December 16, 2021
Well thank you, Vitaliy. It’s a pleasure to be here tonight.
You know, I’ve been serving here in Kyiv for two and a half years already. It doesn’t seem that long, but it’s that long and my motto for my time here has been that Ukraine is never boring, it’s not boring.
When I first got here in May 2019, President Zelenskyy had just come into office, and we all focused on the turbo regime of reform and everyone was very excited, I think, to try and make a lot of progress, but nearly two years ago we all faced the COVID epidemic, the world has faced the epidemic, and we’re still struggling with that and finally as you mentioned Ukraine is facing massive troop buildups on its border. These continue even as Ukraine fights illegal Russian occupation of Crimea, and de facto Russian occupation and aggression in Donbas.
But despite the challenges that we all face in the past years, Ukraine and its international partners, including the United States, continue to work hard to advance the reforms that Ukraine needs to address the challenges it has today and the challenges it will have tomorrow in 2022.
So I’m by nature an optimist, so when I look ahead to 2022, I try to focus on opportunities.
And I think that 2022 is a real opportunity to build on the good work that has been done in 2021. On the reform front, the Verhovna Rada has passed several very important pieces of legislation that, when implemented this year, will make significant improvements in the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.
First is judicial reform. The judicial system in Ukraine is often considered a major stumbling block to international investment. And the Rada and President Zelenskyy have both made progress this year in starting that very important process of judicial reform.
Another important goal to accomplish in 2022 is the selection of new heads of Ukraine’s anti-corruption bodies. Having two independent heads leading these important bodies will really help make a difference in combatting corruption in Ukraine, ensuring that corrupt individuals are held to account, and send a powerful signal that nobody in Ukraine is above the law.
There are also a lot of other reforms which I won’t go into. Health, corporate governance, banking, security sector, land ownership, which I think was mentioned by the Prime Minister, and all of these reforms will make Ukraine more resilient and more democratic in 2022 and beyond – and completely benefit Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
But, as you mentioned, unfortunately 2022 also brings an external threat that Ukraine knows well, and that tragically is beyond its control.
Today, nearly 100,000 Russian troops are poised on Ukraine’s border, in an unmistakable attempt to coerce Ukraine and its Western partners into accepting an ever-expanding list of revanchist “red lines” that appear to have the aim of dragging Ukraine back into the Soviet Era and Ukraine’s partners back into a Cold War dichotomy attempting to roll back the progress of the past thirty years and re-divide Europe.
In the face of this, the United States remains Ukraine’s steadfast partner and we are working closely with the EU and NATO to prevent a crisis and ensure that Ukraine continues its path of NATO and EU integration. Those are choices that belong to Ukraine, these choices do not belong to Russia.
Secretary of State Blinken said last week, “We’ve made very clear that one country trying to tell another what its choices should be, including with whom it associates, is not an acceptable proposition. Changing the borders of another country by force is also not an acceptable proposition…”
The United States was founded on the principle that the citizens of the country should determine the path that their country takes and that
And that’s a principle that Ukrainians share and have showed great will and determination to uphold. Their determination was strong enough to fight two revolutions in 2004 and 2014.
And it was strong enough to have fought and won against Russia’s attempt to take over all of Eastern Ukraine in 2014. The cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv and Mariupol, and others battled back against Russian proxies who tried to hold their cities. Ukraine’s brave soldiers continue to fight back against Russian proxies in Donbas today, proxies who are illegally and immorally killing Ukrainian soldiers on their own soil.
It is the United States’ deepest hope that Russia chooses to de-escalate its unilateral aggression on Ukraine’s border.
Just one week ago President Biden spoke with Russian President Putin about Russia’s intentions. The President and Secretary of State Blinken have also engaged Ukrainian counterparts and EU and NATO allies and partners.
Our message to all is the same: there are two paths forward, one involving diplomacy and de-escalation, or one of confrontation and conflict.
We believe diplomacy and dialogue is the only way forward, but if Russia decides differently, then it can expect severe and enduring costs.
One constant that I think will continue for 2022 and beyond is the United States’ unwavering support for a strong, prosperous Ukraine secure in its borders and a Europe whole, free and at peace.
Q: Do you approve of the government’s anti-oligarch drive? Who would you side with: the President or the oligarchs?
Well, I think it’s a false dichotomy to say you have to side with one or the other. But I would just say that it’s important. I wouldn’t say that it’s just important to take on the oligarchs, I would say it is important to take on all corrupt business practices and it’s important to put all businesses in Ukraine on a level playing field and that’s important because if monopolies are allowed to form then it is bad for the consumer. Ukrainians have to pay higher prices for goods and services, and it’s also bad for the government because the government doesn’t collect the taxes and income it should be collecting. So, I would say that I am agreeing with President Zelenskyy that it is very important to level the playing field and make sure that all businesspeople in Ukraine follow the rules. We did that in the United States because we too had our own oligarchs back in the day. We made sure that we had strong judicial systems. We also had strong monopoly and anti-corruption systems and those systems applied rules to all businesspeople and that’s what we’re trying to help Ukraine do here is level the playing field and make sure that all businesspeople follow the rules.
Q: How do you evaluate progress on reforms in Ukraine? Fast or slow? Can you single out three steps that need to be made by the Ukrainian government so that the country becomes more efficient and a better place to be for businesses?
Well, I would say that Ukraine has made a lot of progress on reform but there’s still more work to be done. I think there’s always work to be done, in every country, and the things that I think are most important for 2022 I mentioned them a bit in my remarks. First is judicial reform because I think judicial reform is really the basis, sort of the mother of all reforms. If you don’t have a strong and consistent judiciary you can’t reform in a lot of sectors in a way that people have confidence in. Another thing is anticorruption reform. NABU, SAPO, and other anti-corruption bodies need to be strengthened, they need to have new leadership this year and to do their job to make sure that people are held to account, and finally I would say corporate governance reform. There are a lot of state-owned enterprises that are trying to build better corporate governance with independent supervisory boards, some of them more successful than the others. I would say that if all state-owned enterprises could have good, solid corporate government, it would really help in their operations and also make them more competitive if they decide to privatize.