Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich is at the centre of the ex-Soviet state's political crisis. Appointed last year after a remarkable comeback at the ballot box, he is caught up in a long-standing power struggle with President Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko's decision to call early elections in Ukraine is being contested by the premier, supported by his parliamentary majority. While in Strasbourg, to address the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, EuroNews spoke to him.
EuroNews: Prime Minister, welcome to EuroNews. What are the roots of the current political crisis in Ukraine?
Viktor Yanukovich: I would say that the roots of the crisis are based on one fact - that in all its years of independence, Ukraine had an inefficient system of power. The most dangerous thing was that those in power took no responsibility for their misdeeds, there was no co-operation between the legislative and executive branches of power. This model was not acceptable for the people of Ukraine and for our international partners. The problem was clarified in 2004. The Ukrainian people took to the streets under different banners to defend their principles. I would say that 2004 was a year of purification for our society. It was the year in which a new constitution was adopted and the new parliamentary-presidential system was introduced. At the next stage, in 2006, the realisation of constitutional reform started. The new constitution was consolidated, the new political principles were to be implemented by the ruling coalition. But an old system resists change and does not want to give away or share its power and tries in different ways to avoid it.
EuroNews: Prime Minister, the current conflict is presented by some analysts as a personal conflict between the pro-Russian Yanukovich and the pro-Western Yushchenko. What would you say to that?
Viktor Yanukovich: I have already mentioned the reasons for the conflict. There are two sides, naturally. In this particular case, you could point to President Yushchenko and to Prime Minister Yanukovich. But the heart of the matter is absolutely different. This is not a confilct of personalities. I merely insist that all politicians should follow up on democratic principles. Politicians have to accept this. I would not like my sons to live in a country where the principle of "political expediency" takes precedence over the law, over human rights, over freedom of speech. We want to live in a democratic Ukraine.
EuroNews: You did not react to the pro-Moscow and pro-Western labels.
Viktor Yanukovich: First we have to understand what the base principles of Europe and Russia are and then we can answer the question.
EuroNews: Putting it another way, should Ukraine join NATO? What do you think about the US wanting to deploy parts of its missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic?
Viktor Yanukovich: I think there are no ways to start the process of joining NATO right now in Ukraine. We have to hold a national referendum. But at the moment only 15 to 20 percent of Ukrainian people support the idea of NATO membership. There is no hope the outcome would be positive. About the .....
EuroNews: .....missile-defence system.....
Viktor Yanukovich: Yes, the missile-defence system. We constantly insist that we should consider the creation of a new system of European security, but with the participation of all the states concerned. This is our position and we hope that other European states support it.
EuroNews: One of the scenarios being forecast for Ukraine predicts the future division of your state into two parts - West and East. Is this a danger and how can it be prevented?
Viktor Yanukovich: I believe in the wisdom of the Ukrainian people. I am sure the Ukrainian people are wise. I also believe that at the end of the day Ukrainian politicians will find consensus through dialogue. Ultimately politicians have to accept their responsibiltities when faced with the people who elected them.
EuroNews: Last but not least. What is your forecast for early elections, if they take place?
Viktor Yanukovich: The polls are optimistic for us, in favour of the ruling coalition. They show the steady rise of our coalition's political ratings. If early elections are held, we will definitely win. But any elections must be held in accordance with the law and constitution of the country.
EuroNews: Thank you for the interview.
Viktor Yanukovich: Thank you.
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