Serhii Leshchenko cannot complain about much boredom in his life. Quite the contrary: there are even too much drives and emotions. A long standoff with Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko is added to his work in the Parliament and with the team of presidential candidate (and now President) Zelensky. A high standard of their relationship: Lutsenko calls Leshchenko a "skunk," in response, the latter calls the Prosecutor General (read below in this interview) a "useless political fossil." The general audience, meanwhile, is tired of trying to figure out who is right, who is guilty, and what will come out of all of this.
And then there is a Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudi Giuliani, who not only learned the name Leshchenko, but also attacked the Ukrainian MP with accusations. A hot talk at "Fox News @ Night" brought Serhii into an international orbit – yet in fact, as an incredibly scandalous figure of the "enemy of President Trump." It may sound flattering, but there is little pleasant about it. In the modern political lexicon, such "titles" are considered "toxic" and bring only trouble.
We started our interview with Serhii Leshchenko with the accusations of the former New York mayor. The conversation turned out to be vigorous, emotional, and with interesting twists of meaning. At certain moments, the talk was like a squabble; well, it is even more interesting!
- You must have read an interview with Rudi Giuliani on Censor.NET, where he said about cancellation of his visit to Ukraine. Your name is mentioned there. I quote: "And then I asked for a meeting with the President, but instead there was a leak to the press that Leshchenko and somebody else advised him to stop the investigation and not to meet with me. And when I began to check it (and I actually I did not know who these people are), then the people in the United States told me that I should not go, because this is a trap set up by Democrats and people loyal to Soros."
What can you say about it?
What Giuliani said is not true. I did not influence Zelensky’s decision not to meet with him, and there are witnesses to that - he already had got such a stance at the time of our meeting the day Giuliani announced about his flight to Ukraine.
-And do you agree with how Giuliani described the appointment of Andrii Bohdan as the head of the Presidential Administration? Here is another quote: "And the message that President Trump would like to convey to him (and which I would convey) is: "It is not a good idea to surround yourself with the enemies of President Trump. Because it is one thing to surround yourself with some decent people with different political views and quite the opposite is to put next to you a guy who worked as a lawyer for a top oligarch, who is said to have withdrawn billions from your bank."
I do not agree. In general, it seems to me that we are facing an unprecedented case when a person who does not have any official position in the United States is trying to influence Ukrainian domestic politics. Turning Ukraine into a banana republic has reached a new level: previously, it was at least some officials who pointed out at weak points and linked the matter of providing financial assistance with solving the Ukrainian problems. And now it is just a citizen of the US. Without any authorization, who is not even registered as a lobbyist, he dictates the Ukrainian President who to deal and not to deal with. Maybe it is a good idea to give Giuliani a Ukrainian passport and offer him some official position in the government if he is so much worried about Ukraine?
- Well, what do you think about the appointment of Bohdan? Why do you think that after receiving a number of skeptical calls and verbal warnings by the "Republican" line, the President nevertheless appointed Bohdan? Why is he, comparing to other candidates, the most suitable person for Zelensky?
I know Bohdan personally for 10 years and I immediately warn you - I am biased. It was Bohdan who introduced me to Zelensky in December 2018. And he brought into the team a number of people who have an impeccable reputation and work experience like Abromavicius, Danyluk, Riaboshapka, and Herus. He uses headhunters to search for effective governors. He asks ambassadors for help with recommendations for effective managers. He has started to attract British company Crown Agents to managing customs.
Bogdan is not a saint and not perfect, with his skeletons in the closet. But he is the one who is the most efficient and fastest player in Zelensky’s team, and I see from my own example that he is ready to expand Zelensky’s social circle at the expense of people who do not belong to the close circle.
The Administration is a President’s back office, and I think he has the right to decide who will head this office. Now I do not see that Bohdan is a middleman of Kolomoisky's interests in Zelensky’s surrounding - Kolomoisky has many alternative channels.
As for the lustration of Bohdan, it is just to settle accounts - he was one of seven officials in the Azarov’s government and the only one on whom sanctions were imposed. It was a price paid for the fact that he removed the state registry out of corruption schemes.
At the same time, I do not want my words about Bohdan to sound like a total approval. Some of his clients are puzzling me, but it is his own business. We talked once with him and one of the key ambassadors in Kyiv, and she said to Bohdan: "There are no people without the past. It is important what you are going to do now." For him, now there is a chance to change his future - and with it also a perception of his past.
"I PUBLICALLY APPEAL TO GIULIANI BY THIS INTERVIEW. HE KNOWS THAT I WANT TO TALK TO HIM"
- Lutsenko/Leshchenko. Over the past two weeks, your confrontation with the Prosecutor General - not without the help of Giuliani - has become an international scandal. Have any foreign media asked you for a comment? What is their interest in this issue?
