Tape 1 Касета 1
(00:01:19) It’s 22nd of June, 1996 and we are in Vilnius, Lithuania with John Stepanchuk.
John, thank you very much for participating in the Project on Oral History.
Could you start by describing your background, your personal background, and how you came to Ukraine?
When I first came while I was working in what was then the Soviet desk at the State Department and I was dealing with all sorts of exchanges but we had been working since 1986. We were almost prepared to open a consulate. As you recall our first consular mission to Ukraine was closed in 1979 as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We canceled all our exchanges, (00:02:00) but we kept alive the idea, because of the importance of Ukraine, of establishing a consulate there.
Luckily I was at the Soviet desk and they finally got an agreement after one of Gorbachev’s many visits to the US, to start the Consulate. There were some administrative issues because the Soviet Union wanted a Consulate in New York, they wanted certain conditions. All of those were worked out and I was sent to work out of Moscow to try to open up our consulate in Kiev. It required me living in Moscow in October of 1990, attached to the Embassy but actually going every week or every week-end down to Kiev to try to make contacts. The primary reason for having a consulate, as basically Mr. Gundersen, the Consul General to be, came some months later and said “We are the eyes and ears of the US”.
We understood, because of the events in Lithuania (00:03:00) and in the Baltics otherwise, that things were happening outside of Moscow, largely as a result of Gorbachev’s opening of the glasnost. There was an act of national, let’s say, assertion of separate cultural identities, non-Soviet movements. These are all parts of the reform movements that sprang out of the ’89 elections, as you recall, the parliamentary elections when it was the first time that non-communist parties could take part in actually be represented in the local legislatures, the republic legislatures.
This brought to the fore members of Rukh, and members of other parties who were non-Communist, but who were actually actively trying to promote a separate movement of autonomy, of political autonomy for Ukraine. And that was the milieu, the environment that we came in to in October of 1990. In fact, the first thing I did was attend one of the Rukh congresses (00:04:00) that was held in October of 1990. And the second thing I did a few months later was attend the last Communist Party Congress which was very unusual to get into. This was very telling.
You could go to the Rukh Congress and you had a large assortment of people, including from the diaspora in the United States. Lots of activity. Lots of cultural symbols were brought out. The heads of churches, the churches who were long kept underground, but were allowed to flourish under Gorbachev or at least to sort of reconstruct. This was like the Ukrainian Autonomous Church. They were all represented and this became the catch all for all of the nationalist and the cultural assertion movements that were taking place. And, by contrast, go to the Communist Party Congress and it was held, I would say, like a Madison Avenue Executive Board meeting. There was absolutely no noise, no commotion. (00:05:00) Under the surface there was, of course. There were lots of disagreements, political parties, people shuffling get into the fore.
But it was an interesting time. We had not only Rukh but we had the Democratic Party, Pavlychko, that we were talking about, earlier. He had his Congress. All of these parties were having their first congresses and these parties, of course, were all based or formed around individuals. They weren’t grass-roots parties, as we would understand them. They were basically platforms for individuals who represented the non-Communist alternative at that time. And this is what we came into in 1990.
And, as the first person down there, officially assigned to a Consulate, we didn’t actually have property, we didn’t have anything. We were living out of an apartment that we still keep on the Left Bank, Liebo Berezhnaia, they call it, on the Left Bank of the Dniepr. (00:06:00) And we were living and working out of the same office. That is one floor of a Soviet type apartment building. We had one old Czechoslovakian teletype machine which didn’t work (laughs), we had our telephones installed and we became a Consulate, working out of there. But we broke some new ground.
It was the first serious mission outside of St. Petersburg, outside of Moscow. We had a Consulate in St. Petersburg. We were not a little isolated Fortress America. When we got to Ukraine we had no qualms about socializing, associating with everyone, being very open and it was a different atmosphere than it existed in Moscow where, you know …
What kind of State Department rules were you operating under in terms of fraternizing and things like that, with Ukrainians?
Well, basically, the same rules (00:07:00) but we had a certain waiver for Ukraine because there were one or two people there … First me and then Mr. Gundersen. So, some of those rules of non-fraternizing were just not applicable. We had to get a waiver to exist as a Consulate. We opened our doors to everyone pretty much. We wanted to have contacts with all the parties. Of course, it was very difficult to have contacts with Communists at that time, because there was a lot of fear of associating with Americans. It was a very conservative still Communist Party.
My first contact was Ivan Drach, actually, with whom I started talking to over the phone from Moscow. And the contacts that I had in Ukraine were names given to me by people in the diaspora in the United States. People that they knew that they were active in Rukh, people that had already come to the United States by that time. (00:08:00) For example, Ivan Drach, came to the United States in 1990 and to the chagrin of many people in the State Department, he had an audience, I think at the very highest levels at least with the Secretary of Defense. And, you know, the State Department was trying to set up a policy that so we would never in the future accept visitors from the Republics at that high level. But some new ground was broken by that.
And so, Rukh and Drach, I’m not sure who else came to the United States but, I think Chornovyl, eventually, were well known already to the Ukrainian community and to the official community in Washington. At least to those who were following Ukrainian affairs. So, by the time we got to Ukraine, it was very easy to make contacts. Our first, I think, it was Ivan Drach, Pavlychko, Chornovyl, and throughout my stay in Ukraine, we always had very close relations with them. I think the Embassy still does because these were people that were (00:09:00) not divided at that time into separate parties, they weren’t fighting among themselves. In fact, Ivan Drach was formed as the reform wing of the Communist Party, of the Communist movement. Pavlychko and Drach themselves as writers had to belong to the Communist Party but they had one thing in common and that was reform. They were more or less supporters of glasnost as Gorbachev was introducing it, but it eventually developed into more of a national movement which was long suppressed in Ukraine. It was now coming to the fore as they brought in people from more nationalist groups and tendencies and began promoting use of the Ukrainian language -at that time it was just beginning- and cultural symbols and the Church, so all of this came together. And what became sort of a perestroika reform Communist movement became the nationalist movement of Ukraine but at least the nucleus for that, a political nucleus for that.
When do you think that first started happening – before you were there?
I think that it probably started happening (00:10:00) before I was there. I think this happened in the late ’80’s. One thing that probably … because I was in Lviv in 1989 to observe the parliamentary elections which were still being held under the communist system. It was the first time they allowed the non-Communists to take part and a lot of the …
Which elections were these?
The parliamentary in 1989. Oh, the parliamentary, that is the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union but there are also local legislatures for each of the republics.
…. And could see that a lot of people in West Ukraine, in the western oblasts, were not Communists but they were representatives of Rukh, and they were representatives of different more nationalist oriented parties, even though they didn’t always have those labels. They came together in the Parliament. So that was one area. So, the western Ukrainian influence in that respect (00:11:00) as a spark, igniting some of this Ukrainian self-awareness was very important.
I think another very important element was Chernobyl. We still talk about it, but the effects of Chernobyl were psychological. It lead to the beginnings of what you could call an anti-nuclear movement. Then, this has nothing to do with arms but basically, early on, people like I presume, Drach, Pavlychko and other people, to disassociate themselves or differentiate themselves from Moscow. They had a declaration that came out, I think , just before I left, in September, August of 1990, a declaration of autonomy for Ukraine and one of the principles was that Ukraine would be non-nuclear. And that was definitely something that couldn’t be because Ukraine had lots of nuclear weapons, but still they made that declaration. And there was a consciousness that Ukraine was somehow a victim of the system, (00:12:00) the Soviet system, which was illustrated by what happened in Chernobyl in 1986. And that led to their consciousness too.
