Hromadske Radio
  • Live
  • Podcasts
  • Latest News
  • Extended news

‘Compromise is the only way out of a very over-heated situation,’ Ukraine Analyst Karatnycky says

Adrian Karatnycky talks to Bohdan Nahaylo how the old Ukraine and the new Ukraine are engaged in struggle and compromise

Show hosts

Oksana Smerechuk,

Bohdan Nahaylo


Адріан Каратницький

‘Compromise is the only way out of a very over-heated situation,’ Ukraine Analyst Karatnycky says
‘Compromise is the only way out of a very over-heated situation,’ Ukraine Analyst Karatnycky says

Hello and welcome to this week’s Ukraine Calling programme. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. We’ll have a roundup of the weekly news for you,  some culture, and some music. We’re bringing you a feature interview by Bohdan Nahaylo speaking with political analyst Adrian Karatnycky.

Feature Interview: Adrian Karatnycky talks to Bohdan Nahaylo how the old Ukraine and the new Ukraine are engaged in struggle and compromise




Feature Interview: Adrian Karatnycky talks to Bohdan Nahaylo how the old Ukraine and the new Ukraine are engaged in struggle and compromise

Nahaylo: My guest on this week’s discussion is the very well-known Ukrainian-American, or American-Ukrainian analyst, consultant, public figure Adrian Karatnycky. Adrian has been on the scene for many years as a Ukraine watcher. He’s known in the United States as a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Before that, among other positions that he’s held, he was President of Freedom House. Adrian is frequently here [in Ukraine]. He’s somebody who knows what’s going on in Ukraine from within the system, and from without. So I’m very pleased to have you here, especially as we’re long term friends, and allies in the good fight.

Karatnycky: Well I’m delighted to be here. And I’m also delighted to appear on a very special day, which is your major milestone birthday. I will not give away what sort of milestone it is, but let’s say we’ve known each other for a bit over four decades, from when the idea of Ukraine was merely a fantasy of over-active activist in the diaspora, and a few brave political prisoner/dissidents, in whose defense you and we rose. And I think with all the turbulence in Ukraine we nevertheless feel that the fruit of our dreams and hopes is to a degree fulfilled. Not completely fulfilled, but significantly fulfilled. And it’s delightful to have this kind of a discussion on your birthday.

Nahaylo: Thank you very much, Adrian. You are a pioneer, with several other colleagues in New York, of the new directions that we should be heading. And here we are, forty or so odd years later, sitting in an independent Ukraine, interviewing one another about where we’re at! Let’s start off by saying that this last month has been quite dramatic. We’ve seen all sorts of developments. The tensions between NABU [Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau], the Procurator’s Office, and the Security Services reaching a new peak. We’ve seen the ongoing saga around Mikheil Saakashvili flare up yet again. We’ve seen some disconcerting signs of impatience, shall we say, or frustration from external factors, countries, states, organizations. So, what’s your take? Where are we at? How can we puts things into some kind of perspective rather than looking at single developments that may, or may not be, inter-related?

Karatnycky: Well, I’d like to take a little bit of a step back. It is your birthday, and you’ve just invoked many decades. I think that it’s a good idea to have that kind of a historic and analytical perspective. And I would say that throughout the history of the effort to build an independent Ukraine, and throughout the key moments, the key junctures of change that occurred, the old Ukraine, and the new Ukraine were engaged in a struggle, but sometimes in compromise. And there was struggle that in a sense forced compromise. New Ukraine pressed old Ukraine, but always found a part of old Ukraine, of the old establishment, that was willing to make a bargain. But so was civil society.

Let’s begin with the ‘alpha moment.’ The creation of Ukraine was only possible because a certain segment of the old communist elite, a certain segment of the official cultural establishment, and political prisoners, I would say principled radicals, were ready to make a bargain.

Nahaylo: Adrian, sorry to interrupt you, but even a hundred years ago, if we look at 1917-1918, that was also the case. You had elements within the Russian Army, within the Austrian Army, elements within the Russian Imperial Center, came over to the idea of Ukraine. A working compromise was temporarily struck.

Karatnycky: Yes, but there was also a lot of disunity. There were uncontrolled regiments that committed atrocities. For example pogroms under [Symon] Petliura [leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic 1918-1921], by uncontrolled chieftains. All of that created a certain degree of disharmony. There was the dream of statehood, but there was suspicion. There was left and right.