Lutsenko has engaged a part of the American establishment into a campaign to defend his position as a Prosecutor General in order to create a necessary pressure on newly elected President Zelensky. In this campaign, he has been using his subordinate Nazar Kholodnytskyi who owes remaining in his office to Lutsenko, as I want to remind you about a scandal that happened in Ukraine a year ago. The illegal actions of the specialized prosecutor were exposed: blocking the investigation of the NABU (The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine), disrupting the proceedings, putting pressure on the court.
Lutsenko himself promised and then announced the charges for Kholodnytskyi. But a few weeks later, the charges just vanished. And after that, the KDKP (a commission to qualification and discipline prosecutors), controlled by Lutsenko, kept Kholodnytskyi in his office, and Kholodnytskyi surrendered as a captive to Lutsenko. Therefore, today we have a unique situation, when the Prosecutor General is clinging to his office despite the public intentions of the newly elected President to have another person in this chair.
- For you and Lutsenko, this is an open-ended story with unclear consequences. Does it disturb you or does it motivate you to fight? Or maybe you are flattered? It seems to me that the phrase "Leshchenko is Trump's enemy" can cause all three of these reactions. But what do you feel first of all?
- I do not want to lie and say that I am delighted. The situation is not simple, and a few weeks ago on Saturday morning I woke up because I received several messages from various people saying that now it turns out that I am Trump's personal enemy.
- At that time, you had not seen the news with quotes from Giuliani’s interview on Fox News?
- I was sleeping and when I woke up, I was shocked by how Guliani was deceived. He used absolutely false information about me, but the facts themselves were quite detailed. And he was told all these facts in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine.
- Which facts do you refer to?
- For example, they said that I am a convicted person. Giuliani said it on air. Of course, he could only learn it from someone in Ukraine. But this person did not explain Giuliani that I cannot not be a convicted person.
Because, first of all, we are talking about an administrative court who deals with Rosenblatt’s lawsuit, while he is on the hook of Lutsenko. And this decision has not come into force, since there has been an appeal filed. Because the administrative court, in principle, did not require anything. By a court decision, there were consequences. And, for example, Rosenblat filed his lawsuit with the expiration of a statute of limitations for 1.5 years. Then this case was in court for a year - and at the end, in December, they began to speed up sharply, because the scenario has been put into effect.
- You said "first of all". And what is second?
- Giuliani claims that the "black ledger" is a fake or fraud, that is, a fake document. It is also not true, because in Ukraine there were examinations that confirmed authenticity of the document. There were examinations conducted regarding MPs Kalyuzhny and Geller who signed the transactions, including those for Manafort. The credibility of the "black ledger" is confirmed by interrogations of many people who worked in the office of the Party of Regions on Lypska Street in Kyiv, where this "black ledger" was kept. In the US., the information from the "black ledger" is confirmed by comparing the transactions on Manafort’s secret accounts with transactions that were displayed in the "black ledger."
In fact, the "black ledger" gave a push to the Americans to expose their own criminal Mr. Manafort. And it allowed to bring to their budget an amount of approximately $ 20 million.
- Let’s go back to my question. Does this story, with the reaction of Giuliani and the huge interest of the US media, make you anxious or does it motivate you to fight? Or is it flattering you?
- Here is my answer: I was not afraid to expose corruption under President Kuchma without a deputy immunity, when Yuriy Lutsenko entered the Parliament, got his parliamentary immunity and began to change his political loyalty very often. I was not afraid to investigate the Mezhyhiria estate under Yanukovych without any immunity, as well as the corruption cases connected with the Austrian schemes of the Kliuevs brothers, with Kurchenko, with Yanukovych’s close circle. At that time Lutsenko worked as a minister in the government of Yanukovych - and now I am not afraid of him either. He motivates me only to work more.
At the same time, Lutsenko himself is not interesting for me, because he belongs to the past. And I am interested in the future, while he has already been judged by history. He is a useless political fossil. What do we have today? We have his agony, an attempt to maintain his position in power after the presidential elections. And I think he made a mistake trying to put pressure on the new President by involving the American citizens.
- After Giuliani’s hot interview on Fox News, I guess you wrote in social media that you are ready to meet with him.
- I am ready to meet with Giuliani. And I asked Fox News to give me the opportunity to respond.
- Did you receive an answer?
- There was no answer.
- Have you addressed Giuliani himself, in one way or another? Because if you think that his position is shaped by Lutsenko, then why not simply remove the Prosecutor General and talk with Giuliani directly?
I publicly address Giuliani by this interview. He knows that I want to talk to him. As for Fox News, I publicly addressed the journalist who was taking his interview. My assistant sent a letter to a Fox News editor. I know that The Hill website is participating in this campaign. I am ready to give an interview to The Hill and to tell my version of the story. You do not need to believe me, but in terms of balance you should give the floor to everyone and let the reader decide what the truth is.
Besides that, I want to talk to the FBI. In my life I have done this repeatedly: I visited the FBI headquarters; I know agents who investigated Lazarenko’s case, who helped to identify Yanukovych’s assets. And regarding Manafort, I also communicated with an agent, whom I handed certain documents. And I received a voucher from him that they accepted the documents about Manafort.
- What documents are we talking about?
- They were about a 2009 transfer of 750 thousand dollars to Manafort’s account, a transfer to a US account from a Kyrgyzstan one, which belonged to an offshore company registered in Belize. Recently, these documents were returned to me by the FBI, and during an interrogation I handed them to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The FBI has all my contacts. I think there are several FBI agents in Kyiv at the embassy and at NABU (since they have a cooperation agreement). They can meet me any time, I will give them all the information. Because, for example, there has been already a case of fake news that I allegedly blackmailed Manafort through messages sent by e-mail or text messages.
- And what happened next?
- I explained it to the FBI, with primary sources in my hands I showed them how a fake mail was created on Icloud, tied to my old e-mail that I do not use. In general, they know a lot about me. If they need more information, they can always find it.
- Yuriy Lutsenko once quoted the phrase you wrote on social media: "I think it was the last nail in Manafort’s coffin and I hope Trump’s one too." You did not think about the fact that for Giuliani this phrase may look like a surrender and acknowledgement of guilt. After that, he is confident that you were originally on the side of the Democrats and wanted to intervene in the course of the American elections.
- This Facebook post was a mistake. Politicians speak a lot in public - and make mistakes. I believe that my Facebook post was a typical political mistake like those everyone makes in their life. And Trump makes political mistakes, and Putin, and Macron, and Merkel.
- After Giuliani’s interview, you said that you are not President Trump’s enemy.
- I have never considered being an enemy, because for me the cooperation between Ukraine and the United States is important. How can I be the enemy of a state leader who is a strategic partner for us? But everyone makes mistakes. Think of other politicians who, at the time, also made negative statements about Trump. Just open the archive and search.
- Yes, a lot of hasty words were said at that time.
- Look what Avakov said about Trump, what Yatsenyuk said. I don't blame them, by the way. Because all politicians were in a certain spirit, with their emotions. Why we were so emotional? Because at that time Trump was considered to be the pro-Russian scenario for Ukraine. These are not my words. This is Muller's report, which now is publicly available. One of the episodes of the Muller report concerns how people from Trump's close circle entered into communication with the Russian embassy, with Ambassador Kislyak, and how the position of the Republican Party regarding the provision of weapons to Ukraine changed after that. Initially, it was planned to provide Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons, but then in the document of the Republican Party the latter was replaced with appropriate assistance. Therefore, the influence of these meetings made a change in the key document of the Republican Party!
Of course, we all knew it. Just like, for example, we knew about Trump's erroneous words that Russian-speaking people live in Crimea, thus Russians reasonably occupied Crimea. This was also said! That is why many allowed emotional remarks in response.
- Perhaps Giuliani (and therefore, Trump as they are very close) considers (and perhaps knows something) that it is only a small part of the iceberg that is visible above the surface. And that if you say this openly on social media, then, I can say, you could make more serious things under water. Moreover, they have a lot of information about the contacts of ex-ambassador Jovanovic, etc. They are eager to collect information. Especially now, amid the confrontation of Biden-Trump.
- Election interference is, for example a secret special operation, an attempt to influence through agents, through hacking networks, through distribution of fake news. This is exactly what Mueller’s report is about – Russian interference in the American elections. And he cites many examples of this, but at the same time claims that Trump personally was not a part of this conspiracy. But there are a lot of examples of interference, including through people around Trump.
TABLE TALKS OF THE NABU HEAD? THERE IS AN INVESTIGATION, THEY SHOULD VERIFY AUTHENTICITY OF THE RECORDS. BUT I DO NOT THINK THAT TABLE TALKS CAN BE A PROOF OF INTERFERENCE IN THE AMERICAN ELECTION"
- Let's talk about the "black ledger" of the Party of Regions. Who did you get it from?
- Here is the chronology. In February 2016, I got an envelope at my parliamentary mail, containing 22 pages of the "black ledger," its color photocopies. There was no mention of Manafort. In May 2016, Viktor Trepak sent the documents to the NABU, and there was his interview in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. And then I understood that this is a part of what I have. After that, I published these documents on Ukraiinska Pravda website and make them public at a press conference in Kyiv. At the same time, in the 22 pages that I published there was no mention of Manafort. After my press conference, all the documents and the envelope were handed over to the NABU.
- What happened next?
- After that the summer begins. In August, when I was abroad on vacation, journalist Andrew Kramer from The New York Times called me and said: did you ever hear about Manafort in the "black ledger"? I said no, I have not. I only had 22 pages. And Manafort was not mentioned there. I myself wondered if he was there or not.
So he said: then I will ask you for a comment about what the "black ledger." I answered: the "black ledger" is a documented crime of Yanukovych, etc. On August 14th, this article with a quote is published in The New York Times. A storm of hype begins in America; an echo reaches Ukraine. On August 18, in response to numerous inquiries of journalists after the publication in The New York Times, the NABU published an announcement on their website. It said that Manafort is mentioned 22 times the "black ledger," with the total amount, I think, more than 12 million dollars. On August 19, the day after the official announcement of the NABU, I went to a press conference and announced that Manafort is really mentioned a certain number of times in the "black ledger" of the Party of Regions.
