Press Conference by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. William Taylor

June 25, 2019 at 17:00

U.S. Embassy Kyiv Information Officer Ray Castillo: Welcome everybody to America House. So glad to have you all here. I guess I’m going to reintroduce to you our Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, Ambassador William Taylor. I knew he was very popular, but I’m overwhelmed. So, very excited and without further ado let’s turn it over to the Ambassador.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: Thank you, Alex. Thank you, Ray. Thank you all very much for coming. Добрий вечір. I’m very pleased to be back here. I see some familiar faces in the crowd, and I’m very pleased that there is this kind of interest in the United States.

I am very pleased to be back. I have said to several people that it’s not often that you get the chance to come back to a place where you’ve worked.

So as you know I was here from 2006 to 2009. Back ten years later – amazing changes. Some things stayed the same: wonderful weather, beautiful Kyiv. But some things have changed, and I’m sure we’ll get an opportunity to talk about those.

The United States cares a lot about Ukraine. And the Administration in Washington wanted to be sure that there was a full team here in Kyiv. They are looking for a new permanent ambassador that they will have to nominate, and that person will have to go through a Senate confirmation. But until then I am here to work with you and the rest of Ukraine.

And it’s an exciting time for me to be here. I don’t have to tell you – this is a new opportunity for Ukraine. You have new people, you have new faces, there are new challenges, and it’s an opportunity for foreigners to understand what’s going on. It’s also an opportunity to give advice, and to give ideas, and to give suggestions, if these might be welcome.

So when I was here before, ten years ago: pretty peaceful. The politics were interesting and the politics of Ukraine are always interesting, but there was East and West, and there was Russia and Europe. Now, there’s a war.

In the time since 2009 when I was here I’ve been working at the United States Institute of Peace, and we have been doing some work on Ukraine.

We’ve been looking for ways to try to get the Russians out of Donbas. This is the first fight that we see, this is the first battle that we see, and it’s the first priority for the United States while I am here in Ukraine.

And the second challenge, the second fight, the second battle that Ukraine is fighting is against corruption, and against bad governance. And so that challenge also has to be won. Ukraine has to win both fights.

I come optimistic, I stay optimistic. I look forward to working with you, with a civil society that I got to know earlier and that has even grown since I have been here, so it’s a real opportunity for me and I appreciate that chance.

So, I have spoken enough. I would be very pleased to answer your questions. Ray is going to help me by calling on folks. I would be very pleased to take your questions.

IO Ray Castillo: Let’s start with Hromadske please, right here.

Angelina Kariakina, Hromadske UA: I am Angelina Kariakina from Hromadske UA and I have questions about two Ukrainian oligarchs. The recent ruling of the Austrian Court allows Mr. [Dmytro] Firtash to be extracted to the United States. What are the proceedings in this case? And the second question is about Ihor Kolomoisky and his current legal status. If there is an ongoing FBI investigation against him as the American media is stating? Thank you.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: So thank you for that question. And I want to be very open and welcoming of questions from all of you. It will not surprise you for me to say that ongoing legal cases we generally don’t comment on.

So, while we all read the story of Mr. Firtash and we know that story, and there has been the decision made by the Supreme Court in Austria, there is still a decision to be made by the minister, which means that the case is still open. I look forward to being able to talk about that, but I can’t do it now.

And on the other question, it’s the same thing. Can’t talk about ongoing investigations. I had hoped that the first question I have on my return, I could be a little more forthcoming, but I can’t be forthcoming on that one.

IO Ray Castillo: Let’s go over here to Channel 24 next.

Maria Savchuk, Channel 24: Maria Savchuk, 24th Channel. I would like the Ambassador to comment on the decision of the Council of Europe to drop sanctions against Russia and allow them to come back to this international body despite multiple violations of international law by the Kremlin.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: So as you know, the United States is not a member of the Council of Europe. But as you also know we have opposed the Russians coming back to the Council of Europe and have made that opposition clear.

We were impressed at the Ukrainian delegation’s efforts to block this return. Our view is that they’re coming back, but the Russians should not send and the Council of Europe should not accept any Russian delegations that are on EU or American sanctions lists.

IO Ray Castillo: Let’s go right next door to Pryamiy.

Taras Berezovets, Pryamiy: Ambassador, good to see you here in Kyiv. And I should say that we really missed you because your contribution, what you did here ten years ago, it was absolutely fantastic.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: That’s very kind of you.

Taras Berezovets, Pryamiy: I actually wanted to ask the Ambassador a question about Mr. Kolomoisky, but unfortunately we have to now proceed to another one. So my question regards the visit of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to United States. We know that this is going to take place some month. We don’t have any precise date, we don’t have agenda for this meeting. Can you be more precise what he’s going to discuss with President Trump. And a very small follow up question from my partner on the TV show The WEEK.

Peter Zalmayev, Pryamiy: I’m a cohost with Taras on a weekly international talk show on Pryamiy TV channel. And my related question has to do with the rumors that we’ve heard that Mr. Kurt Volker may have been a bit concerned with the appointment of Mr. Andriy Bogdan as Mr. Zelenskyy’s advisor considering his past association with Ihor Kolomoisky. Is there any credence to those rumors?

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: So on your first question, on the visit of President Zelenskyy to meet President Trump. I have gotten that specific question from Ukrainian government officials as recently as this morning on the specific dates and we don’t yet have the dates.

We are very eager to make that connection and we are very eager to nail down the dates and the agenda as you have asked. I promised my government colleagues to give them that information right away. And I promise you the same thing. As soon as I have a decision – I think there’s not yet a decision, but as soon as there is, we will let you know.

On your second question. Kurt Volker and I speak to each other regularly and we try to reinforce each other.

