US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt: “The situation today is not hopeless, but it requires tough decisions from the Ukrainian Government regarding a number of issues, which have been put off for far too long”
Even the most capable analysts in the world are unable to forecast the outcome of the EuroMaidan. Obviously, this event will not merely change the history of Ukraine, but will also affect Europe, as well as other neighbouring countries. Ultimately, Ukraine has to decide for itself whether it will continue to be Russia’s disenfranchised debtor, or indeed take an independent course and become self-efficient. The recently-appointed head of the US diplomatic mission in Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt is convinced that it is worth doing everything possible for the Ukrainian Revolution of dignity to remain a peaceful protest. He notes that Ukraine in Europe and its energy independence are two of his main priorities as US Ambassador to Ukraine. At stake today is the fate of a 46 million-strong nation and the sovereignty of Ukraine, a country that is in the heart of Europe. Ambassador Pyatt does not forget the fact that he is the representative of the US government for the entire Ukrainian nation, not just for a segment of it. He is an active user of all social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and actively reacts to the events taking place today. Most importantly, everyone can see this reaction, from the Ukrainian President to a caretaker. The Ukrainian Week talks to US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt about US sanctions against the current Ukrainian political regime, ways for overcoming the political crisis and the EuroMaidan as a huge opportunity, which Ukrainians and Europe should not waste.
UW: First of all, does Washington consider sanctions against Ukrainian officials as well as members of the ruling political regime to be an efficient tool to influence the government in view of the current situation in Ukraine? Secondly, could America initiate serious anti-corruption investigations against Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, particularly regarding the nature of the money that they are taking out of Ukraine?
I’ll begin with the most important issue, which is the United States’ support for Ukraine’s future in Europe. I have said since the first day of my arrival in Kyiv that my highest priority is to support Ukraine’s signature of the European Association Agreement, to support Ukraine moving towards a close and deep institutional relationship with Europe and a Free Trade Agreement with Europe as part of the process of building a modern democracy in Ukraine. That’s still our policy. Nothing about that has changed. We were, as I said publicly, very disappointed at the President’s decision to announce a pause in his progress towards the signature of the Association Agreement. We thought Vilnius was an unfortunate missed opportunity, but we want to get that European vector back on track. In that regard, I see what’s happened down on the Maidan over the last 50 plus days as the reflection of a very strong segment of Ukrainian civil society that also wants to move towards Europe. That’s our priority, that’s where our focus is. We are eager to work with President Yanukovych and his government to advance this objective. He has to decide, and the government has to decide, how it wants to proceed in that direction, although President Yanukovych has told American visitors, people like Senators McCain and Murphy, that he continues to be committed to that objective.
As to the question of sanctions, US top officials, including Secretary Kerry, spelled out great concern about what happened in the early morning of December 11 on the Maidan. We expressed publicly our concern about the beatings that took place and the excessive use of force that took place on the morning of November 30th on the Maidan. The discussion of sanctions that’s taken place, including in our Congress, is a reflection of the great American concern about those excessive uses of force, and we have said in Washington, and I have said here, that all policy instruments are on the table. But I think it’s important to underline that our concern about the use of violence applies across the board. Our concern about the events of the evening of Friday, January 10, for instance, also reflects dismay at the violence that was used by some of the rioters and demonstrators, who were present at the courthouse (on January 10, Kyiv Sviatoshyn District Court sentenced three “Vasylkiv terrorists” to 6 years in prison; members of the Patriot of Ukraine organization, they were accused of plotting the explosion of a monument to Lenin in Boryspil, Kyiv Oblast, that had been demolished by the time the explosion allegedly took place – Ed.) and at the militsia bus later that evening. So our position that I’ve tried to make very clear here in Ukraine, is that we oppose the use of violence. Sanctions are on the table, there is an active discussion in our Congress – you’ll see more about this week. But our strategic objective has not changed: to engage with Ukraine and to support Ukraine’s future in Europe.
UW: For at least two years, Ukraine has been in a state of technical default and political crisis, which after recent events, appears to be reaching a climax. Ukraine’s announcement of a real default will leave the country in a situation, similar to that of the deep crisis in 1993. What risks in the development of a political crisis and economic instability in Ukraine, do you see as primary ones, especially from the viewpoint of regional security?
Let me say that in terms of the macro economic situation, the United States is interested in an economically healthy and vibrant Ukraine. We are deeply convinced that the best way to achieve that is through the Association Agreement and the implementation of the deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Europe. Every study I’ve seen reaches the same conclusion: that with that Free Trade Agreement, there would be a process of economic adjustment, but the end result would be a higher level of GDP growth by several percentage points – because of Ukraine’s ability to access the largest market in the world – the European Union. So, that’s the best way to ensure Ukraine’s stable economic future. We have supported Ukraine’s engagement with the IMF – the IMF has been clear about the conditions that they believe are necessary to put Ukraine on the path to economic health. The situation is not lost, but it’s going to require affirmative decisions by the government to tackle some of the issues that have been postponed now for too long.