Such is a chronology of the events. Therefore, I say that Lutsenko, when he makes his statements, does not go deep into the essence of things. He is a superficial, not fully professional person. Now, obviously, Lutsenko has got a note, prepared for him, or he read this chronology carefully and realized that he was wrong. Therefore, they have decided to start another case around the apartment. Okay, let's do an apartment case for the fifth time.
- So you got these pages of the "black ledger" not from the NABU and not from the American embassy, as the Republicans believe?
- Of course not. I have never discussed the case of the "black ledger" with the American embassy.
- You say that these materials were sent to you anonymously in your parliamentary mail. Anything can happen. But the reader should know that, among other things, this is a classic way for a journalist to somehow explain the presence of hot or sensitive materials. In this way, journalists can hide (very often – for some good reasons) the source of information.
- They were sent to me by mail - I repeat, no mentioning of Manafort. With an envelope. I handed over the envelope, I handed over the pages, I don’t have them now. They are in the NABU that conducted the investigation. Ask them if they checked the return address from which my 22 pages were allegedly sent. My assistant and I contacted people who were registered there. They said they didn't send anything like that.
- A few days ago, talking to the journalists of Censor.NET, Rudy Giuliani once again stressed that there was no signature of Manafort. And this is indeed the case. Can we then say with 100% certainty that he received the money?
- Of course, this is confirmed by the American investigation. Manafort went to prison for tax evasion for the money he received on his secret accounts from Ukrainian corrupt officials. And the "black ledger" was the starting point for this investigation.
They did not use this evidence because they needed to establish the origin of this document ...
-Why didn't they use this evidence?"
- And why should they do it if the FBI found Manafort’s accounts in Cyprus and the money received on them from Ukrainian clients in the interests of Yanukovych, as well as the absence of reporting to the US tax authorities on the receipt of this money. In addition, they tracked Manafort's expenses from this account - to purchase apartments, real estate in America, carpets, crocodile leather jackets, costumes, furniture, paintings, etc. And they have evidence for the entire chain of events, so they simply don’t need to involve the "black ledger" as an additional evidence! Because in a US criminal investigation all the evidence is considered due to the principle beyond the reasonable doubt. Such evidence should not cause any doubts, because we are talking about criminal prosecution and ending up in prison. And since the "black ledger" was beyond the scope of the doubt, it was not used. But it existed - and everything was proved by it.
- Do you believe in authenticity of the records of the table talks where the head of the NABU Sytnyk says that it is necessary to support Hillary Clinton?
- This is not God to believe or not to believe. There is an investigation, they should verify authenticity of the records. But then again, I do not think that table talks can be a proof of interference in the American election. Because I am sure that Lutsenko himself speaks even more badly in his table talks. But in order for table remarks to be a basis for election interference, there must be some actions behind them that violate American laws. So far, I am analyzing the position of NABU in this matter together with you, as it was also public. It was not contrary to the interests of the truth, because, let me repeat, this all led to condemning American citizen Manafort. And no one questions his status as a criminal. And in the Republican Party they distanced themselves from him, because he really violated American laws. That's all.
- Lutsenko calls you a skunk, and how will you call him in our conversation?
- A useless political fossil, that is, a person who has spent 22 years in Ukrainian politics, starting with the position of an advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.
- Well worded. But then why did not you call him a political fossil in 2014? Then, as far as I know, Mustafa got into to the BPP (the Block of Petro Poroshenko Party) list without any problems, and you talked with Lutsenko and asked him to persuade Poroshenko.
- It is not true.
- You did not go to speak to him?
- We went three of us together, with Mustafa and Svitlana Zalishchuk. And three of us spoke with him. But in the same way, three of us went to Poroshenko - and in the same way we spoke with him. I did not have a separate communication with Lutsenko on this issue.
- But is it true that Mustafa and Zalishchuk got into the list without problems, and there were big doubts about you?
- First of all, I don’t know anything about it. Second, if you look at things objectively, then Lutsenko had no influence on the formation of the list. Because he put there, if I remember correctly, only one of his people. He could not list all the others. Therefore, to assume that Lutsenko could include someone on the list is, at the least, not true.
Moreover, it is strange to say that Lutsenko included me in the list. Then, frankly speaking, there was a real hunt of different parties to include more activists in their lists. For example, we had exactly the same meeting with Yulia Tymoshenko. And the same willingness was on her part. Therefore, to think that thanks to Lutsenko my political career happened, it is nonsense. Yuriy Lutsenko probably forgot that I have been a journalist for the last 15 years, with international awards in America, Germany, Norway, Poland. He forgot that thanks to me, the evidence was gathered in the case of Yanukovych. He forgot that I gave about 100 pages of evidence only in the case of Yanukovych and Mezhyhiriia, on solar energy. In these cases, official charges were issued for Yanukovych, the Kliuev brothers, Stavytsky, etc. What are we talking about? Is he trying to tell me that my life has begun after meeting him? It seems to be a completely different story.
