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Роман Ващук


Роман Ващук – канадський дипломат. Політичний радник у канадському посольстві в Києві в період розпаду Радянського Союзу. Працював також в канадському посольстві в Москві та в Берліні. Колишній директор і заступник голови комітету з питань стабілізації та модернізації (START) при Міністерстві закордонних справ і міжнародної торгівлі Канади. В даний час ‒ керівник програми глобального партнерства Міністерства закордонних справ і міжнародної торгівлі Канади.

Про інтерв'ю

Інтерв'юер Сюзен Вієтс
Дата 24 березня 1996 р.
Місце Київ


Касети: На початок

Tape 1 Касета 1


(00:36:00) How was it that you came to be posted in Moscow and then later in Kiev?


I joined the Department of External Affairs as it then was in 1987.  Worked in a section that dealt with educational exchanges with the USSR and Eastern Europe.   In the department’s wisdom they choose to send me to Moscow in September of 1988.  (00:01:00) So that is how I ended up at the embassy there.  I had a working knowledge of Russian which of course made it easier to send me there.


And how long were you posted in Moscow for?


I was there from September of 1988 to the last week of July 1991.  July 29th if I am not mistaken. So, just before the big events that came in August.


And what sort of work were you doing once you were in Moscow?


I was a political officer in the political section dealing primarily with internal domestic politics.   And, as sort of time went on, I began to deal more and more with (00:02:00) republics and issues related to that.  I also followed the Soviet Parliament as it evolved.  Congress people, deputies, the USSR Supreme Soviet.  And in terms of the republic, of course the Baltic states.


At what point, you are from the Ukraine Diaspora, at what point did you begin to focus not necessarily just in your professional work but in your personal life on the Ukrainian independence movement, or just Ukrainian events in general?


Well, I suppose it is a matter of perception really.  I think certainly when I arrived in September of 1988, no one in Moscow really took the idea of Ukraine having a separate political profile seriously.  Now, my Ukrainian Canadian upbringing led me (00:03:00) to even look at a map differently.  Having been trained from childhood to see something Ukraine shaped on a map of Europe you sort of assume that it is there and this is what it looks like. And what I noticed was that of my colleagues in Moscow, virtually no one actually saw a place there.  The shape was the shape of the USSR, and little dotted lines which were very indistinct.  And naturally, from my academic background was in history, history of  central and Eastern Europe, with a number of Soviet history courses, so I followed the Soviet media, Soviet Ukrainian media as well.  So on arrival at the Embassy, I subscribed to a number of Ukrainian papers and journals.  Tried to follow things using that.  As well, once the Soviet Parliament was  (00:04:00) elected, you had a group of Ukrainian deputies that spent much of their time in Moscow.  So that also made staying in touch that much easier.  I had and have relatives in Ukraine whom I visit in a strictly personal capacity.  At first this actually caused some problems, concerns on the part of the Soviet authorities as they then were.  Who were probably wondering what I was doing there, whether this was part of some broader nefarious Canadian plan.  Which it wasn’t.

But, did they actually question you?  At that point, did you need a visa to travel into….?


We needed permission in every case to travel outside Moscow.  Two days advanced notice and a note to the Foreign Ministry.  Well, to the extent, to what extent they (00:05:00) were concerned?  They… an official at the Foreign Ministry took our Ambassador aside and said,  “You keep that romey of your under control.  Make sure he doesn’t get up to anything dubious.”  I didn’t really think that I was about to get up to anything dubious.  But, this was clearly a thing that was weighing on their minds.  And in November of 1988 we had, I had scheduled a trip to L’viv for November 9, 10, 11 if I’m not mistaken.  It just so happened that November 10th was Human Rights Day.  This hadn’t even occurred to me.  I simply wanted to go down and visit my assorted relatives.  And Chernovyl and other opposition figures at the time, organised a demonstration for Human Rights day.  So we were denied permission to visit.  I suppose on suspicion that our visit was somehow linked to the (00:06:00) demo which again, it wasn’t.  That reflects the atmosphere in which these things started off.


That suggests that there was a great deal of sensitivity to the Ukraine issue in Moscow at that time?


There was.  I think especially on the part of security ordinance.  Ukraine at the time was still controlled by Sherbitsky.  It was one of the most conservative areas at least in the European part of the Soviet Union.  And one where they didn’t want trouble.  So, there was a sort of knee jerk sensitivity.  But I’m not sure at the senior political level people were thinking of nightmare scenarios involving Ukraine.  Not yet at that point.


When you travelled to Ukraine to visit you relatives, how were you received in (00:07:00) Ukraine?  Where there any problems with security?  Where you followed?


That’s hard to say because I don’t tend to be terribly observant about these things.  Other people with me though would notice things and say. “Hey, we’re being followed.”  So, I think there was certainly was some attention paid to this.  Now, one of the interesting stepping stones if you will in what Canada was doing in Ukraine was the in the November 1989 Prime Minister visit which included a stop in Kiev.  {} And I did the advanced work for that portion of the visit. Spent about two weeks in (00:08:00) Kiev at that point working with Ukrainian protocol, with the Foreign Ministry, with people as diverse as hotel managers and others, trying to make it happen.  And there again you  came face to face with the issues like which monuments should the Prime Minister visit?  What kind of symbolism are you portraying?  And by that time already, the Ukrainian authorities, the Soviet Ukrainian authorities were concerned would opositionists or Rukh demonstrators show up… to mar the celebration?  So it required some fancy footwork to ensure that everyone was relatively happy.


Were there any Western diplomatic missions or was there any permanent Western diplomatic representation in Kiev at that point?  And also could you elaborate on the monuments debate.  Which monuments were considered (00:09:00) sensitive?


Okay, yes. At that point the Germans were established in Kiev.  Count Vanbuses, the first Consulate General…


These were the West Germans?