That led to the birth of the Green Party, which was very influential when I first came to Ukraine and still is which is headed by Shcherbak who is now in the United States but he was part of that. They became part of the nationalist movement too, so they folded in. So it had all of these elements: disaffected Communists, you had greens, you had nationalists from all parts of the spectrum. This is the atmosphere, the caldron that was brewing in 1990. But it was peaceful, I mean, there was nothing, there were no collisions, so to speak, between these movements and the authorities. I think it was tacitly approved by the authorities. At that time you had Kravchuk, (00:13:00) still was head of … at that time, of the Communist Party …
What was going on from your perspective inside the Communist Party in Ukraine and also, relations with Moscow?
Well, the same tendencies that were going on in all the Communist parties, and I make the connection to Lithuania too. Lithuania took it one step further. There was a tendency in the Communist Party at that time, there were two wings: there was one that was, let’s say, for an integral Soviet Union, that was opposed to change and actually opposed to perestroika. Those were the descendants of Sherbitsky, which had one of the most conservative Communist parties. There were the reform Communists, quite a few reform Communists, aside from the hard-line, inside the Party. And then, there were people who were anti-Communists but decided to stay in the Party because they thought they could affect change more from within than from without. And of course you had a whole mass of people who had to belong to the Party because their jobs depended on it. So, you had all of these elements … (00:14:00)
You had an east-west split even within the Communist Party to some degree. And the argument at the Party Congress I went to was whether they should adopt an independent Ukrainian Communist Party statute which would have been a break from the tradition. And so, this was the debate going on.
It was basically the same tendency, and I am repeating it, of glasnost taking part in other Communist parties. In Lithuania, the Communist Party actually broke away from the Soviet. It didn’t happen in the Ukrainian case. But there were two wings. Clearly at the time that I was there, the Hurenko, hard-line wing, and there was the Kravchuk, more or less moderate who tacitly, very tacitly, made his own deals with the nationalists. Accommodations, not deals, but accommodations with the nationalists with the types in Rukh. (00:15:00) Kravchuk came to some understanding and Hurenko who was nominally the head of the Party, took a much harder line. Within a year, there was a big split between Hurenko and Kravchuk over the direction. Again, that argument was basically one that centered around the Union Treaty, the first draft of which came out just before I arrived in Ukraine and became an object of contention between two wings of the Communist Party, and between the Communist Party and the more nationalist democratic movements.
Who would you say in Ukraine and you can use either names or whatever the description is helpful, who comprise the different factions in the Communist Party and why do you think were the issues that divided them aside the Union Treaty? (00:16:00)
Well, they are headed, as I said, by Hurenko and Kravchuk. I don’t have really a list of names. It’s rather best to categorize them into types of people. And I think there were a dwindling number of people who were not on the perestroika bandwagon. I think the Communists, although active communists like Kravchuk, understood, got the signs from Moscow, especially from Gorbachev, that the Communist Party could not longer exist, the Soviet Communist Party the way it was. It had to be de-structured, decentralized, even taken apart. I think a lot of people liked Kravchuk, again, I’m saying he symbolizes this time, understood early on that the Communist Party was doomed as a Party, as an organization. (00:17:00)
I think you have the other types who were hoping Moscow would change, that Gorbachev’s policies would be dropped, or that Gorbachev himself would be eliminated. They were thinking that perhaps you could not change the Communist Party without changing the Soviet Union, without the disintegration. That is where the Union Treaty comes into play. Because the Union Treaty basically was aimed at giving more autonomy to the regions and to the republics to the point where some people said it was confederation in a different guise. But, you couldn’t have that without breaking up the Communist Party. So, those were the two elements in Ukraine. And, you know, the career apparatchiks who were Communists, were not ideological Communists, and that’s probably most of them.
Why do you think that movements like Rukh and nationalist movements (00:18:00) were allowed to flourish in Ukraine? Why didn’t the Communist Party or security forces stop them when they had been stopped earlier?
Well, I don’t know if they had been stopped earlier. It’s a good question. I think the Communist Party did try to quench the more extreme manifestations. I mean, they wanted to and they understood the limits of glasnost that you could give them some sort of cultural self-determination as long as they stayed within the framework of the Soviet Union. And there was nowhere that they wanted to stop them, in fact, it was a way of co-opting them, that is the nationalist and democrats by not confronting them. They would be co-opted; they would participate in the process but always being kept as a safe minority. Peace would be kept, peace and concord. And they understood that was the way Moscow wanted it. So, I don’t think it could have happened unless Moscow had also decided it was permissible and I think Moscow realized (00:19:00) at the end that it had gone too far. Maybe, that was one of the reasons for the coup, for all we know.
But I think it took them a while to realize that. I think there were elements even in Moscow that were opposed to it. They tolerated that. But the Stepan Khmara case, it was a case where he went too far. Outward manifestations, especially public displays of discontent, maybe strident nationalist forms of political opposition, in which they recalled the Bandera and the people that through military force tried to oppose the Soviet power. There were some advocates of that, and I think many people read that into Khmara, for example. So, there was a lot of repression. He was arrested and without really firm charges. He was accused of beating somebody up during one of the May Day things.
(00:20:00) They felt that if they could contain that, they could deal with the rest. The people like Drach and Pavlychko, writers, former Communists identified themselves initially as the Reform wing of the Communist Party and they said that their movement, Rukh, or Perebudovo, Rukh, which changed its name initially, were organizations that supported the Gorbachev line. So, it was tolerated. And I think the religious law, for example, new churches coming in, that added a little to the nationalist consciousness of Ukrainians too. And the fact that the language was allowed to flourish more or less, and Ukrainian writers were no longer kept silent or underground, they were able to come out. That helped their raise consciousness more. I think it was all more or less permissible. It was happening in Russia (00:21:00) and it was certainly happening in the Baltic countries.
So, it was a Union-wide policy.
I think it was Union-wide, oh yes, I do.
And, how much do you think Moscow controlled what the Communist Party in Ukraine did and how did that change over time?
This is probably better to ask the Communists (laughs) because I don’t know. The perception was that Moscow was obviously following the events but was not in control of them. And Moscow didn’t or chose not to assert too much control but they were called to the carpet very often, the head of the Communist Party and even Kravchuk, to go up and to discuss, to consult, but they never were able to impose their will if they indeed wanted to control. I think they could have controlled it. There was an effort made during the coup, obviously, to try, but I think (00:22:00) that they felt they could occasionally call to Moscow, those that they were dealing with, Kravchuk and others, and basically tell them what they should do and tell them what the limits were. They sort of followed it from that respect. Also there was a big Ukrainian representation in the Supreme Soviet, not all of them were anti-Soviet. I’d say only a minority of the deputies that were elected to the Supreme Soviet. They were part of the process, but part of the Soviet process.
When Ivashko was head of the Communist Party in Ukraine, were you following Ukrainian events during that time?
More from Washington’s perspective, because he was no longer the head. That had changed by the time …. in fact that almost happened immediately before (00:23:00) I came to Ukraine.
One of the things we found interesting is that people seem to see his move from Kiev to Moscow as some sort of betrayal to Ukraine or to the Communist Party in Ukraine when intuitively one would have thought that that would be a promotion to become Gorbachev’s deputy. Do you have any thoughts about the effects of his departure from Kiev on the Communist Party in Ukraine? Were you following that at all from Washington?
Only in generalities. I think that it wasn’t necessary seen as a demotion for him. This happened very frequently. It was probably felt that his successor (00:24:00) was going to be more or less pliable too. There was nothing to indicate that his successor wouldn’t be as pliable. There was nothing to indicate that his successor was going to make deals with or make accommodations with the national movement. I don’t think that was expected. I think they wanted to get somebody who was more or less middle of the road and somebody who could basically take his signals from Moscow. Moscow did not want to … and this was Moscow’s decision … it was trying to impose a new line at that time, and Ivashko was opposed to it. That was the line of limited change, perestroika, openness and Ivashko was just opposed to it. I don’t think they brought in Kravchuk thinking that he was going to head an independent Ukraine and I don’t think that Kravchuk ever thought he would, at that time. They wanted somebody who was a bit more pliable, more receptive to limited change. And I think Kravchuk read the signals and his party, his apparat tolerated a contained nationalist movement. That would take the lid off, you know, the steam out. (00:25:00)
Changing focus for just a little bit. You have a very unique perspective on the United State’s policy towards Ukraine and towards the Soviet Union, first from Washington, then from Moscow and finally from Kiev. Would you describe how you see American policy starting when you were in Washington on the Soviet desk towards the Soviet Union specifically, and then support for nationalist movements and Gorbachev and how they conflicted.
I don’t know if there was any support at all for nationalist movements. I think the policy developed very conservatively. I don’t think there was any effort in Washington, conscious or unconscious, to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was probably more of a desire maybe to keep it integral because Gorbachev and our Administration at that time were seeing eye to eye a lot of the global issues. (00:26:00) I think our policy was basically to encourage democratic and economic reform but not to the point where it would lead to the break-up of the Soviet Union. I don’t think we ever said that much.
But at that time, when I came to Ukraine, we had a very delicate situation in the Baltic countries, where we never did recognize their annexation and so we were sort of called upon to respond to the nationalist movements there, you know, and deal with it more directly. But I think as far as Ukraine was concerned and any other republic, we were very conservative, very guarded in our direct support or acknowledgment to the cultural and national self-determination in those republics. I think we were very guarded. And, as I said, this manifested itself in the visitors’ policy where, you know, high level representatives of Rukh or anyone else were not received in the White House directly or at the Secretary’s level. (00:27:00)
Were there any forces in Washington who saw beyond that policy?
Yes! quite a few. I think, in my view, there were elements in the State Department, the types like Paul Gobble, who was focused on Baltic affairs. But he actually could see what was happening in the Soviet Union from the ground up. I think too many of us were focused in Washington on dealing with Gorbachev and his small circle and with Moscow. It took people like Paul Gobble, maybe outside of the policy making circles, who could read what was happening in the Soviet Union by looking at what was happening in the republics, seeing things that weren’t seen from Moscow. So we were seeing that through him. The Heritage Institute and other think tanks in Washington were very much on top of what was happening in Ukraine. And I would say the Defense Department, (00:28:00) even more so than the State Department, was very keen on what was happening in Ukraine. So, there were elements. And of course, in the White House, I’m sure, people were following the issues but there was no serious policy decisions on how to deal with Ukraine. And that went on and on.
Basically we would encourage further democratization, but the problem was that when Bush came to Kiev in 1991 there wasn’t a clear policy on how to deal with Ukraine. We were seeing a civil war brewing in the Caucasus. We were seeing the Baltic situation, and when Bush came there he saw certain manifestations of nationalism and may have come as a surprise to him. (00:29:00) He was warmly received, he saw Ukrainian flags, etc., and he addressed a fear that Washington had that wasn’t relevant to Ukraine and in doing so insulted the Ukrainians by talking about suicidal nationalism and referring to the negative effects of nationalism. He was seen as somebody that was doing Gorbachev’s bidding, and he had just come from a meeting with Gorbachev, by the way, and was accompanied by one of the coup plotters, Yanaev, the vice-president, coming to Kyiv and saying what Gorbachev might have himself told to the Ukrainians, you know, “Stop, too much of this is not good.”
Who were the policy makers behind the speech?
This is White House. There was Ed Hewitt, and there was Ross, Hewitt, that group in dealing both in the State Political and Hewitt dealing in the NSC. (00:30:00) And I’m not sure that they were… they were not misguided, they were, again, trying to take a very cautious approach. The fact that we hadn’t formulated our policy towards – what was happening then was more reactive and basically trying to stop a flow of things that we wouldn’t understand, we couldn’t cope with. In this particular instance the speech backfired, because the Ukrainian movement as unlike those in the Caucuses was very much contained. There wasn’t a civil war situation, and a lot of the things Rukh was trying to promote were tacitly accepted by the Communists. So, he didn’t score any points even with the Communists by saying what he did but maybe scored points in Moscow, I don’t know.
So this thing, was an indication we weren’t quite ready or quite responsive to what was happening, but then I would argue (00:31:00) very seriously that if we had done it any other way, Moscow would have been provoked. If we had actually gone into Ukraine and to the other republics and consciously promoted their national identity and national movements we could have gotten a much worse reaction from Moscow. Indeed, Moscow reacted anyway through the putsch but I would contend that it would have been much worse. So Moscow did not perceive that the United States was directly behind the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and we weren’t. We did have a policy. You can criticize it one way or the other, but if we had a policy that was going in that direction we could have provoked Moscow into much worse repression in the Baltics and probably in Ukraine. So, historically, in the end, (laughter) we came off because there were internal pressures in the Soviet Union that they would lead to its decay and collapse. And we didn’t have anything. But we didn’t address it either.
(00:32:00) How much did you work on preparing for the visit; how much policy input …
There were only two of us. Our policy input was what we were doing all the time. We were trying to draw Washington’s attention to what was happening in Ukraine to the extent that they could focus on it, as an alternative to what Moscow might have been hearing from Gorbachev. We were seeing different things. We saw a real live movement, a nationalist democratic movement that was growing in popularity. We were reporting these things and I think that we were giving a different perspective to Washington. That’s the policy input we had. As far as what Bush said, it was very closely guarded. I think one of our frustrations was that we didn’t even get a chance at the (00:33:00) Consulate to make comments on the speech, because I think had we seen that speech we would have said “you better tone this down, you are sending the wrong signals.” But that wasn’t the case. I think, again the White House at that time was very nervous about dealing with, how can I say it, hornets’ nest. The policy was focused on Moscow, on dealing with Gorbachev, and not to offend Gorbachev too much. So, I think, at the very highest levels those things were constantly guarded.
Which events you think were the most significant on Ukraine’s road to independence?
What things that happened, students strikes, miners strikes, reform in the Communist Party, the development of Rukh, what things do you see as key turning points?