"FOR ME, THE STORY OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ZELENSKY FROM THE MOMENT OF ACQUAINTANCE ON DECEMBER 8, 2018, IS A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFETIME"
- You actively supported Volodymyr Zelensky during the course of his campaign, and, probably, with good reason you expect that you will either get a seat in the parliamentary list of "Servant of the People" or you will get some position in the government under the new President.
However, now your status in Trump's eyes is still toxic. We all heard the words of Giuliani. Now let's put ourselves at Zelensky’s place. Isn't it easier for him to "flush" a person who is toxic and does not even belong to his inner circle (although probably useful as an ally) in exchange for having an undisturbed line of communication with Trump?
- I do not want to continue to talk about this topic, because it is very delicate. But I will say that I personally told Volodymyr Zelensky that I will fully accept any of his decisions and I leave it fully at his discretion.
- Personally or through someone?
- Personally. I do not want to say how; in the modern world we have different ways of communication. He received such a message from me.
- And what did he answer?
- Let it remain between me and the newly elected President. Once again: I personally told him that I consider his hands free and do not want to make him hostage to anyone’s interests or intrigues. Because he has a legitimate mandate from the citizens of Ukraine - 73% - to act as he considers necessary. I will not be angry at him for any of his decisions, because he is an absolutely unique chance for Ukraine. And I do not want this chance to be a hostage of a dirty game that has been created by one of the politicians of the past.
For me, the story of our relationship with Zelensky from the moment of acquaintance on December 8, 2018, is a unique experience of my lifetime. It was an opportunity for me to see closely how the old political system was collapsing and a new one is being created. We don’t know how Zelensky’s presidency will proceed, but the foundation has been laid for the changes for which I have entered the political life: to change the political class, change the establishment, change the rules, change the communications in politics, the message.
At the same time, Zelensky and I never had any agreement about any positions. This was not even a question. There has been a story that is unique even on a global scale, and I was lucky to observe it closely and make a modest contribution to its coming to life.
And I saw how a team of 15 people with only courage, decisiveness, and public capital (yes, of course, access to television, but indeed many in the campaign had access to television) made the political sarcophagus, built by Poroshenko, collapse. And before that – it was of his predecessor, Yanukovych. Therefore, for me it is already a cool thing.
- I look at you and I am surprised: you speak as a man in love speaks about the object of his affection. It looks sincere and apparently it makes Zelensky look positive. But I want to repeat my question: what did the President answer to your message?
- I do not want to make other people's words public.
- Got it. If you put the situation with the Republicans out of the picture - who would you see yourself in the new life with President Zelensky?
- First, in the situation in which I am now, it does not make any sense to comment. Second, even if this situation did not exist, I would not answer this question anyway.
- Because in politics, probably, it simply does not work to speak like this. Nobody just announces their plans publicly, because the next day they start to knock you off these plans.
-So you're like Truffaldino, both here and there. On the one hand, you are like a journalist - and from your enemies you demand transparency. On the other hand, you are against publicly announcing your plans. But what about openness, what about explaining positions? By the way, the new President communicates with the public practically through Youtube, so doesn’t it bother you?
- A lot of things confuse me in Ukrainian politics.
- I am now talking about President Zelensky, the man about whom you speak with such sympathy. Doesn't it bother you that we bought a cat in a bag and really do not know what the new President believes in and what he wants for the country?
- It's just a cliché from the propaganda of Petro Poroshenko!
- Quite possible. But it is a fact that during the entire election campaign he gave a minimum of interviews and avoided participating in TV programs; that he communicates with the country by short videos and the way he communicates – doesn’t it bother you? I imagine Leshchenko seven years ago as a journalist, he would not stop criticizing such a candidate (and now such a President).
- First, it's all your assumptions. For some people, seven interviews during the campaign - it is a lot, for someone - very little. For three months, he gave up to ten interviews, including meetings with a large number of Western journalists. Just knowing the situation from the inside, I understand that 500 requests cannot be satisfied. Even if you give an interview every day. Say, one of the largest European newspapers constantly offers to do an interview with him with a portrait on the front page. But the answer is: if we give an interview to you, what will we say to your competitors? And this has its own logic, because you have to be fair with everyone.
- You talk about it so systematically and confidently. Are you responsible for the media department?
- I am not responsible for the media department, but I know the logic. In an election campaign you have a goal - to win. You don’t have a goal to satisfy all journalists, to please all students, to promise all the best to pensioners. You proceed to victory by creating your own strategy. Everyone does it in their own way. Macron in his own way. Trump - in his own way. Zelensky - in his own way. One puts people in the camps of in order to get rid of competitors. And one makes video blogs to win the election. Everyone has their own strategy of coming to power.
- You are aware that Leshchenko, a 7 years ago version, would not have said that?
- Any assessment should be considered in the context of events. It is one thing when a journalist speaks, another is when a politician speaks.
- This what I want to hear. Because at times I get lost, where Leshchenko is a politician and where he is a journalist.
