MP Honcharenko on ex-SBU chief, cabinet reshuffle, Zelenskyy’s Europe trip, and defense minister ‘in limbo’

12 February, 08:00 PM
Oleksiy Honcharenko (Photo:Олексій Гончаренко / Facebook)

Oleksiy Honcharenko (Photo:Олексій Гончаренко / Facebook)

In an interview with Radio NV, MP Oleksiy Honcharenko analyzed whether President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Europe was successful, why it is still unknown whether the activities of former SBU head Ivan Bakanov actually led to human casualties, and what personnel changes may take place in the Cabinet in the near future.

— What is being said on the sidelines of the Rada about Zelenskyy's visit to Europe? How satisfied are the parliamentarians with what they managed to bring back from there? And what do you personally think about this visit? What are the consequences? Have we done enough to push our partners to provide Ukraine with the weapons to win?

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— It's hard for me to give any final assessment of the visit yet. It seems that in any case, it was successful. It is good and right that the president continues his foreign policy activities after his visit to Washington.

I have actually been saying this since last summer. Back then, I was campaigning and advocating that the president should have attended the G7 meeting in Bavaria, followed by the NATO summit in Madrid. At the time, I participated in this NATO summit, and I was the only Ukrainian MP there — not a single minister was present, no President. And I think it was worth starting back then. But that was the decision that was made.

However, it is right that the president is starting to leave the country. Of course, many people have been traveling to Kyiv and will continue to do so, but it is also very important to go to them. Ukraine has a lot of issues — weapons, financial support, sanctions — and the president, as the head of state, the head of the diplomatic front, as a person who is extremely popular in the world today, should use this popularity and this reputation that the entire Ukrainian people have created together to benefit Ukraine.

— In fact, the European Parliament was Ukrainianized. Everyone responded well with "Glory to the Heroes!"

— Absolutely. It's fantastic. And the accents are very well placed. Washington is first, which is also right. Then London, Paris, Brussels. I think the accents and signals are correctly placed.

That's why I think the visit was successful. And this small tour was a success.

We do not yet fully understand whether the issue of warplanes has been resolved. But we already understand that there will be training. This is very good because it is the beginning.

Did we manage to increase the number of armored vehicles that Ukraine will receive? A total of 80 or even 150 (tanks) is not enough to turn the tide at the front. It's very good, it's better than zero, obviously, but we need more. Whether we have succeeded or not, we cannot state this yet.

Did we manage to resolve the issue of long-range missiles, which is very important for us today? (This) is something that could dramatically change the situation at the front. Again, we do not know the answer yet. But I'm sure that an attempt has been made, and we'll see what happens next. That's why I am positive about it.

— The president said that there will be good news, which cannot be announced yet.

— God willing. I think this visit was definitely not in vain. And I think there are really significant, tangible results.

— You are one of the co-authors who submitted a draft resolution to the PACE to recognize the Wagner PMC as a terrorist organization. Which countries are ready to support this draft resolution? And what will it do? Will it complicate the activities of these terrorists?

— This is important. First, it is the discussion at the level of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Let me remind you that the Council of Europe itself unites 46 countries after we finally kicked Russia out. That is, the entire European Union plus other countries. This is a very important platform. The very fact of discussions on this platform is important to remind everyone who is who. We need to promote this Ukrainian agenda constantly.

Of course, this will not have any direct legal consequences, but it is a step towards making the legislatures of these 46 countries do so.

Let me remind you: when we made a decision on the tribunal in PACE, a certain chain reaction began in other parliaments, which began to follow suit. Or when we began to say that this is genocide at the PACE level, then European parliaments began to pick up on it. Because PACE sets the tone. If we talk about it at this level, then the parliaments of the countries begin to adopt it and use it, to move forward. So I think this is an important resolution.

— What should be the next box to be checked? What will be the next task of the PACE for you personally?

— We have a lot of tasks there. The January session recently ended, where we adopted, I think, a very important resolution that speaks of a tribunal for Putin and Lukashenko.