Nahaylo: And rogue elements…

Karatnycky: And rogue elements. And they did not come together in a grand compromise. Of course, there were other factors. But nevertheless, that experiment failed because of, in a sense, the fragmentation of the unity of the patriotic cause.

Nahaylo: And then there are the National Communists of the 1920s. The [Mykola] Skrypnyk’s and [Mykola] Khvyliovyi’s, who…

Karatnycky: But that’s already when the battle had been lost, and it was just not yet clear that the battle was lost. There was no national unity. Those two, frankly, are examples of the opposite trend. Of an inability, or impossibility, of compromise. I think the compromise occurred also on the Orange Revolution. So the first compromise was between parts of the old and the new occurred around independence. Which is a great, and important, accomplishment. The second compromise occurred around the integrity of democracy [2004], which also involved a portion of the old elite. Including President Kuchma finally acquiescing. And the courts, official institutions of the old elite, passing a ruling that allowed for the re-running of the second round of the flawed and falsified elections. So there we had progress towards the integrity of the vote count. And that also required some negotiation, bargaining, and, in a sense, compromise. Part of that compromise was that many of the old establishment were left alone. Needless to say, both in the independence compromise, and in the compromise over democratic process, it meant that there was not a complete, clean break with much of the practices of the past. And many of the problems that Ukraine faces today: corruption, plutocracy, oligarchy, are remnants of those compromises. But the fact is, without those compromises, there may not have been statehood, and there may not have been democracy at all.

And now we have a moment with a lot of tension, a lot of conflict. And then the third Maidan, the European Maidan, the anti-Yanukovych Maidan, also required a segment of the elite, because remember, Putin claims that there was a coup. There was not a coup, because the Parliament, by a constitutional majority voted. And oligarchs and others also, frankly, pressed some of their minions inside that old Parliament to vote in a new leadership and a new government, and to make an orderly transition.

Now we have another conflict. But this time it seems like some portions of the new Ukraine are ready for sober compromise and discussion, and some portions of the current and old governing elite are ready for compromise. In fact part of the people who are now being accused of being part of the old elite are people who supported the Maidan financially. Some of the people who are being accused of corruption, or being indifferent to corruption, are part of that elite that made possible that Maidan. I think it’s very important to understand that we are at a moment where there’s a lot of tension, there are a lot of radical elements, sometimes using extremist slogans. But civil society, democracy will require, at some point, some sort of a compromise. I believe that compromise is the only way out of a very over-heated situation. 

Nahaylo: Thank you. But stepping back even more. In the 1990s. The battle over the constitution, which has been ongoing. The battle over what type of system there should be here, Parliamentary? Presidential? Both? It’s theoretically both at this stage, but more of a Presidential system, as we see. Is it not only a question of the division of resources, control over resources and hence corruption, but also about checks and balances within the system?

Karatnycky: In my view, to a far lesser extent. The problem is how to deal with the corruption legacies of the past, which are very widespread. If you really want to look deeply into the past of the vast majority of people who are of a certain generation in government, and in politics, and so on, you’ll always find some skeletons in the closet. Skeletons about an apartment that was privatized improperly, that a factory was privatized improperly. It’s simply a difference of scale. But if you really wanted to have a very vigilant and clear revolutionary justice, you would, basically, have to eviscerate, the vast portion of the Ukrainian ruling elite. And I’m not sure there’s an alternate elite, entire alternate elite that could step in and represent the state.

And more importantly, if you eviscerate and destroy a large portion of that compromised elite, there are other players, other than liberal, well-minded, well-intentioned reformers, who want political power. There is the pro-Russian faction. There is Russia seeking de-stabilization. There are populists who also have authoritarian impulses.

So in a country where 80% of the people live at, or just below, the margin of poverty, the discourse that develops within the more privileged urban, educated, sometimes Western educated, elite, is a little far removed. The dream of a technocratic, liberal Ukraine, operating purely under the rule of law, in the sense that there is democratic politics, and the politics of demagogy, is a very far reach. That’s another reason why a compromise has to be struck.

Nahaylo: So you’re basically advocating a gradualist approach, based on reason, on reality of the situation?