- I am a journalist by origin, by my work. Because at the same time I am a member of the Union of Journalists.
- And you give your speeches, and articles, and blogs in a journalistic style.
- Journalism is my skill. I can handle facts based on my journalistic skills.
- What about worldview, understanding of the world?
- Well, wait. If I am a member of the Union of Journalists, then I am a journalist, right? Having an international press card, am I a journalist? I have an education as a journalist. By law, I'm a journalist. Because the law allows combining journalism with the work of an MP. At the same time, my permanent job is in the Parliament. There is no contradiction in this, because our Constitution is specially written so as to leave the possibility for simultaneous employment of MPs, so they can have creative, scientific and teaching work.
- You have already said how cool it was to see all the stages of Zelensky’s victory from inside. Is there anything that worries you in his appointments?
- I do not want to discuss the process of preparing ingredients in the kitchen before preparing the dish. Because, as it turns out, we have not yet seen the dishes - and I would be talking about how, for example, the kitchen looks. Do you understand what I mean? We have not seen the final product yet. Let Zelensky present his team, his candidates for the posts, governors, ministers, the Prosecutor General, the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine). The National Bank, as I understand it, is not changing its head. Then - the election list. And only after that it will be possible to say that the team is bad or good. In the meantime, you ask me about how to wash vegetables in the kitchen and cut apples. But we still have not seen the apple pie, have not tried to taste it, but it turns out that I should criticize how the apples are washed?
- But, perhaps, you know about unsanitary conditions in the kitchen or something disgusting that happens?
- Okay, then I will say this: there is no unsanitary conditions there. There is a normal process.
-Then I'll come in from the other side. For people, the way Zelensky thinks is terra incognita. You know a little more about it. Look, they brought Zelensky the candidates for the Prosecutor General, for example. How will he act, will they be further checked? Who will the President listen to?
- The situation regarding the Prosecutor General is unknown to me.
- Replace it with any other significant office. I am interested in the selection algorithm and priorities in the structure of Zelensky's personnel requirements.
- For example, the governors have meetings with several headhunter agencies that collect information on the most appropriate and strong candidates who are available to take this office.
-So he gets some shortlist ...
- ... For example, I saw how they considered the candidacy for one of the ministers. Of the candidates who came to the interview, Zelensky did not know either one or another. This means that he is open to new people. Personal loyalty is not important to him - you can hardly expect personal loyalty from a person you do not know. But for him the professional discussion was important. He studied resumes. He asked: you worked in that office, and now your candidacy is being considered for this position. What would you say if we offered you the position that you occupied before? Is it possible to return there?
In general, it was a professional communication. With the study of positions, comprehensive understanding of the past and considering alternative scenarios.
- Even those who talk positively about many personal qualities of Zelensky, they admit that the new President has impressive illiteracy or lack of awareness in many spheres. But this person has to immerse immediately in the most difficult schedule of meetings, conversations, trips, to work with documents. I'm not even talking about the situation when there will be a one-on-one conversation with world leaders, officials, financiers, etc. Such a communication does provide the presence of specialized advisors as saviors for a neophyte. What do you think, will he master in the shortest possible time, on the move, a huge array of necessary knowledge and skills?
- First, I will comment on the journalistic cliché you mentioned. One-on-one communication does not exist. World leaders do not meet in baths. Perhaps, at the dawn of Ukrainian independence, there were meetings of three in Yeltsin’s bathhouse — but this practice has long been gone for good. At any meeting there is a referent, an adviser. And even if the meeting is held tête-à-tête, then it is conducted through an interpreter. Because it is important that these words are transmitted with 100% accuracy
Any president is surrounded by a team. Even if this is a meeting of the G7, there is still a sherpa behind each of them who prepares the materials.
Second, the presidency is not about the encyclopedia. A president is not elected to be an encyclopedia of knowledge; if that was the case, our world would be perfect, and all the presidents would be intellectual leaders. There would be no wars in the world, there would be complete justice. Therefore, the presidency is about leadership, about determination, about delegation. That's what the president is about.
- I will say it in a different way. He needs to make a decision ragarding an important issue. Advisors and reviewers offer various options. Any lack of awareness in the subject in question may lead to a wrong decision. Do you have any concerns about this?
- No, because such decisions are not made behind a closed door, in any case there is a discussion.
"AM I ON KOLOMOYSKY’S HOOK? THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FUNNY. NO, I AM NOT ON A HOOK. AND PEOPLE CONNECTED WITH IHOR VALERIIOVYCH [KOLOMOISKY] ARE PUNCHING ME FROM ALL THE PLATFORMS AVAILABLE FOR THEM.
- Two years ago, I was seeking to interview you to an answer the question why you stopped writing about Kolomoisky. At that time you explained that he no longer owns Privat Bank, he is not a governor anymore, he ceased to be an oligarch, his level of ties and influence has decreased, therefore, there is no point in doing it.
Now the situation has dramatically changed. Ihor Valeriiovych returned to the country and is rapidly moving to dominant roles. Why don't you write about Kolomoisky now?
