Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine's Ambassador to U.S.
It is important not to lose pace in our relations with Washington
30.07.2019 12:13

The American foreign policy direction has remained the most important one to Ukraine in recent years amid Russian aggression and the conduct of the necessary reforms. During this time, the United States allocated more than $3 billion in aid to Ukraine, provided lethal weapons, imposed sanctions on Russia, and treated heavily wounded Ukrainian soldiers. And this is far from a complete list. Bilateral relations have gained intensity that was not seen before.

Washington has a positive vision of further engagement with the new government in Ukraine. The preparations for a meeting between Presidents Zelensky and Trump are underway. At the same time, the appointment of a new Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is being prepared. Ukrinform discussed these issues with Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly, who will shortly complete his tenure in the U.S. capital.

Question: You have been working as Ukraine's ambassador to the United States for the past four years, at a difficult time when our the war is ongoing in the country. What was the most difficult thing? What achievements would you highlight?

Answer: The period of work that fell upon me to represent Ukraine in America was really special for our country. Support from our partners was needed to fulfill our main priority in countering Russian aggression and ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Amid the asymmetry of the military potentials of Ukraine and Russia, it would be hard to hold positions without such international support, first and foremost, from the United States.

Therefore, Washington's political support, the signals coming from here, are always expected in Ukraine. I felt it especially when I was in the Joint Operations Area in August last year in Avdiivka. There are high expectations among our officers, soldiers, volunteers who are now in the defense of Ukraine's security and Europe as a whole.

One of our main efforts in this direction is to increase the country's defense capability. We can really talk about achievements here. When I arrived in the U.S. in 2015, getting lethal weapons looked like a very difficult prospect. Over the past few years, we have been able to get the decision on providing Ukraine with weapons, training our troops, providing other assistance. This support was constantly growing, both from the Pentagon and the State Department. Since 2015, we have seen an increase in aid by over $50 million annually. But this is not done automatically. This constant, persistent and complex work.

In total, the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $3 billion over the past four years, including assistance to reform the field of security and defense, anti-corruption and judicial reform, and improving the efficiency of public administration. The emphasis has recently been placed on energy sector reform. In addition, cyber threats are a new challenge. This year, we expect the approval of a total amount of U.S. assistance of over $700 million to meet these challenges and carry out reforms.

Another priority is to help our wounded people who were undergoing rehabilitation here in the United States. These are the true heroes of Ukraine. Among them are Ihor Hordiichuk, Vadym Svyrydenko, and Oleksandr Kosolapov, as well as a lot of other guys. Now they are helping those wounded in Ukraine to find their place in society. This was and remains an important task for us. Oleksandr Popruzhenko is currently recovering after eye surgery, and we are hoping for a miracle.

Question: Is it a warrior with injured eyes who participated in the Marine Corps Marathon?

Answer: Yes, it's him. Unfortunately, Sashko cannot see yet, but last fall he ran a full marathon distance. And when the accompanying sportsman could not withstand his pace and had to stop, an American "intercepted" our soldier and they ran to the finish. We found this American athlete, invited him to the embassy, and expressed gratitude to him. It is a sign of a completely new unity, human contacts between Americans and Ukrainians.

If we talk about gains, I felt that our countries have become closer, obviously because we have common threats. People in Ukraine and America have also become closer. The merit of this belongs to our Ukrainian Americans.

This helped the embassy work more actively regarding the expansion of political support. For four years, I alone had more than 250 meetings with congressmen and senators. I'm not talking about meeting with partners of our delegation members, visits of government officials and civil society representatives, and there were about several hundred of them. Therefore, for example, almost the entire U.S. Congress knows what is happening in Ukraine and supports Ukraine on a bipartisan basis. This is a unique case in America when a foreign country unites all political blocs. Both Republicans, Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the White House have actually united on the issue of Ukraine.

Particular attention should be paid to the signing by U.S. Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] of the Crimea Declaration, which calls a spade a spade and contains clear messages in support of Ukraine. It can also be called one of the most important achievements over this period. These achievements were the result of consistent and effective work not only by the embassy but, of course, by the Ukrainian authorities, our friends and the Ukrainian community in the United States.

Question: Many bilateral meetings and events in the field of business and investment have been held over the past few years. What has changed in this area?

Answer: The development of economic opportunities of Ukraine through cooperation with the United States is another priority, an area where we have real achievements. These are not only projects that we implemented before, for example, in agriculture, space, but also great potential for the future. First and foremost, the issue concerns the energy sector - the involvement of American companies to supply nuclear fuel to Ukraine, the storage of spent nuclear fuel, and strengthening the security of energy infrastructure. This is a promising multibillion-dollar project on the construction of small nuclear reactors in Ukraine.

In general, much work was done in the area of trade, investment, joint projects, and increased volumes of Ukrainian exports. Ukrainian exports to the United States have increased by 2.6 times since 2016, amounting to over $1.1 billion at the end of 2018. The potential is obviously much larger, despite a large geographical distance between our countries. The export structure has changed dramatically. IT sector supplies have actually equalized with the traditional supply of steel, iron, chemical industry products.