This is also a political signal. By the way, it's important that Lukashenko is also there. Somehow we often forget him here, but Belarus is occupied, Lukashenko is simply a criminal and Putin's puppet who is fully responsible for everything that is happening. That is why this was an important resolution.

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We have to raise all the issues that Ukraine needs at the PACE level. The legal front: the tribunal, freezing of Russian assets, their seizure, compensation for Ukraine. This was also spelled out in the relevant resolutions, but we will need to continue to raise these issues.

The fate of Ukrainians in Europe is also something that we have spelled out in resolutions at the PACE level, and we need to go further. And today there are millions of Ukrainians abroad, especially in the member states of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an important platform for protecting their rights.

— You mentioned the freezing of Russian assets and their transfer to Ukraine. Certain such processes have already begun in Estonia and the United States. Can we conclude that the process is ongoing in this regard?

— Yes, it is definitely underway. Of course, we would like it to be much faster, but the situation is unprecedented. Now we need to understand that a new chapter of international law is actually being written, and significant changes are taking place in international law. And what seemed impossible yesterday is beginning to happen.

And it is very important that the United States (started the process), because we understand that private property is an absolutely sacred cow for the United States, and this country is built on it. But at the same time, they have already set the first precedent by adopting the relevant legislation: assets worth $5.2 million have been seized and confiscated and will be transferred to Ukraine. And this is very important.

A similar law was passed in Canada. Europe is very important here, because there are huge Russian assets, both state and private, ranging from oligarchs to (propagandist Vladimir) Solovyov with his villa on Lake Como, and many others. That is, there are tens and hundreds of billions of euros worth of assets that Ukraine desperately needs, because the country is devastated, and we need to rebuild. And it is obvious that it is not the taxpayers of the United States, France or Germany who should pay for this, but Russia, which has done all this.

That is why this is a very important process, and it has started. It will be difficult. There will be more debates and trial rollercoasters. Legally, it is all very complicated, especially when it comes to the sovereign assets of Russia as a state. It will be a very difficult process. However, we have to push through it, because for us it is a matter of rebuilding our country.

— You said that an interesting draft law has been registered in the Ukrainian Parliament, which would punish MPs for breaking news from the Rada. Could you explain what it is about, what are the provisions of this document?

— I think this story is both absurd and ridiculous. But the trend we see is actually very disturbing. Unfortunately, this is not the only thing that manifests itself.

A little bit of background. It will soon be a year (since the full-scale invasion started). The Verkhovna Rada has always been, for all its shortcomings, the most open body of state power in Ukraine. It has always been. Because the sessions are broadcast online, anyone can turn on the TV and watch. There were a lot of journalists working behind the scenes, and then during the COVID (pandemic), it was complicated a bit, but then it was brought back. And that's the way it should be. Transparency is the only way to the result, to the fact that we are a democracy. Otherwise, this is the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately, the Verkhovna Rada sessions have not been broadcast for a year. At first, this was absolutely understandable. But it's been a year now. The Verkhovna Rada meets, but there is no broadcast.

I have repeatedly raised this issue from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada (but people do not hear it). They explain it by security: "What if Russia finds out that we are meeting live and attacks us with missiles?" First of all, I want to remind you that we gathered in the Verkhovna Rada building when the Russian army was physically located 30 kilometers away from the building itself. I was one of those who said at the time that we should gather in the Verkhovna Rada building, not in a shelter or somewhere else, because we needed to show Ukrainians and the world that the Verkhovna Rada is alive, the country is not beheaded. The president is in Kyiv, which is a very good example. But the parliament is in Kyiv, and it must also show this. And this was, I think, very important.

So I don't understand why. Okay, Russian planes take off, air raid alert, let's go down to the shelter then. I'm not even talking about the fact that Opposition Platform—For Life MPs are sitting in the Verkhovna Rada building and attending the meetings. So to think that Russia doesn't know when we are going to meet, I think, is a bit ridiculous. Until recently, Medvedchuk received invitations to our meetings, he was a sitting MP. But we pretend that Russia doesn't know something.