- Well, why I, for example, do not write about Firtash now? And I have never stopped talking about Kolomoisky. I just do not know what it means to "talk" in your understanding of the word. For example, I have video blogs, I don't think you are watching them. I have blogs on Ukraiinska Pravda.
- Why don't you talk about Kolomoisky as often and harshly, as you have been talking about Poroshenko, for example?
- So wait, Poroshenko was the highest official.
- Well - about Akhmetov.
- I believe that today Ukraine is held hostage by the monopolies that were constructed under Poroshenko and threaten the lives of every person. Because there is a monopoly in those areas in which you cannot find an alternative. For example, the delivery of electricity to an apartment, a house, a factory, the Verkhovna Rada, to schools. Everywhere we have a story when it is controlled, in fact, by Akhmetov - and thanks to Poroshenko. Therefore, Poroshenko in collusion with Akhmetov allowed him to get what Akhmetov did not get under Yanukovych. Medvedchuk with Poroshenko regained his influence, which he did not have since the time of Kuchma.
- Well, I don’t compare it with the times of Kuchma, but I don’t deny that his influence has grown.
- Therefore, today I am focused on the real problems that we see today. If a real problem comes up with Kolomoisky, we will speak in the situation when it comes up. Why should I comment on what we do not have on the table yet?
- Yes, but you haven't talked about him for 2 years. Although earlier you had marathons of harsh criticism of Kolomoisky for weeks. With numbers, names, titles. And your opinions were scathing. Here is one: "It will all end up with a Ukrainian Hezbollah that will not be Strelkov's army, but "Dnipro" army. Because it is Kolomoisky who will be interested in building his federal Ukraine with his own laws."
- It is important to consider everything in its context. If you quote from 2014-15, let's remind the context of those events. Let us recall how the management of Ukrtransnafta was changed, how the state attempted but never took control of Ukrnafta. How we changed the law about the quorum. After all, it is easiest to throw a phrase for the reader’s eyes. It means simply to manipulate, because you need to remember the context. And I was just not silent when everyone was silent. And today Kolomoisky has lost the influence that he had then. He is not a state official, he does not control any critical monopolies that exist in the financial sector, his influence has decreased so much that ...
- Wait a minute. Do you know ratings of "1 + 1" Channel?
- "1 + 1" Channel is a private channel. What can I answer you?
- A private channel that largely led to power ...
- I do not want to comment separately on "1 + 1".
- Because I want to comment on the entire media market today.
- But we are now talking about Kolomoisky.
- We are now talking about the media market.
- You don't talk about Pinchuk either ...
- So make me a list of whom I need to comment on, so that I understand that in this case, if I comment on them, I meet the criteria that you set for me, and if I do not comment on them, then I do not meet your expectations.
- You have "Honest Politics" program on TV. It’s not for me to tell you that politics in Ukraine is largely about oligarchs. And so, in your "Honest Politics" you do not speak about Pinchuk or Kolomoisky. You talk about Akhmetov and Poroshenko as an oligarch president. Why such a strange choice?
- Let me answer, and then we will not continue to circle around this topic, because we are walking around the same answer. I am talking about those people who today, thanks to Poroshenko’s actions, gained access to the crucial influence on Ukrainian politics, economy, and media space. These are Poroshenko, Medvedchuk, Akhmetov. People who currently control the critically important sectors of the economy, have media assets, and some even direct their funds to promote the Russian agenda in Ukraine. And they are in my focus. If there are others, I urge other journalists to do the same. To analyze other figures? I am not a bureau where you come and tell me to "work on him/her" - and I will conduct artillery fire on this person. I proceed from my understanding of the context and current processes.
- Wouldn't it be more honest to say: I, Serhii Leshchenko, am a politician, and therefore politicians have allies, fellow travelers, and enemies. And I harshly criticize my enemies, I keep quiet about my fellow travelers, but I speak well of allies ...
- No, you cannot say so.
- Let me finish. You could say: do not consider me a journalist, because I am no longer such, because I do not follow the principle of equal approaches to different people. Therefore, no consistent approach to people. Here you say that Kolomoisky lost his influence. But he owns the most valuable media assets. He has influence on a number of deputies of the Verkhovna Rada ...
- You have a speech now. Can you ask me a question? Look, I'll die a journalist. I'll be a journalist for all my life. Therefore, I have no other Leshchenko for you. If you don’t like this Leshchenko - don’t watch him, don’t take into consideration such a Leshchenko. He is what he is. He will not be different for you.
The second question. To praise someone, to be silent about someone, to criticize others. And whom do I praise? Show me the oligarch whom I praise. I proceed from my understanding of current processes today. Today, the processes are taking place in such a way that, thanks to Poroshenko at the last stage of his presidency, he created a critical risk zone for Ukraine as such, especially in the energy and energy resources spheres. And it concerns the market for diesel fuel, liquefied gas, and energy in general - from the solar to thermal one. Now it is a time bomb under the new President.