The West Germans of course the GDR had a long-standing Consulate General.  Yes, the West Germans were in Kiev. They were really the only Western presence.  As far as the monuments were concerned.  There was of course the Unknown Soldier.  An obligatory stop for visitors, to see visitors in every country from other country.  And then what other monument?  For a variety of reasons, the Canadian choose the Trasuchenko monument in front of the University.  And the Prime Minister gave a speech which was quite well received across the spectrum.  There were in fact, I (00:10:00) guess you could call them demonstrators, but a crowd.  Both an official state sanction crowd and then people with placards standing on the other side of the road actually in front of the University.  But through some Canadian exchange students who were in Kiev at that time and were connected into the sort of the cultural organisations and incipient Rukh movement.  We sort of sent word that we didn’t want any untoward incidents.  And if people wanted to wave placards around they should be positive.  And they were.  And that ensured a happy result for all concerned.  “Welcome Canada”,  “Canada Ukraine linked forever”, and that sort of stuff.  But it was a new dimension certainly in planning a visit in the Soviet Union.  (00:11:00) Having informal links with informal organisations as they were called at the time and having to manage that.


At that point in time was it unusual for a Western leader to travel to a city like Kiev,  to a city other that Moscow?  And also, to what degree did the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry have latitude to act independently in foreign policy making? Ukraine was one of the former Soviet republics that had a seat in the UN.  Was that just a sham?  Was it a symbolic statement?  Or did they actually have some latitude to act independently?


There wasn’t much latitude, but where you began to see change was in the symbolism for instance.  Which language would be used in communicating.  The protocol department in the Foreign Ministry told people from our embassy in Moscow that for this visit they would probably prefer to use Ukrainian.  Which was a change from previous practice. Of course foreigners had visited Kiev before.  (00:12:00) President Nixon had visited Kiev, a number of other leaders.  The context for these visits was changing.  Similarly, our delegation had a Russian interpreter brought along from Ottawa, a very good Russian interpreter.  But they had not brought along a Ukrainian interpreter.  So when the meeting started with the then recently appointed First Secretary of the communist party, Ivashko.  This was November 1989.  The sit…what had happened was the Russian interpreter was in place, the Prime Minister was in place. Ivashko started to speak.  He started to speak in Ukrainian.  So at that point visit management decided to pull the Russian interpreter and insert someone Ukrainian speaking in his place.  And that was me.  Because there was no one else.  (00:13:00) So from there you could see already that Ivashko himself was making his point in his choice of language.  Sort of, almost mecluenesque.  The medium was the message to some extent.


And what about from the Canadian perspective, not necessarily from your perspective because you were obviously sensitive to the Ukrainian issue but other people in the delegation maroney.  Did they have a sense that this place was somehow different from the rest of the Soviet Union?


I think the domestic constituency had made that point quite clear to them.  And I think that where Canada differs from other Western countries is that politicians are sensitive to many identity issues first of all for domestic Canadian reasons. (00:14:00) And secondly to the Ukrainian issue because of the Ukrainian community in Canada and its persistent lobbying efforts which can be liked or disliked but have been over the years very difficult to ignore.  So I think there was a… certainly a desire by the Prime Minister at the time to beam an appropriately sensitive and nuance message back to the constituency.


He must have been treading a very fine line between not wanting to antagonise the Soviet Authorities in Moscow and…




…  wanting to encourage the domestic constituency. What was your perception?  Did he manage to strike the right balance on that visit?


I think he did.  There…the local authorities were pleased with the visit.  The (00:15:00) communities in Canada and Canadian media overall were pleased with how it had gone.  If you want sort of an image that symbolised that it was in fact the Prime Minister emerging from the official crowd, at the Shevchenko monument and also going over to talk to the informal protesters.  Linking the two and not differentiating really between them. And that literally and figuratively was walking the line.  Both sides of the street if you will.


Was the Mulroney visit the first visit of a high ranking Canadian politician since… since when?


To Kiev, since Joe Clark in 1985 if I’m not mistaken. Where he had raised the Shumuck case of a Ukrainian political prisoner publicly.  And that had been (00:16:00) noticed at the time as well.  But, it was the first Prime Minister visit to Kiev since perhaps even the 1950’s.  I can’t be entirely sure of that but a long, long time.


You said in Moscow that you were increasingly focusing on the republics through your work as a political officer.  Do you think that the Canadian government policy towards Ukraine differed significantly from the Canadian government policy towards other former Soviet republics?  Was attention paid to Ukraine?


Proportionately perhaps a bit more.  I mean, not vastly more initially at least but somewhat more because of the domestic implications of dealing with that issue.  Of being seen to deal with that issue.  But the Baltic States were also of course an area of interest and it is where Canada like most Western countries maintained the (00:17:00) nonrecognition of Soviet control over those republics.  And that of course came to a head in January of 1991 with regards to the Baltic’s


Before your embassy work, before you joined external affairs in Canada, did you go to any Ukrainian youth groups in Canada, have you been wandering Ukrainian affairs in an informal way before you joined external affairs?


In a word, yes.


Can you elaborate on that?


I belonged to a Ukrainian Ethnic Scouts, and then to the Ukrainian Students Union where we would have seminars and think about things Soviet.  And also as I said, (00:18:00) took quite a few university courses dealing with the area.  So there was some personal background and baggage which one has to prime, again place in perspective.  I think one of the problems that many people of Ukrainian background in dealing with developments of the Soviet Union was that, whereas within Canadian politics they would deal with a largely rational distant fashion. There was a kind of emotional closeness that sometimes prevented people in seeing the limitations of where you could take the Ukrainian issue at a given stage in time.  I think that is something that one should try and place their backgrounds or beliefs in some sort of sense of perspective.


And what would you perceive the limitations to be bask in 1988 when you joined, or when you were first sent to Moscow?