Karatnycky: Well, look, it’s also up to the elite. This business elite has always put off doing away with its’ practices. Each time there is a change there’s a discussion, ‘let’s start from here, let’s make this the beginning point of playing by the rules, narrowing the scope for corruption, rent-seeking, and so on.’ And yet, we see a return of those practices. Yes, we’ve had a bit of a narrowing of this, certainly in the gas and energy sector. Certainly we’ve seen a narrowing of this because of Prozorro [open source government e-procurement system]. But there are so very many additional schemes. There are so many ways in which through non-privatized state entities that particular businessmen and leaders have access to I’d say ill-gotten gains, or illegitimate gains. That elite also has to make compromises. The point is, it’s not that civil society has to make compromises. Civil society has to strike a bargain, but a large portion of that elite also has to end those types of practices.

Nahaylo: So, for you, where are the battle lines? A simplistic view would see goodies and baddies, the black and the white, the corrupt, and the forces that are fighting corruption. But clearly, it’s a much more nuanced picture. For you, it’s the old and the new? Or how else would you explain it?

Karatnycky: I would say there’s a fight between different ‘olds’ and different ‘news.’ We see a lot of extremist radicalism, particularly in the form of Mr. Saakashvili, who has come with not just a revolutionary agenda, but with the interest of revenge. And I think there’s a psychological anger at the President, at the entire elite. And he is, in fact, an interloper. He is, in fact, a carpet-bagger. Who came in from another country. Yes, he has citizenship, which was given to him, I think, under questionable terms, and removed from him under questionable terms. But I don’t think he is the same kind of a stakeholder. I’m looking at it from the outside. I am not a stakeholder in Ukraine. I am a stakeholder in the dream of a functioning Ukraine. But he is not the same kind of a stakeholder. He has come in with an external elite, and has injected a measure of extreme radicalism, and tactics that have overheated the system. And he’s also, in a sense, corrupted a group of fine reformers with the intoxicating drug of either revolution or a pathway to political power. And I think what he has instead done, is to split a constructive, reasonable, anti-corruption opposition into different camps, and created chaos, created fissiparous trends in all political parties. It we look at polls. One concluding point. There’s not a lot of trust in any Ukrainian institutions, apart from voluntary organizations, the Church, and the military. Everything else is in high negatives. NABU [Ukraine’s National Anti-corruption Bureau] has only a 20% positive rating, and 50 or 60% mistrust rating. The Procurator’s office is even lower. Political leaders. None of them have more than 10 or 12% solid trust or support. We’re seeing all of those numbers being lower. And I think that Ukraine needs some form of consolidation, rather than some form of disaggregation and disintegration.

Nahaylo: Yes, Adrian, and of course with Saakashvili there is the question of a very big ego as well. And a personal agenda perhaps presented as one of national salvation. But isn’t the problem here that if there were to be snap elections, many are calling for these elections to be held, very little would change, in fact, on the ground. We wouldn’t necessarily get a very different set up in Parliament, or in the system itself. So what’s the way out? How do we move? Are we stuck here indefinitely? Or do you see any positive signs that there may be light at the end of the tunnel?

Karatnycky: Well, I don’t see a quick light at the end of the tunnel, but I think we have to move towards the light. And I think in recent hours, and in recent days, bishop Borys Gudziak has issued a statement arguing against the radicalization of both sides, and a war against all. And this week, the December First Movement of the prominent former political prisoners, moral authorities, human rights activists, elder statesmen of Ukraine, issued a similar statement. Both chastise the President, correctly, and chastise the opposition, some segments of the opposition, for extreme, radical sentiments, and for the unwillingness to find a common path. So I think that there are moral voices that are beginning to sound the alarm that the situation is being overheated.

Nahaylo: So are we back to the idea of a round table? Sitting people down, publically, as was in fashion several years ago during times of crisis?

Karatnycky: I think there has to be some kind of a dialogue. I don’t think it’s a dialogue of a round table to decide a new political order. It could be a round table to decide the constitutional configuration of the country. It could be a round table simply to decide how, and what are the pathways, to moving away from a system where there was a lot of rent-seeking and corruption.

Nahaylo: But to restore confidence, public confidence.