To continue. If we are talking about "1 + 1" Channel, I suggest expanding the talk to the entire Ukrainian media market, divided between six clans. And these clans are used as a weapon in the political struggle during elections. And here we face the same risk of influence of either one or another oligarch. This risk should be removed by creating new laws, and most importantly - new practices. Because to write a law is not a difficult task, but to introduce new practices in Ukraine is a different story.
I believe that with Poroshenko we did not have any chance to create such new practices. He became an accomplice of all this. Getting his share of the pie, he entered this top league of oligarchs. And with Zelensky, there is such a chance again, and we should not miss it. And I will not say that I will be the one who will hold a lever or switch. This should be done by the society: journalists, politicians, foreign partners, to force this system to go in the right direction. That's all.
- The last question about Kolomoisky. I insist that comparing the endless marathon that you had in 2015-16 with this silence of yours is very conspicuous. For a few years already. Is this not because you have a truce with him? And is it not because, as many believe, you are on his hook? Ihor Valeriiovych, he knows how to do it ...
- On Kolomoisky’s hook? This is absolutely funny. No, I'm not on any hook. This is the first thing. Second, people connected with Ihor Valeriiovych are punching me from all the platforms available for them.
- And who exactly?
- Look at the media space, journalists of "1 + 1" Channel, their regular programs about me. They are quite unfair. I do not want to put labels, but if you closely follow video blogs, public statements of people with whom Ihor Valeriiovych communicates, you can notice a very negative attitude towards me there. I repeat, I see Kolomoisky as a person who, until today, has no influence on the power processes. He has been in power. His people have not been there too. He has got no influence. Although they say that Lutsenko has been a man with whom he continues to communicate until today. So my answer is no. If there is any dirt on me, let it be presented. I do not feel like a man who has some dirt to hide. Everything that has been said about me, it has become public all over the world and has already become the subject of discussion in the international press. Well, let's write about Leshchenko’s apartment in a New York Times article.
- Well, how dirt works is that usually it is not made public to keep a person on the hook. Quite understandable logic.
- Due to your logic, as you say, it has been two years that I do not say anything. So two years ago Zelensky did not intend to run for any political office. You see, such an assertion should have, if not a factual basis, then at least a logical one. And it does not have it.
- Well, why not? From the point of view of Kolomoisky, the logic is to restrain a person who was a constant source of an information pressure on him.
- Let me say that I have not communicated with Kolomoisky since 2015. But I believe that this imbalance, which Poroshenko created, was not just an imbalance aimed at Poroshenko’s personal enrichment. You see, if Poroshenko had restrained the level of influence of all the oligarchs, everyone would have applauded. And if Poroshenko gives Akhmetov super profits on Rotterdam+, then someone pays this profit.
- It is logical.
- So this profit of Akhmetov is paid by all citizens of Ukraine. But it is also paid by other businessmen and oligarchs who have energy-dependent production. For example, manufacturers of ferroalloys, because they have a huge dependence on energy. In the agricultural sector there is also a great dependence on energy in producing certain types of products.
And it turns out that if you give super profits to some, and others pay this super-profit, then you become an accomplice of some oligarchs against other oligarchs. Although you should have done the opposite – reduce the influence of all the oligarchs, without getting the profit yourself.
But Poroshenko did the worst. He created a huge imbalance of the system. Akhmetov with Medvedchuk and Poroshenko became three top oligarchs. And other oligarchs have been turned into a resource for the growth of these three. And he did it not by mistake, but by purpose - because he earned money from it.
Thus, he considered that there are oligarchs-suckers and there are oligarchs-masters. And he divided them into suckers and owners. Although he should have been above the struggle. But Poroshenko decided to become the master oligarch himself, and others were assigned to the role of suckers. And, by the way, it is a reason for his devastating loss in the election.
- Yes, he was responsible.
- Although I think this is not enough. There must also be criminal charges.
- Serhii, you got into politics precisely through the Poroshenko parliamentary party, but quite quickly, like Mustafa and Svitlana Zalishchuk, turned into his implacable critic. How likely is it that in a few months, in a year, it will be the same with Zelensky?
- (Sarcastically) I do not know, maybe in a few months I will be in prison for interference in the American elections, who knows? I do not know to whom I will be in opposition then.
- Do you admit such an option? Have you already been threatened by it? I do not mean the Americans.
- As of today, Lutsenko opened three criminal cases against me. The first case: I am a Saakashvili’s accomplice in his escape from custody. The second case: I allegedly interfered in the American elections and divulged information on Manafort. And the third one: I stole my own apartment from myself. Or gave myself a bribe of an apartment.
So there are three criminal charges against me. In my opinion, it is my achievement; I have never had three criminal cases at the same time. Therefore, I do not want to predict where I will be in three months. But I will stay true to myself and will do what I have done before. Therefore, your job is to scrutinize me, and mine is to do what I do. And we will see where we will be in three months.
By Ievhenii Kuzmenko, Censor.NET
Photo: Nataliia Sharomova, Censor.NET