(00:19:00) Well, I think the limitations were that clearly any major change in Ukraine would have a fundamental impact on the Soviet Union as a whole.  And therefore unless the entire structure were to begin falling apart, you couldn’t have any significant change.   And a significant change in the Soviet Union as a whole would have huge international implications.  So encouraging people to get ahead of themselves with regard to the Ukrainian issue is probably unhelpful.  I think that is (00:20:00) probably the way I saw it at the time.  And in fact, you can see that the demands of the Ukrainian movement evolved over time.  And ultimately when independence was voted by the Rada, it was only after the decision in principle if you will had been made defacto in Moscow through the August putch.


Going back to the period ‘88 through ’91 before the putch.  You were sitting in Moscow .  You were a political officer.  You were responsible for all of the former Soviet Republics.  You said that Ukrainian politicians that were in the All Union Supreme Soviet were one source of information.  The Ukrainian press was a second source of information.  Combined, did you feel that speaking to those people and reading those newspapers, that you were able you had a clear (00:21:00) picture of what was happening in Ukraine or was information a problem at that point?


It… There was more and more information as time went on. And again as glasnost evolved and as it finally hit Ukraine.  Then you began to see some Ukrainian journalist also showing up in Moscow.  In ‘88 information in Ukraine was a problem. By late ‘90 early ‘91 no longer a problem. You would get faxes from Ukraine all sorts of stuff.  And the deputies who travelled back and forth and of course were in constant contact with their constituencies were very helpful in that respect.


Were they… Did the Soviet authorities ever try to block your contact with those deputies?


Nope. No.  And, I mean these were fully legitimate contacts.  To the extent that I (00:22:00) had my Supreme Soviet pass.  These were Supreme Soviet deputies.  And of course, I also spoke with deputies from a whole range of  political backgrounds, republics, etceteras, Central Asians, Russians, Gogooius, Balts.  So I guess what we are looking at here in this conversation there was a much broader range of interests and concerns.


At what point did you begin to perceive that there were nationalist movements, legitimate nationalist movements bubbling up in the republics that were going to cause the center problems?  Focusing on the Ukraine issue, who exactly were you talking to and what were these people telling you?


(00:23:00) I would say by late fall of 1988… after the foundation on the establishment of societies and the other popular front in the Baltic states.  The Estonia popular front.  The Latvian people’s front.  You could see that the nationalist movements were becoming institutionalised.  And obviously the Baltic States had broad support and that the sort of incipient movements in other republics were looking at that establishing links, trying to draw on their experience.  And physically printing much of their material in the Baltic States, much of the Ukrainian, Belarussian, and even (00:24:00) Russian democratic press was printed in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia from ‘88 to ‘90 for instance. So, they that was the first indication that that was a serious threat to the established order.  I visited Lithuania, Latvia in November of ’88.  And, it was surprising to see the degree on unanimity in society on what it was they wanted.


Do you think the All Union Supreme Soviet was then a sort of important form in crystallising the idea and trading information among these isolated…..?


Absolutely, and also to broadcast into the public at large.  Because it gave these people to express their views.  And once they had been expressed over the radio, on television, the taboo on many issues and public discussion of them was broken.  I (00:25:00) think it has been said many times but, the initial sessions of the Congress and Supreme Soviet everyone was listening.  Wherever you walked in Moscow, the radios were all on.  Everyone was listening.  So…. And in the lobbies and hallways of the Halls of Congress and the Supreme Soviet that is where groups could mingle, mix, exchange business cards.(laughs)


And which Ukrainians were you speaking to at this point?


They were deputies such as Rustaslov Rapyun from L’view, the poet, long time communist member.  As it turned out later, prior to that a member.  And pragmatist at heart.  Very interesting fellow.  He died less than a year ago.  People, others such as Mr. Lapchinko who then went on to be head of the state Science and Technology Committee here in Ukraine.  Let me think as well of some of the other people.  Yavorivsky, Shcherbak, they were generally moderate reformist types.


What… Did Yevolusky and Sherbok have some sort of nationalist agenda at this time in Moscow ?


It depends how you define nationalist.  Certainly there was a Ukrainian autonomous and cultural agenda.  No doubt.  But I think they also felt that this would be a more of a long term proposition.  I don’t think any of them expected events to develop as quickly as they did.

So at that point how would you say they perceived their political role in the Congress of Peoples Deputies and the Supreme…?


I think they saw their role…The other person that comes up is Plovtichko.  They saw their role… and was also a deputy and a poet.  This was I think the poetic period in Ukraine in political development.  What I think they  wanted to use the platform of the Supreme Soviet to beam their message back at Ukrainians. Who still tended to… using the official legitimacy of the platform as a way to legitimise their own view to people and to secure laws that would give the republics more leeway and autonomy in decision making.


What… you said they were trying to use the platform to beam their message back to Ukraine.  What message were they trying to beam back?


It was essentially….  for the writers, their prime concern was cultural and language issues.  And, so you would find that of course, these issues would be addressed, the issue of the Ukrainian language would be addressed in Russian, in Moscow beamed back to Ukraine.  As well… issues of the past.  Interpretations of the past.  Ukrainian history the 1917, 1921 period.  The war time period. All of these things were being addressed.  And in fact, it was easier to raise these issues in Moscow that it was in Kiev where things were still much slower.  And where ‘89 to spring on 1990, none of these people belonged to let’s say, the Ukrainian Parliament.  So Moscow was an outlet.  And again for officials in Kiev, if it had been said in Moscow, well then, I suppose you could allow it to be retold again at the Ukrainian republican level.


At these times in the ‘88, ‘89 period, were the representatives from the republics acting as a kind of group to fight the central authorities for more rights for the republics?


I would say the more nationally aware or nationally inclined groups were and they tended to form a block with the Russian Democrats.  The interregional group of deputies even its name suggests that they were from different regions of the Soviet Union as they were.  And they were people such as Hodyn from Estonia one of the cochairs, Boris Yeltsin, Gavreyl Popov.  And they did certainly work together as a group.  Now, ultimately their interests would have diverged, but at that point their interests coincided.


So it was more a republics verses the center?


It was a republic… It was democrats in a republics and democrats in Russia verses the republic known quiltera and the central known quiltera at that point.  Because most of the deputies from Ukraine were still rather old regime communists who rarely spoke.  And when they did, maintained a line that was even more conservative as a rule that that of the central authorities in Moscow.  And that is probably true from most of the republics apart from the Baltic states where nearly everyone, whether they were communist party members or not spoke from the same script which was essentially a pro-independece or, what was it pro-economic independence at the time was the way they put it.  Point of view.


I want to return to what you said at the beginning of the interview which was, you said that at one point you were in Moscow the Ambassador got taken aside and warned by the Soviet authorities to keep you under control.  Were there any consequences that you suffered either from the Soviet authorities or from people in Canadian External Affairs as being identified as being a Ukrainian Canadian?

Ultimately not.  I mean, I think I was fortunate to the extent that the concerns and conditions that existed in the fall of 1988 soon changed through no doing of my own.  So the context changed and the Soviet authorities were far to preoccupied with many other things to worry about people like me.  And ditto since concern the Soviet side dissipated so there is no reason on the Canadian side to get particularly worked up about these things.  No, it is a reflection of the change in the atmosphere that happened from, let’s see from 1988 through 1991.  That it all became very matter of fact and not much of an issue at all.


And within External Affairs…… ?


Tape 2 Касета 2


Do you feel that you had any personal contribution to the independence movement?


Not really.  I think I may have provided a sounding board for some of the politicians.  Some of the Supreme Soviet deputies rather, helping them understand Western perceptions of Ukraine, what was going on.  Which may have then affected the way that they had presented their case.  But in some sort of fundamental way no, a much broader process.


What was their perception of a country like Canada?  Or what was it that Canada might be able give them?


I think there was this sense that Canada was this country full of Ukrainians.(laughs)  which should do something for them.  One had to explain to them that Canada didn’t owe Ukraine much of anything.  There was a domestic lobby that they could make use of.  But Canada like most Western countries had broader interests at stake.  And that in dealing, and I think most Canadians and Canadian foreign service people and other decision makers felt more comfortable dealing with the Ukrainian interlocutors  who showed an understanding of the broader issues as well as their own particular narrower concerns.  As well, I mean, there is a considerable knowledge gap  in the West about Ukraine.  I mentioned before that politicians and others in Canada are perhaps more aware of the existence of Ukraine that other countries, but not much beyond that.  So, I think it was helpful to explain some of these limitations to the Ukrainians.


You said when you looked at a may you saw a shape called Ukraine, but when your colleagues looked they saw the dotted lines of the Soviet Union.  At what point do you think that perception began to change and people began to see the shade of outlines of countries within the Soviet Union?

I think in Canadian terms probably from about  January of ‘91.  I’d say once the Baltics, a very definite, maybe even before that when Lithuania declared independence in 1990.  But really in January in ‘91 when CNN types of events began occuring in republics that had defined themselves as being independent.  And there was a definite us and them dichotomy between the forces of the Balt’s and the forces of the center.  But for many people that moment didn’t come until maybe after August of 1991.  I recall a military attachee from one of the northern countries called me up – was going down to Ukraine.  And, wanted to ask some questions about, get some background.  And because I said, you know, I really can’t imagine this place being anything like a country or some sort of unit, just sort of geographic entity.  Fine.  And he came back, still unconvinced that there was any reality to this alleged Ukraine.  It was just a population of Oblasts populated primarily by Russian speakers who didn’t look terribly different or exciting to him.  And this was June of ‘91.  So, I think there were still a lot of people who were not willing to take this seriously.  I think  they were willing to take Georgia, Armiania very evidently different places seriously.  But Ukraine was too ambigious, too…. too stolid perhaps even to be taken as the kind of place that could lead to the unraveling of the Soviet Union.


What about you?  You said you went to Ukraine on personal visits.  Did you ever go in on sort of, diplimatic missions other than the one to set up the advanced visit?


Certainly.  I would say probably two or three times a year.


And what kind of message were you getting from the Ukrainian leaders you met with?


Well….Or mid level Ukrainian officials I met with as the case may be.  At the regional level, at the oblast level especially in the West.  There was definitely in or Ivano Frankivsk or L’viv in places like that.  There was an indication that independence would come at some point.  Perhaps sooner than later.  And people were always seeking our support.  This was in May ‘91.  In dealing with officials of the Foreign Ministry they were increasingly willing to criticize or differ with views coming from Moscow.


Could you give a specific example?


Could I give a specific example?  Well, on… I think a relatively minor issue.  A Canadian canadacy on an exposition the first time.  This is either late 1990 or 1991.  We decided to lobby the Soviet Foreign Ministry and Ukrainian Foreign Ministry separately on this issue.  So we made our day march in Moscow and then we also went to Kiev and made a day march there separate to the Ukraine Foreign Ministry  This was very well received. It was probably the first time that someone had taken the time to do this.  And the way in which you could see people appreciating that sort of gesture reflected the evolution in their own notion of what they were about.


And what motivated Canada to….?


I think observations in the UN that the Ukrainian mission was begining to send off these vibes that were slightly at variance with what the Soviet mission was doing.  Therefore, it might be worthwhile to deliver our message seperately and this would guarantee a positive vote in the case of the one… expo that we were persuing.  So, this wasn’t again some sort of master plan, but it was trying to seize an opportunity which I think, both in Ottawa and we in Moscow perceived was emerging.


Were their guidlines set down in the Essemby on how you should be responding to ovatures by leaders of nationalist movements?


Not really… not formally.  I mean the one problem we encountered was in fact not so much in Ukraine as in the Baltic states.  Where it turned out that the leaders of the local government and communist parties were willing to meet with us.  But we couldn’t meet with them because of our nonrecognition policy.  So a policy which had origianlly been designed to help the Baltic States was becoming somewhat less productive because even in, I think this was 1988, we had an oopportunity ro meet with Orgelst Bristotous who had just been elected for Secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania.   The meeting in fact had been suggested by Professor Landsburgious as he then was.  But we couldn’t accept the invitation because he was head of the communist party.