Karatnycky: To restore public confidence both in the oppositions. Remember there are oppositions. There’s also the pro-Russian opposition. It’s very interesting there’s an intersection between Mr. Muraiev, who’s associated with the pro-Russian sentiment, and his channel giving credible access to Mr. Saakashvili, who is stirring the pot. It’s also clear that the oligarch TV channels are playing their own game. There’s not a single old Ukraine. There are many old Ukraine’s. And they’re waging their little wars against each other. Mr. Kolomois’kyi has one media company that’s pushing, Mr. Akhmetev has another, and there are others as well. And so we see everything working towards fragmentation.

Nahaylo: So back to the old issue of ‘Ottamanshchyna’ [historical reference to Cossack era divisions]. But we have a cartel, of sorts, behind the scenes, but we have people pulling the rug in many different directions, and tearing at the fabric…

Karatnycky: I don’t want to say that behind everything stands Russia. But Russia can exploit this kind of ‘Ottamanshchyna’. And it seems to me that it is irresponsible to call for a cut off of military aid, of all aid to Ukraine, under the banner of anti-corruption. It’s irresponsible, also, to attack new institutions of fighting corruption. But these institutions have to operate strictly within the law. Not to discredit them. They should be pushed and nudged towards operating within, and using the techniques, of the rule of law.

Nahaylo: Let’s turn our attention to external responses. We’ve seen some quite strong statements of concern from the IMF, the US State Department, British authorities, etc. Is this a temporary hitch? Is this going to damage external support for Ukraine? Or has the message got through?

Karatnycky: I think that where we were, we had kind of a perfect storm, a series of events, one after the other, after the other, created a growing loss of confidence in where this government is headed, and what it’s doing. If you really separate these things out. The Saakashvili phenomenon is a separate case which will be adjudicated, but it should be kept separate from what happened around the break-up of an operation by NABU. And you can understand why the West is interested in NABU cleaning up the body that issues passports. Because a passport from Ukraine today is a passport to Europe. It’s a visa-free passport. And if there is corruption in that system that means potentially dangerous people can have access to passports which will allow them free movement throughout Europe, and well beyond. Part of this had to do not simply with the fact that the operation was disrupted. But that specific operation which is, in my view, a Western priority. To clean up, and not allow there to be passport mills that create threats and dangers inside Ukraine, and well beyond Ukraine.

Nahaylo: So you think we’ve learned the lessons from the last 2-3 weeks, on both sides of these ‘virtual barricades?’

Karatnycky: I don’t think so. I did see at the last demonstrations that had about 6-7,000 participants (after the detention of Mikheil Saakashvili), the crowds were more, I would say, middle class. The atmosphere was less angry, more civically responsible. And some of the rhetoric coming from the speakers was harsh, but not quite as revolutionary and incendiary as in the past. So maybe some of those protesters, but not Mr. Saakashvili and his inner circle, have begun to learn the lesson, that there is a responsible way of pushing the agenda of getting an anti-corruption court. Of making sure that NABU is protected with its independence, but not beyond monitoring and control, and that it has to operate within the bounds of the law. I think that’s the place where the compromise can come. And the West should not be a participant on one side, or the other. The West should be, in a sense, a guarantor of due process, and push for working this thing through. Understanding where the problems are, and what the solutions are. The West can be an arbiter in the middle of this very overheated dispute between reformers, what some people have called the new Ukraine, and the old Ukraine.

Nahaylo: Well, thank you very much. It’s been a great pleasure to talk to my friend and colleague Adrian Karatnycky, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, veteran Ukraine watcher, activist, and an example to many of us. Thank you.

Karatnycky: Happy birthday!


Saakashvili Rallies

Last week’s uncertain situation and turbulent events around opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili seem to have been temporarily resolved and politicians and the public have been able to turn their attention to other issues. Saakashvili had managed to gather a large number of followers to support him in opposition to the government, and they especially rallied around when police made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest him on December the 5th. Three days later, he was detained successfully by police and prosecutors tried to put him under house arrest. However, on December 11th, a Kyiv judge turned down that request and Saakashvili was released with no bail. He has stated that he has “no presidential ambitions” but that he plans to continue his political activities with the aim of “constitutional, calm, but very necessary transfer of power in the country.”

Budget passed

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada has passed the Budget for 2018. In recent years, the Rada has tended to debate the country’s financial plans well into the last days if not hours of December, but this time, the Budget was passed well ahead, on the 7th of December.

