The release of the former YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in the spotlight of the international and Ukrainian media. The Day has also touched upon this subject in the articles “Khodorkovsky Show Goes On” and “On the Double Meaning of No.1 Prisoner’s Release.” The Day has managed to contact Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief and founder of the influential Polish newspaper Cazeta Wyborcza, a Polish public figure and dissident, one of the most active representatives of the 1968-89 opposition, who can be rarely found in his Warsaw office. When the Gazeta Wyborcza secretary was told that the Ukrainian newspaper Den was calling, she was courteous enough to put us through to the cell phone of the chief editor whom the British newspaper Financial Times has rated as one of the world’s 20 most influential journalists and a symbolic figure. He has been courageously expressing his opinion in the times of both communist and democratic rule in Poland. He was perhaps the only one who stood up for Wojciech Jaruzelski on the grounds that the Polish Republic’s first president deserved to be pardoned because he had peacefully ceded power to democratic forces in the late 1980s, which in fact brought down the communist regime. Mr. Michnik expressed his own opinion on the release of Russian prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky whom Russian President Vladimir Putin had pardoned after 10 years of prison camps. The Gazeta Wyborcza chief editor also told us about who had won and lost in the face-off between Europe and Russia over Ukraine and what Europe could still do in support of the Ukrainians who are making a European choice.
“Firstly, I must say that, in my view, Khodorkovsky is a true hero. He just exchanged 10 billion dollars for 10 years in prison camps. He thus showed the whole world that there are Russian heroes who put personal honor and pride, freedom and independence, above money.
“Secondly, I do not know the details of how Khodorkovsky was freed. I can only speculate on this matter. Putin released him because he wanted to improve his image after the Ukrainian events and before the Sochi Olympics. He was afraid that these games might be boycotted. This is my opinion about why Putin did so.
“As for the future, I think the Russian president deeply fears to see a Kyiv-style Maidan in Moscow.”
And what price will Germany have to pay for receiving Khodorkovsky, Russia’s No.1 prisoner?
“I think it a totally different story. It is, in a way, Germany’s gift to Putin because it was dangerous for Putin to hold Khodorkovsky in prison.”
What impact is this going to have on Ukraine?
“I think the release of Khodorkovsky may be a signal to Yanukovych. I think it’s possible.”
Did Europe pay enough attention to Kyiv to have the Association Agreement signed?
“I think so. Moreover, there was more attention to Ukraine than I thought it was possible. I feared until recently that most of the European leaders just did not know what Ukraine is, and now they all do. It is a great success of Ukrainian democrats. It is a victory. But now everything depends on the results of elections, and so on. In my opinion, Ukrainian democrats are behaving very wisely and thinking about the prospects.”
Do you think the Cox-Kwasniewski mission played a positive role and showed Europe that Ukraine’s leadership needed a different approach?
“What do you mean – to isolate it?”
No, just instead of focusing on the Tymoshenko case, to deal more with the concrete things that can really bring Ukraine closer to the EU – for example, as some US experts note, they should care more about visa-free treatment of Ukrainians.
“But Europe and the Cox-Kwasniewski mission have done their utmost. At the same time, some people were advising tot to speak with Yanukovych. I believe this kind of boycott will, in the long run, affect society, not the government.
“As for Tymoshenko, I don’t know her personally. But she is a symbol of what is going on in Ukraine. From this angle, Tymoshenko is more dangerous for Yanukovych in prison than at liberty.”
Some experts are saying that Europe could have done more and Yanukovych was in fact forced to sign agreements with Russia, which may be a major step back from Europe. What would you say?
“It is possible. But this does not depend on Europe alone. If Yanukovych and others want to work as Putin’s gauleiters in Ukraine, this may only suppress Ukrainian society. And this does not depend on Brussels and the European Union.”
Do you agree with some analysts who claim that Europe has lost to Russia the geopolitical war for Ukraine?
“No, I don’t agree to this. I think Ukrainian society is the loser. The European Union has done its utmost. What more could they do? To buy Ukraine the way the Americans once bought Alaska? It is just absurd. Unfortunately, Ukrainian society has proved to be weaker than the Ukrainian establishment. You don’t have to search for the guilty in Brussels and the EU. They live in Kyiv and Donetsk.
“The EU has done what it could. Ours is the most pro-Ukrainian government in the European Union. We were initiators, together with the Swedes, of the Eastern Partnership. I think Poland will continue to take a pro-Ukrainian stand.
“We must keep saying that the door to Europe remains open for Ukraine. Everything depends on Ukraine. I’d like to wish the Ukrainians freedom and all the best.”