‘I live according to the law and my conscience. I am not going to flee the country, although many would like me to,’ says Vadym Novynskyi, an ‘Orthodox industrialist’ who was ranked the third richest Ukrainian by Korrespondent back in 2012.

Novynskyi is a private individual and does not like to do interviews. Our case was no exception, and we had been trying to arrange a meeting for several months. Probably, due to his reserved nature, Novynskyi is misunderstood. He is a very interesting interlocutor who can comfortably discuss a variety of topics. He was talking with Korrespondent about the war in Donbass, friendship with Russia and fair business.

PUTIN’S AGENTS

Vadym Vladyslavovych, your name always causes a buzz. You are called the Kremlin’s authorized agent in Ukraine, the opposition’s backbone, the President’s personal enemy, a sponsor of the Moscow Patriarchate...

— You know, I have never been at war with Petro Poroshenko. I am a non-confrontational person, unless it comes to my beliefs. I have known Poroshenko for a long time, perhaps since the 90s. We have never been friends, but neither have we been enemies. However, it is a different matter for many people in the President’s team who are pushing him into making misguided decisions. Their interests and appetites can be understood but not accepted. Today they are trying to blacken me both in the President’s and in the public’s eyes. In fact, I have become used to transparency in business and politics, and I take their attempts to dishonour me quite calmly.

As for describing me as the ‘Kremlin’s agent’ – currently we are living is such times when any dissenting voice is accused of being Putin’s agent. People railing against the raising of tariff rates are immediately declared agents of the Russian intelligence services. Soldiers complain about inhuman service conditions and they are immediately announced to be the captured agents of the Federal Security Service. As soon as someone criticises the government, they instantly become a traitor, jingoist or collaborator. Not to mention me – a man who decided to take Ukrainian citizenship at a mature age, already having succeeded as a businessman.

As you know, Ukrainian MP Tetiana Chornovol has recently requested that the government deprive you of your Ukrainian citizenship – she says you have kept a Russian passport as well.

— (Smiling) Tetiana has already become a politician but still is unable to leave her journalistic and activist past behind. Statements need to be supported with evidence. For example, I proactively made a formal request to, and got a reply from, the Russian Federation (through consular channels) for a statement which clearly states that I renounced my Russian citizenship when I became a Ukrainian citizen. I have surrendered my Russian citizenship. Yes, I love Russia as my home country, especially my native Novgorod land, one of the Old Russian nation-building centres. What wonderful nature and beautiful people there are there! But I am neither entitled to take part in Russian politics nor eligible to vote. I have made an informed choice in favour of Ukraine, and I am a law-abiding Ukrainian citizen and patriot, which is not an obstacle to my being loyal to my motherland. Dual patriotism is not prohibited by law in our country, is it?

But, amid the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, talking about good feelings towards Russia – isn’t it too courageous?

— What is courageous about that? I believe what is happening in Donbass is the greatest tragedy. A tragedy that unfortunately will be paid for by future generations – both Ukrainians and Russians. I have my own opinion of the current events, and it is obviously inconsistent with what is spoken from Ukrainian and Russian rostrums. This conflict has too many ‘parents’ both disguised and undisguised. Today we are watching events unfolding before our eyes – through eyewitness accounts, updates from the battlefields and propaganda materials produced by both sides. One can only talk about any war after time has elapsed, appraising the events from the viewpoint of history, even though it is recent history. I honestly tell both my Russian and Ukrainian friends that the conflict in eastern Ukraine has already resulted in a real catastrophe. And it is not just the battered economy or human losses.

What can be worse?

— You know, a moral or even mental aspect is worse. For example, during the Great Patriotic War (it will remain Great and Patriotic for me, no matter how many circular notes Mr. Viatrovych produces), there was not such domestic embitterment as we have now. In a blaze of anger, Ilya Ehrenburg wrote: ‘Kill the German!’ – the phrase he was ashamed of for the rest of his life. Any German was a foe to him at that time. But ordinary people, as confirmed by surviving eyewitnesses, felt pity for captured Germans, tried to feed them, cutting small slices of bread from their own food parcels. Remember, what happened after the war in Donbass started? Masses of Ukrainian citizens were moving to Ukraine (Kiev) from the areas affected by the war. What did they face? It is our most recent history! Elements of the mass media launched a campaign to urge people ‘not to rent their properties to Donetsk residents’. It was difficult for them to find employment, and they were sometimes even labelled ‘refugees’. But where is national solidarity? Even worse is that some Ukrainians are ready to abandon their fellow citizens, and even entire territories, for the sole reason that they think and speak differently. It is really dreadful, and should be overcome. The war can be ended by implementing the Minsk accords, but they will not help with the internally split community.

JEWISH GALLEON

But you also declare for mending relations with Russia, commonly known to be an aggressor state in relation to Ukraine?

— You know, according to international and legal agreements, Russia remains our strategic partner, although this may sound strange. You may read the Ukrainian-Russian agreement of May 31, 1997. It has not yet been revoked (I brought this fact to the attention of Parliament’s leadership when the issue of declaring Russia an aggressor state was raised in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine). The term of this agreement will expire in May next year. Its first clause talks about the strategic partnership. And this agreement has not been dissolved, no matter what Klimkin is telling us today whilst hiding his head shyly and mumbling that the war itself terminated our contractual obligations. It did not! There is a procedure, and diplomats are well aware of that. But we live by a principle of a well-known anecdote, you know, about the Jewish pirate ship?

No, please, tell...

— My Jewish friend told me this anecdote, but it is relevant to modern Ukraine and its foreign policy. A Jewish pirate ship sails across the sea. It is a huge galleon with battle-ready guns and a heavily-armed crew. A menacing captain stands on the bridge, and a black flag with a skull and crossbones flutters at the top. And there is a tiny white flag under it – just in case... And we are just like that – we do not terminate the agreements just in case, we do not cut off diplomatic ties just in case. However, we do not send an ambassador there either. It seems to me that our politicians and masterminds fight against not the real Russia but an imaginary country – a Russia, where famine and poverty reign, which is close to collapse and enslavement by China, where Putin or his another clone is close to death (our mass media sources have long been writing that Russia is governed by Putin lookalikes). A fictitious image of Russia has been conjured up and a battle is carried out against this very imaginary country. No one in Ukraine is working to study the real Russia, its politics and economy today. Do you remember the film ‘Underground’ by Emir Kusturica?

Kusturica has been listed among filmmakers prohibited for promotion in Ukraine by the Ministry of Culture, as he supports Russia.

— Yes, and not just Kusturica. His compatriot Goran Bregović has been forbidden from entering the country. I hope this will pass. Anyway, Kusturica’s film opens with the events taking place during World War II. A partisan unit, fighting against occupiers, goes underground and continues the struggle. Just one scout goes out and provides information to the people below ground about what is going on in the city. The war ends, and the scout becomes a high-level party worker, a government official, but he is in no hurry to tell the people below about the changes that have happened above ground. For them, the war continues. The scout himself prospers but tells the undergrounders about the tales of tortures and execution he has narrowly escaped. Doesn’t this remind you of anything?

Nevertheless, cooperation with the Russian Federation seems to be a closed subject for us in the coming decades. Our society is unlikely to forgive what has happened in Donbass.

— Let us not jump to conclusions. Economics is a difficult thing. It dictates behaviour in the modern world. The truth lies in the fact that Ukraine can find real markets in the CIS and the BRIC countries rather than anywhere else. Not in Europe – we see that the Association Agreement with the European Union has not produced positive results for Ukraine. The European market remains closed to us. There is a good reason why Groysman declares the need for a new negotiation process with the EU, related to obtaining new preferences. It means the revision of the Association Agreement, and the European Union is not ready for that. The EU has started putting direct pressure on Ukraine in terms of expanding the quotas for timber exports. If Ukraine does not comply, it will not be given the promised money. We have lost the transit potential: the glorified New Silk Road is an obvious fraud, as it is highly unprofitable in terms of logistics. As a result, we are losing Middle Asia and China as partners. Obviously, under such conditions, Ukrainian business will have to start looking for the ways of rapprochement with Russia sooner or later. In 1982, the war broke out between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, which still remain a disputed territory. The United Kingdom accounts for 10% of Argentina’s exports nowadays [ranked third after Italy and the Netherlands]. To give you another example, just recently, in June this year, Serbian and Croatian leaders met on a bridge leading between their two countries, shook hands and agreed to establish cooperation between the states that had been at war until quite recently. I believe that peace will be established between Ukraine and Russia too.

MERCHANT’S WORD OF HONOUR

What do you consider your distinguishing feature, as a businessman and politician?

— You know, no one is righteous among us, but the pursuance of being pure before God and people should be mandatory. Perhaps, it will evoke a smile, but I am trying to live and work according to a merchant’s unwritten code of honour – the rules followed by traders in the century before last.

These codes laid the basis for business in the Russian Empire. Many families including the Stroganovs, Demidovs, Morozovs and Tereshchenkos served the people and the state for generations. The Tereshchenko’s family motto, ‘Aspiring for the Common Good’, was written on their family crest. Honour was more important than profit, and provided the basis for trade relations. Merchants often made verbal agreements and deals for large sums of money – people trusted each other and traded on the priniciple of ‘my word is my bond’, a verbal contract that was never broken.

By the way, the phrase ‘to wipe off’ was also a term used by merchants. It was commonly known that, at a meeting of a merchant guild, the family name of a person who had not kept his word was chalked down and then wiped off with a duster. The guilty person was no longer considered a merchant of the first guild and was no longer allowed to attend their meetings. The debt repayment was no longer demanded, and the guilty party was left to face divine justice (which was a sin for a person of faith). Our society really lacks such unwritten rules, such inner morality and responsibility.

Enemies call you an Ober-Procurator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and compare you with Konstantin Pobedonostsev. What do you think of that?

— Not a lot. Considering the experience of the institution of Ober-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod, introduced by Peter the Great, one can call it the acts of caesaropapism, the attempts of secular authorities to subdue spiritual authorities. Peter abolished the patriarchate, and emperors started to assign ober-procurators at their own discretion – actually, to establish control over the church. But secular authorities cannot be higher than spiritual ones. The belief in the Kingdom preached by Christ has been around for two thousand years already. How many states have changed during this period – appeared, collapsed, vanished? It is a different matter that Pobedonostsev’s personality is vivid, firm and moral. Pobedonostsev is a great figure in history, and in our history as well. He has a lot to teach us. As for bynames, God cannot be mocked – and this is the most important thing, as the church should not suffer slander and persecution. They can call me whatever they want, it is all the same to me. Not names but personal deeds are important.

Recently, the religious procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was held. You are almost referred to as the lead organiser of the event.

— No, the religious procession was initiated by the Metropolitan Onufriy, and I only played a minor role in organising this important event for Ukraine. It would be a gross exaggeration to consider me a pivotal figure in the religious procession, although pro-government agitators have made every effort to link me with the organisation of the event. In general, I believe it is a great goodness that, at such hard times, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is headed by Metropolitan Onufriy who is, undoubtedly, a man of outstanding personality. As a believer, I support the head of the church in every possible way. We have recently celebrated the second anniversary of the Metropolitan’s enthronement, and I wrote to congratule him. I reaffirmed that we were ready, like Simon of Cyrene, to lend our shoulder to the Metropolitan to help him carry his heavy burden. I am willing to work to overcome the split in our society, and I believe the role of our Orthodox Church is very special and unique in this regard. In fact, it is the only bridge that can unite and sew the country together, and the religious procession showed that in the best possible way this summer.

You identify yourself as a conservative politician. What is your conservatism about?

— First of all, I am a pragmatic person. And my pragmatic attitude binds me to being conservative in politics, especially in such a multicolored and conflict-ridden country like Ukraine. Incidents, disturbances, uprisings of all sorts, the destruction of public morality, the denial of traditional values…they all go against our beliefs. Dostoyevsky described this opaque wave, this crimson tide in his novel ‘The Possessed’. Just take one quote alone: ‘We have put laurel-wreaths on lousy heads’. Isn’t this true for present-day Ukraine with the entire newly-acquired pantheon of dubious heroes and failed reformers? Healthy conservatism is much needed in our politics, economy and social relations. A very simple conservative triad should have pride of place in our national ideology: spirituality, welfare and security. It is a comprehensive model, the three pillars on which the Ukrainian world should rest. Revolutions have never led people to happiness. Happy communities are built by conservatives. However, I remember the following legend: Trotsky’s father, David Bronstein, was a large landowner in southern Ukraine, a person with conservative views. During the revolution, he lost his land, arrived in Moscow and told his son when they met: ‘Parents work throughout life to ensure the family’s welfare, but ungrateful children grow up and make revolutions’.

You are one of the leaders of the Opposition Bloc. Is it a conservative political force?

— In a way. The party’s ideology is quite social liberal, but, in fact, the Opposition Bloc is one of the most conservative forces in our society. We do not accept revolutionary methods; we are focused on the development of large business and a middle class. Thus, we are an inherently bourgeois party. A traditionalist approach is important for us. Apart from that, we have absorbed the best from different ideologies. Nowadays, an ideology cannot be pure; that was also true at the turn of the 20th century. Today socio-political doctrines are mixed.

The Prosecutor General has hinted that you may have problems in the autumn. Aren’t you worried?

— I am not... I live according to the law and my conscience. I am not going to flee the country, although many would like me to. Being serious, any attempts to initiate a criminal action against me can be nothing but a fabrication and manipulation. In general, it will be a test for the government. If our authorities are really as democratic and European as they want to appear, they will be tolerant of such an openly dissenting voice as mine: I tell the truth, I am not silent, and, by the way, I will not be silent. I oppose the government, but I am not a foe to Ukraine and its people. However, if the government intends to fight alternative opinions, to smooth everything out under a single propagandist line and to continue witchhunts, it will be the beginning of the end for them. No one has yet annulled the laws of history and existence.