UW: Ukraine is obviously not a top foreign policy priority for the Obama Administration. However, in light of this crisis situation in which Ukraine finds itself right now, is the United States ready to take greater responsibility for the situation in the region, more specifically, be ready for greater tension in relations with Russia as a result of the Ukrainian people’s European choice?
I would take a little bit of difference with your description of American interests here. This is one of our largest embassies in Europe. We have the largest US assistance budgets in Europe here in Ukraine – more than USD 100mn still, at a time of very tight budgets in the United States. Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, visited Ukraine three times in the fall of last year. There continues to be a great deal of attention in Washington to what is happening here. On Wednesday, we will have a hearing of the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee focused on Ukraine. The foundation of American policy, our highest strategic objective in Ukraine, is to deepen Ukraine’s relationship with Europe. I would take issue with any suggestion that the United States is disinterested in the outcome here. You saw in the resolution which the US Senate passed last week, a very strong manifestation of American interest in developments here. It would be a mistake to say “Ah, too hard, we’re going to walk away”. I would not want to give the impression that you’re going to see a dramatic uptick in terms of American engagement here, but I think that it’s a mistake to say that the United States has not been engaged. What happens here is important to the future of Europe and to the future of Eurasia. As Senator McCain said (and I thought he put it quite well), Europe will make Ukraine a better country, but Ukraine will make Europe stronger, as well.
UW: Is there the slightest possibility that the diplomatic circles of the United States knew about secret negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which took place at the same time as preparations were being made for the Vilnius Summit? If so, why didn’t it approach the Ukrainian authorities and maybe civil society to inform them of Yanukovych’s false intent?
I was interested as I was re-reading your last interview with Ambassador Tefft, I was also looking at the cover of that issue – the cover story for the interview with Ambassador Tefft in that issue was the failure of Russian soft power in Ukraine. All of which I think is a reminder that everybody thought that Ukraine and President Yanukovych was heading in the European direction. He made a decision in November to announce a pause. Our goal, as I said at the beginning of the interview, is to make sure that that pause is as short as possible, because we think that Ukraine needs to stick to the European vector, we think that President Yanukovych’s declared policy, which your magazine and many others wrote about, was the right policy. Clearly, Russia brought to bear tremendous pressure to discourage him and discourage this government from continuing in that direction. I think that the concerns that led Russia to choose that course of pressure and coercion, those concerns can be addressed, because I think that over the long term, a Ukraine which is economically successful as part of Europe, also will create opportunities for Russia and Russian companies. But it’s President Yanukovych who has to make that decision and we hope that it will be President Yanukovych who makes that decision, and that it comes soon. So your question is a reasonable one to ask, but I don’t have the impression from our own conversations with the President and his advisors, that up until the 28th of November, there was a sort of secret plan. To me it seems more like a decision to pause a process because of pressures which were becoming overwhelming. As I said, we believe those pressures can be managed and that there are good answers from Brussels and good answers from Washington to those pressures, and the process can be put back on track. If the process does not get back on track before the election in 2015, that would be unfortunate, and it will be a missed opportunity. We’ll have to see what comes after that.
UW: If you compare the situation ten years ago to today’s, I have the feeling that that the threat of the loss of Ukrainian sovereignty is greater now than then. What is the position of the West, and more specifically of the USA – could they become the guarantors of Ukrainian independence, should this question be on the current agenda?
Let me start by saying that the United States is strongly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. As you say, I think there is a risk that some of the short-term tactical decisions that are being made right now, could compromise that independence over the long term, unless they are very careful managed. A perfect example is energy. The risk, and I’ve seen some statements recently from Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky and others in government, saying that Ukraine will be buying all of its gas from Russia now, no more reverse flow from Europe, because Kyiv will go where the price is cheapest. I hope that that short-term, price conscious decision doesn’t lead to Ukraine walking away from the energy independence agenda, because I think that would have strategic consequences that would not be in the interests of Ukraine’s long-term sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The whole world is going through an energy revolution right now, because of shale gas, because of new technologies, because of the United States’ achievement of energy independence and the United States’ emergence as an exporter of gas. All of those international structural forces work in Ukraine’s interests over the long term in terms of the competitiveness of Ukrainian industry, in terms of Ukraine’s development of new industries and new sources of employment. The bottom line – Ukraine is not going to lose its independence. But Ukraine’s room for manoeuvre could be reduced if the government makes bad decisions, including on key issues, like energy. My first priority was Ukraine in Europe and my second priority from my first day as US Ambassador to Ukraine has been energy independence.
UW: Sometimes I have the strong impression that Ukraine and the West do not always hear one another. In your view, how can Ukrainian civil society, more specifically, that which represents its peaceful protest, communicate with Western countries, in order to win support – not just in words, which in itself is very important, but also in real actions? Talking about the United States, it has made several statements, criticising the violent dispersal of protesters in early December. Why are the Ukrainian authorities still deaf?
