Valery Chaly, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States: "Russia will not succeed in shifting U.S. focus away from Ukraine"
If we consider the progress of bilateral relations between Ukraine and the U.S., the year of 2015 can be undoubtedly called the year when they reached their greatest intensity and depth. This fact is confirmed not only by the sheer number of visits and high-level talks, but also by the very scope of support for Ukraine demonstrated by the United States of America. What was the U.S. policy towards Ukraine during the year, what types of the most difficult challenges had to be overcome in order to achieve objectives, what Americans expect from Ukraine in combating corruption, and more you can read below in an interview given to the Ukrinform’s own correspondent in Washington, D.C., by Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA Valery Chaly.
AMERICANS HAVE CHANGED THEIR PERCEPTION OF UKRAINE
- The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine called the year 2015 "good" for bilateral relations between Kyiv and Washington. What is your take on developments this year?
- Obviously, this year can be called one of the busiest in the Ukrainian-American relations, and most importantly because of the quality of dialogue it became the most intensive in all recent years. Of course, this fact is associated primarily with Ukraine struggle against the aggression mounted by Russia. It can be noted that bilateral contacts took place regularly at the highest political level. In addition, 2015 became the year when U.S. establishment paid a very serious attention to Ukraine, which was not the case for a long period of time. Unlike the 1990s, now the Americans are well aware of the role played by the Ukrainian people to protect not only Ukraine's sovereignty but also the security of entire Europe. The bipartisan resolutions of Congress in 2015 and support in many areas rendered by the U.S. Administration are evidence of this fact.
- In your opinion, to what degree has the States changed its position on Ukraine during the year?
- As far as the political position of Washington on Ukraine is concerned, it remains unaltered: support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, unrecognizing occupation of Crimea and restoration of international law. The same "constant" is observed in further upholding of anti-Russian sanctions.
Changes have taken place in the military-technical cooperation, especially in the second half of the year. In particular, it relates to the courses taught by U.S. instructors the military forces of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine. Moreover, to confirm the words spoken by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt this can be said about the successful implementation of the Ukrainian police reform project, which became the pivotal, but not the last. We are working to ensure that this kind of projects in practical reforms in Ukraine will be completed next year as well.
In the second half of 2015, important decisions were made to beef up assistance to Ukraine. More than $658 million were allocated to U.S. State Department in 2016 year to support the financial stability, bilateral cooperation and security of Ukraine, as well as $250 million were given to the Pentagon directly for the military sector.
A somewhat different progress that we are not fully satisfied with lies in the field of humanitarian aid. The forecast figures for Ukraine essential needs in this field today haven’t been met enough. The U.S. provided over $84 million, and it is the first leader in assistance but the States also have an additional potential. What decisions will be made will be defined as we go along. For example, last month the leaders of Ukrainian churches assisted by Ukraine Embassy and the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation have addressed American President Barack Obama to assist in delivery of humanitarian cargoes to Ukraine. In addition, we are currently working with U.S. Congress that initiated its own projects of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. We will definitely take pains to realize the objectives set by the President of Ukraine not only in these areas.
All agreed that we should give additional boost to the bilateral mechanism of strategic partnership at the meetings in Kyiv during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visit, where I was part of the official Ukrainian delegation.
- You mean the establishment of the Biden-Poroshenko Commission?
- I’d like to remind that once we had had the Kuchma-Gore Commission, then those efforts were resumed by then Ukraine Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko. Afterwards, unfortunately, the intensity of working structures of the strategic partnership commission stalled. Now is the right time to restore all the institutional mechanisms. The position of our American partners is that pragmatic steps are to be made. I support that position, but that does not mean that we do not need institutional mechanisms for relations that enable us to focus on the bilateral cooperation.
THE MOST COMPLICATED PRIORITIES
- What was the most difficult task for the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States in 2015?
- The most difficult task but also the most interesting one in terms of our work was that the Embassy managed to join the consultations in the process of budget preparation of the United States regarding assistance to Ukraine. I am very grateful to those Congressmen and Senators totaling a group of about 20 lawmakers, with whom we arranged to meet in order to debate each figure by explaining its necessity. I also appreciate many senior officials from State Department and the Pentagon, who showed understanding of our situation. I’m especially thankful to the circle of Ukraine friends who lent their support through using various methods of raising the amount of assistance contained in the defense budget of the United States. It was the most difficult issue, and I think we achieved a good result there. The most challenging emotionally and equally the most responsible was the work in the interests of Ukrainian citizens. For example, Ukrainian sailors, who found themselves in a difficult situation in Trinidad and Tobago, or on vessels under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda. Moreover, other issues include the ongoing oversight over our children who were adopted by American families, and the situation with the medical care of Ukrainian soldiers undergoing rehabilitation throughout the United States. This is a great work for people, which assists their welfare, and as the Ambassador I assign it one of the top priorities. This is why we are attempting to painstakingly accomplish these tasks.