(00:34:00) Well, until the independence of Ukraine, you say. Well, I think all of that, there were student movements, it was the students’ sit-down strike that basically got one Prime Minister, a conservative, Masol out of his seat. And that happened at the time I was coming to Kiev. That was an event that was not easily forgotten because it was the first time that Ukrainians were personally affected by some political change. Basically, politics was something that was decided over your head and here they saw their children on the streets, parents saw their children on the streets sticking up for what they believed in. It forced the parents to start thinking. These kids have something serious to say. There was a bit of repression, some of the tents were taken down and there was a lot of that, jostling with the police and I think that had a negative impact. I think, at that time there was still Afghanistan, they were seeing their children being sent to Afghanistan. That didn’t set very well with lots of Ukrainians. (00:35:00) That fueled a bit the student strike, but I think the student strike was basically trying to affect political change at the grass-roots level. That was never done in Ukraine because things were always decided at the top and here, they get a Prime Minister out. That really boosted the morale of a lot of people in the national democratic movement. And, you know, it sort of gave them a moment of glory for that. And I think that was a key event. Miners’ strikes throughout the Soviet Union, including those in the east of Ukraine, the Donbass region, were very key in mobilizing the workers. Again, one thing that is very important we are getting these people that basically up to this point had no voice in politics and never thought more than getting their food on the dinner table all of the sudden were drawn into a political thing …
Tape 2 Касета 2
(00:36:32) So, we were talking about social mobilization, and there were a variety of vehicles: why did this happen, how could this suddenly happen?
I know, it’s very hard to analyze, and I don’t think it happened overnight. It grew from a small group and it expanded. Some of the tendencies were sort of all-Union, in the sense, we were talking about the miners’ strikes: it took place in the Donbass, it mobilized the workers, their poor conditions, conditions that have not yet been addressed actually in Ukraine and were certainly glaring at that time. (00:37:00) And the fact that glasnot did give them the opportunity to express their views without punishment. There was always some conflict but people always saw that, in this case of the students’ strike, that in some cases the people would prevail and that they could change the system and I would say that was a factor of glasnost: it allowed the writers to start coming out, it allowed them to criticize the Communist Party and they all went through some difficulties, initially. For example, Pavlychko and “Olij” sort of have their debates in the newspapers: one was pro-Communist and one was democratic and nationalist. This would not have happened without glasnost. So, that’s the atmosphere. And of course, the strikes, which were a more a militant form of protest, also resulted in change, at least, change in local government to some degree. And also some concessions made by the Soviet Union acknowledging independent unions which was something un-thought of. (00:38:00) But then the independent unions could not only exist, they were able to organize and affect minor change in raising pay levels.
This came to play later on in Ukraine when the unions had a lot of say in the late Kravchuk administration too. It was the unions that insisted on early elections, which then brought in Kuchma. The unions began to flex their muscles. These are not the official unions…some of them were official unions, it is true, and some people chose, for the same reason that they chose to stay in the Communist Party, to stay in the official unions because they thought they could change from within. We had the people who expressed themselves outwards.
We had the other groups of Ukrainians, probably the minority of them, who were never ideologically wedded to Marxism, but were basically in the Communist Party because it was in their career interests. Those people felt that with time, given some opportunities, (00:39:00) they could also change the system from within. They were not rebellious; they wanted very careful change, guarded change, if you will. They felt at that time there was a possibility that they would work along the lines of reform.
There was also privatization. Ironically this affected Eastern Ukraine more than Western Ukraine. This began again under the Gorbachev period, which allowed some private farming, which we saw more of in east Ukraine. Successful private small and medium-sized farms and businesses. These people, given an opportunity, (00:40:00) or allowed to function under semi-market capitalist terms. Associated with this there was a beginning of a movement towards market reform in Ukraine. These were done by academicians and people in institutes, but seeing the opportunities given to have at least a limited form of market. Pylypchuk, for example, was one of those. Very active at Harvard oriented programs. This was happening in ‘89 and ‘90 that these people were also beginning to say that there should be market reform. People were beginning to come out with programs that were not necessarily blessed by the Gosplan. They were trying to get their views known in Parliament.
The Parliament was beginning to tolerate dissent. So you have the germs and the nucleus basically of some sort of movement for market reform at the same time you have workers striking and the students kicking out a prime minister. So all of this fed the consciousness, but I don’t think this spread immediately to all levels of the population. (00:41:00)
One other thing in this cauldron that I’ve left out is what was happening in West Ukraine. I think West Ukraine was galvanized much earlier than the central and eastern regions as far as independence and autonomy. The three oblasts, and Chornyovyl was very instrumental in this, at the referendum in March 1991, the three western oblasts had already decided to opt out of the Soviet Union. They would vote against any union treaty, and they did vote against it. They had their own Council set up as a result. Western Ukraine at that time felt itself politically on its own, and setting the stage for eventual referendum throughout all of Ukraine for independence. (00:42:00) This had occurred in March 1991, so this is well before the coup. Of course the nationalist movements, and the churches coming back into the fore, the old churches the Autocephalous Church and the Greek Catholic, the arrival of the émigré heads of those churches coming back form America to their homeland. All of this was publicized, televised, and it reached peoples’ consciousness, to some degree.
Ukrainians tend to be very conservative people, and are rule-based, they tend to accept change very slowly. They weren’t looking for radical change at that time. This was just seeping into the consciousness. All these venues were opening up for them.
They began finally, they were allowed to look back into their history and to acknowledge for example, in 1933 there was a major starvation (00:43:00) of Ukraine when millions of people died as a result of a Moscow-enforced famine. It came out. The whole history of Ukraine, which, the western regions were also annexed in 1940. The Molotov Ribbentrop pact was finally acknowledged by Gorbachev in Moscow. So people understood and were able to look back into their history and find these dark spots. It colored the way they looked at their own party, at the Communist Party, and at Soviet rule. The fact that the Communist Party in Ukraine was doing nothing to counter these arguments; it was basically tolerating this kind of dissent and openness. There was a lot of literature coming back, repressed literature of Ukrainian history. All this was happening. A sort of renaissance.
Whether this goes into the countryside, to the collective farm, I think those people still to this day are nostalgic for the past. (00:44:00) Change has not swept Ukraine; it’s just gradually seeped down. Even with five years it’s not been complete. This is what involves people in politics. Of course the crucial moment for Ukraine was after the coup; not that this was a revelation to most Ukrainians, they knew perfectly well that the Communist Party was behind the coup. But the head of the Communist Party, the former head, Kravchuk, acknowledging that the Communists were behind the coup, and basically blaming them, the Communists knew their days were numbered. The Party was banned. That paved the way to the Referendum. The Communists signed on to it.
I really think a lot of people in Ukraine voted positively in the Referendum in November 1991 because the Communists backed it. The Communists signed (00:45:00) the act of August 25th, most of them did; there was very little opposition. The Communists knew that change would not be so radical that they would be thrown out of power, let’s put it bluntly. In order to ensure their power and their longevity in the system, they decided to back the Referendum, and 80% of the people did vote for it. But I don’t think they would have voted if the Communists, as a block, had not supported the Referendum. I think the people who voted, the average person, might have thought they would have it best both ways. They wouldn’t see the radical nationalists come in to power… (00:46:00) Chornovyl was not elected, Kravchuk was.
At the same time they thought that independence from Moscow…this is what they were being fed, by Pylypchuk and others who studied the economy. I read these all the time in the newspapers. We’d be so much better off, because we are so wealthy, if we didn’t have Moscow taxing us all the time. Moscow is squeezing the wealth out of Ukraine like a lemon and leaving nothing in return. They gave the people the impression that if you vote for independence of Ukraine we have all this wealth ourselves. So we’re still Communists – at least we’re our own Communists. We’re not Moscow’s and they’re not taxing us anymore.
I think that is what people also thought when they went there. They said, we won’t have radical change, but we’ll have it better. This didn’t happen of course, economically. In all the republics there was a downslide and there was disaffection and the euphoria period wore off rather quickly.
(00:47:00) Backing up a few months to the all Union Treaty, why do you think Ukraine decided, de facto, not to sign?
I don’t know. Some people suspect that a few people did sign it, but…I don’t know (laughing).
You remember Fokin. There was one occasion where Kravchuk said that he didn’t sign it, but Fokin signed it. Fokin signed some papers going along with the Union Treaty, one of the many drafts that were presented to the Ukrainians. There was some concern that somebody in Ukraine high up did sign a piece of paper called the Union Treaty (laughs).
The Union Treaty is not a single document, actually, the Union Treaty came in various stages in various proposals from Moscow. Each time it was supposedly negotiated with the Ukrainians. Kravchuk used to go every other week to Moscow (00:48:00) to talk about the Union Treaty, then come back to Kiev and say he didn’t sign it. There was one time Moscow said it was signed, I think they said Fokin signed it. Then there was this falling out between the two and it wasn’t certain who did. In the end I don’t think anyone really signed it, and even had they signed it, it wouldn’t have had any effect because events were getting out of hand. Gorbachev was no longer in control of events.
So the Union Treaty if it were actually implemented in ‘89 or ‘90 could have had some effect, but by the time it was ‘91 or ‘92 it was too late for Ukraine, and the Baltic countries had already left the Soviet Union fold.
The first draft came in August at the same time that there was a declaration from the Ukrainian Parliament of some autonomy. They came simultaneously.
(00:49:00) Do you know who stood where in the debate over the all Union Treaty?
In the Parliament they had at that time the Foreign Affairs Committee, Defence Committee …all committees were having their say, or at least reviewing the drafts, although it was told to me by a number of deputies, including Communists, that they had never seen any draft of the Union Treaty. It was always being talked about over their heads. Essentially it seemed to be that Kravchuk and Fokin were the only ones who were dealing with it, in Moscow, on hand.
But Hryniov was one of the key players here, wasn’t he?
Hryniov was involved in it, but I’m not sure to what degree. Towards the end Hryniov was (00:50:00) much more of an advocate of the Union Treaty. Before independence. Before the Referendum. He felt there could have been some sort of accommodation. But I really don’t think that he was actively negotiating it. I’m not sure what he said. He knows better. His turnaround, saying that they should have stronger ties and better dealings with Moscow, came after independence.
His obsession before independence was (being) very supportive of Yeltsin and the democratic movement, but I don’t think Hriniov was a big supporter of Gorbachev, and Gorbachev was the one trying to get the Treaty. The Yeltsin types, (00:51:00) who Hryniov seemed closer to at the time, were not necessarily promoting that arrangement. They were looking for a strong Russian Federation. What is missed is that Yeltsin and the Russian Federation were very active in dealing with Ukraine in foreign policy issues well before the Referendum. When I arrived in November 1991, was the time Yeltsin signed a republic to republic treaty with Ukraine, state to state, sort of acknowledging that Russia is a state that has come into its own, and so is Ukraine. That set the tone for the Russian-Ukrainian dialogue even after independence because many deputies would cite that agreement as one that set the framework. It was one that did acknowledge, supposedly, the territorial boundaries of Ukraine as it was at that time. It was between two co-equal partners. (00:52:00) It was a model agreement a year before the break-up of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin was following a path of building up the Russian Federation.
Do you have a sense of what was happening with the security forces and the KGB?
There were stories of course of the KGB, whose side…Halushko was very much allegedly involved in the coup but everyone had to -that was in the KGB or interior apparat at the time. They probably got their orders. Then he left to go to Moscow. Whether the KGB had an active role in containing …they certainly monitored the democratic movements but they didn’t make any active attempts to stop it. (00:53:00) I don’t know if they had a voice in it. I think they were basically trying to be on top of it, infiltrate it, and make sure it didn’t get out of hand, but I don’t think the KGB was trying to stop it altogether. I think maybe they took one stand when they got their orders from Moscow during the coup. It was more important from them to know who was who. The KGB was trying to keep tabs on who’s who in order to control them that way. Not arrest them. There weren’t too many arrests.
The Coup. Where were you, what were you doing, who were you with?
I was with Dyma [Ponamarchuk]. Yes. Actually I wasn’t with Dyma, I was with a whole group of people following Chornovyl to Zaporozhia to the festival. There was a big festival. Chervona Ruta. (00:54:00) Nobody ever thought that this would happen. (Dmytro Ponamarchuk says in Ukrainian: 11th to 18th of August). Chornovyl, and his opposition. Olynik was there as well. This is all happening at the same time. Shcherbak was there, we were sitting next to him. Lukianenko. Oliynyk, with his own constituency; even the Communists were there campaigning in Zaporizhia. It was all centered except for Oliynyk, (00:55:00) around the Chervona Ruta youth rock festival. I remember going around with Shcherbak looking at all the pollution. We were very concerned about the level of chemical pollution. Again, this is another factor. There was a sense of desperation in that period. The waters were polluted, the chemical industry was polluting the air. People were disaffected, and the Green Party was trying to promote an environmental program. Shcherbak was fairly popular doing that especially in places like Zaporozhe where there was pollution. Anyway, we all gathered there… and when the coup happened …
Did you have any indication that a coup was going to happen? Cable traffic?
No. There was no indication. Certainly Moscow didn’t seem to indicate … I think it took them by surprise. It certainly took us by surprise. (00:556:00) We were staying in the hotel. I remember waking up to somebody knocking at the door…it could have been Dyma, one of them…saying “do you know there’s been a coup?”
I said “you’re joking.”
He said “No. They’re playing the Spanish Serenade. You only hear classical music when somebody dies or, there’s been a coup.”
Then of course all the reporters were together and were consulting with Chornovyl who was calling Lviv and getting the story. All the politicians felt they had to get back to Kiev very quickly. They scattered. I was with the group. I guess because I was a diplomat, Chornovyl and Shcherback came with me to the plane. Although we were being followed and hounded, no one stopped us. We got onto the plane to get to Kiev. When we arrived in Kiev people from Rukh and others (00:57:00) immediately took them away so they couldn’t be apprehended. There was a news blackout from Moscow, including our Embassy. In fact our Embassy couldn’t get in touch with us. There were two of us, me and the admin person. The Embassy couldn’t get in touch with us; they had to send a fax via Armenia wondering if we were alive and well because all the lines were cut. The communication was cut. We couldn’t get phone lines in. We couldn’t get a line to Moscow. It was really weird. That lasted a day or so, but everyone was very nervous. We were certainly very isolated sitting in our apartment in Florencia wondering who would be coming to take us away.
The only news that came out of Moscow at that time was … Rukh set up a press center, (00:58:00) and they had good contacts with the democrats in Moscow, and were getting the real story. Then they were having periodic press conferences. There was no stopping them; there were intimidation helicopters flying above, but nobody was actually trying to stop them. The official TV and radio only had the coup plotters, and then they had Kravchuk who didn’t side with one or the other, just said that we don’t want any unrest that would provoke worse measures. Then Hryniov, who spoke after Kravchuk, who actually criticized, slammed into the coup plotters, very strongly criticized them and said “we’re for Yeltsin and the pro-democratic forces in Moscow.” He counterbalanced Kravchuk’s very guarded and cautions remarks. That was the only media contact we had.