Could you meet with him informally?  For coffee?


Well, we didn’t.  We weren’t sure what the limits were at the time from our own side.  And, so we missed that opportunity.  That ambiguity didn’t really extend to other parts of the Soviet Union.  So, in Ukraine we were free to meet anyone we wanted.


So, did you meet with the Rukh leaders in this period?


Yes, we did. For instance, when the Standing Commmittee on External Affairs and International Trade toured the Soviet Union, Moscow, Lenningrad, Kiev,  there was a round table which we organized in Kiev with representatives of the various new political parties including Rukh.


And in your political reporting back to Ottawa did you feel appropriate to include sections commenting on what Rukh was doing?  Or, what its asprirations were?


Oh, certainly.  We very much flagged that for people in Ottawa.


And did you notice in your discussions in the midlevel officials, did you notice any shift within the Ukrainian comminust party, any assertion of an independent policy line?


I would say that their was on the part of some people in the Communist party.  Others were still stuck firmly where they had been in 1985.  But more so among… not so much among party officials as officials in state bodies, ministries, that sort of thing.  Who perhaps felt less bound to the party itself.  So there yes, you could see this idea that again, probably promted to some extent by the Baltic campaign for economic independence.  That people quite… they could speak quite freely about wanting their own economy, in establishing their own plan, in collecting their own revenues.  This would be more rational.  And the belief which prevailed then, Ukraine was being exploited and it would be better off if it could manage, husband its own resources.  So you certainly heard much more of that.


Were you involved, monitoring the negotionations over the Union Treaty in 1991?




What were the Ukrainians saying then?  What did they want from the Union Treaty?


The Ukrainians wanted a very vague decentralized Union Treaty.  And they kept postponing any decisions.  They kept asking for more time.  And I think this is where Kravchuk proved his political tactical mastery, kept managing to put off these moments of truth without truely offending or confronting the center.  And knowing where they were coming from and knowing the pressures that were building from the Ukrianian opposition, at least, I was convinced that they weren’t sincerely interested in ultimately signing on.  Whereas, I think many people in Moscow felt that here was this wonderful Union treaty process moving right along.  That yes there were some delays, but everyone is ultimately committed to doing it.  And I think Ukrainians weren’t but in their own unique fashion, weren’t prepared to say it outloud and were trying to wiggle out of it.


At what point do you think that the central authorites in Moscow became aware that this is what was happening?  And at what point do you think the central authorities in Moscow became aware Rukh was not just a flash in the pan but a nationalist movement that could end Soviet power?


I think they never fully did become aware until the very end.  One of the problems was that there were too many ranking Ukrainians in the Central Aparat who interpreted events in Ukraine for Gorbachev and others.  And I think the number one interpreter for him was Hurenko, the former Kiev oblast party Secratary who then became Chef of Staff to Gorbachev.  And we met with him late spring of 1991.  And he said, “I know my Ukrianian people.  They may want a bit more land for their garden plots, but they are quiet people.  They would never do anything to upset the Soviet Union.  All this talk of soveirngty is all the doing of a small group of malcontents.  But, I know my people and they would never ever abandon the Soviet Union.”  So I think reassured by people who appeared credible as interpreters of Ukrainian reality, I think they were largely blind to what was happening.


Can you tell me a little bit more about Hurenko?  I mean when did he go up to Moscow?  He must have been a communist.  What type of communist was he?


Well, I think he was a aperatchik. He wasn’t a hard liner.  He was a kind of go with the flow aperatchik.  The other prime example was Ivashko, who given a choice between becoming second head of the communist party or staying head of the Ukrainain Parliament, choose to go to Moscow because he himself still perceived this as a promotion.  And there again I have no direct evidence of this, but I assume also advised Gorbachev on things Ukrainian.  So I think it was sort of the perception gaps of the Ukrainian communists that helped mislead the central authorities about what was happening.


And there was no indication that the Ukrainian communist party was sending messages up to the Soviet communist part suggesting that there was a little bit more to events than met the eye? Or do you think that they too were unaware of it?


No. I think they were probably more sensitive to it.  I don’t know to what extent they were the people that would signal bad news to the leadership.  I don’t know enough agout the internal workings to tell you whether they were doing that or not.  Again in the acedemic institutes everywhere in Moscow, there were very many Ukrainians.  And many of them had already spent many years in Moscow.  And their understanding of the situation in Ukraine was badly out of date by the summer of ‘91.


So at what point did people understand what was happening?  Was it just not until the actual vote for independnece went through?


In some cases…. Now I was not in Moscow, but to my understanding it was not until December 1st on the referendum.  Because certainly from what I understand from my colleguese who stayed in Moscow, and from the way things were percieved in August of ‘91, even in the West.  A number of people felt that the Ukrainian declaration was not really…. it was not for real.  It was a bargaining position in drawing up the new Union Treaty.  They couldn’t possibly mean declaring independence.  This was inconvievable.  And it was really only after the December 1st referendum and the steps to set up their own army which brought home the point.


Which events do you personally see as the most significant in the process of Ukriaine becoming independent?


I would say, of course the formation of Rukh in January of ‘89.  Afterwards the TV debate between Drach and Kravchuk which for the late spring early summer of ‘89.  Which for the first time brought the debate between the two positions to a broader Ukrainian public.  And legitimized public discourse on the subject.

Could you sort of give a little bit of background?  This is the first time I have heard of a reference to this TV debate.


There was a…. The party was conducting a campagn against the formation of Rukh.  And they had organized the usual scads of letters from insensed workers and collectors comdneming the whole idea.  And it was all rather old style.  But then Kravchuk agreed to a TV debate with Ivan Drach, head of Rukh at the time.  And this was shown on prime time Ukrainian television.  The ideolology chief of the party verse the head of Rukh.  I think Kravchuk was quite sure of his own…. of his own sort of oratorical and debating talents.  I would say there was no clear winner in the debate.  I only saw excerpts of it.  Bu the very fact that it had happened opened up a whole new level of discourse for people in Ukraine.