SANCTIONS AND MESSAGES
- A few days ago U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions against Russia and its allies because of aggressive policy of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Why did this occur right now, why Americans lost patience? Extending of sanctions is a clear message that Russia will fail to shift the focus of the world away from Ukraine, for example, towards Syria.
- First of all, it hasn’t caught me by surprise. The political decision on extending sanctions was approved in the form of prior broad consultations. We have been always in touch with those officials who are responsible for this sector, but, as you know, the United States coordinates its actions with the European partners. Obviously, this was a response that whole package of the Minsk II accords, despite various attitudes towards them, has not been fulfilled by the Russian side. Moreover, a big question has been raised whether Moscow has the political will to honor this, in essence, peace plan. Therefore, prolonging sanctions is a clear message that Russia will not be able to remove the focus of the world on Ukraine, for example, towards Syria, and that America has not forgotten about Crimea and all violations committed by Russia.
Another signal was evidently directed at the Western world that the policy of sanctions demonstrates results. Thus Moscow's attempts to break up the common position of Europe and America, who show solidarity with Ukraine, have failed despite the fact that Russia invested a large amount of resources in them. The year of 2015 became the very moment when the West has finally realized that the credibility of Russian leadership has been ruined, therefore actions ought to be confident enough, signals should be clear, and the unity must remain intact. Only such policy could lead to a result and force Russia to abandon its aggressive actions.
- Despite the efforts employed by the international community Russia still uses means for escalation. In the ATO zone numerous attacks on the Ukrainian troops have been launched, the rebels occupied the village of Kominternove, outside Mariupol. Does the Ukrainian side intend to address the UN Security Council relating to the deteriorating situation in Donbas?
- The Embassy of Ukraine to the United States coordinates with the Center, where the foreign policy is formed, all measures in the peace process. We will do our best for maximum realization of Ukrainian interests.
AMERICANS CALLED ON UKRAINE TO STOP BLOCKADE OF CRIMEA
- The U.S. has officially made plenty of statements on the issue of Crimea that it will never recognize Russia’s annexation attempts. What do they say in Washington’s sidelines regarding the situation on the Crimean peninsula, including the power cuts originating in Ukraine?
- I will be frank with you. American journalists, experts, politicians immediately asked me a lot of questions about the so-called "Crimean blockade" and appeals or requests that this should be immediately halted. On the one hand, this reasoning is clear to me, and in fact our citizens remain in Crimea, who must be supported by Ukraine to survive during the Russian occupation.
However, I also always remind our partners that a significant number of our servicemen and civilians have been killed or injured in the war started by Russia after it occupied Crimea. Also, there have been great numbers of the Crimean residents’ rights violations when they were just thrown out there, such was the case of Crimean Tatars. Equally important and alarming are statements made by the Russian Federation on possible deployment of nuclear weapons in the peninsula.
As a rule, any invader makes an effort to create conditions when all people gradually get used to the situation. But this will never happen. The issue of Crimea is to remain relevant in our information work next year, as well as in our efforts to ensure legal mechanisms for returning Crimea.
CORRUPTION. LAST NAMES. SYSTEM
- The central focus of the U.S. is on Ukraine anti-corruption efforts. Why, in your opinion, Biden's speech in Parliament was so emotional? Is this a typical behavior of U.S. Vice President or he was actually unnerved by corruption in Ukraine?
- I carefully listened to his speech. Vice President spoke in his traditional manner of a brilliant orator. He really especially highlighted the importance of this event despite the fact that he perhaps made hundreds of such speeches, but U.S. leaders haven’t had the floor of the Ukrainian parliament since the 1990s. So this moment was a special one.
And I would like to underline two things. First, Vice President Biden at some point in his speech began placing active stresses. Why? I got the impression that in the beginning almost no one used the headphones for translation in the parliament. It happened when obviously not all people at once got engaged in the perception of the speech itself. Everything went quite differently when Biden spoke keywords on supporting Ukraine and its protection from the Russian aggression. So I do not relate his speech with some emotional perception, but rather as attempts made by Vice President to catch the attention of the audience very rapidly. It is my immediate observation as one who was sitting in the audience.
