Despite of the talkings about closer U.S. ties with the Kremlin, Washington's policy on Russia remains tough. Moreover, the United States has officially stated in recent weeks that it will "never" recognize Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea, reaffirmed firm support of Kyiv and increased the planned defense funding to assist Ukraine. Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States Valeriy Chaly spoke in an exclusive interview to Ukrinform about why Washington enhanced its Ukraine policy and what efforts are being done for this purpose.
Q: Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally approved Crimea Declaration. He firmly supported the Ukrainian position, but did so immediately before hearings in the Senate, which found out the unknown details of a meeting between the presidents of the United States and Russia in Helsinki. Why was this declaration published exactly at this moment, and how important it is to Ukraine, since the U.S. position on Crimea has not actually changed?
A: Our success in counteracting aggression, as well as in internal transformations, largely depends on the U.S. position. This is a reality, and the United States is now our number one strategic partner in the security sector. This also refers to Crimea. So, the embassy's task for more than a year has been to keep this issue in focus and to find mechanisms for de-occupation of Crimea. We coordinate this work on different levels particularly with the President, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among foreign diplomatic missions.
I can open some "diplomatic secrets." The U.S. Crimea declaration was not an unexpected decision. At least it was not prepared for a particular moment and for us it was clear. The work on this declaration, as well as on the coordination of the positions of different countries, was conducted for a long time. I can say that we knew the content of this document in advance.
There are two important points in the declaration. First of all, it clearly establishes in fact, and this is forever, that the attempted annexation of Crimea will not be recognized. And the comparison with the Welles Declaration just comes in the context of the emphasis "never." The State Department clearly underlined this to us, in particular, at a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell. He emphasized this in the presence of the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev.
Secondly, during the testimony of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Senate, it was emphasized that all the points mentioned in the declaration had been agreed with the White House and were clearly in line with the policies of the U.S. President. That is, now we see a consolidated position that begins to be implemented in specific decisions of the Congress and the executive branch.
In addition, a very clear position on Crimea was announced by many U.S. allies - by Canada and by European countries, even by Italy, from where we heard mixed signals, but even they clearly stated this position.
This Declaration shows the position of the United States, although legally it does not have the status of a law, but as part of the American legal system it was practically proclaimed as a policy, and it will be used by executive structures in their decisions.
Q: You have recently met Secretary of State Pompeo to thank him for the Crimea Declaration on behalf of the president of Ukraine, and you wrote on Facebook that you had also discussed with him "further joint steps." Can you tell in more detail about what was discussed during the conversation?
A: The dialogue between Ukraine and the United States continues on different levels, on the highest level and as a part of implementation of the agreements reached. According to diplomatic practice, details of such conversations are not disclosed. But I can outline the topics that were raised.
It is true that I passed the words of gratitude from the President of Ukraine and reiterated our common position with the United States on Crimea. In addition, we coordinated our positions and spoke about concrete steps to reestablish the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission. In this regard, the role of the Secretary of State is crucial. Well, of course, there are purely working moments in planning high-level meetings.
I am very pleased with this openness of Secretary of State Pompeo, although I have never had any problems with meetings the State Department's leadership. The opportunity to talk from time to time with the U.S. Secretary of State accelerates the implementation of bilateral agreements reached at the meetings of the Presidents of Ukraine and the United States.
Q: Last week the State Department held the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom with the participation of U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. How much attention is paid to the situation in Crimea and occupied Donbas during such discussions in the United States, and how can this change the situation?
A: The main topic of this forum was the freedom of religion as one of the fundamental components of human rights. But there is another point: if we talk about speeches by U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley at closed meetings, as well as previous statements by the U.S. Administration, there is a clear link between the theme of human rights violations and the threat to international security. In fact, there is an understanding that the real peace, including on the temporary occupied Ukrainian territories, cannot be achieved without securing the rights of the people who now stay there.
We have done a lot of work at this forum, and it is clear that we, as well as the other countries, raised the topics that were important to us. Therefore, the head of the Ukrainian delegation (Deputy Foreign Minister Serhiy Kyslytsia) made a clear message that in order to ensure human rights it is necessary to put an end to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, to withdraw all Russian troops and out of the country and to de-occupy Crimea.