What language was that conducted in?


It was on Ukriainian TV.  It was in Ukrainian.


Do you remember what arguments… I mean, how was Kravchuk justifying the argument that their should be no Rukh?


Well, because the party itself was capable of self renewal.  And that it understood that there were certain stakes.  But he was already taking the Gorbachev Perestroika line.  And the party was a broad church. That it could take care of these things themselves.  They didn’t need an upstart organization to… to push it along.


But did the debate focus in anyway on the issue of not Ukrainian independence, but the issue of Ukraine existing as a …….?


Yes it did.  And again, that brought it into the mainstream.  Whether this actually was key event or not, it seemed to me at the time. Then, the…. sort of the human chain from Kiev to L’viv in January of 1990 if I’m not mistaken.  January 22, 1990.   Which showed that there was a mass base of support for the national movement.  That it wasn’t strictly limited to the leasha.


Could you again describe a bit of the background of the human chain?


Again it was inspired by the Baltic experiene where in 1989 they had set up a chain of people holding hands from Tallinn down through to Vilnius.  Hundreds of thousands of people.  And in the Ukrianian case it was used to show sort of the unity of the Ukrainian lands, Kiev, L’viv.  It was on the anniversary of the unification of the Western Ukrainian republic and the Ukranians Peoples Republic in 1919.  It was an action that was discouraged, but not prevented by the authorities.  And although I think the hand holders were a bit spotty (laughs) in bits.  Nevertheless, essentially it worked and it showed there was an organizational capability and a mass base of support behind the Ukrainian national movement.  And that was… and it was reported, perhaps not fully, but it was recorded in the Ukrainian official media as well.

Then the Baltic events of January ‘91.  Which were very…. I think, had a major impact on the thinking in Ukraine.  Largely because Rukh and other organizations had so many contacts on the Baltic popular fronts, so felt what was happening there very directly.  And because it created a definite image of the central authorities which nationalist could then exploit.  And then, well of course what I missed was the Declaration of Soveirgnty of June 16, 1990 and then onto August of 1991.


How did the authorities in Moscow respond to the… for instance, to the Declaration of Soveirngty?


I think nobody knew quite what to make of it.  Of course the Ukrainian Declaration of Soveirgnty came four days after the Russian Declaration of Soveirgnty which gave it kind of cover and…. I think there was certainly sort of the Western diplomatic community people really didn’t know what to make of it.  Ukrainians were declaring something very vauge.  Soverignty? What kind of soverignty?  Where?  What did it really mean?  Maybe it meant nothing.  It didn’t really fit into accepted international terms of reference.  You are either soveirgn or you are not.  That is largely the way people in the West see these things. And here is this kind of intermediate formulation with what seemed at the time to be totally unrealistic demands of denuclearization.  How could a part of the Soivet Union denuclearize itself?  So, because it was difficult to get your mind around(laughs) parts of it, I think a number of people dismissed it as not being very relevent.


At what point did you personally belive that independence was inevitable or that it would happen?


I think that… from the June 1990 declaration , there was a kind of process that was starting.  This was the first official demand, and that the demands could only esculate.  I think there is certain inevitablity there.  Then again after January of ‘91 when I spent quite a bit of time in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia in Februaruy, March of ‘91.  And you could see what was happening there.  The fact that even though they were part of the Soviet Union still officially defacto, they were operating as large independent units.  And once… once they want the rest of the structure which was already undermined by galstnost, the communist party’s decline of authority could very well start pulling apart.  But, I have to admit that I also thought that it would take a few months of a year longer than it did.  But the process was there.  And I know we had many debates in Moscow of how applicable the evens of Eastern Europe were to what was happening in the Soviet Union.  I tended to think they were more than less applicable if only superficially to what was happening in the Soviet Union.  Other collueagues didn’t share that view.  I guess ultimately we’ve both shown to be right to some extent.  In form, what happened in the Soviet Union was actually very similar to what happened in Eastern Europe.  The communist parties were banned.  They recceeded from power.  But in terms of underlying power structures, they remained in place to a much greater extent than they did to the countries of what is now considered central Europe.  So I suppose the debate can go on.


Did you see any difference at the time between what was happening… did you in any way consider the Baltics to be a unique case among the former Soviet Republics because they were only attached to the former Soviet Union or did you just see this as the beginning of the inevitable falling apart of the whole Union?


I think there are many things that are unquie about the Baltic republics.  But the Soviet Union being as centralized as it was, once you pull out one element, I don’t think the rest of it could have survived unaffected by that.  And it would have required somethine on the part of the Soviet leadership something that they never would have agreed to which was just to cut thier losses.  And excise the sort of gangreous part of the body politic before it infected everyone else, but everyone else was already infected.  So, sure they were different with respect to their own conciousness of who they were, of very much sort of us and them view of the rest Soviet Union, and their legal status in the eyes of the West.  But in terms of the Soviet Union as a whole, moving them percipitated a lot of what happened.


And what was the impact of Ukrainian’s Declaration of independence?


For the Soviet Union?  The end.  And that is something which we can clearly see now.  The Vilavysa agreements recently denounced by the Russian Duma were precipitated by the Ukrainian referendum of December 1, 1991.  It was only then I think that it became clear to Gorbachev that the game was over.  He made this last minute televised appeal to Ukrainains shortly before the referendum.  First time that the central leadership had, a central leader had gone on to appeal to the particular people to one particular republic to not do it.  To remember the age old links ectereras.  It is the referendum of December 1, 1991 that then led to the December 8th agreement that then in turn lead to the December 25, decision by Gorbachev to resign as President, lower the flag and agree to the dissolution of the USSR.  So while the Baltic states started, they pulled out the first building blocks in the structure, it is in fact the Ukrainian decision, Declaration of Independence in August, but even more so the referendum in December which sealed the fate of the Soviet Union.


