Maldives, continued fulfilling duties of a president and supreme commander-in-chief. In addition, he stressed that he had earned enough to fly to the Maldives and that he would reflect these expenditures in his asset declaration. "I emphasize that not a kopiyka was spent from the Ukrainian budget," Poroshenko concluded.
At the same time, the president noted that at the time he was elected president, he had much more assets than today. "I am the only president with such dynamics," he said.
"I'd rather not discuss my personal life now but, believe me, it's no sugar," added Poroshenko.
Among other things, the president vowed to "protect the country from irresponsible populists", continue working toward the recovery of assets stolen by fugitive corrupt ex-officials, and resist populism. "Populism and "atamanship" [deriving from "ataman" – lower-rank Cossack and haidamak leaders of various kinds are another two challenges that we face as sharply as 100 years ago, when Ukraine, because of a lack of internal unity, fell prey to the aggressor and lost its independence. My mission, the mission of my team, of all authorities, is to prevent those mistakes from repeating themselves. I'm sure this mission is possible, moreover - this mission is inevitable and it has no alternative," Poroshenko stressed.
At the same time, he said he was not worried about the ratings. "That's because there are two choices: either you implement reforms, or you are worried about elections. Those who are worried about ratings are called populists. Those who implement reforms should change the state, change society, which my team and I, all together, have been doing this for almost four years," the president said.
"You know, there is a very strange situation in the country. We don't currently have a politician with an overwhelming majority of votes. There's war of all against all. Suitcases full of compromising materials are often not confirmed by anyone. Depression and despondency are what they want to sow in Ukrainian society, including those beyond the country's borders. Social networking programs, fake news are an integral part of this all, and I am sure that we, the government, the society, and the fourth power – journalists - simply need to have certain standards, check the information we have at our disposal, and introduce standards embraced by civilized countries," added Poroshenko.
In general, the two-hour press conference seemed like an event held simply to put a "check" mark in the president's schedule, only to be able for yet another year to pretend that he spoke with Ukrainians, responding to the allegedly sharp questions.