Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov in an interview with UNIAN has told how in 2014 he managed to secure an effective majority of votes in the Verkhovna Rada, how he assessed the first wave of mobilization according to the number of boots in storages, and why Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia should rely solely on itself.
NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov is perhaps the only politician in Ukraine who, at some point, was incredibly "lucky": after the flight of a disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych, as well as the prime minister, several ministers, governors, mayors and other officials, he concentrated in his hands all the power in the country. A "Bloody Pastor" – that is how Turchynov was dubbed by the Russian media –became both the parliament speaker, and the coordinator of the government's work, and the acting president. However, he never slid down to dictatorship, as perhaps many would have, had they walked in his shoes. Moreover, he made no attempt to retain at least some of his, at some point almost absolute, power and did not run for president in the elections.
In his interview with UNIAN, the NSDC secretary told how he managed to maintain a viable Verkhovna Rada in 2014, the only legitimate authority in the country at the time; what prevents the current composition of the parliament from working effectively; how our combat-capable army was being built up from scratch; and why in its confrontation with Russia, Ukraine should only count on its own strength.
Two years ago, you were not elected president, but you performed the president’s duties. A very peculiar precedent, isn’t it? And - a curious fact – no one criticized your appointment – neither in Ukraine, nor beyond its borders. What is the burden of responsibility to become a leader of two of the three branches of power at the same time? What were the first tasks you had to fulfill, being aware that, in fact, everything was thrown on your shoulders?
The truth is that the burden of responsibility was really huge. In general, merging the positions of the Verkhovna Rada chairman and the president is not easy, because it means two-thirds of all power in the country. Besides, for a short period of time, until a new Cabinet was formed, I also coordinated the work of the government
But the main problem was not about all the major powers being concentrated in the same hands. The problem was that , in fact, there was no authority in Ukraine as such, at that time. A fugitive president, a fugitive cabinet of ministers, and heads of local administrations who have also fled... Crowds are searching for police officers that lay low somewhere... That situation was a real threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and viability. Therefore, the main task was to restore the system of power as soon as possible – both central and regional.
The entire southeast was on fire, Kyiv was on fire. And while the center of Kyiv was burned in the literal sense (car tires, vehicles, and some buildings), the south-east caught fire figuratively, but that fire was much more dangerous. That’s because, according to the Russian security services’ design, the so-called "Russian Spring" had to tear Ukraine apart. We had not yet formed a government, while the Russian special forces had already captured the parliament and government buildings in Crimea. These were the conditions, in which it was necessary to make decisions. It was necessary to start to restore the power vertical, reform the security sector, and restore the army, practically from scratch.
The period of the Revolution of Dignity and the subsequent beginning military confrontation with Russia are often compared with the period of formation of Ukrainian statehood in 1917-1921. But, contrary to the events of the past century, two years ago the situation was held together. In particular, due to the fact that that patchy parliament was kept operational, even despite most deputies being supporters of Yanukovych, who had just fled the country. How did you win over the Rada?
Now, many have forgotten, what the Parliament was like at the time. Just a week before my appointment, there was a cynical, rigid majority in Parliament, ready to pass any dictatorial laws, ready to fulfill any orders coming from Yanukovych and his entourage, and ready to vote for the arrest of all the opposition leaders.
At the heart of that majority was the Party of Regions, formed by one person, in fact, who was Yanukovych himself, on the principle of personal loyalty and multimillion-dollar contributions for being put in the right part of the electoral list. On the other hand, there were Communists – cynical, unscrupulous, and exclusively pro-Russian deputies who would sing along and play along with the Party of Regions. That was what a big part of MPs was like. Meanwhile, people were roaming the Kyiv streets, demanding to hold someone accountable for all that blood spilled by the Yanukovych regime. Those people were ready to devour both the Communists and the members of the Party of Regions.
But, despite this, a new majority was needed, to make that parliament work. And it was the most important and difficult challenge.