I am not familiar with his comments that you reference. What I can say is that we don’t like to get involved in specific personnel decisions.

We of course are not shy to respond to questions from you, or from the government, about the kinds of people, and the direction, and the values, and the principles that we’d like to see Ukraine take.

So a strong commitment to democratic governance, a strong commitment to a European destination for Ukraine.

A strong commitment to Ukraine’s protection of sovereignty and human rights. These values are important to us and we hope it’s important to the Ukrainian authorities.

And so we encourage the appointment of people who share those values.

IO Ray Castillo: Ok, Mariana, RFE/RL.

Mariana Drach, RFE/RL: Marian Drach, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service. My question would be about the upcoming meeting of [the] presidents of Russia and the United States. And they already said that Ukraine will be on the agenda. Last time President Trump cancelled a meeting with Putin because Ukrainian sailors were captured by Russia. They are still behind bars. We have the UN court decision. And what are the prospects of prisoners, including the Ukrainian sailors and many others, including our colleague Stanislav Aseyev who is two years behind bars in Donetsk.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: So, if President Trump does meet with President Putin in Japan, it would be a great opportunity for President Trump to raise the issue of the 24 sailors, of the other prisoners, that the Russians are illegally holding.

So this would be one reason for that meeting to take place. To raise that issue. That issue also, as we know, is the topic of discussions between President Zelenskyy and President Putin. And there are issues and suggestions of maybe five Ukrainians for five Russians, ten Ukrainians for ten Russians. The Russians have a different view, but we are very supportive of that kind of step, that kind of exchange.

Reporter: You didn’t mention Crimea among your priorities.

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: Crimea stays on our list of priorities. Thank you very much. Let me be very clear. Secretary of State Pompeo issued a very strong statement on Crimea, and I have that statement on my wall in the office. So when you visit, if you visit my office, you will see this on my wall. And it says very clearly – I’m sure people in this room know – that the United States will never recognize the illegal Russian annexation, the attempted annexation of Crimea. Thank you very much for raising that.

IO Ray Castillo: Ok, we’re going to go back to the corner here. Wait for the mic, please, and say your name.

Mykola Antofiychuk, Ukraina TV: Ambassador, your return to Kyiv coincides with one of the most anticipated and important reforms, the reform of the energy market to be launched on July 1. At some point, Ukraine received $85 million from USAID for energy security and energy reform. And Ukrainians expect that with this reform there will be market prices for electricity and there will be an electricity market, and there finally will be long-expected competition on the energy market. In your view, what progress has Ukraine made in this area?

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: Thank you. I am aware of this decision that is going forward on the first of July, to a dramatic reform of the electricity market in Ukraine. You mentioned the assistance that USAID has provided. And recently I think several of you were able to have conversations with visiting experts and officials from the State Department and our Department of Energy on this and related topics.

We, both with that delegation and in other opportunities over the last two or three days, have had the opportunity to ask Ukrainian officials about the preparations for this market reform early next month.

The United States and other nations, other countries, have some experience with that kind of reform on the electricity market. It’s difficult. It’s difficult. It’s complicated. Preparations are necessary to deal with the adjustments that have to be made. This is such an important piece that we had conversations about this issue, about this change in the electricity market, with the National Security Defense Council. And they are taking it very seriously as well and making preparations for all different contingencies. Thank you.

IO Ray Castillo: Ok, let’s go over here to Mr. Matsuka.

Oleksiy Matsuka, Hromadske Donbas TV: My name is Oleksiy and I am [inaudible]. My question is about the Minsk agreement. We know about the people and Minsk process [unclear], What are your expectations for that and do you have any ideas on that?

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: The process for finding a solution to the Russians in Donbas, without forgetting Crimea, is very important. And as you know the Minsk Process and the Normandy Format has not made great progress to date. As Kurt Volker points out, the problem is Russian will. Kurt has recently tried again to make some progress with his Russian counterpart to no avail.

So there are many ideas about how Minsk could be implemented, how to build on the Minsk process. Some have to do with an international peacekeeping force and others with an interim administration. There are a lot of ideas that are out there for solving this problem.

Many ideas. And the problem comes down to Russian political will. As I said, this is the first fight that Ukraine has to win, and the second one against corruption. They are related.

IO Ray Castillo: Ok, we’re going to go over here to NewsOne.

Tetyana Zhembotska, NewsOne TV: Hello my name is Tetyana Zhembotska, NewsOne channel. I have a question about the G20. Will Donald Trump planning to raise the Ukrainian question at this event?

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: As I mentioned, if this conversation happens, this is an opportunity for the American president, other participants in the G20, to raise the issue of the sailors and of the other detainees – illegal detainees – that the Russians are holding.

I hope that many leaders will ask President Putin this question.

IO Ray Castillo: Ok, last question. We’re going to go to Holos.UA

Oleksiy Havrilenko, Holos.UA: Which Ukrainian politicians, in your current position, have you already met and what topics have you discussed?

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Taylor: So in my first week here – I’ve now been here seven days – I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people both in the government and outside the government.

There have been serval items in social media about some of my meetings with Ministers. I’ve mentioned a couple of conversations that we’ve had on energy, National Security Defense Council, finance. So, some of the existing ministers in the current government.

But I’ve also had an opportunity to talk to people in the Presidential Administration about their priorities and about our priorities and I look forward to more of those conversations over the next weeks.

So let me just say, Ray, if I can maybe just say again. Thank you very much for coming out to this, my first press conference on this second tour. As I said, I am very eager to talk with you, give you as much information as I can, to be as open as I can while I’m here in Kyiv. Let me just say I’m very pleased to be back and I look forward to working with you closely. And thank you Alex, nice going.

IO Ray Castillo: Thank you very much. That will conclude our press conference.