Do you remember the story of General Varennikov and Hurenko going to Kravchuk’s office? (Dmytro Ponamarchuk asked the question in Ukrainian).
Yes. We always speculate and talked about what happened at that meeting. At whose office did they meet? Verkhovna Rada? Communist Party Headquarters? One version I heard – but I’m not sure because I wasn’t privy – was that he was summoned to the Communist Party Headquarters instead of their coming to him and he was told that he had no real power, not to do anything rash. They laid down the law, and they were working through the Communist Party. So the KGB, Communist Party, Varennikov representing Moscow, they were all in league against these other forces. That is the way it was portrayed. I’m not sure if that’s what really happened.
Was there ever any military threat?
(01:00:00) It was potential. Tank columns coming into Kiev, and all these other things that were talked about…I’m not sure whether the Russians were actually mobilizing for that. Probably if the coup had lasted longer they could have mobilized tanks and they would have only used them had there been strikes and unrest in Kiev, but that wasn’t happening. People understood that this would provoke the Russians into some sort of Vilnius scenario. So they didn’t do that.
It’s likely that parts of Ukraine in the eastern regions were very pro-coup. When we were in Zaporozhye we were casually asking people, as we were leaving, how they felt, and a lot of them cheered the coup. They didn’t know where change was heading, and they knew that the old system was better than the new one that they didn’t understand.
(01:01:00) That’s not exactly the description of State Department policy (Sara laughs).
Yes, I know (laughs). I’m saying this is my impression. It may not be the case.
The failure of the coup unleashed a torrent of activity in Kiev that led very quickly to de facto independence for Ukraine. Were you in the Verkhovna Rada during this time?
Yes! My impressions that day was that we knew something was going to happen. I remember going into the Parliament, and there were thousands of people surrounding it, angry people. Angry at the Communists, angry at everything. They were just gathered there. They thought I was a Communist because I was dressed in a suit. So one woman started pulling my jacket calling “haynba”, “shame.” They thought I was one of the guilty.
The Communists were very nervous. When I walked into the Parliament and went into our little booth for the diplomats and press, (01:02:00) everyone was there of course. I could see that the Communists were all glued to the window watching these crowds come closer and closer, wondering if they would ever leave the building alive, I’m sure. They were all nervous, and smoking, walking around. This was the atmosphere of tension. It was known, of course, that Kravchuk would make a speech, but no one knew how far he would go. People were waiting to hear him say, under lots of questioning, yes. He didn’t volunteer it initially in his speech, but he was questioned by the deputies. Who was responsible. He said the Communist Party. There was outburst in the Parliament. People gasping, “the Communists themselves?”
This prompted the Communists to gather in the little caucus. Supposedly Pavlychko – of course, this happened behind the scenes – basically said “either you support independence now, support the independence decree, or you’re doomed anyway.” (01:03:00) He had the pressure of the crowds…getting closer to the Parliament building…behind him, in his favor. Supposedly they signed, I’m sure making concessions and deals among themselves, with the understanding that if they support the Referendum things will go their way. They did. They voted. They came out, and at the very end of the day, about 5:30 or 6:30, it didn’t strike you immediately, they voted for independence. It struck me. I said “this is a great event.” The decree itself is tersely worded, it’s only one paragraph. It’s not quite the 4th of July, but this is the birth of a new country. It was very emotional. (01:04:00)
I was with the Canadian Consul General. We were the only two diplomats sitting there; he was also of Ukrainian background. It was very emotional. Of course we rushed back to report these great events. In fact knowing the sad state of the teletype in our Embassy, I was doing my reporting out of the Canadian (Consulate), thanks to the Canadian. So we were reporting together. We were just recounting … I was a bit more conservative in my report, but the Canadian’s report was entitled “The Fat Lady Has Sung.” I think my reporting was a bit more solemn. It was so immense…lots of dancing in the streets; people were hugging. There was quite a lot of elation. It was going on all night. I was in the hotel room with the Canadian Counsel right across the street from the Parliament, typing away. It was exciting; the birth of a nation. It was!, it was very exiting!
(01:05:00) How did the State Department react? How did our embassy in Moscow react?
CNN got it, and Washington knows everything through CNN before they see anything we write. They wanted us to see what the implications were…what does this really mean? It wasn’t clear then. What did they mean by independence? They declared independence, but it was understood in Washington, and correctly, that it would be only legitimized by a referendum that would take place along with the election of a new president.
The next few months was convincing Moscow and Washington that all of Ukraine, not just a group of nationalist deputies, supported the referendum, and to what degree. So our task was not to report the birth, but to report how much Ukraine would support the November Referendum. (01:06:00) So we went to different oblasts and places, talked to people.
It was very clear to us very early on, although Moscow and Washington probably did not believe it, that both the East and west would vote for the Referendum. We even underestimated the numbers. Even Crimea. I remember going to Crimea and even there the authorities were saying it looked like it will be more or less in support of the Referendum, which surprised us.
Why do you think that people supported the Referendum? Economics?
I think economics, and the prevailing winds idea. The expectations were high that the change could only be for the better. Their traditional leaders at all levels in the “rayon”and the oblasts were guardedly saying they would support the Referendum. They were getting their signals from their local leaders. (01:07:00) We would talk with those people. You didn’t have to do a poll, you just would talk to the heads of oblasts, or even city level, and you would see “it looks like we are going to support the Referendum”, meaning that the decision was made on high that they would support.
I don’t think that Hurenko made the decision. I don’t think he was in power or had that authority. There was no longer a Communist Party. It was basically, if you will, the nomenclatura, if you want to put it bluntly, the apparat. The people, the technocrats, the people in power, more or less went along with it.
They decided it was in their interests …
Yes. I got that sense. And I got the sense that there was obviously a lot of intra-spritiual behind it too, (01:08:00) but the decision-makers at the local level just thought the prevailing wind was going that way and they all jumped on the bandwagon. They all jumped on the bandwagon. Including most telling Filaret himself, who was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the very end jumped onto the Kravchuk and nationalist bandwagon and said he supported an independent Ukraine. Which led to his eventual ousting from Moscow.
I liken this whole movement to a big bandwagon, that people started jumping onto, that was the way they felt they had to go. There was no other direction. Moscow was completely discredited; Gorbachev was totally discredited at this time. He’d lost control. There was no sense in the local leadership in Ukraine that Moscow could decide for them anymore. They went their own way. I don’t think they knew where they were heading, frankly, but they knew that Moscow was no longer relevant. I’m sure that was the case. (01:109:00)
Tape 3 Касета 3
The democratic movement was sort of split between the genuine democrats and the people I would label as nationalists, and the nationalists took sway over this. Now Kravchuk originally, shortly after his election, brought all the parties together (01:10:00) and said we need to form a strong coalition and guide ourselves – with the least amount of tension — through the first months and years of independence. I think there was a lot of goodwill towards him. He got all the centrists, the nationalists, Rukh into this one room, and they basically agreed they would support the authority, that Kravchuk was elected President. I think they all went along with that, at least for the first few months. But there was a falling away within Rukh and the democratic movement. It was clear that the nationalists split way from Rukh, that Rukh’s own coalition of reform minded Communists and democrats and nationalists was falling apart.
That was evident within the first few months of independence. So you had another stream led by people like Skoryk and Khmara who I would consider more nationalists and less focused on democracy. (01:11:00) It’s not that they didn’t want democracy, but they felt that first and foremost, defense against a potentially aggressive Russia, that would want to quench their independence. They felt they needed a strong Ukrainian state. If you think of the political tradition up to that time in Ukraine, there wasn’t a democratic tradition. There was a corporatist one there was a nationalist one, a centralized state. But it was never one of democracy as we understand it with checks and balances. Basically the focus was to have a strong state. They were looking at the trappings of democracy. The emblems. A strong military, a force that could counter Russia. And eventually not relinquishing their nuclear weapons, which became an obstacle to our development of US relations with Ukraine. They became a lobby for keeping the weapons, as a defense against Russia. Very critical of Kravchuk for having given some of his weapons, the tactical nukes, (01:12:00) to Russia, also that he was negotiating with the Russians over the status of the Black Sea Fleet.
These were already areas of contention between the nationalists group and Kravchuk. over issues of statehood, first and foremost, not democracy. If it came to democracy, there were some people, the reformists and centrists within Rukh, that stayed within Rukh, or maybe the nationalist group had already broken off … As I said, the Lukianenko, Skoryk, Khmara had already formed their own parties. You were left with a more centrist, more of a pro-presidential party that Rukh was aiming towards. It wasn’t fully there. But I think Rukh had both elements to it. It had the nationalist tradition, and also the tradition of courting Ukrainian minorities, (01:13:00) such as the Jews and Tatars.
The Ukrainian first group prevailed even in Rukh A bit of the statist, nationalist flavor came into Rukh as well, but I don’t think it predominated. The extreme nationalists had already separated.
Then you have the people who were for democratic reforms, constitutional power, checks and balances. The people like Holovatiy and the centrists, who again fell out of favor with Rukh for different reasons. They felt Rukh was too much under the sway of the nationalists. The centrists were for democratic reform as we would understand it, with the institutions. Starting with the institutions. They happened to be strong and vocal but still a minority, even within Rukh. (01:14:00)
What about Economics?
Economics. There wasn’t enough of a focus on it. I‘m talking now about democracy versus nationalist tendencies, and democratic institutions. Then of course you had the Communists and socialists, those unreconstructed Communists who felt that you had to have a Rada/parliamentary type system not a presidential one. A presidential system took power away from the local radas and the whole still exists in the constitutional debate going on now in Ukraine. So you had that group.
As far as the economy…the Achilles heel of Rukh, and all of the movements, and the Achilles heel of Kravchuk was that no focus was given to the economy. It was felt you could secure your statehood through creating a strong, central executive power and a strong military, if necessary, and that was all you needed to be put on the map. The outside world that wanted Ukraine to integrate faster into Europe felt that the real key is economic reform, (01:15:00) but that was not addressed at all by Rukh, by the nationalists, or even by Kravchuk, who wavered. Of course there was a lot of opposition form the leftists. This still exists, this dynamic exists. There was not an economic strategy or an economic program.
Aside from when Kuchma was Prime Minister … some of his programs tended to get in market elements. He was going to start decentralizing; they would reconstruct some of their ministries. They had sectoral ministries that they were trying to consolidate some of the economic power. Because there was no constitution, no division of power it was not clear who would make the economic decisions. The Parliament believed that it had the exclusive right to make them, or at least to approve them. The Prime Minister, President and the Council of Ministers felt that they should make those decisions, and they needed to get temporary authority from the Parliament. And this was the only way that anything was done in the economy. This was a very grueling and time-consuming process. (01:16:00) We covered it but… Kravchuk and Kuchma would beg and plead for an extension of temporary powers just so they could run the economy. Neither the democrats nor the nationalists or Communists were up to it, or cared about an economic program. Nothing happened until Kuchma.
You mentioned strong central authority. To what extent was Kiev in control of what was going on in the regions?
We did a lot of traveling. There was always the natural feeling that Kiev was becoming another Moscow, that Kiev was not fully in control. When they had this debate between the President and the Parliament … the debate between the three centers of power: (01:17:00) Pliushch was head of the Parliament, Kuchma the Prime Minister and Kravchuk . When we got outside of Kiev, people said that this is ridiculous. This is not how you run a country, and it alienated Kiev from the rest of the country. The fact that people were watching this on TV, that there was no decision-making, no orderly means of economic decision-making, that Kiev had seemed to lose touch with the provinces, it wasn’t taking signals from the provinces… that Kiev was absorbed in its own debates.
In what ways did this manifest itself practically?
They tended to speak in generalities. In the municipalities you had two structures of power. One was beholden to the central government and one to the Parliament. (01:18:00) What was happening in Kiev was a reflection of what was happening in all of the different provinces to one degree or another. The lack of resolution in Kiev meant that they couldn’t solve problems locally. The local, whether municipal or oblast, councils beholden to the Rada and the governors appointed by Kravchuk, who were self-appointed in their apparat, which was beholden to the President. The fact that Kiev couldn’t make decisions for the nation as a whole meant that at the local levels it was impossible to get decisions. There were power struggles at all levels. Sometimes the local Rada had the sway and sometimes Kravchuk’s governor had sway. It depended a lot on personality; it depended a lot on their skills.
And this is true in 1990, ’91 or are you …
You are wondering on what period I am talking. I’m talking about post-independence. (01:19:00) Before 1991, of course, the Ukrainian Communist Party, there was the Ukrainian Communist Party but Moscow was making more or less the decisions for the economy at least. Again, there were sectoral ministries that went from Kiev into Moscow.
Almost immediately after declaring independence on August 24th , Ukraine, Kravchuk specifically, went about establishing a military, a Ukrainian military. In September he selected his first Minister of Defence. Why was this the first decision made?
(01:20:00) I think it was one of the first decisions. I think it was a wise decision in the sense that Kravchuk co-opted, or took over what was the Soviet army, which could have been claimed by Russia and in part was, the strategic elements of the armed force were still answering to Russia. He was creating a command structure that couldn’t be used against Ukraine. And he was also claiming that “we don’t need a new military infrastructure. We’ll just take our share of what was the Soviet Union. “ So there was a lot of that mentality that still exists. Although opposing the Soviet Union, Ukraine was also part of it and in some ways a beneficiary. All of the military installations just changed labels. Instead of being Soviet, now they are Ukrainian. As long as they were in “our territory.” They just changed labels. So it reinforced the territorial integrity of Ukraine and it made sure that the command structure of the military, which was largely Russian, would not be turned against Kravchuk. (01:21:00) He was the Commander in Chief. It also meant that unlike other republics, they wouldn’t be dependent on Russian military forces, they wouldn’t have to acquire new equipment, new conscripts from scratch.
But there is a loyalty and an allegiance issue …
Yes, because early on it was seen that the military was part of the coup. You had to subsume the military to the Ukrainian president, or government. The military was, as you know, instrumental to the coup. It was interesting that one of the first decrees that followed independence was the creation of a Ukrainian military, even before the referendum. That was to make sure they wouldn’t be involved in a future coup.
How was allegiance to Ukraine instead of to the Soviet Union or Russia achieved by Kravchuk and by Morozov?
