US Ambassador to Ukraine: “The oligarchs are now less powerful” – Der Standard, Austria

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt

July 31, 2016
Interview by Michaela Kampl
 [transl. from German]

Geoffrey Pyatt sees progress in the fight against corruption, but there is still much to do. Much is better now in Ukraine, at least in Geoffrey Pyatt’s view. Pyatt has been US Ambassador to Ukraine since 2013; he will move to Athens during the summer. He considers the sanctions against Russia successful, and urges to continue the fight against corruption.

STANDARD: You are known as a critic of the rampant corruption in Ukraine. Since this spring there is now a new Attorney General, Yuriy Lutsenko. Have there been any substantial changes since his taking office?

Pyatt: There are new institutions such as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and also an anti-corruption prosecutor. The new Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has a very good relationship with us. A former prosecutor from the US Department of Justice works as his advisor, which President Petro Poroshenko asked for. There are also EU officials who are working in the office of Lutsenko. The Ukrainian civil society is fighting more actively against corruption than ever before. But what still has to happen is that people have to go to jail, that someone is held accountable. There was a big step forward on this on Wednesday when the new Attorney General opened an indictment against MP Oleksandr Onyschenko. Onyschenko’s immunity had been lifted before – he is under suspicion of corruption. The attitude towards corruption has changed, but the problem has not been solved yet.

STANDARD: Ukrainian politics is in many areas still an oligarchic system. Can this change in only a few years?

Pyatt: The oligarchs have become less powerful. We had this problem in the United States in the early 20th century with, for example, the Rockefellers and Carnegies, but we managed to get this problem under control. Ukraine is just starting that process – and it will take time. But Ukrainian society no longer accepts this unquestioned, and the media have become much more active. Of course, many media are still owned by large companies, but there are now alternatives.

STANDARD: Do you also expect cooperation of banks outside of Ukraine when it comes to the fight against corruption?

Pyatt: An example: Shortly after the collapse of the Yanukovych government, there was the case of a former environment minister who had parked large sums of dirty money in the US and in London. Cooperation with the financial institutions worked. What did not work at the time was the procedure of the General Prosecutor’s Office. People were bribed, documents disappeared. There was no indictment, the assets were released. Therefore, the Ukrainians will have to strengthen their institutions, then the cooperation with international financial institutions will work.

STANDARD: Has the conflict in eastern Ukraine now become a so-called “frozen conflict?”

Pyatt: This is not a “frozen conflict” if one day two people are killed and the next day three. On the contrary: The security situation is deteriorating.

STANDARD: On paper, there is still a ceasefire.

Pyatt: It is, however, not respected. There are still problems of access for the OSCE observers. 90 percent of those access denials are committed on territory controlled by Russia. Three unmanned aircraft have been shot down recently. In two cases we have images that prove that weapons of Russian origin were used to shoot down the UAVs. The objective remains to restore Ukrainian control over the territory of the entire state. Russia is still far from implementing the obligations under the Minsk Agreement.

STANDARD: How do you get Russia to comply with the Minsk agreement?

Pyatt: We must not yield to the argument that the sanctions don’t work and we should therefore lift them. On the contrary: if sanctions do not work, they should be strengthened.

STANDARD: In some EU countries, such as Germany or Austria, there are voices calling for easing the sanctions.

Pyatt: Sanctions can only be effective – and they were – if we remain united. We have to bring back the debate about why those sanctions were implemented. They were implemented in response to the worst violation of European security principles since the end of the Cold War. This principle is: You cannot change international borders by force.

STANDARD: Is that not what happened in Crimea?

Pyatt: The Crimea sanctions will remain as long as Crimea is under Russian occupation.

STANDARD: Do the regularly held joint military exercises of the United States and Ukraine in the border region help to resolve the conflict?

Pyatt: There is currently a naval exercise in the Black Sea, with 13 countries – some NATO members and some partner states. Such exercises have been done approximately since the beginning of the independence of Ukraine. The idea that Russia is now reacting sensitive to something is illogical. These are exercises conducted at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, all participants are there because Ukraine has invited them – in contrast to the Russian military in the Donbass.

STANDARD: The Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he would get along well with Putin. Recently he has also hinted he would recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea. What do you think about that?

Pyatt:  I am legally barred from commenting on US domestic politics.


Geoffrey Pyatt (52) has been the US ambassador in Kyiv since 2013. In the course of the summer he will take up his new post in Athens. Marie L. Jovanovic has been nominated as his successor in Ukraine.