You were in Ottawa in August of 1991 during the failed coup in Moscow.  Can you describe how you found out about the Coup? (laughter)


Well, I had just returned.  As I said I left Moscow on July 29, 1991.  I was about to start working in Ottawa as a Russian desk officer, or a Soviet desk officer as it then was.  On the 19th, on the morning of the 19th I was in the shower in a transit hotel waiting to find some place to live in Ottawa.  When, my wife saw me and said, “Look, I’ve just seen it on TV, there is a Coup in Moscow.” At first, I thought it was just a rouse to get me out of the shower because she wanted to have a shower herself.  But it turned out no, it was true.  I don’t know.  I was feeling kind of numb.  Butterflies in the stomach that sort of thing.  On the one hand regretted not being there.  I’d left three weeks too early.  Everything was happening.  Balanced by a partial sense of relief that if things were going to get far, then maybe it was a good thing I was in Ottawa and not in Moscow.  And got down to the office as soon as I could.  It was my first day back.  And we basically just worked three days solid trying to deal with what was happening.  I think this was largely unexpected for many people because the Soviet Union was not seen to be the place where Coups happened.  There were dodgie successions there were communist party secretaries who denounced their predecessors, this sort of thing.  But not a staright hunta coup kind of place.


What information was flowing into the External Affairs department, because a lot of people from the embassiy were on vacation when this happened?  Was it easy to get information?  Were the communication lines up and running?  What sort of picture was forming and at what point did it become aparant that the Coup would fail?


I think this was one of the first major CNN crisis.  So, we had that.  We had our Embassy phoning in reports, people in various places in Moscow reporting on what was happening.  As well, various electronic news services, writers AP, American Foreign Broadcast information service to provide transcripts of the events there.  So, we were quite well served with information.


And at what point did it become handled?


Tape 3 Касета 3


We were just… You were describing how Ottawa was receiving press information and at what point they realized that the Coup would fail?


I think on the end of the day on the 19th… really when it was clear that communication and media had not been cut. That oppostition was being mobilized and that indications were begining to come in from outlying regions that the Coup had not taken hold firmly outside of Moscow.  I think that is when we began suspected that it wouldn’t really work.  And on the 20th that become increasingly obvious.  By the 21st, it was all over.  Now, it’s…. that doesn’t mean that the implications were immediately obvious to all.  I mean, it’s decison, the first decision that converted people was again the Baltic States’ declaration of full indpenedence and then seeking legal recognintion of that from other countries.  That was the first case that put people on the spot in the immediate aftermath of the Coup.


What was the Canadian government response to that?  Also what statements were the Canadians making after the Coup?


Well, there was a somewhat equivical holding statement initially made by the Secratary of State of External Affairs, Mrs. McDougal.  And then as more information became available, a firmer statement denouncing the Coup, issued by the Prime Minister later on the 19th.  It… I think that in policy terms our department in Ottawa came to the conclusion that the proicess of was underway.  That you couldn’t put it all back together again.  And that he was better to ride the wave than to try and use diplomatic means to stop it. And, so for instance with regard to the Baltic States, both our Minister and Prime Minister were very forthcoming in their initial public statements on hearing of their declarations.  And indeed we were among the first to reestablish diplomatic relations since theoretically we had never recognized their annexation.  So it wasn’t even a matter of recognizing independence.  The format we choose was reestablished dimplomatic realtions.


What was the response to Ukraine’s August 24, Declaration of Independence in Ottawa?


Well, I think we took it rather more seriously than perhaps others at the time thinking that this decision was for real.  And of course, the motivations for the people who voted in favor in Kiev were very different.  But they all happened to coincide with both the communists who wanted to separate themselves from Yelstinite Russia and the nationalists who of course were in favor of naitonalist independence.  But these were very real factors in both cases.  So we… I think people in Ottawa what would have been done as the scenario evolved.  And of course, the decision itself provided for a referendum on December 1 coinciding with Presidential elections to confirm the declaration.  Prime Minister Maroni when he was in Kennybunkport visiting President Bush expressed the view that Canada would respect the views of the Urkainian people.


This was when?


Late August, the 26th or 27th.  Now, I wouldn’t guarantee that I’ve got the dates exactly right.


Were other Western leaders making similar statements or was that unusual?


That was at that point still fairly unusual for Western leaders certainly.


And what prompted Mr. Malroni to make that statement?


I think on one hand, the policy review from both his own advisors and from our appointment, the process was well underway as Gorachev would have put it.  With regard to Perestroika.  And could not be easily stopped.  Nor was that… nor would that be in our interests.  And also of course, because there was considerable domestic intersest in the issue.  And so there were political reasons as well for staking out a fairly forward position on the issue.


And how did… once that Mr. Maroni had made that statement, did it affect the Canadian’s governement’s policy towards Ukraine?  Were there more trips by Canadian officials to Kiev to see first had what was going on?


Well, the first major trip that happened was Leonid Kravchuk’s visit to Canada in mid-September, 1991.  And there again you had to work out a number of issues.  This was a country that had declared independnece, had not yet ratified it  Here was a President that was not fully a President.  He was the head of Parliament.  So it was a major protocal challenge.  There was a question of which flag should be flown.  And from what I understand, we asked Ukrainian officials who were preparing the visit at the time, “Well, what is you state flag.”  There had been no decision yet.  And it was partly in response to this very ordinary logistical protocalaire query that the Parliament in Kiev had then adapted a ruling on what the Ukrainian flag was.(laughs)  So that his trip to North America, and Canada in particular, Kravchuk would be able to fly a flag which was the blue and yellow flag.  That is one of the very unlikely ways in which Canadian Ukrainian relations played into the process here in Ukraine.  And Kravchuk was given a fairly high level status, the visit to Canada involved most of the usual elements for the head of government of head of state.  And met with the Prime Minister, met with the Foreign Minister. And that I think played well in Ukraine.


Did… was the Soviet flag flown along side the blue and yellow flag?