The forum was attended by Mustafa Dzhemilev, who provided facts about the situation in Crimea and the White House pays a great attention to them. Obviously, all these violations have consequences and due reaction from Washington.
We also raised the issue of the inalienable right of Ukraine to be granted the Tomos of Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Q: Have you discussed with the U.S. side the issue of Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
A: The question of religion and of the church is not an area where government agencies directly influence decisions. Religious organizations deal with this question. We have consolidated support of the Orthodox churches, in fact, throughout the Western Hemisphere. And I am very grateful for the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, for the leadership of Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Daniel, for unity, which was demonstrated at the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the UOC in America. There were members of the Synod of Constantinople, representatives of autocephalous churches from different countries, and I had a very positive impression after communicating with them.
Obviously, the UOC of the USA supports this issue, although there were discussions, but now they are over, and we have received full and powerful support.
Q: In recent weeks, the U.S. Congress confirmed $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine for the current year and planned $250 million for the next year within the Pentagon's budget alone. What does this increase mean, and is this trend connected, for example, to the increased presence of Russian troops in Donbas and in Crimea?
A: Indeed, assistance to Ukraine for security and defense is provided on several traks – by the Pentagon, the State Department and within individual programs. In general, it is a big amount, and compared with other countries, we are indeed among the priorities of U.S. support.
Regarding the dynamics, since the beginning of my work as Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, I set the task for myself and my colleagues to constantly work on increasing the amount of assistance. On one hand, it is technical work, because it is necessary to work with all concerned committees in the Congress and hold personal meetings annually with dozens of congressmen and senators. But if you have the support of the Ukrainian community and understanding on the Capitol Hill, it is much easier to do so. However, it is not that easy to try to increase the amount of help each year. When legislators consider the budget for the next year, they take into account how to report to taxpayers, where last year's funds were spent. Therefore, such a positive dynamics for me is the evidence of the existing and growing confidence, the effective use by Ukraine of the resources provided in the form of direct assistance, provided equipment, weapons, including lethal weapons, training programs, etc. This assistance is needed and timely today, because our warriors continue to die and get injured. Modern technology, weapons and training significantly reduce human losses.
Therefore, the reasons why we have growing support are related to the political and technical spheres. Part of this assistance is provided under certain conditions It means that they are ready to develop relations with us if we are successful enough in reforming the security and defense sector, if we guarantee that there will be no corruption in this sector, if we guarantee security of these samples that should not get into the hands of the enemy. And the fact that assistance is expanding is a good signal.
It is important to stress that not only the amount of assistance has changed, but also the quality. The decision to provide Ukraine with Javelin antitank missile systems to Ukraine is another level of interaction. Along with a change in our internal conditions for arms procurement, which we also had to discuss, and along with increasing confidence, we are opening up opportunities for new types of defensive weapons. This is a clear signal that the United States stands with Ukraine and understands the importance of our strategic security partnership. This is a contribution to the future, and now we see the reason for talking about a real partnership for many years ahead to achieve common strategic goals.
I would like to emphasize that in terms of providing weapons to Ukraine, we are opening over the new pages. For example, preparations are underway to send combat boats to Ukraine, because we have a lot of questions regarding control of the sea space. These will be direct deliveries without intermediaries. Future interaction plans are also being discussed.
Q: The United States is actively opposed to the construction of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline and is instead lobbying for the sale of U.S. liquefied natural gas on the European market in order to reduce its dependence on Russia. Is this issue more related to U.S. foreign policy or trade?
A: The question is interesting and relevant. I have analyzed this for myself for a long time, and the answer is the following. It is very difficult to separate foreign policy from economic issues, trade interests. Everything is interconnected. Obviously, there is an interest in the U.S. in expanding LNG exports. For example, as of May 2018, only 31 out of 396 tankers with American liquefied gas were sent to Europe. Of course, the American side wants to increase these supplies. Perhaps, it is this issue that impels further actions. But I would say that the important thing is still an understanding of the security issue, as the U.S. president frankly said at meetings with European leaders. And I must admit that there are very few arguments against this position. There are direct gas supplies from Russia which Europeans are paying for, but they want more security. These pieces are difficult to put into a puzzle.
In addition, there is an understanding in the United States of what new opportunities Russia can receive if gas transit bypasses Ukraine and now it will increase the threat of further aggression against Ukraine. This thesis is quite serious and it was made public, and the security of the whole region is considered in this regard. This issue is as follows: tactical economic objectives should not prevail over strategic security issues. And the position of the United States is stated quite clearly.