— What is the real goal then? Who exactly do they want to restrict? You say that you and Zheleznyak who have been tweeting and posting on Telegram.

— Because we (me and Yaroslav Zheleznyak) are the ones who inform on our Telegram channels, Facebook, and so on about what is happening in the Verkhovna Rada, what decisions the Verkhovna Rada is making.

Let me reiterate this. Even if we take the security format, what prevents us from recording the entire session of the Verkhovna Rada (it is recorded anyway) and showing it two hours after it ends in full, so that people can see everything that is happening in the Verkhovna Rada?

At the same time, we have the Rada TV channel, which shows anything but the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. I think this is wrong. So I'm trying to open up the authorities, to show what's going on. And here comes this law, which aims to prohibit us from informing during the meeting and for an hour afterwards. But after an hour, you can inform. It seems absurd to me. It's not clear why they need to close it.

— What penalties do you face?

— The proposed penalties are as follows: the lawmaker who informed has thus violated the law (if this becomes law), and such an MP should be removed from the meeting and banned from working for up to five session days. It's a complete absurdity.

Okay, I won't report it myself, I'll send it to you, and you will report it as NV. Then it's okay? It's absurd.

I am just very pleased with the signatories of this bill. Among them are such "fighters" for parliamentary as (oppositionists) Yuriy Boyko and Nestor Shufrych. They continue to be Ukrainian members of parliament. They, along with our Speaker (Ruslan) Stefanchuk, First Deputy Speaker, and others, signed this bill to slightly shut down the Verkhovna Rada. It's a stupid initiative, and of course it won't work. But it is very indicative.

— It's just a bill for now, right?

— It's just a draft law, but it's signed by the Speaker of the Parliament and the First Deputy Speaker. And there are quite a few signatories. So, to be honest, I see it as having quite high chances (of being passed).

The adoption of this bill will not change anything for me. I will certainly inform the public. I respect any law, but I will continue to inform about what is happening in the Verkhovna Rada.

But tell me, are we moving in the right direction at all? It seems to me that the right direction is to become more transparent, not to close as many government agencies as possible. Because as a result, we end up with eggs at 17 hryvnias a piece in the procurement of the Defense Ministry or some other such things. The more transparency, the better.

— Ukraine has completed an internal investigation into the former head of the Security Service, Ivan Bakanov. It is known that he is now in Ukraine. Do you know if any violations were found in Bakanov's activities?

— This is the first time I'm hearing about this from you. I missed this news. Finally. I raised this question many times: what about Bakanov? Because we were told that he had violated the military regulations, and the consequences were human casualties, so it was extremely serious. But I don't know.

— This was reported by MP Fedir Venislavskyi on Feb. 11. He says that special procedures for checking Bakanov have been completed, and the public will be informed when it is timely. Because there are some classified materials, checks with limited access. In fact, this is all that was in his statement.

— So what is the problem with saying whether Bakanov is guilty of something or not? The checks have already been completed, but we won't tell you the results because it's a military secret? Well, tell us, did Bakanov violate the military charter, which led to human casualties? That was the wording of the presidential decree. I'm not making this up off the top of my head. Or did he not?

— We wanted to find out from you.

— You will not find out from me, because no one tells us about it.

We have not had a question hour for the government since Feb. 24. No one comes to us. The last time, when they voted to appoint Vasyl Malyuk as the new head of the SBU, Malyuk himself came as a candidate and answered some questions from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada. But he did not tell us anything special.

So, unfortunately, as a member of the Ukrainian parliament, I don't have any information (to share). But we did raise the question: what about Bakanov? Now we are told that the investigation has been completed. We spent six months trying to obtain information. Now I hope that it will not take six months for us to find out whether Bakanov has violated anything or not.

— Ihor Klymenko and Vasyl Malyuk are now the new heads of the Interior Ministry and the Security Service. A few days ago, David Arakhamia said that there would be some reshuffling in the government in the near future. But this hasn't happened yet. What information do you have? Maybe there are some backstage rumors about who might be dismissed and appointed?