I will leave it to you and others to answer the question about the government. Let me say a couple of words on the issue of civil society. I think one of the most inspiring things about the Maidan and about the past five or six weeks of Ukraine’s history has been to see the strength, the vibrancy and importantly, the non-violence of Ukrainian civil society. It’s incredibly important that you’ve had tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people out there on the Maidan and on Khreshchatyk, but there’s been almost no violence and there’s been no destruction of property. This sends an incredibly powerful message and it’s the foundation of the moral authority that the Maidan movement enjoys. I think one of the challenges where Ukraine still has to develop the political machinery, is to transmit or to transition that street authority, that street credibility, into the political process; to make the political process in the Verkhovna Rada between the governing party and the opposition parties – to make that process reflect the hopes and expectations of the people who have been out on Maidan. One of the reasons that you had hundreds of thousands of people on the Maidan, starting in early December, was precisely because the government, through its declaration of the pause, wasn’t listening to the people. People wanted to move towards Europe, towards democracy, towards the rule of law, and the government hit the “pause” button. And everybody stood up and said “Hey, wait! That’s not what we thought was happening here!” So I will be clear and my government will be clear, in that we will stand with those in Ukraine, regardless of their political affiliation, who support democracy, who support a future in Europe and who support the rule of law. That’s sort of the fundamental guidance that I’ve used in thinking about this crisis. But the foundation of our strategic relationship is Ukrainian democracy and our democratic values. And that’s going to be the case under President Yanukovych, just as it was under all of his predecessors.
UW: What is your opinion regarding the recent brutal beatings of journalists, EuroMaidan activists and opposition politicians, as well as the court proceedings against them – law without justice? What do all these actions, with ever-increasing violence against peaceful protesters, signal? Is this just an isolated case, as the authorities are trying to say, or is it a specially organised war against the protesters on the EuroMaidan?
The United States is very concerned about these attacks on journalists and on civil society activists. Speaking personally, I was horrified by what happened to Ms. Chornovol. This is a mother, a woman with two children, and whoever was responsible for that needs to be held accountable through the Ukrainian legal system, and not just the people who did the beating, but whoever authorised them. Whoever sent them to do this needs to be held accountable, and that’s something my government feels very strongly about. Again, Ukraine is a success story in that you have this vibrant civil society, and I can’t believe that any Ukrainian leader would want to see that go away. Certainly, for the United States, these principles – freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, are of fundamental importance. We have all committed to upholding them in the context of the OSCE and our bilateral partnership. So it’s very important that this stop, that whoever is responsible for it, and I don’t know who that is, needs to be held accountable. To those who might question why the United States and European countries care – we care because we have high expectations for Ukraine. Ukraine is a European state, it’s a member of the OSCE, it’s a country that wants to be part of the European family. And the expectations that we all set for each other, are properly high. There will be exceptions, there will be aberrations: it’s happened in the States and it has happened elsewhere in Europe, but it can’t be allowed to happen without consequences. Let me just underline that for the United States, the important thing now, is that there need to be investigations, there needs to be accountability and the violence needs to stop.
BIO: Geoffrey R. Pyatt, a Senior Foreign Service officer, was sworn in on July 30, 2013 as the eighth United States Ambassador to Ukraine. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine and a Master's degree in International Relations from Yale. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he worked with The Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank that brings together leading citizens of the Americas. He was the Economic Officer and Vice-Consul in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in 1990-1992 and went on to be the Political Officer in New Delhi, India from 1992-94. In 1994, he was appointed Staff Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America. In 1995-96 he was Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State and from 1996-97 he was assigned to the position of Director for Latin America on the National Security Council staff. From 1997 to 1999 he was Principal Officer of the American Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan. In 1999-2000, he served at the American Consulate General in Hong Kong, managing the trade and export control dialogue with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China. From 2002 to 2007 Ambassador Pyatt served at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. From August 2007 until May 2010, he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna. From May 2010, he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the South and Central Asia Affairs Bureau. On February 27, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to propose Geoffrey R. Pyatt’s candidacy for the position of the US Ambassador to Ukraine.
The interview was taken on January 13, 2014. After clashes between protesters and the riot police at Hrushevshoko Street started on January 19 and escalated over the next two days, resulting in casualties, the US Embassy issued a series of statements on these developments:
January 19, 2014
“We are deeply concerned by the violence taking place today on the streets of Kyiv and urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation. The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law. We urge the Government of Ukraine to take steps that represent a better way forward for Ukraine, including repeal of the anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days, withdrawing the riot police from downtown Kyiv, and beginning a dialogue with the political opposition. From its first days, the Maidan movement has been defined by a spirit of non-violence and we support today's call by opposition political leaders to reestablish that principle. The U.S. will continue to consider additional steps -- including sanctions -- in response to the use of violence.”
“The United States strongly condemns the increasing violence on the streets of Kyiv, which has led to casualties and the shooting deaths of two protesters. We urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation and refrain from violence. Increased tensions in Ukraine are a direct consequence of the Ukrainian government’s failure to engage in real dialogue and the passage of anti-democratic legislation on January 16. However, the aggressive actions of members of extreme-right group Pravy Sektor are not acceptable and are inflaming conditions on the streets and undermining the efforts of peaceful protestors. We likewise deplore violence by unofficial groups known as “titushki.” We also condemn the targeted attacks against journalists and peaceful protestors, including detentions…”