No.  No Soviet flag.


Was there any reaction from Moscow to fly the blue and yellow flag ?


Well, the Soviet Embassy did not seem terribly pleased at the time.  There was… there were no public statements or interventions that I recall from the embassy.  I think they were still hoping to work things out back home. So we’re not keen to offend Kravchuk or doing anything irretrievable.


Was there any debate in External Affairs about whether this was a wise policy to  adopt?


Well, there is always debate


How sharp was the debate?


Not terribly.  I think there was a recognition that this is the way things were going.  And from both the Canadian international and domestic point of view this was the right approach to take.


Did Mr. Kravchuk go to the States on that visit as well?


He did as well.


And what flag did they fly?


There was much less flag flying down… down there from what I understand at any rate.  The status of the visit was quite different.




More unofficial. Yes.

Who… did… was Kravchuk invited by a department or a government branch in Canada to come or did he ask to come?  How was it that this visit became….?


The visit had been scheduled before the August events as a kind of getting to know you Ukraine,  sending out feelers in the world visit.  And then of course its status began to change after the events of August the 24th.  There was I think, in the Ukraine community a measure of incredulity, in terms of wondering whether the changes that had occured with Mr. Kravchuk were genuine or not. I think most people in the communisty had taken his word for it.  That he was commited to the things he was then saying about independence.  And the visit itself provided another opportunity for the Prime Minister at the time to restate Canada’s position that it was the decision of the Ukrainian people to decide in the referendum what their status was going to be.


Do you think that… I mean that must have been interpreted by the Ukrainians as a signal of support that Kravchuk was being treated as a quasi head of state.   Do you think that bolstered the self confidence of the Ukrainian?  Did it have any impact of what was happening here in Kiev?


I think they certainly enjoyed the visit.  And I think it certainly improved their self esteem as players on the international stage.  And that the images from that visit were used in the referendum campagin here as one of the examples of Ukraine’s new role.


During the course of the visit, the Kravchuk visit in September, did Kravchuk ask the Canadians whether…. to what extent that they were willing to support Ukraine if something went wrong in its bid to assert its to independence?


No, I wasn’t privy to all of the private discussion so I can’t really tell you.  My impression was that Ukraine had made the overall pitch was that Ukraine had made its choice.  They didn’t foresee things going wrong and were asking for support with the view to the referendum of December 1st.


Canada was the first of the Western countries to recognize Ukraine following the announcements of the results of the December 1st referendum.  Can you describe what was going on in Ottawa at that point and why and how was Canada able to respond so quickly?


This was a cabinet decision taken in November, but it was all based on the overall policy line that had been pursued since August.  The Prime Minister was on the record as saying should there be a referendum Canada would respect the choice.  So the issue really was how much should Canada hang back and wait for others.  Or would it act on its own. And ultimately it was decided that Canada should act based on its own judgement, based on the results.  And not necesasrily wait for the critical mass of Western countries to emerge before going ahead.  And that is in fact what happened.


Were you at work when the news came through?


We were from December 1st through December 2nd.  We were sitting there monitoring the situation trying to get results, credible results.  And the approach certainly was that as soon as credible results were available that a decision on recognition should be issued.  Once they had been received, absorbed, analyzed, the next step would be to make the decision.  And of course the results would be very convincing in favor of independence.  Almost 92%.  I think the fact that Poland was the first country to recognize independence can be largely be explained by the time difference.  Which meant simply that the working day in Ottawa started later than it did in Warsaw.  But certainly there was a determination to make a point of going ahead with recognition.


Can you describe what it felt like, I mean for you personally when these results were in?


It was exciting. Again from a strictly sort of Ukrainian point of view, someone who had some sort of personal and family link to the issue but also from the point of view that was clear to me that this was the deciding event for the Soviet Union.  That they didn’t have much of a future.  And, so there was sort of a flutter of excitement.  But balance with the bureacrat you need to keep rewriting press releases and a phrase here, a phrase there, a comman here, a comma there, to make sure that it was ready for release.  And so it was a mixture of those two things.  The kind of excitement and then tedious beaurocratic routine.


What about the August 24th vote?   How did you feel when you heard about that?


I was actually surprised at the near unaminity.  Because again, not being there, the sudden change in the attitudes of  the communists was not immediately evident or obvious to someone outside.  But once more information came in you could see that this was something that would probably hold.  That it wasn’t just a one off decision that people would reconsider next week and sign up to a reconstituted union.  So there the feeling was somewhat different because there there were a disbelievers at that point.  In August.


In Ottawa?


In Ottawa and elsewhere.  Whereas by December, I think there was a consensus at least in Ottawa that this was it


And what happened after recognition?  What were the next policy debates? Policy steps?


Well, I think first of all it was a matter of getting news of recognition, news of recognition through to Kiev.  And that was Mr Giousky,our Consol General at the time who did that.


So how did it happen?


That was chronicled in some detail by Steve Handalman who accompanied him to Kravchuks dacha.  Our decision came through, it was nighttime in Kiev by then and it was the night of the 2nd of December. And I can’t retell the story quite as well as Steve Handleman described it.  But, they raced off to Kravchuk’s dacha outside of Kiev.  Got through the guards, told them they had an important massage.  The telexed copy of Canada’s decision on recognition and then personally Mr. Giosky handed the message to Kravchuk who was of course very pleased to get it.  I think they had a few drinks afterwards to mark the occassion.  I think for the Canadia poit of view, what was satisfying about the whole experience was it was a case were Canada didn’t wait for the pack, and acted on its own.  And as a country that is focused on multilateralism it is rarely that you get the buzz of being out ahead of the pack.  So that too was I think exciting.


And was Canada’s decision to recognize Ukraine and were the results of the Ukrainian referendum getting a lot of publicity in Canada?  Was it something your average Canadian would notice and wake up to and say, “Oh…..”  ?


I’d say that they don’t.  Certainly more attention that your average diplomatic issues

and that it is rare to see Canada outfront of its major allies.