The Communists and the Party of Regions could just run away, being scared, for example, of the people’s attempts to seize the Verkhovna Rada, when stones were thrown and windows smashed. But had yesterday's majority scattered, the Parliament would have been unable to function, and there would have been no legitimate authority left in the country. Because under the conditions prevailing at that time, the parliament remained the only legitimate authority in Ukraine. Had the Parliament fallen, it would have been impossible to restore the executive power and the army, mobilize troops, and pass the laws which held the country together, preserving its independence.
I never spoke of this before, but there were several instances when I got calls in my office, right from the street, with people telling me that a mob captured some MP from the Party of Regions outside the parliament and was dragging him down the Hrushevskogo Street "to hang him at the Maidan" ...
... Were they well-known people?
Yes, pretty much. At least, recognizable. And I would jump out with my assistants and would literally get into a fight to prevent lynching keep the voting Parliament together. Can you imagine if someone got killed in such a situation? Ukrainian Parliament would simply stop working. Maybe I was a bit too harsh, but I was frank when speaking with my yesterdays’ opponents, telling them that, if they vote for the laws that Ukraine needs, I won’t have them given to "the mercy" of the people.
So you played on their fear, and one fear won over the other?
I won’t say I was intimidating them. Although, between us, I had to resort to various methods of "influence" to secure the vote in circumstances when the country was under a mortal threat. And I must say that Parliament then started to work very effectively.
So, you were a kind of a rough wartime speaker?
I simply had no other choice. If I were soft, begging someone, not toughening its position, I would never have kept control over the situation. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, I also had to bluff in some cases.
After all, that parliament was completely unprotected. For two consecutive months, at my request as of a former Chief of Staff of the Maidan, the Rada building has been guarded by one of the hundreds of the Maidan’s Self-Defense Forces. I asked patriotic folks not to dismiss that hundred and take the parliament building under protection. At the same time, they were not even armed. I simply had no other real protection. Because at that time, there were no police, no Security Service, and no Army. Some escaped, while others waited to see how things would develop.
We have many "couch" heroes who are keen on discussing Crimean events. They say, why wasn’t the army deployed against Russian invaders? Well, firstly, there was no army in today’s sense back in the beginning of 2014. And secondly, many officers, both in the General Staff and the Defense Ministry, not only top officers, but also those in the middle tier of all law enforcement agencies expected that this new government was not for long, that everything would fall apart soon, failing to hold ground.
Were the Parliament building defenders staying there with sticks?
Even not all of them. Many were guarding us without the sticks. Just the camouflage and brutal faces… [smiles]. Their main strength lay in the fact that they enjoyed the authority among those who walked around the parliament and who sought to show their, say, pseudo-revolutionary act.
In fact, after the bloody events of late February, after the death of the Heavenly Hundred, there was no need to show any heroism on Kyiv streets. But, you know, plenty of "heroes" emerged only after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity, when it was all gone, when the system collapsed that Yanukovich had earlier cemented with Berkut [police special forces], the internal troops, and pure gangsters. While Kyiv remained unprotected, there appeared a lot of pseudo-revolutionary activists who would burn tires and gallantly seized the vacant premises. But I did not see them when the Maidan was attacked and shot at. They were not there. In many documentaries about the Maidan events, it’s not often that you see the guys who have gone all dramatic way throughout our revolution. They often refuse to give interviews and don’t like to remember about their heroism. Those who were not in the forefront, who occupied the tents, when the danger had already passed, they really enjoy speaking of their "feats" on public.
After I was elected, to show that Parliament was now working for its country and was not hiding from the people anymore, I ordered to cut down a huge fence around the Verkhovna Rada.
Why were you sure that this will return people's trust?
This fence had become a symbol of isolation of the authorities from the people, the demonstration of fear of their own people. Besides, I was aware that, if Russian agents managed to provoke people to storm the parliament, the fence would never save anyone. And, if it wouldn’t, why need such an irritant, demonstrating the division of authorities and the people?
By the way, I also instructed that the fence on Bankova [President’s Administration] be taken down aswell [laughs]. Although, at the time, I never sat at the office on Bankova. I worked in my office in Parliament. And I never stepped into the presidential office on the fourth floor of the Administration.
Because I was only acting president and supreme commander. I believed that only the president, who was elected by the people, could sit in the presidential chair.
Alright, you managed to keep control over a complicated and patched Parliament. In the parliamentary elections, many MPs passed to the Rada who had been among the Maidan protesters, many pro-European, democratic politicians. At the same time (or so it seems), neither Volodymyr Groysman, nor Andriy Parubiy can deal with this composition. Perhaps you have any general advice for the more efficient work of wartime Rada speakers, so that the Rada remained the chief organ for a parliamentary-presidential republic, as it should be?
You know, there is no universal advice. On the other hand, I find it difficult to objectively assess today’s problems within the parliament: I worked only for a few days in the new parliament, when the bills would get 300 plus votes.
I believe the problem here is not about the speaker, it’s about the MPs lacking a feeling of huge responsibility to their country.
In 2014, the threat of us losing the country hung in the air. On March 1, the Federation Council gives Putin its permission to deploy troops in the territory of Ukraine. Crimea is seized, regional state administrations are being seized from Odesa to Kharkiv, along the country’s south-eastern perimeter, while the police lets provocateurs through, and sometimes support them. The outbreak of war in Donbas... Then everyone realized how big this threat was. And many people, including those with deputy badges, who considered themselves Ukrainians, were well aware of their responsibility for the fate of the country, our freedom and independence. Because it was all about preserving and saving the country.
Today the threats and challenges Ukraine faces have not gone anywhere since 2014. But the fact that there already is an Army, the National Guard, law enforcement agencies, central and regional authorities, no threat to life outside the zone of the Anti-Terrorist Operation – this all stupefies the sense of danger.
Today, unlike it was in 2014, there are no convoys of Russian tanks heading toward Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions, stopping just 100 meters from the state border. But, again, the threat has not subsided. Pacifists didn’t win in Russia. It is still Putin's imperial revanchist regime there. They continue waging war in Donbas, and they are ready at any moment for a major expansion of their aggression. But when people are constantly under stress, the sense of danger stupefies.
Besides, many of today’s MPs, who love a lengthy debate on national security issues, have never been neither in a trench, nor at the front line. They do not think about our soldiers seeing the blood and the death of their comrades every day and that the timely adoption of certain bills could save lives, strengthening our country’s defenses. As a result, we witness devaluation of responsibility to the country. It’s the interest in ratings growth, some political and corporate projects that dominate. Meanwhile, responsibility for the country’s security and its future recedes into the background. And this is the major problem of the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada. Because, on the one hand, Ukraine is still at war and on the other hand, it’s not at all noticeable in Kyiv, on the parliamentary sidelines.
As a result, for a year, we cannot pass the bill, which would allow for the recovery of $1.5 billion worth of assets locked in Ukrainian banks to fund our state defense orders, the funds stolen from the country by Yanukovych’s entourage. We cannot adopt many of the bills that would strengthen the country's defenses and help resist the information war waged by Russia against us, and so on and so forth.
The status and importance of the National Security and Defense Council has been leveled for years, the organization has been discredited as a body of state influence. When you came to the NSDC from high politics, what challenges and objectives did you set for yourself? How effective are the institutions within the structure of the NSDC?
You know, you're right. Initially, the NSDC was created as a think tank and then it was a quiet haven for the "good" people, for whom no place was reserved in the Cabinet. But in the state of war, under this aggression, the body began to work professionally.
We do not undertake any powers not belonging to us, but the functions and tasks assigned to us by the Constitution and the law, we are trying to perform professionally.
Indeed, we had to transform this long-existing “safe haven” into an effective mechanism, which produces and drafts, above all, at an intellectual and organizational level, strategic decisions, and after their adoption, coordinates and supervises their implementation.
Is it working?
