Posted on Feb 02, 2019
A prominent Ukrainian businessman who has been dubbed the country’s answer to Emmanuel Macron has outlined the foreign policy priorities, including future relations with Russia, of his presidential campaign.
Former CEO Vitaliy Skotsyk, one of at least 20 candidates standing in the keenly-awaited election on March 31, wants his country to “look west” in future but also called for a referendum on possible EU integration.
Skotsyk, whose background is firmly in the business world, declared: “NATO and the EU are our path.”
Speaking exclusively to this website, Skotsyk, who hails from Western Ukraine, spelled out his “vision” for Ukraine’s relationship with the EU and NATO, saying, “Over the last five years I have met with the European Commission, MEPs, and I have had meetings in Washington DC.”
He went on to say, “The international community has lost trust and doesn’t understand what Ukraine wants. It is waiting for Ukraine to come to them with their agenda. They cannot fix our political system or end our corruption for us but they have helped us to reach this stage in the process.”
“The onus is now on us.” He asked, “The international community has done more than enough but what is our agenda? What will we do ourselves?"
Skotsyk, who has worked for leading agricultural companies in both the UK and U.S, says the person who becomes the new president – leading contenders include current incumbent Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, who is running for the presidency for the third time – “will be responsible for creating the agenda.”
He went on, “Clearly, we will go west but there has to be a referendum on this with a clear mandate.”
The man who is seeking to break the mould of Ukrainian style personality cult politics, also explained his solution for resolving the ongoing war with Russia, a bitter conflict on Europe’s doorstep that has killed over 10,000 people on both sides over the last five years.
On this issue, he takes both a hawkish and conciliatory approach, and calls for the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops. He said, “With UN support, we can find a way to restore Ukraine’s borders and restore to the Ukrainian state control of those territories that have been occupied by Russia.”
While he openly speaks of Russian “aggression and propaganda,” Skotsyk also called for direct discussions with Moscow and discourse with the “millions of Ukrainian people who live in the occupied territories.”
He said, “This has been a war of five years and there are children whose childhood memories are already shaped by war. We must engage with the people who live there. I refuse to accept that there is “no one to talk to” - these are our people. They go to church, university and there are opportunities to talk to them. They need to understand that Ukraine did not abandon them.”
The 46-year-old said, “We must talk to Russia. We have to be mindful of a way to restore Ukraine’s borders in a way that does not force Russia to lose face.” It is important, he believes, to build on the Minsk and Budapest talks, both designed to secure a peaceful settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“Any new president,” he said, “has to be someone who can be accepted by all stakeholders, including the people living in the occupied territories, the international community and Russia.”
“They also need to be 100% a Ukrainian patriot,” stressed Skotsyk, who declared his candidacy last month.
Of the growing Agrarian Party, whose remarkable rise in popularity in recent years he has overseen, he said, “Our party has built strong relations with those living in these territories via those who have moved away. They say: ‘We want to move forward. We want to be part of Ukraine. Tell all the other people we don’t want anything from them – we just want to be back in the family.’”
“For some,” he added, “it is hard to leave. Ukrainian farmers, for instance, take care of schools and the elderly and they are needed.”
As part of his “vision” for the country’s future, he wants to help those who have fled the Donbass region in recent years “to bring their knowledge and skills back home. We want them to feel safe here to start a business.”
“There is $140bn kept ‘under the mattresses’ in Ukraine and we want that money to be ‘open’ and for people to feel safe to declare it.”
On the economic front, he would like to see Ukraine become an international financial centre, citing the Kazak capital Astana as a possible model. If elected in March, he would also seek to forge closer ties on this with Ukraine’s neighbours, including Georgia and the Baltics.
Skotsyk, who has never been in government and takes pride in having no links to oligarchs, says the success of his Agrarian party, which he describes as “conservative, both socially and economically” with an emphasis on Christian traditions and family values, could be a template for tackling the country’s “serious challenges.” He points out that it now boasts over 70,000 members from an initial base of just 1,000 when he took on the leadership. In April 2018, the party achieved 15.7% of the votes in local elections compared with under 7% in 2015.
“We have built a model that has tripled our share of the vote over a three-year period. We did this with no finance from the state. Other parties get a huge amount from the state but we rely on our own membership fees. Through our party, many people have been introduced for the first time to local politics.”
The party, he believes, is an “example to others”, not least for its transparency, adding, “Our bank account is open and we are doing everything properly. We didn’t start campaigning until we had opened a proper and transparent campaign fund.”
Follow EU Today on Social media: