Yatseniuk, who visited Brussels recently, recently created 'Front Zmin' (Party of Change), allied with Batkivshchyna, the party of Yulia Timoshenko, in view of the parliamentary elections, due on 28 October. The Party of Change calls itself ‘social democrat and social liberal’, but has not chosen a European party affiliation yet.
In a joint interview for EurActiv and Gazeta Wyborcza, given in the margins of the Brussels Forum organised by the German Marshall Fund, Yatseniuk, a former foreign minister under Tymoshenko, presented his views on transforming Ukraine in Europe, between Russia and the EU.
Yatsenyuk said the traps in which Yanukovich had fallen included the more assertive Russian policy toward is 'near abroad', as well as his move to trade prices Ukraine pays for gas, imported from Russia, in exchange for a 25-year extension of the lease of its Black Sea fleet based on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Yatsenyuk, who started his political career as economics minister of the Crimea peninsula, described this region in the following terms: "This is a sleeping volcano, ready to explode". He added: "However, Ukraine will never accept Russian annexation or Crimea’s independence".
Another 'trap' in which Yanukovich had fallen according to him is the change of the country's Constitution in 2010.
Indeed, after Yanukovych's election, the constitutional court overturned many amendments to the country's Constitution. The Council of Europe's Venice Commission considered that the amendments amounted to a change from a parliamentary system to a parliamentary-presidential one.
The Constitution gives the president "enormous powers, which he cannot exercise," Yatseniuk stated, adding that such weak leadership made it easier for others, in both east and west, to extract deals from Ukraine.
With Ukraine, the former foreign minister encouraged the EU to use both the 'carrot' and the 'sticks'.
"Diplomats can make it clear that tough language will be followed by tough actions," he said.
Yatseniuk indicated the same two preconditions for the unblocking of its EU relations as EU diplomats: free and fair elections, as well as freeing Tymoshenko from jail.
"While some elections have been free and fair in the past, there is no guarantee for the future. The [October 2010] municipal elections have been 'arranged' [for the Party of Regions], he said.
Amnesty law could set Tymoshenko free
Regarding Tymoshenko, his discourse was nuanced.
"She is not a virgin. Nobody is, in Ukrainian politics […] But corruption charges have not been proven," said, apparently alluding to the fact that most politicians in the country are tainted with graft accusations.
He said a solution to the problem could be an amnesty law, which would clear politicians of "minor felonies", but not pardon corruption.
Yatsenyuk said he expects his coalition with Batkivshchyna to win the elections, with about 35 to 40 % of the vote. With single candidates in local constituencies, this might lead to a parliamentary majority, he explained. An independent December survey puts this coalitions a bit lower at 29.2%, but indeed with a clear lead versus the Party of Regions.
But the opposition leader acknowledged that the current government is rejuvenating itself. For example, Finance Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, coordinating relations with the EU and the IMF, became first deputy to the prime minister, and could be promoted further if the incumbent PM Mykola Azarov retires.
Also, Petro Poroshenko joined as economics minister, with his background of former orange revolution leader turned confectionary tycoon. The Party of Change leader claims to have told the latter: "Your business interests would be better protected in the opposition".
EurActiv asked if he saw in 2020 Ukraine presided by somebody like himself, and joining a pan-European market with the EU, Russia and Turkey.
The 38-year old smiled, and uttered softly: "Maybe this is not fiction … Things could happen faster…"
However, he called Russians "neighbours", not friends, and compared Moscow’s Eurasian Union to the Soviet Union. He even said he was not certain that younger Russians would turn toward Europe.
"Rather, Putin is turning more to China and the Chinese will learn Russian," he said.