INTERVIEW | Vlatko Stefanovski-Ramce: I am proud to have brought Onishchenko to Macedonia
Vlatko Stefanovski-Ramce, from the equestrian club Dona, is the man who brought Oleksandr Onishchenko to the country to perform for the Macedonian equestrian team. In an interview with "Sloboden Pechat", he explains all the circumstances surrounding Onishchenko's arrival in the country, the content of the contract the horseman had with the Dona club, but also talks about the accusations against him that he wanted to install a Russian spy network in Macedonia, contrary to NATO commitments of the state. He says these claims are a James Bond movie, which is untrue.
| How, when and why did you get in touch with Oleksandr Onishchenko?
Stefanovski: My dear friend, member of the national team and member of the equestrian club Dona, who has three world championship finals for Macedonia, in America and two in Belgium, has placed in the finals of the European Championship. In the period of the last five years, Luka Zalozhnik has won 44 first places in CSI five-star tournaments. Besides Luka Zalozhnik, many successful riders from around the world come in contact with me, and that was the case with Onishchenko. I have heard about Onishchenko before as a successful rider. He is one of the best in the world and has qualified for the Olympic Games four times and made a sensation in equestrian sports with the Ukrainian team. I am proud to have such a rider friend. That's how I came into contact with Onishchenko for the first time because he and Luka Zalozhnik knew each other from before. We had an idea and a dream, to make a quality representation for the Olympics and for the European and world championships. This idea has been around for a long time, we have discussed it with Tupurkovski to whom I am grateful for supporting the start of this idea. It was a great honor for me to get in touch with Onishchenko. If we speak with football terminology, it was for me, as if I had met the president of Real Madrid or Barcelona and he also expressed his opinion that he wants his home club to be in Macedonia and compete. Onishchenko's name in equestrian sports is like bringing Rafael Nadal or Djokovic to Macedonia. That's how that collaboration began.
Stefanovski: That was three years ago, 2019-2020 at the height of the corona.
Onishchenko's stay in Macedonia
| Where did you first see Onishchenko?
Stefanovski: We talked on the phone for a long time. Our first meeting was when he came to Macedonia in the winter of 2020.
| How did he come, is it true that he came by private plane?
Stefanovski: No, he came on a low-cost flight from Croatia via Zagreb. The last time he came, his cards were from Weezer.
| How much time was left when he came the first time? Did you then discuss the contract he would sign with the Donna Equestrian Club?
Stefanovski: I think he stayed for two days and in those two days we concluded the contract between him and the Donna Equestrian Club. In the contract, as we discussed earlier on the phone, it is stated that Onishchenko will perform for Macedonia in the next two Olympic cycles at the Olympics and tournaments to win the Olympics standard. It is also written in the contract that he will selflessly represent the club and the country and that he undertakes to make his professional knowledge available, to provide coaches who will come to Macedonia and work with our children from Macedonia. He has also made available his resources in Germany, the stable, the riding grounds, his trainers and horses which are some of the best in the world and our children will be able to go to training camps in Germany and all this will be covered financially by Onishchenko. And it was written in the contract that with his horses the children will be able to perform at the national tournaments in Germany, because in our country the winter period is "dead" because we have nowhere to ride. Furthermore, he undertook to work with children from 10 to 15 years old in order to select from them future riders who will be able to represent Macedonia at European, world and Balkan championships and the Olympics. The idea of the agreement is to build a new generation of riders. That is the agreement, there is no other agreement.
| Did he ever bring the horses to Macedonia?
Stefanovski: No, we have the horses available in Germany.
| How many children have taken advantage of Onishchenko's generous offer so far?
Stefanovski: Since he now got the citizenship, he now started to compete for Macedonia. I am proud that he won fifth place in St. Tropez. He is pictured there with Rafael Nadal. The politicians are free to invite Rafael Nadal, so let's see if he will come to Macedonia. Onishchenko and Rafael Nadal are friends. If someone doesn't like Paris Hilton cheering for Macedonia, that's their problem too. The competition season in Macedonia ended two weeks ago. So the opportunity opened up, scholarships from Onishchenko for 14-day camps in Germany have already been distributed to the three best juniors and three more child riders. After that we will have training for the rest of the riders.
At the time you sign the contract with Onishchenko, he is stateless. He needs the citizenship in order to be able to implement the things stipulated in the agreement, to give the scholarships, to perform for Macedonia. When you made the deal, what was the procedure for Onishchenko to get citizenship?
Stefanovski: He also had lawyers with him. The procedure is as follows. Everyone has the right to apply for citizenship. We only give an opinion and pleas that it be met and answered positively. The request is not submitted by the federation or the Olympic Committee, but the request is always on behalf of Onishchenko. We did not submit a request, but we wrote a request to the Ministry of the Interior, to respond to Onishchenko's request, we gave him the sports results, the sports gray, it is stated that this will help in the development of sports and the young generations in Macedonia.
| How many times has he come to Macedonia?
Stefanovski: Three times.
| Where does he stay when he comes to Macedonia?
Stefanovski: I usually book him in hotels, Park Hotel, Hilton Hotel, where there is a free room there. When he comes here I am with him all the time.
| Then how did he end up registered for citizenship at the address in Pržino, in the yellow house?
Stefanovski: He needed an address, I found his address. He needed it for rent. On my recommendation, I found that address so he could stay there. He has rented an apartment in a hostel. While that hostel is being renovated, Onishchenko is staying at that address on my personal recommendation. The people he is staying with are my friends.
About the blacklist and applying for Macedonian citizenship
| Did you know who Onishchenko is, outside of equestrian sports, in the sense that he is on the US blacklist?
Stefanovski: I didn't really know about the black list. But even if I knew, I don't mind. I'm proud to have such a friend, I'll say it again, so it doesn't matter much to me that he's blacklisted. When half of the government and half of the political parties in our country can have the leadership on the blacklist... If they are so virtuous and interfere with credibility and sports, if they break up the coalitions with their coalition partners and expel the officials who are on the blacklist them, and I will give up Alexander Onishchenko. For example, the opposition, to request under the same Article 14, that the government withdraw the decision on the citizenship of Subrata Roy and the thirty-five Indians, which was granted to them in seven days, and there was a criminal complaint against him. And they carried the baton to him. Here I am calling on the government to initiate an inquiry into Subrata Roy's citizenship. That citizenship can still be revised. I say that publicly.
When the moment came for Onishchenko to become part of the security procedures, that is, to be checked in the Ministry of the Interior, in the National Security Agency, did you give the Ministry of the Interior and the National Security Agency any information about his non-equestrian background?
Stefanovski: No, they can ask him, not me. I did not know, nor am I interested in those parts of Wikipedia and Google that it says. Did someone ask the president of Barcelona about Messi why he plays for Barcelona when he is criminally convicted? Or why Manchester signed a contract with Ronaldo, and there was a rape investigation? I don't see it that way. I looked at the testimonials and his photos with Klitschko. When the Klitschko brothers are not ashamed that Alexander Onishchenko is their friend, I am not ashamed either. When Shevchenko, Donald Trump and Nadal are not ashamed of Onishchenko... In the world of equestrian sports, the world number one officially rides Onishchenko's horses and is not ashamed. And the Swedish national team does not ask him to quit. Why should I be ashamed and give up on him or ask for his background?
| If I understand you correctly, you claim that you knew nothing about Onishchenko outside of equestrian sports?
Stefanovski: I didn't know about the blacklist. And for that other thing that he writes, I am not interested in Wikipedia.
| The government took the initiative to revoke Onishchenko's citizenship, according to Article 14 of the Law on Citizenship, which states that citizenship is revoked due to incorrect data in the application or false documents. Does such a thing exist?
Stefanovski: I am not an expert on fake documents, nor can I see if a document is fake. Onishchenko stated that there are no false documents and I believe him. And if they are fake, there is an investigation, let the investigation be conducted, let it be proven. As far as I know, all his documents were certified by apostille, with court translations and notarized. I didn't see a fake document, but then again, I'm a layman in that area. There are security services.
| Did you apply with a Russian passport?
Stefanovski: His birth certificate was from the USSR. He had clean sheets. In the USSR, the statement is issued once and is not changed. In the court translation in our country it is Oleksandr, in Germany it is Aleksandr, in Russia Aleksandar. He had all the documents that were asked of him. Since he is part of my equestrian club, I will support him as much as possible and go all the way. It is up to him whether he sues, and if he decides to do so, I will support him in every way. When daily political fights are more important in Macedonia than the development of sports, and the dream of some children, who may never get it again, is destroyed, there is no problem. Onishenko is officially registered and will perform for Macedonia. His citizenship has not been revoked. Apart from sports, we have not discussed anything else.
Onishchenko was only interested in sports
| But he claims that he wanted to buy a bank?
Stefanovski: If he wanted to buy a bank, I know he would have searched, inquired through lawyers. But it is not that he negotiated with anyone. We have not opened a topic for other businesses. I know he wanted to get into the financial business. He was interested in football. He wanted to bring the management of Dynamo Kyiv to Macedonia and we communicated about that. I asked him to help Macedonian football, that is, to help Vardar directly through Dynamo Kyiv. He was interested in helping boxing. He connected me with Wladimir Klitschko and a former representative of Ukraine in boxing was visiting me. They personally offered to help with training, without money, Klitschko sent them to help with boxing in Macedonia. But it stopped after this with the citizenship.
| Since you are his friend and you are together when he comes to Macedonia, how do his visits to Macedonia look like?
Stefanovski: He comes to the airport and I expected bodyguards, private jets. He came with Wieser from Brussels. It defied my expectations, we in Macedonia are not used to seeing such people. He came alone, with a rucksack on his back, sportily dressed in sneakers with jeans, a riding jacket. The most normal, smiling, very modest, even people we have sat in restaurants together, until the media reported, did not believe that he was the man. He did not stay at my house. We have been sitting, my family knows. He is preoccupied with sports.
| There is a theory in the public that he met with politicians in Macedonia, about gas business.
Stefanovski: I was with him all the time. I most responsibly claim that I neither know Zaev, nor have I seen Zaev, nor have I talked to Zaev, nor have I ever met Zaev in my life. He neither met with officials from the party, nor does he have a gas company in Macedonia, and that was not his plan to operate. I don't know where they got that idea from. If Onishchenko or I met Zaev, why did Onishchenko wait two years to get citizenship? That doesn't make sense. After two years, they gave Onishchenko.
| Now there is a procedure to review this citizenship and an initiative to revoke it. Just at that moment when they decide to take away his citizenship, you decide to speak on the subject, even though I have been looking for you for a week. Why did you feel the need to speak today? What is bothering you now?
Stefanovski: Now it bothers me personally. I didn't even want Onishchenko to give interviews and I constantly stopped him from doing that. After those attacks against him from the type of James Bond movies, those nonsense expressed on television and portals, Onishchenko told me to make a statement. I don't want to speak for him, but I still have permission. Yesterday it was politically vulgar what claims were made in parties.
About the accusations of espionage and the investigation
| Since you know him, is he a supporter of Russia or Ukraine?
Stefanovski: He is a big supporter of Ukraine. Now I will send you interviews and video materials from Germany, where he personally organizes humanitarian actions in Germany for Ukraine, collects money, supports the Ukrainian side in the Russian occupation. And he expresses it publicly at gatherings, everywhere. That he is organizing the events to help the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people against the occupation of Russia. I will give you those materials, over twenty videos from Ukraine of prominent people publicly expressing their gratitude for his humanitarian activity of giving medicine, body armor, other things as help to the Ukrainian army. If Shevchenko sends pictures with Alexander, Vitali Klitschko... I asked them to make a letter as well. He publicly states in front of me his position that he is against the war in Ukraine. In Germany, he speaks publicly and the media write about his humanitarian work to help Ukrainians. And now I want to give you video footage of this to post, which shows that he is a supporter of Ukraine.
| Considering your security culture, you are still a former member of the Ministry of the Interior, is it possible that those videos are part of the agency?
Stefanovski: Regarding Onishchenko, I think that a person who has everything in life, money, power, would not put himself in a position to risk it and risk his family, if he does not feel sadness towards Ukraine and if he does not feel Ukraine as his own homeland. I claim this from my security experiences, and not from quasi-security people who were happy to buy a ticket for the premiere of James Bond. That is my opinion, that this with the agency is not correct. The government met us with his citizenship and I hope that they will not fall for these provocations and political fights that are destroying the sport.
| The investigation of the Ministry of the Interior on the alleged false documents of Onishchenko, if that investigation reaches Dona, will anything disputed be found?
Stefanovski: I have nothing against it, let them come. I have no problem and nothing against it. We are available, we do not hide, we do not commit crimes.