Let's just say that we had much more financing in times of peace. In wartime, every penny has to be allocated for the Army, the National Guard... But at the same time, even with the minimum funding, the system can still work. For example, the decision to create the situational center was made 10 years ago. The money allocated for these purposes was written off several times, but nothing happened. What we did was we’ve worked this issue through over the last month, we developed software required, the control system, and launched the Main Situational Center, which is not inferior in its capabilities to the similar bodies in the leading foreign countries. A multilevel system has been created, which includes the Main Situational Center of the NSDC and situational centers at all law enforcement agencies and in the regions, in order to quickly be able to assess any threat, any problem, and predict the developments and to find the right solutions rapidly.
A lot has been done. First of all, we have prepared and ensured the adoption of strategic documents. This applies to defense planning, setting up an integrated national security system. The National Security Strategy, the Concept of security and defense sector reform, the Military Doctrine, the Strategic Defense Bulletin, and the Cyber Security Strategy have been adopted... This is the foundation of our vision of the prospects of the country’s defense and security. At the same time, it is also a detailed plan for reform of all security forces.
Despite military aggression, we cannot remain idle, we must find resources to reform and upgrade the system. I believe that in the issue of reform of the security and defense sector, much more has been done than elsewhere. Despite the economic difficulties, we are moving to NATO standards, we are working on an effective system of state defense, an effective system for protecting our citizens. The foundation has been laid. Now, of course, it is very important that all heads of law enforcement agencies ensure quality implementation of the plan. We cannot replace them in their control of power structures. We can only monitor the implementation and coordinate their work. But, on the other hand, we won’t let anyone sabotage the plan or work ineffectively.
Two years ago, it suddenly became clear that we had no army, no provision for this army, no weapons to fight back and defend ourselves...
In the days of the Soviet Union, a nuclear-missile shield used to be formed at Ukrainian enterprises. Our country has had a strong defense capability. But over the past 20 years, our military-industrial complex has been deliberately destroyed. It began with the Budapest Memorandum, when Ukraine refused a third of the world's nuclear capabilities in exchange for "a reliable guarantee" of our safety. But when the time came, it turned out that these guarantees are worth nothing. And one of the guarantor states launched a war against us.
On the other hand, the Russian agents and puppets of the Kremlin who have held top positions in our country for many years were systematically working to destroy the foundations of Ukraine's security. They’ve been destroying the army, the weapons, the defense industry… Enterprises of the defense complex would go bankrupt, many of them would be closed, the equipment cut to scrap, the best weapons sold. That is what we had to start working with.
What qualitative changes have occurred over the past two years? How stronger have we become? How ready are we to provide ourselves with weapons?
In a very short period Ukraine, starting practically from scratch, Ukraine has one of the most efficient armies in Europe today. We are inferior in troops and weapons to the Russian army, but our army is ready to defend the country and resist the superior forces of the aggressor. Russia realized that it could not bring Ukraine to its knees. They could not do it in 2014 and, even more so, they can’t do it now that we’ve managed to restore the defense potential and create a combat-capable army.
A combat-capable army is characterized not by its prowess, but its willingness and ability to carry out combat missions. Frankly speaking, not everyone happily accepts the increase of our military potential, and we are forced to rely mainly on ourselves and work based on the priorities of our national interests.
In 2014, in a real deficit of time, finance, material resources, weapons, everything... I held a large number of talks with our foreign partners. I would remind them of the Budapest Memorandum, saying they should help us. But our partners clapped me on the shoulder and said, well, hold on, we will influence Russia through diplomatic channels. I was constantly asked not to resort to saber-rattling, not to hold military drafts, and in general, "not to provoke Russia." They made it perfectly clear to me clear that if the Russian armed forces invaded the territory of mainland Ukraine, they would not be able to provide military assistance.
