Prime Minister of Ukraine

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

M. Yanukovych thanked the Council of Europe for the honour of addressing the Assembly. He noted that the Council of Europe had always represented the highest European values on the rule of law and respect for human rights and had played an important role in the development in new democratic nations. He stated he was attending the Assembly to speak honestly and fairly.

He outlined the current political situation in Ukraine and posed the question of whether it was the result of adopting processes leading towards a parliamentary system which begun in 2004. He stated that this was not necessarily the case and that the current situation was a result of an unviable and opaque system that lacked clear lines of responsibility and accountability. In 2004, Ukraine had decided to move from a presidential system to a parliamentary system, in line with democratic European models. The plan would not entirely strip the president of all powers but would leave that office with responsibility over the army, the appointment of governors and the power to veto new laws, among other things.

He said that, during the current transitional period following the 2004 elections and 2006, the year that reforms were to come into force, the president had made progress difficult. However, to reverse the transition and not adopt recommendations established by the Council of Europe at this stage would not be beneficial. Political self-interest should not be allowed to get in the way of the establishment of the rule of law. Ukraine had decided to make the establishment of European democratic and legal values irrevocable.

His difficult relationship with the president was technical in nature and in part was the result of a lack of consensus within the coalition government. He said the consensus that once existed had now given way to demands centred around the president’s power of veto.

He moved on to discuss the case for setting out advanced elections and said that these were only be desired by radical aspects of the government and the political community that wished to move away from progress towards a parliamentary system. He went on to question whether such elections were required while Ukraine was still developing economically and culturally. Inflation was at a record low of 1.1%. The coalition government had established a programme of structural reform and new media organisations and structures were developing. Parliamentary reform would mirror economic growth. He could not understand why such an essential decision was approved in violation of the constitution.

It was a difficult time for Ukraine. The timing of elections itself was not the key issue; the principal was about the law being upheld in the face of political considerations. Judges should rule, not the streets. The decision of the president to dissolve parliament on political, rather than legal, grounds could not be condoned. There was a way out; actions that complied with the constitution must be encouraged, negotiations continued and the search for a compromise maintained. The option of force must be excluded.

His political party was not afraid of an election – he was confident it would win whatever the timing – but he wanted to implement structural reforms before the end of his party’s term in order to benefit the people of Ukraine. Without resolution of the current impasse, Ukraine and Europe might be pushed towards dangerous civil conflict and economic crisis. In the past, major disagreements had been addressed through compromise and political figures had shown restraint. For example, only at the end of last year, political forces in Ukraine had joined together to legislate for the accession of Ukraine to the World Trade Organization.

Ukraine owed a big debt to the Council of Europe, and it was trying to implement the standards set out by the Council – for example, by developing a legislative framework for the prison system and a draft code of criminal procedures. Further legislation to reform the judiciary were planned. However, there would be difficulties. Corruption was commonplace and it was insufficient for parliament to just approve laws, they must be properly enforced.

He wanted to reassure members that the measures that he had set out would be implemented. His party would work within the law and do all that it could to promote democracy within Ukraine. He said that he was still learning about democracy, but his time in opposition had taught him a great deal. He thanked the Council of Europe for all its help and advice.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your interesting and important contribution to the debate today and also to the urgent debate on Thursday morning. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind members that questions should be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. The first question is from Mr Van den Brande on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.


Mr Prime Minister, you were very clear and open, but very critical and negative towards President Yushchenko. What possible compromise do you see, as you reject early elections? You say you will work along the lines of the constitution. Do you accept the principles of good governance, the principles of the Venice Commission and the principle of an imperative mandate for political parties?

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said it was true that effective dialogue was of paramount importance. He was in contact with the president every day, and had suggested a package of proposals on which he hoped that they could agree. One difference remained, as the president believed that the situation with regard to the elections should be resolved within a political framework. He did not want to wait for the ruling of the constitutional court. Other issues such as the number of members of parliament in the coalition and the opposition related to the central difference between Mr Yanukovych and the president. Parliament had passed a number of resolutions but the situation was not yet resolved. The decision of the constitutional court was vital although it was not clear how long the court would take.

Mr EVANS (United Kingdom)

Mr Prime Minister, it appears that you want a quick solution, but constitutional courts sometimes take a long time to come to decisions. What are the chances of there being a compromise before the Constitutional Court reaches a decision? If the Constitutional Court reaches a decision, will you, as Prime Minister, ensure that the judges are properly protected from any political interference whatever? I understand that some of them have now taken to having bodyguards and a number ended up hospitalised over the weekend.

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said his party would seek to find a resolution until the last moment; he did not want to paint the president into a corner. Turning to the issue of political pressure being applied to the judges of the constitutional court, he said that the chair of the court had turned down a proposal to testify on this subject, as had the other judges of the court. The court had decided not to take any breaks before it had made its ruling, and he hoped this would accelerate the decision-making process.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Mr Prime Minister, we have unfortunately seen a clash between the elected president and the elected parliament in your country. In your opinion, what is the concrete contribution that we in this Assembly can make to you and your parliament’s obligation to protect democracy in Ukraine and to comply with the standards of the Council of Europe? What do you suggest and expect this Assembly to do?

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

reassured members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that his party would comply with the principles set out by the Council of Europe. Central to these principles was the rule of law, a principle that Ukraine respected in the same way as every other European country.