(01:22:00) Early on it was achieved simply by the taking of oath to Ukraine. I’ve got some videotapes of that. They would have signing ceremonies, bring in the parents, and all take the oath to Ukraine. The officers were doing that. That was also instituted very early on, but it wasn’t all of the forces who took the oath. You had for a long period of time people who owed allegiance to the Soviet Army. Nobody would ever call that into question. It was a solemn oath. Even Kravchuk would not do that, but he would have them taking a secondary oath, that was controversial, to Ukraine. Not renouncing their Soviet oath, but saying what their Soviet oath meant was they were defending their homeland, which in this case is Ukraine. They were not directing their military against any other part of what was the Soviet Union, but were narrowing the areas of their (01:23:00) activity to their homeland, which was Ukraine. So it was a very carefully-worded oath. Not all of the officers immediately took it. It was very controversial until the very end, especially before independence, that officers would take that oath. If they did take the oath they were often ostracized, and so forth, at least before independence.
What happened when people didn’t take the oath?
In many cases, they were supposedly given their choice early on, to return to wherever their country of origin was, which was not always possible. So I don’t think the oath was forced on people. It was a voluntary thing. Now of course it is different. After independence they have mostly fully Ukrainian officers and conscripts. It is different. (01:24:00) But early on, it was not held against you if you took the oath, but as I said, early on, some people who took the oath were ostracized within the officer corps. You sometimes did it at your own risk. It didn’t often have meaning, It was more symbolic. They continued to operate the way that they had, nothing really changed. This really took a long time. I think the arrangement was that no one was forced to take the oath, and people could voluntarily return to their (homes). But Ukraine took on the obligation to provide housing and subsistence for its officers no matter what they did, but they were encouraged to leave if they didn’t eventually take the Ukrainian oath. It was never forced, and I think that was wise for Kravchuk, It wasn’t his style anyway, to force it, but it was very wise of him, because the worst thing he could have on his hands was dissent in the officer corps. It was done in a civilized manner. (01:25:00)
You played a very historic role from the perspective of the US-Ukrainian relations …
By simply being in the right place in the right time (laughs).
After the Referendum was passed, and countries started recognizing Ukraine, you recognized Ukraine’s independence on behalf of the United States. Can you tell us about this and also about the policy making behind the decision for the United States to recognize Ukraine?
My great 15 seconds, accorded to every mortal individual. That’s just a culmination.
The first thing we had to do for policy-makers in Washington was to assure them that Ukrainians were backing the Referendum. We did a series of reports after we went to each oblast (01:26:00) and drove home the point that for one reason or another, people would support it. I think in Washington there was a feeling that you needed at least 70 percent. If you got 60%, some people in Washington felt that maybe this meant it was undecided or there was tampering. Or worst of all, this was the real specter in Washington, especially after Yugoslavia, was fear of a civil war in Ukraine. That is why we were so cautious initially about the Referendum. Even if you had a large group of people supporting it, if you had a significant minority against it, that could lead to civil war. The other fear in Washington was the east-west split, the russophone vs. Ukrainian-speaking populations. They felt that the Ukrainians would, of course, support the Referendum.
What do you do with this large Russian minority which would probably vote against the Referendum, which wasn’t the case, by the way. Hryniov probably told you, and he was a case in point. (01:27:00) The Russians actually in many even cases more than Ukrainians in the cities voted for the Referendum. This is an irony, but we found these numbers out. It’s true. The Russians supported it. In Crimea, 50% of them did. It was more controversial. 54% I should say.
As we drove the message home, only several weeks, maybe two weeks before the Referendum, President Bush said that if the Ukrainians would vote for independence, we would acknowledge that. He didn’t say we would recognize them, but we would take it into consideration, we would acknowledge it. That upset Gorbachev very much, of course, because at that time Gorbachev was very reactive, very defensive against what was happening there. The Russians made no active attempt to stop it either.
The first element of policy was just convincing Washington of reality. (01:28:00) The vote took place early December, and the decision in Washington was … I think events maybe took them a little bit by surprise. Nobody suspected that the Ukrainian Referendum would lead to the immediate dissolution of the Soviet Union, that each republic eventually would be declaring its own independence, which happened like a domino. Nobody suspected the Belovezhska Pushcha agreement between Byelorussia, Ukraine and Russia as to how to continue their cooperation without the Soviet Union. These were the nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union. All happening within days if not a few weeks of the Ukrainian Referendum. Ukraine set a series of events in and outside of the republic that doomed the Soviet Union. It happened so quickly, and I’m not sure if our own policymakers (01:29:00) either in Moscow or Washington were on top of it, or were aware of the consequences. I don’t think that people were immediately aware of the consequences of the referendum, or they would have seen that Gorbachev on Christmas Day would be kicked out of the Kremlin. But that’s what happened. After the referendum a few countries, some of central Europe, immediately recognized Ukraine. In the United States, we were criticized for being somewhere after Fiji (laughs). I’m not sure. I’m joking. But we didn’t come in first. Just like with Lithuania, we were somewhere in the middle. But there was a lot more at stake, too. Policymakers had decided that we wouldn’t officially recognize Ukraine until Russia did, Yeltsin, I should say. Yeltsin after having made his deals with Kravchuk (01:30:00) and Shushkevych, announced that the Russian Federation recognized Ukrainian independence. Gorbachev was no longer a player. That finally registered in the White House. Then we safely, if you will, recognized Ukraine.
At that time, I was sitting in whose office? I think it was at the Foreign Ministry. By then, we were dealing directly with the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine. I was talking with somebody, maybe Tarasiuk or Hrychenko, one of those people. Zlenko was there too. I was acting as Charge. I came to the meeting. This is very unprotocol, but I took out of my case a bottle of champagne and I took out the telegram and said “finally from Washington…we were waiting for it. I said, here it is!”
(01:31:00) They said “oh, got to get on TV.” So they whisked me to the TV station after we had our champagne toast, and it was just before Christmas, so when I did get on TV I said, maybe correctly or not, “this is the President’s Christmas present to the people of Ukraine: Formal recognition.” It was a very big event. I was very proud that I could get to announce it. It was my little bit of history. It was good. It happened not too long after the referendum, frankly, considering the processes in Washington. It was done right. Without provoking the Russians too much. It was followed immediately as you know, by Baker’s trip, within days, I think, after recognizing Ukraine. Secretary Baker came, setting our conditions for dealing with Ukraine, and that was democratization, market economy, (01:32:00) the contentious issue was that we were very early on for the de-nuclearization of Ukraine. That became a new chapter in our relationship, and not a very pleasant one for a while, but it worked out again with the trilateral accords. It took two years of very heavy work.
How does one recognize a new country?
The fun thing about dealing with a new country is that there are no rule books, no textbooks. You make them up as you go along. There is no protocol. Aside from the three Baltic countries, we hadn’t had this experience for a number of years, so there was no textbook on how to deal with a new country. We had to set out our conditions for our partnership. Baker did that.
Did anyone tell Kravchuk?
(01:33:00) No. I went to the Foreign Ministry. That’s it. That’s how you do it. You announce it to the Foreign Ministry, but we’re dealing with the Foreign Ministry of a country we don’t recognize for so long. The thing with Ukraine is that Ukraine always had a real Foreign Ministry, in a sense, because they had a seat in the UN. So they had seasoned diplomats, and a lot of our dealings were done with them, even from the very start.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you?
No. I think you’ve covered pretty much, my recollections with some prodding from Dyma, who was there.