I have no doubt about the understanding of the U.S. administration that none of the "guarantees" currently proposed by Moscow can be taken seriously, since Russia has already demonstrated that arguments are worthless. Therefore, our position and the position of the United States are the same.
Q: If we sum up the results of the first half of this year, how would you assess the main achievements and progress in relations between Ukraine and the United States?
A: It's not easy to answer this question briefly. For example, as far as Crimea is concerned, our activities have been aimed at consolidating international support for the non-recognition of its attempted annexation, as well as at further steps. This includes keeping in place and strengthening sanctions and preventing violations of the sanctions regime. You know the result - the U.S. position is clear and has been secured for many years to come.
We also work in the Central American region, in the Caribbean, and when there is a vote in the UN, we also provide a lot of votes in support of Ukraine's position.
Moreover, regarding the creation of the Platform of Friends of De-Occupation of Crimea, we held a number of meetings in Washington and created such a network. It is focused on perspectives of ensuring security and defense – leading thinktanks are very helpful in making such analysis and forecasts for us. We also focused on the issue of ensuring the rights of Crimean Tatars, and the release of our hostages held in Russia.
Another task is, of course, keeping our US partners informed about the situation in Crimea. Here are important visits of representatives of the Crimean Tatar people to the US.
In other areas, we maintain a very intense dialogue at the high and highest levels. It is not just about official meetings, although they are of special significance. For example, this year we prepared a meeting of presidents in Brussels. Even under conditions when, due to changes in the schedule of the U.S. president, most of the bilateral meetings were canceled, an important meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and the United States was held. Moreover, I received tasks on the issues discussed by the heads of state, and they are being implemented - in interaction with the U.S. National Security Council and with the State Department.
In addition, the result and importance of contacts do not always depend on the level. Much depends on the substance of the issues. If you pay attention, the President of Ukraine accepted U.S. officials even without observing formal protocol procedures and despite his busy schedule. In particular, talks have recently been held in Kyiv with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources. The participation of the President of Ukraine in the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly is being planned. We will use every opportunity to ensure a steady progress of bilateral meetings on the highest and high levels.
There were also visits to the United States of Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy, ministers, members of Parliament of Ukraine, a number of delegations of business representatives and non-governmental organizations from Ukraine. The dialogue with American partners is constantly ongoing.
The trust in our country, which has grown recently, also affects the work of the embassy. We are currently taking part in White House briefings, to which they previously invited only representatives of NATO member states, and we receive the first hand information.
Following the efforts made last year, this year we have already achieved success in increasing investment in Ukraine from the United States, constantly growing trade turnover and increasing the pace of implementation of strategic projects.
A lot of work is being done with the U.S. Congress. Consistent efforts are being undertaken to provide support in the field of security and defense, as well as in the reform area. Now the key issues are cybersecurity and energy security. And these areas are developing through the adoption of new legislative acts, respective programs, platforms.
Separately, we should note the efforts aimed at recognizing the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as genocide of the Ukrainian people. Over the year, we have worked with governors, legislatures of all U.S. states, and now we have the result when a resolution in support of this decision is being adopted virtually every month by one of the states. I am grateful for support to the Ukrainian Caucus in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, to the Ukrainian diaspora, to activists from Ukraine, and to the U.S. State Department. And we are constantly moving towards the goal. I hope that the Congress will adopt the respective resolution this year.
In general, there is now no doubt about Washington's official position in terms of supporting Ukraine, confronting Russia's aggression and conducting reform. Moreover, this is a consolidated position of both the President of the United States, the Congress, and executive bodies. A year ago it was not obvious. But we must also understand that Ukraine is not the only country in the world, and there are dozens of nations and regions to which the United States pays attention. Therefore, keeping the issue of interaction with Ukraine in the focus of attention of the United States is a very important thing. And I consider it not an easy task, which is now being successfully implemented thanks to the efforts of everyone - the President, government agencies and diplomats of the embassy, activists from Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.
We value the unity of Ukrainians through the oceans that has been formed recently, the level of interaction between Ukraine and the United States that we have achieved. The key word is trust, trust at the highest level, trust between people. This is the main thing that we have managed to achieve and what we need to keep together.
Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington.