Interview to Ukrains’ka Pravda

September 15, 2016

US Ambassador: Crimea will return to Ukraine, but when? My answer might be unpleasant

Interviewed by: Serhiy Sydorenko (editor of Yevropeyska Pravda), Sevhil’ Musayeva-Borovyk (editor-in-chief of Ukrayinska Pravda)

“Were there changes in Ukraine sufficient? Probably  there weren’t”

– You saw Ukraine as a foreigner, and now you see it from Kyiv. Is there any difference between these “two Ukraines” ?

– I had been living in Ukraine until 2004 and returned now. A lot of things has been changed since then. It was enough just to walk down the street to understand it. Buildings cars, people are dressed better.

But do you know what I have noticed at once, except things related to incomes?

You have started to respect traffic rules. Although traffic in Kyiv is furious – as in any metropolis, the behavior of drivers is not the same as before. And for me this is  also an indicator of changes in your country.

When people talk about the changes in Ukraine, we usually think of reforms,  but changes  are also in the important details.

– But still, what associations Americans, people abroad  have about our country? The first fought  – about our achievements or our defeats?

– I cannot speak for everyone. But the people I know personally inspired by  events that are going on here. They were impressed with the events on the Maidan – even if it was very far from them. They were impressed how people took responsibility for their own future, with the fact that people were ready to sacrifice and ultimately a lot of persons died  for this. And, of course, with the political changes that occurred after that.

Things that happened in Ukraine  really inspire, for two years there were many changes.

At the same time I feel a desire to see more reforms, faster reforms.

– And what  do you think about the speed of changes? Is the government doing everything possible to change the country?

– There are special moments in history. There are moments when there is a historic opportunity for changes. Today Ukraine has  just such particular moment.

Over the past two years you have done necessary changes. But were they sufficient? Perhaps no. I think  everyone would agree with such assessment.

Therefore, Ukrainians, Ukrainian civil society should continue to demand change.

– What reforms are essential now?

– You know – and this is typical not only for Ukraine, it’s a common situation – it is very difficult to choose one thing. Very often different areas are connected.

But I would pay special attention to transparency in the government. This is connected  to many fields at the same time – finance and economy.

–  Reform of the State Administration is among the priorities of the government, but it needs funding. Can we count on the West?

– The issues of the reforms of the State Administration is being governed by the European Union.

USA, on its behalf, is focused on the issues related to the transparency of the government, e-governance and decentralization.

but if we talk in general about the reform of public service, I can mention, it is clear that as a result it the number of civil officials has to be reduced. And those who remain, should receive higher wages, which should be enough for life.

 Obviously, people will ask “is it acceptable that foreign government pays Ukrainian officials?”. How would you answer this question?

– The US government does not participate in this process, so I’ll leave for the governments of Ukraine and other states the right to agree on what is acceptable and what is not. But I have to mention that depends on situation,  different things become acceptable.

“There is one thing that is unacceptable for us”

– Two years ago, the US Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt said in an interview  to “Ukraynska Pravda” that corruption is a greater threat to Ukraine than Russian tanks. We still have problems in this area. There are corruption schemes  in the energy sector, there is a “gray exports” of coal from the occupied territories. What should Ukraine do?

– The first answer to this question – the Ukrainian society  must decide what to do.  International experts can only advise you.

But in general, of course, you need more transparency in the ownership of companies operating in this field. A declaration of expenditure is also needed.  You need  an investigative journalism, which already provides substantial assistance – including those which  are published in your addition.

This is a process. Yes, you have an old legacy; you need time to get rid of it. But it also means that you have to push through these changes! Otherwise, there will be no understanding between the Ukrainian government and society.

– Regarding declarations. What do you think about e-declaration, in Ukraine? There are already suggestions it could be possible to slack laws. Do you think  it is acceptable?

– First of all, I’m glad that electronic declaration started to work on September 1. I understand there are still technical problems to be solved.

However, there is one thing that is unacceptable for us – as we are talking about Ukraine’s commitment to the IMF, the conditions of allocation of the third tranche.

So, the only thing we do not want to see is a weakening of the declaration system.

Declaration of assets is that what creates accountability of public servants. And a public servant who, let’s say, affords having big and expensive belongings, has to explain, where they come from. Yes, there may be options – perhaps, his wife is a successful and rich businessman, but all the information has to be open to public.

The system like yours – although not identical, of course, – is in the USA. I also declare my assets. I must leave no doubts (for the US citizens – EP) that the Ambassador here has no business earnings which would question my activity as representative of the United States.

I am not a lawyer or an expert, so I will refrain from specific recommendations about possible changes to the law, but this system has to ensure the transparency of the government.

What level of transparency is needed? The one which ensures the trust of the society!

And electronic declaration is a tool which makes you closer to it.

Let’s remember the Revolution of Dignity. You will probably agree: one of the problems which caused the revolution was exactly the lack of trust.

‘Setting ‘Inter’ on fire is definitely not the way which will solve the problem’

– Is it possible to make comprehensive reforms in the midst of war?

– Yes, it is.

You witnessed the reforms which were taking place exactly during the war. Moreover, sometimes it even promotes the reforms! Since during cataclysms, including wars, one simply has no other choice than moving forward!

I will show you the example of Ukrainian Army. I’ve heard an opinion that when the Army is involved in military actions in the East, it simply will not have a possibility to approach the standards of NATO. But it turned out to be the opposite!

Ukrainian Army has trainings at Yavoriv grounds, cooperates with the western armies and builds up its military capacities at the same time.

You know, there is a saying in the USA – ‘you shouldn’t lose a critical situation’. It’s exactly the case.

I have already mentioned the historical moment for Ukraine, but I would like to repeat it. Today is the time of unique opportunities. You have to use them and progress on the way of reforms.

– However, there is a real problem – it is difficult to attract investments during the war. And this is necessary for raising the economy.

– What I can hear  from investors, from representatives of business circles is a different problem. The problem is in business climate.

When you don’t expect honest decisions in court, when there are problems with tax administration, when the system of state administration isn’t transparent enough – it harms the investment perspectives. I want to say that I can hear the interest in Ukraine from American business. I had a meeting in Washington with representatives of business who already worked here, and they expressed a clear interest in staying in Ukraine. Moreover, many of them spoke about their readiness to expand their activities in Ukraine.

However, the companies which are just opening foreign markets for them always have a choice – which country they will go. And they need first of all predictability, transparency, they need to know that they will not be forced to give out money, right and left.

Moreover, business climate is important not only for investments.

It also gives more opportunities for activities of Ukrainian business.

– What do you think about the freedom of speech in Ukraine? Considering everything what is going on – events around ‘Inter’, criticism of media, actions of ‘bots’ – how would you describe the situation in this field?

– First of all, the freedom of speech is a key requirement of democracy. In any country of the world. And although I have come back to Ukraine recently, I still have an impression that after 2004 when I left Ukraine, media environment has changed for better. The same is true if we compare with the situation in 2014. Since then there have been considerable changes in the freedom of media in Ukraine.

Of course, Crimea is an exception, where the process is reverse, and the part of Donbas beyond Ukraine’s control.

But I regret to say that the media environment is still imperfect, it is obvious. I want to take this opportunity to express condolences to your colleagues and all readers on the death of Pavel Sheremet. It is a terrible thing, it contributes to the journalists’ feeling of insecurity.

You mentioned the situation with ‘Inter’.

Yes, there may be disputes in the society (about editorial policy), but setting the editor’s office on fire is definitely not the way which will solve the problem.

If the country is a democracy, other ways of disputes settlements should be chosen.

It is a fundamental issue.

” On the issue of sanctions the US position is solid as a rock”

– Do you think Minsk agreements work?

– Minsk agreements  are framework agreements that we have now. This is the way to recover Ukraine’s sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, within its legal boundaries. And that is way  this is an important document.

– But does it work?

– It is a process. I hope that it will work. And we have to continue to work hard to make it work.  Of course, the US is not a member of the Trilateral contact group or Normandy format, but we are ready to provide all possible assistance to the parties, first of all  to Ukraine, in order to have  a real working agreement.

– Is there a possible new agreement? Is Minsk-3 possible?

– It’s a hypothetical question.

We are working with President Petro Poroshenko and our partners in order to support the implementation of existing agreements. The parties are now negotiating about the special implementation of the Minsk agreements and, if needed, they can really consider additional, supplementary agreements.

– So, taking into account your answers it appears that you agree: at the moment Minsk agreements do not work as they have to. Despite this, international players discuss the possibility of easing sanctions publicly. Is this acceptable?

I will shortly return to the issue on whether Minsk works. We are glad the sides reached cease fire for the time of school year. Of course there is not an ideal ceasefire – for the last 24 h three persons died and another 15 wounded (interview took place on Tuesday evening – EP).   Despite that, from the beginning of the ceasefire the level of violence has dropped and the amount of shelling victims has also dropped. That is why I really suppose that this frame agreement could be used for moving ahead step by step.

Now about the sanctions.

I can assure you that the U.S. position in the sanctions issue is as hard as rock.

And President Obama has clearly assured at G20 Summit in China that the sanctions will not be lifted unless Minsk Agreements are fulfilled.

That is why the U.S. has recently implemented additional sanction against 37 persons and organizations in order to support already existing sanctions package. The reason for all these “supporting” restrictions is that we have to make sure that in case of including to the sanctions list such big companies as Gazprom is all the branch and depending companies have also appeared under restrictions even if they have different name.

In general sanctions are supposed to be ambiguous diplomatic instrument. That is why discussions on whether it is worth releasing this pressure arouse very often. However despite that, so far the international community has unified opinion on whether sanctions against Russia shall be kept.

In the End Crimea will Return to Ukraine

– Is it possible that the sanctions will be intensified because of Russian repressions in Crimea?

–   First of   all, I will present the U.S. position once again: Crimea is and will always remain a part of Ukraine, despite all the juridical actions from the Russian side.

We will never recognize election in the State Duma which is taking place in Crimea.

We also work with our associates in the international format over the keeping alive constant reminding that Crimea is part of Ukraine.

What is about sanctions – those restrictions that were implemented in connection with Crimea are already quite rigid. However despite that we are further looking for intensification as much as we can the diplomatic signal that the Crimea is a part of Ukraine. In particular, because of this the last sanctions package from the U.S. included some new names of Crimean politicians.

I would like to mention, that rules of sanctions have changed since 1970s. Back than sanctions were very wide and it was a rough instrument.

Now sanctions are used selectively and they are more effective.

Returning to the events in Crimea… That what is going on now with Crimean Tatars – and at all with everybody who doesn’t agree with the Russian regime in Crimea, – is absolutely unacceptable. And the U.S. position on this is very clear.

Yes, we welcome the release of Ilmi Umerov. But there are others who have lost their freedom, and we very attentively are watching their cases.

–  You have reminded unrecognition of the election in Crimea. What does it mean in practice? Ukraine has announced unrecognition of the Duma election in general because the election with the proportional system is held inclusive of Crimea. What is your opinion on this?

As the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine I am limited to the issues on Ukraine. The only thing I can say on this issue is to assure that we will not recognize election in Crimea.

   Do you believe that Ukraine will resume control over Crimea?

–  It is a serious question. And the short answer is: yes, it will!

We believe that in the end Crimea will return to Ukraine. But there is very correct question – when?

Possibly my answer will be unpleasant, but the majority in the West sees this process as similar to the positive example of the Baltic States.

For many years these countries remained a part of the Soviet Union, and the U.S. has never recognized its annexation. During all this time diplomatic missions (of the Baltic States) continued working in Washington and at last they have resumed their independence.

– Deoccupation of Baltic States took not even years but decades. Can we rely on that the world is moving faster now?

In general I agree that the world is really moving much faster now. And that is why I also suppose that the Baltic story can be the best example. But the example of the Baltic States is important because it proves that if people feel themselves strong and have a support of the international community the story would have a proper ending.

–  Russian authorities, including Putin, repeat that the Russian issue is out of the Agenda.

Listen to what it is said at the international meetings, listen to the announcements of our representative in the OSCE and you will be ascertained that this issue is far from being set.

– Objectively, international attention is not drawn to Crimea but rather it focuses on Donbas. So there is the feeling that everyone starts forgetting about Crimea.

– No, we did not forget and will not forget about Crimea.
[However,] you are right, Donbas draws more attention, but the reason is that Donbas, despite the declared ceasefire, is still in a state of war!

People dies under fire and you know it better than me.  This is a terrible situation – killed soldiers, civilians and half a million internally displaced persons .

Of course, it does not mean that regarding above facts a situation in  Crimea  stops to be terrible – no way. But I think that the key efforts of the international community have to be directed to  ceasefire which must be implemented indeed,  to improve the security situation.

– The question which is in some way connected with the Crimea. Can Ukraine join NATO?

– First of all (and I want to emphasize on this, because we should remember it), in the world there is no “magic bullet”, universal medicine which would magically solve all problems.

What concerns the prospect of NATO membership, it is not currently a subject of discussion.

Yes, Ukraine initiated a movement in this direction. And the first thing that needs to be changed on this path, is the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Most important here is, in my opinion, the establishment of civilian control over the army. And it’s not just about someone changing their military uniform to a suit, no. In fact it requires a significant amount of work.

– You say that NATO membership is not the subject of discussion. Is there then talks about granting Ukraine lethal weapon? In particular, javelins?

– Let’s look at the military aid which the United States provided to Ukraine in the recent years. We started with a budget of $7.8mln in 2014, and now give assistance to the security forces, the value of which exceeds $600 mln. And it helped achieve real changes!

As for me, the military drills are very important. In particular, Yavoriv training center, which we helped to found, is employing foreign instructors.

We have also provided a significant amount of military equipment, including six radars to be used in the East. This equipment allows us to establish the trajectory of fire, and therefore actually saves lives of military and civilians.

 I will still come back to the lethal weapons, provision of which for Ukrainians has become a symbol. Can we expect that one day the United States will decide to provide us with such weapons?

 In my opinion, the United States has now provided [Ukraine] with a lot of help. And we should concentrate on what is already given and on what is being given now.

– Ukrainians have reasons to doubt the work of the international legal system. Budapest Memorandum is destroyed, the UN Security Council is unable to make any decision when it concerns Ukraine, the OSCE as well. Why should we believe in Minsk agreements?

– This is a philosophical question, and also a serious one. In fact, Ukraine stays on the radar of the international politics. And I can not agree that the OSCE does not work. This organization has done a lot for Ukraine. Ukraine becomes the subject of discussion every Thursday when envoys meet and discuss the issues concerning Europe. And our ambassador Daniel Baer is the biggest defender of Ukraine at these meetings.

Or take SMM, which plays a truly heroic role, together with the Ukrainian soldiers. For the international community, they provide much-needed information about what is going on, giving facts and context. Yes, I know how fashionable it is to criticize the SMM. But we do not have a magic wand and do not have Blue Helmets in Donbas. And with the opportunities they have, they are really doing a great job.

– In conclusion, I would like to ask you again about reforms. What changes do you think are the most important for Ukraine?

– My answer is following. You know what I liked the most after returning to Ukraine? There is one special characteristic of people in Ukraine, which I see clearly despite my short stay in Kyiv. People have energy here! During these weeks I met people who work on the changes, push changes, and it really inspires me. Therefore, I believe the most important change in Ukraine is the change of people. From inside.

US supported and will support Ukraine further, as it has been doing for all 25 years of its independence. And, as an ambassador, I hope that this assistance will continue in the future: whether it is the support of the sovereignty and independence, or the reforms chosen by Ukrainians themselves.