But I clearly understood that no diplomatic efforts would stop the Russian aggression, and Moscow would only listen to the language of force. I had no right to other solutions. We had to defend their country. We started training our troops and deploying them from the West to the East. I signed a decree on mobilization. The National Guard was created, while the Interior Ministry began to set up volunteer battalions... I assessed the pace of the first mobilization by the number of tactical boots our industry could produce. We were simply unable to provide our troops with boots!..
We were not given a single cartridge. Not to mention more sophisticated weaponry.
Today we have something to fight with and someone to fight. Although, no single unit of lethal weapons has been received from our partners.
And are we already manufacturing any analogues?
Today, we produce a wide range of weapons and military equipment. In 2014, we laid the foundation and start the process. This is production, and it takes time. Of course, we couldn’t restore everything in March or April 2014. The defense industry started showing real results in 2015.
We meet all the basic needs in technology and weapons for our Armed Forces, the National Guard, and all law enforcement agencies. Ukrainian plants produce a lot of products: from pistols and rifles and armored vehicles to powerful missile systems... But it is very difficult to cover the entire spectrum of modern weapons by ourselves. Relatively speaking, we have strong and effective armored vehicles, but for it to meet the highest standards, most modern scopes and night vision devices are needed, etc. So we really need the military-technical cooperation with our partners.
NATO standards are accounted for in the production of new weapons and equipment. We need to arm ourselves so that there is no need to rearm, we can’t have our weapons being inferior to the world’s best samples. And it is quite an expensive issue. With our troubled budget financing, and also this sabotage in parliament, it is very difficult to achieve.
Which areas of the military industry can be considered our flagships?
The factories, which have been idle for many years, are now ramping up production. Kharkiv Tank production is known worldwide. Our tanks and armored personnel carriers are not inferior to foreign analogues. SE Antonov produces military transport aircraft, one of the world’s best. But these companies, like many other businesses, produce not the most modern equipment, to put it mildly. In order to secure the production of a new generation of weapons and equipment, large investments in technical re-equipment of production are needed. Without the introduction of new technologies (digital, 3-d printing, and so on) we will not be able to compete in foreign markets, and defend the country effectively, in the absence of an effective system of collective security in Europe and worldwide. But it is a topic of the new challenges requiring immediate economic and technological transformation of our country.
Let's go back to your question. One of the programs that I personally supervise is missile defense - the restoration of Ukraine’s missile shield. We recently had a successful launch of Ukrainian manufacturing of missiles. In their specifications, they significantly outperform their Russian analogues. This is the implementation of our task - new Ukrainian weapons should not be any worse than the Russian. In fact, they must be better. The implementation of our missile program is one way to ensure reliable protection of our country. We have some very promising development programs, which will allow Ukraine to return leadership in the market of missile technology.
Are our foreign partners interested in the acquisition of the Ukrainian weapons?
The paradigm of the modern world development, accompanied by a sharp increase in the number and scale of armed conflicts, has led to a large increase in demand for high-quality weapons, including of Ukrainian production.
We are now restoring our presence on arms markets, returning the previously lost positions. I think that the Ukrainian military-industrial complex will not only be a powerful stimulus for industrial growth, but will also be able to provide a significant increase in our foreign exchange earnings.
Will we be able to compete with Javelins, which we have not received?
Let's just say Ukrainian laser-guided Stugna is in huge demand not only with our armed forces, but also abroad. Javelins have thermal targeting. But if, for example, the tank is on the defensive, with its engine turned off, the effectiveness of Javelins falls sharply, while Stugna can still accurately hit a target. But the Javelins work very well with moving targets, given the agreement with our partners, we could quickly start production of their analogue in Ukraine.
The lack of the necessary equipment and strict rejection of long-term cooperation with Russian enterprises makes us seek out and find the ability to produce the desired products, units, and essential components ourselves. For example, due to a lack of supply of drones, we have established the production of tactical UAVs. This year we were offered drones much worse than what we already produce. But we move on - Antonov has presented a new model of a combat drone, which will effectively engage targets at long distances.
If our partners lift their restrictions on supply, we will certainly not say no to Javelins or any other weapons. In a state of military confrontation, there are no unnecessary weapons. We do not refuse from anything that we are given.
On the other hand, the ongoing development of our defense industry stimulates the whole economy. More and more of private enterprises of different profiles begin to work on military orders. Cooperation is being boosted, technology improved, and new jobs created.
When it comes to protection, we mostly imagine a long land border with Russia stretching from north to south. But how are we protected from the attack from the sea?
To say that Ukraine already has complete protection on land, air and sea would be a serious exaggeration. The challenges are many. Particularly acute problems need to be solved in the air defense...
Because on the eastern borders, we are seeing the increasing presence of enemy aircraft?
... We see that the Russian side has been strengthening its air bases along our border and increasing the number of warplanes, including the jets and bombers, increases. Meanwhile, we’ve had our air defense system being deliberately destroyed, and its recovery today is a very complex and expensive process. Therefore, resistance to the Russian aircraft and cruise missiles remains our major objective. And if we talk about the Navy, then our priority today is coastal defense. At the same time, Ukraine is a maritime nation and we will not give up and the development of our fleet neither.
Meanwhile, Russia is turning Crimea into a military base ...
Yes, they call it the "unsinkable aircraft carrier."
How well are we protected from the attack from the direction of the peninsula?
No country in Europe has such a lengthy border with Russia as Ukraine. And, of course, the attack can be launched not only from the east, from the occupied territory of Donbas. It may start from the north, from the south, and from the occupied Crimea... We must be prepared to withstand the attack of the Russian Federation from any direction, and, more likely, from several of them. We just have to be ready for it. Without panic, fear and unnecessary haste. We should be clearly aware that we will be defending the country by ourselves. We should acknowledge it and prepare.
In the economy and politics, there must be a clear priority – the priority of the protection and defense of our country. The Rada should also understand this. They shouldn’t run for the ratings and empty promises, they shouldn’t compete, who will pour more dirt on someone, but focus on the defense and security of Ukraine. Everything else is the Devil’s spell.
As a religious person, a believer, do you see in the Scripture the answers to questions about what is happening to us? What conclusions should we make, and are there any recipes in the Bible for further action?
The Bible was given to the people by our Lord for the people to always be able to find an answer to the challenges and issues surrounding them. Because, if we analyze the history, challenges and problems have always been very similar. Their scale may be different, but the essence is the same. Aggression, perfidy, meanness, betrayal, greed, and cowardice – unfortunately, they’ve always been out there.
For example, in the Old Testament, which describes the history of the Hebrew people, you can find a lot of similarities. The history of them gaining their statehood and independence is very similar to ours.
When the Lord gave the Israelites their Promised Land, they sent spies to scout. When they returned, they confessed that the land is dominated by huge giants, that they had the most modern weapons, their fortresses were undefeatable, and so on. But one must trust the Lord. He said: "This is your land, you have to get it, you have to fight for it." A slave-like nature, a slave psychology, which has been shaped for many years – among the ancient Hebrews in Egyptian captivity, and among us – in Russian captivity – has not given the people the possibility of taking the God-given land, their freedom and independence immediately. As a result, I think readers know this story, the Lord made the people roam through the wild for 40 years, to get rid of their slave-like nature. They wandered up until the last slave in their ranks died. And when a new generation came, which knew no slavery, the people took their land.
What is this psychology of a slave – it's an inner cowardice, disbelief in own strength, the desire to get something with others’ hands, hide behind someone’s back, and sit through the storm in some kind of a shelter. But the Lord says cowardice is a terrible sin. One must squeeze a slave out of themselves. Our Creator made people free. He blessed Ukraine, gave us the best land, strength, and mind. We must believe and trust in Him. If He is with us, who can stand against us?!
Do you find time to read sermons?
I'll be honest, back in days when I was in the opposition I had much more of it. When I go to church, I use this opportunity for preaching, and communicating with my brothers and sisters... But the believer must serve the Lord, not only in the church, but at any place, wherever they are.