Second, I surmise what could have been included in the speech of Vice President, but it wasn’t published, and what had not been inserted in the text at first, but then was added later. And I consider it as a positive signal that Joseph Biden chose the right words, analyzed the situation and determined the correct attitude.
- Let’s get back to the question of corruption in Ukraine. The U.S. has given us a hand to overcome this phenomenon. What exactly are they expecting from us? Should they be high-profile court cases, arrests of the oligarchs, exposures of illegal schemes or something else?
- First of all, it must be the fulfillment of all declarations and amendments to the legislation - the most efficient and the fastest. That is the main issue remains- and I can agree with this one - is the speed of reforms. It’s not only about political will in Ukraine, the willingness of the parliament to amend the legislation, but precisely the timeline of reforms. Anti- corruption activities - these are probably the hardest thing for Ukraine now because corruption is itself at a certain time became a mechanism for the functioning of the state. Thus the issue is not so much about the personalities or irreversibility of the punishment for committed crimes, although it is important, and, above all, but the necessity for systemic institutional changes. You can decide to prosecute a certain suspect, but if we do not change the system, then a suspect will be replaced by another person who will continue with the same activities.
Therefore displeasure of the American side is likely zeroed in on the speed of reforms implementation and fulfillment of the published declarations.
INTERFERENCE OR RECOMMENDATIONS?
- Majority of the Ukrainian politicians has perceived the reaction of U.S. Treasury to the budget process in Ukraine as pressure and interference in the internal affairs. Do you think these observations have valid reasoning or unjustified?
- I believe the USA has the right to provide assessments on the ongoing processes to indicate the terms under which the financial support can be given, and in which cases it will not grant any funds whatsoever. If we do not want to receive this advice, which sometimes sounds very unconditionally, but in this case it can’t be definitely considered interference in internal affairs, then let’s refuse a substantial financial aid. Instead, we must frankly acknowledge that it really provides support for our macro-financial stability.
There is one more thing, and I think it is a very positive one. This is a concrete interaction at the level of the governmental financial institutions. I mean between the Finance Ministry of Ukraine and Natalie Jaresko herself and U.S. Treasury - they have reached now a well-established expert and consultative cooperation. Moreover, the visit of Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to Ukraine, her talks with the Ukrainian President to discuss all issues, and develop plans. On other words, we are talking about matching political agreements with those documents which were concluded along with our internal implementation of these agreements using the mechanism of the state budget. I do not see anything else here.
COOPERATION VIA THE UN
- In 2016 Ukraine will become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. At this stage the Ukrainian mission in New York City is headed by another diplomat - Volodymyr Yelchenko, former Ambassador of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. His appointment gave rise to various opinions in Ukraine. What can you say about it, and what one can expect from the duet Chaly- Yelchenko next year?
- Regarding the duet the Ukrainian Ambassadors to the U.S. and UN Representatives have been working in duet, and in coordination with the Center. I had a constructive interaction with Yury Sergeyev, and obviously we will continue it with Volodymyr Yelchenko. And rightly so when it concerns our interaction, then it has lasted perhaps more than a dozen of years. I want to remind you: not only Volodymyr Yelchenko had been assigned to Moscow in the worst period of the Ukrainian-Russian relations, he had been also the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations in 1997-2001. So I have no doubt that our cooperation on the line Washington - New York in the context of the UN, and on other issues will be effective. At least, we have already coordinated the first steps that we will make to secure the country's interests during Ukraine's membership in the UN Security Council.
- What can Ukrainians expect from the Embassy’s operations in 2016?
- I can assure you that in Kyiv, in Ukraine Embassy in Washington, and in all consulates in the U.S. we totally understand our objectives and priorities. The pace of their implementation will not slow down, it will only accelerate. The Embassy of Ukraine to the United States will seek to implement all tasks and keep focused on the interests of our citizens and the people of Ukrainian origin and facilitate their enormous efforts in support of Ukraine. I'm talking about the Ukrainian diaspora, the volunteers, those who help Ukraine here. I want to thank everyone who is supportive of our country, everyone in America who invests money in Ukraine now, making a successful investment to the U.S. security in the future. I am sure that Ukraine, who has withstood, will continue to expand and intensify relations with the West - we have no alternative now. This sort of Ukraine can become a real contributor to the global security.
Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington, D.C.