In 2010, Ukraine would hold presidential elections, followed a year later by parliamentary elections. He hoped that no mistakes or violations would be made by a future president who did not respect the political decision of the people – in other words, the president should not be able to dissolve the parliament.

He had already expressed his approach to dealing with the political situation in advance of a ruling from the constitutional court.

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (interpretation)

commented that Ukraine had proposed finding a solution to the Transnistria issue and was involved with Moldova in solving the situation. She asked how the Prime Minister saw the matter evolving.

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that Ukraine believed that a solution to the conflict was possible through the 5 + 2 model, and believed that the monitoring of the situation internationally should not be stopped, but should continue.

Mr LINDBLAD (Sweden)

Prime Minister, I would like to ask you about the corruption issue. There have been very disturbing reports about corruption in Ukraine lately. The most spectacular involves the transcript of a telephone conversation between Minister Lukash and Judge Stanik about taking bribes. Is it normal to have those conversations, and is the report true? Secondly, you mentioned new legislation against corruption. What exactly is in that legislation, and are you investigating the issue involving Lukash and Stanik?

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

noted that issues of corruption existed in Ukraine, as well as in other countries of the world and the former Soviet states. One of the key priorities in overcoming corruption was the reform of the judiciary. A draft law on the judiciary had already been submitted to parliament, and had been discussed once. Although this was a government draft, it had been developed with the assistance of a national committee. Furthermore, a new tax code, designed to improve anti-corruption remedies had been developed. These were just some of the initiatives aimed at fighting corruption in Ukraine.

In relation to politics, the government would not interfere with the prosecutor general’s office. Only the court could make a ruling, and comments in the political arena about the violation of Ukrainian laws did not help the judges. The situation yesterday showed that the law enforcement system also required reform.

Mrs BILOZIR (Ukraine) (interpretation)

stated that the Prime Minister’s visit had been scheduled a long time ago and that the Prime Minister’s speech acknowledged the influence of the Council of Europe Assembly. She asked in what circumstances the veto of the president might be overcome and what the process was.

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that this was an interesting question and one that he would answer in accordance with the advice given to him by the legal experts. The veto of the president could be overturned within the framework of the constitution. There were legal procedures in place. Decrees of the president were by-laws. The principal law of Ukraine was the constitution. All citizens of Ukraine, including the president, had to comply with the constitution. If the constitutional court ruled a decree to be valid, the government and the prime minister would enforce that decree. If the court decided otherwise, then the legal as well as the political responsibility would be that of the president, and he would have to bear that responsibility and account for any violation of the constitution.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

Poland was the first country to recognise Ukrainian independence. Since that time, during sixteen years, we have tried to assist you in different ways, including through President Kwaśniewski’s role in the last crisis, three years ago. Here in Strasbourg, however, the crucial thing for us is a concrete Council of Europe role, in helping to resolve your crisis, given its legal and constitutional character, through the role of the Venice Commission and our Parliamentary Assembly.

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that he thought that he had already given an answer to this question. He believed, and had already stated, that any problem should be solved by the parliament within the legal framework provided for by the constitution rather than the via the political framework existing between president, government and parliament.

Mr BOKERIA (Georgia)

You clearly stated in your speech, Mr Prime Minister, that elections held after the Orange revolution, in particular those held in 2006 and in which your political power was won against the incumbent president’s political power, were the most free and fair in the history of Ukraine. We hear reports that the government is trying to substitute the leadership of the central electoral commission – a leadership that has managed the most free and fair elections in the history of your country. That is being done by the same people who managed the most fraudulent elections in the history of Ukraine – elections that caused the Orange revolution. How would you explain that?

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that he had not advocated that decision. It was made by the parliament and not the government. The decision had been made in an emotional way and was clearly a negative example of how such controversial issues should be dealt with.

Mrs NAKASHIDZÉ (Georgia)

Prime Minister, it is a little bit incomprehensible how you, while claiming to be an advocate of the rule of law, violate that same rule by encouraging members of parliament to disobey the presidential decree, which, according to your legislature, is valid and obligatory on the whole territory of Ukraine until deemed otherwise by the Constitutional Court. Why are you trying to blockade the pre-term elections, which are the only and the most peaceful way out of the political deadlock?

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

noted that that position was based on the fact that the government was a collegiate body and, according to the constitution, such decisions had to be made by a majority. The decision was taken by an absolute majority with the exception of two ministers. The government had acted within the rules of the constitution.

Mrs TEVDORADZE (Georgia) (interpretation)

asked in relation to freedom of speech why the party member, Mr Oleg Kalashnikov, had not been expelled for hitting a journalist and why a television programme on which opposition members appeared was closed down.

Mr Yanukovych, Prime Minister of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that he had been the first to suggest that Mr Kalashnikov should be evicted from the Party of the Regions. However, the Party of the Regions had not yet had its congress. In relation to the television programme, this had been a decision made by the chairman of the television company and had been a board decision within the framework of the companies charter. By law, the government could not interfere in the operation of a television company.


Thank you, Mr Prime Minister.

We must now conclude the questions. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you warmly for your address and for the answers that you have given. It has proved once again that this Assembly is unique in Europe in that we can put forward questions of all kinds, from all parts of Europe, direct to the responsible prime ministers. I thank members for having done that.