In the Budget for 2018, there is an increase in spending planned for defence, education, and law enforcement. The budget makes provisions for the establishment of an anti-corruption court. Also a great deal of spending has been transferred to local government budgets. Allocations for public broadcasting, however, have been less than expected.

Overall, the total budget for defence spending, that is army and law enforcement, has been increased by 28% in comparison with 2017.

Buy Ukrainian Bill

A piece of legislation that has quickly run into some controversy is Bill #7206, popularly known as the Buy Ukrainian Bill. It was passed on December the 7th, and stipulates that the Ukrainian component in tenders for government procurement be no less than 20%. That is, 20% service centres must be in Ukraine, company premises must be in Ukraine, and Ukrainians must be employed. The changes are expected to stimulate the development of small and medium sized Ukrainian businesses. Parliamentary critics have pointed out that the Bill may contravene international trade agreements with the EU and the WTO; that the bill will facilitate corruption; and that blocking foreign competitors from procurement will lead to a decrease in quality. The sustainability of this legislation remains uncertain.

The War

Pro-Russian forces have reportedly continued to violate the ceasefire regime and have been using artillery and mortars against Ukrainian army positions. In total over the last week, 6 Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 14 wounded. In the meantime, Ukraine is trying to organize an exchange of prisoners with the pro-Russian forces, with the help of international mediators. On December 14th during his press-conference, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that such exchange might happen before Christmas.

In addition, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia continues in court rooms. According to lawyer Alina Pavliuk of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the International Criminal Court in Hague recognizes the international character of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and has stated that war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict need to be investigated.

Ukraine put on Canadian list for Arms export

The Government of Canada has included Ukraine in its AFCCL, or the Automatic Firearms Country Control List as of December the 13th. This means that Canadian exporters can apply for permits, on a case by case basis, to export firearms and weapons to Ukraine. There are currently 39 countries on the Canadian AFCC list, most of whom are members of NATO.

New Low-cost airlines

Ukraine will have a new low-cost air carrier, called SkyUp that will be flying on both domestic and international routes. The Minister for Infrastructure, Volodymyr Omelian, announced that the charter airline, which is 100% financed with Ukrainian capital, should be operating in a few months, from April 2018. Flights are planned to operate out of four major Ukrainian airports to 16 international destinations. 



А new feature film that just had its first weekend release on cinema screens in Ukraine is Kiborgy (The Cyborgs), directed by Akhtem Seitablayev. It’s a story of the lives of five men, who volunteer on the front lines and fight for control of Donetsk airport which is under siege from the Russia-backed separatists. They are Ukrainian men from various social groups, who talk and bond together while they are waiting in the ruins of the airport in the pauses between the battles. They talk about their motivation for being there, their sense of national identity, and about combat-induced stress. The film is said to be closely based on real events   and is probably the most ambitious Ukrainian film about the war to date. 

St Andrews Day

This week also saw celebrations on December 12th of St Andrew’s Day, usually marked with an evening of traditional games and music for young single people. Many of the games involve fortune-telling and trying to predict a future match. There were many St Andrew’s parties organized by community groups or folkloric groups, and a particularly authentic and colourful event was held in the Honchar Ethnographic Museum in Kyiv.


Now on the subject of folk traditions, we’ve seen how folk music can be translated into world music, by Ukrainian groups like Dakha Brakha, and can then go international, but here is a case of an international hit going local with a unique Ukrainian twist. The folk group Rozhanytsia has recorded their own version of Despacito, renamed it “Де ж ти сито” and planted it firmly in Ukraine. Enjoy!


It’s been a long year, and Hromadske Radio’s Ukraine Calling is going on a holiday break for 2 weeks. We’ll re-broadcast our most popular episodes during the break, in case you missed them. In the first week of January we’ll be back with a new episode. Let us know what you think and what you’d like to hear about. Our e-mail address is [email protected] and we’d love to hear from you. Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season. This is Oksana Smerechuk in Kyiv. Thanks so much for listening. Peace.

Interview transcribed by Marta Dyczok and Larysa Iarovenko. News, Culture, and Music by Oksana Smerechuk. War by Max Sviezhentsev. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Kyrylo Loukerenko. E-mail distribution by Ilona Sviezhentseva.