— Actually, I do have some insights.

I once posted (information) that Kyrylo Tymoshenko would be dismissed. I was the first to report it. Kyrylo Tymoshenko said it was not true. As it turned out, I was absolutely right.

I think there will be these changes. There are questions about a number of ministers. We are talking about the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Education. The question is whether they will remain in their positions. We will see. I think there will probably be some changes in the near future.

And we still have an unclear situation with the Minister of Defense. It was no longer some kind of inside (rumor)...

— Journalists are told that the Rada wants to change the law on the appointment of the Minister of Defense. This is all allegedly being done for the current head of Ukrainian intelligence, (Kyrylo) Budanov.

— We saw this in an interview with (MP) Mariana Bezuhla, where she said this.

Let me remind you that the law says that the Minister of Defense must be a civilian. As it is in all civilized countries and in the free world, which we aspire to, in the EU, which we want to join. The Minister of Defense must be a civilian. Yes, it can be a former military man, but it cannot be an active military man. And here we are told that they want to change this.

Again, in which direction are we moving? The direction of Russia, where this pseudo-marshal (Sergey) Shoigu is? Or are we moving towards Europe, where the Minister of Defense is exclusively civilian? So I don't understand the point of this idea.

There are such talks, rumors... This is not even a rumor: Budanov refuses to resign as a serviceman. He is a serving general today. And, according to the law, he cannot become the Minister of Defense, cannot be appointed. In order for him to be appointed, there is a way: he must be dismissed from military service, become a retired general, and then he can be appointed defense minister. But Budanov does not want to do this, he does not want to resign from military service.

And then these things appear — that we may amend the law.

But I would go back a step. Now we are talking about Budanov, but we still have Reznikov. We still have the current defense minister. And I really don't like the situation when Reznikov is “in limbo". We do not understand what will happen next. The minister of defense, especially of a country at war, should not be a lame duck. He shouldn't be “in limbo”.

Either you fire him or say "we've changed our minds" and Reznikov will work for a long time. He's going to Ramstein on Feb. 14, and they'll all be looking at him. The first question his colleagues will ask him is: "Who will come to the next Ramstein? Is it still you? Or someone new?" It shouldn't be like this, that the defense minister is "in limbo", this is the wrong way. Either dismiss him or say that there are no issues, he will continue to work.

I really don't like this whole situation.

If we go back to Budanov, I don't really understand the idea of appointing Budanov as defense minister. Budanov is a real fighting general for whom I have respect. And I know some very cool operations that he has organized, even personally participated in some of them.

However, should the minister of defense be a combat general? Today, the minister of defense is a manager and a diplomat. The minister of defense does not plan any military operations, let alone participate in them. The task of the minister of defense is to provide food for the army, to provide everything the army needs, and today it is also to negotiate for weapons.

It seems to me that if we take a combat general (no matter what his surname is) and put him in charge of the defense ministry, we lose a combat general because he will no longer be able to engage in operations. On the other hand, we will not get a strong minister, because the minister's tasks are completely different. That's why I don't understand it.

— The SBU has served a notice of suspicion of treason to MP (Oleh) Voloshyn. How will the story with the traitorous legislators pan out? Do you think they will take away the mandates of all Opposition Platform MPs?

— I do not think so. I submitted a relevant draft resolution to the Verkhovna Rada back in August, and it is still lying around. Unfortunately, we see that they do not want to do this. Some (mandates) are being taken away gradually, but for the most part they are kept.

Shufrych is still the head of the Committee on Freedom of Speech. It is he who is now defending your freedom of speech on Radio NV — Nestor Shufrych. I don't know how this can be explained a year after Feb. 24, but it remains the same.

The petition on the president's website that I registered garnered 25,000 votes. They actually responded to it. And MPs from the Opposition Platform are still sitting in parliament. That's all. Thus, creating a great threat to the national security of Ukraine. I'm not talking about the issue of justice, but once again, creating a huge threat to the national security of Ukraine.

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