In addition to commodity turnover, an equally important direction is an increase in investments. We did a lot to open the possibility of American investment in the defense industry of Ukraine. It was not easy to establish credibility so that Americans could begin to think about the joint production of weapons. This is a very sensitive topic, but it is a real next step in our strategic partnership.

Question: What weapons are in question?

Answer: I will not reveal the specifications of weapons but it should be understood that such a stage can become a reality only because we have already passed the path of military and technical cooperation, including the supply and procurement of various types of weapons, including lethal weapons.

In order to make this way, it was necessary to take important steps, for example, to open the possibility of direct arms purchases by the Ministry of Defense abroad, primarily in the U.S. Why do I say "primarily"? Over the past four years, 92% of all the assistance received came to Ukraine from the United States.

This happened thanks to the trust in Ukraine, which was missing back in 2015, as well as the amendments to the Ukrainian legislation which now reform this field. We expect a large project on the purchase of lethal defensive weapons to be implemented this year.

Ukraine is now a strategic partner of the United States in the field of security and defense, and respective tools of such interaction are already operating independently of the political processes in Ukraine and the United States.

I would like to single out an area that I call the restoration of historical truth. I can say that in recent years there has been a large number of Russian attacks - both against Ukraine and against the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States. These are the provocations of the so-called "Russian media outlets" - Sputnik, RT, as well as personal attacks on the ambassador. I was surprised that this is possible in America, but it really is the case.

Question: Personal attacks? What do you mean?

Answer: Initially, these were attempts to picket the embassy, but they were quickly stopped. Then there were cyberattacks, attempts to use fraudulent schemes, and later calls by so-called prankers on all my contacts with governors I met and mayors of cities with lies and attempts to stop our successes. I am not talking about attempts to illegally promote plans to exchange Crimea for the end of the war, counter the imposition of sanctions against Russian aggression, information attacks. Eventually, after failed attempts, they decided to take revenge and included Ukraine's ambassador to the United States in the Russian sanctions list. I see this as a kind of distinction for our diplomatic success in the United States.

Question: The Holodomor was one of the issues the prankers worked on, wasn't it?

Answer: Yes, it was. These actions intensified when we began to promote the idea of recognizing the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine as genocide. Now I can already reveal some of the nuances - how the plan we developed worked.

Here, where we are now talking [at Ukraine's Embassy in Washington], I met with the leaders of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) and the leaders of Ukrainian organizations from different countries. I found out why it couldn't be done. I was told how this had happened during previous attempts and what had stopped it.

With experience in the think tank, I approached this issue comprehensively and built a project scheme for two years in advance.

The idea was, first and foremost, to explain the importance of this issue to our partners from Jewish organizations in the U.S., from other diasporas. You know that at one time there was a wary attitude towards recognizing the Holodomor as genocide and bringing this tragedy to the level with the Holocaust of the Jews. We are very grateful that Jewish organizations in the U.S. supported our idea following explanations of the extent of the tragedy and in the context of the attack first by the dictatorship of the Soviet Union and then by Russia against the people of Ukraine.

In addition, we understood that the main difficulty [in recognizing the Holodomor as genocide] would be in Congress. Because there is a difficult procedure there. If the Senate had enough support from several co-sponsors of this bill, then the House of Representatives needed at least 25 co-sponsors, and among them, there should have been ten members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I remember that when this issue came to the level of the House of Representatives, very serious opposition from Russia started. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson then declared that it was unacceptable and active pressure from all sides began.

Now I can reveal some of our technological developments. In order to divert our attention and reorient the opposition of opponents, we decided to work in all states at the same time. These were joint efforts of diplomats from the Embassy in Washington, consulates general in Chicago, San Francisco and New York, as well as American Ukrainians and Ukrainian organizations in the U.S. and our friends from other diasporas. We sought the adoption of proclamations in every state for recognizing the Holodomor as genocide. In all, 23 states have done so today. At the same time, importantly, each state thus signaled to its congressmen and senators about support for our initiative.

After my meetings with state governors who adopted the respective proclamations, bots immediately started to enter their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and the flow of criticism began. There were also calls from prankers who introduced themselves as Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. and said that we met with you and asked to cancel their decision. As a result, I believe that through joint actions, together with the Ukrainian authorities, with Ukrainian organizations in the U.S., we were able to achieve our goals.

Question: How is Washington now assessing the political situation in Ukraine following presidential and parliamentary elections?

Answer: There is a vision here that the election results in Ukraine, the victory of new President Volodymyr Zelensky, with the overwhelming support of the Ukrainians, have provided a new window of opportunity for the rapid promotion of joint initiatives. After the ruling party received a high degree of confidence, there were hopes that rapid results could be achieved given the president's monopoly control over parliament and government.

But now more attention is being paid not only to the form but also to the approaches of the new Ukrainian authorities. If the U.S. is very enthusiastic about the form, then there is an ambiguous attitude to some specific steps and some caution in the estimates. The task of government and diplomacy in the United States is to remove this caution.

One such point was the introduction of a new lustration bill. Here, it was actually seen as a lustration of people who stood on the Maidan, fought in the ATO [anti-terrorist operation], war veterans who came to public office during difficult times, and not just corrupt politicians and officials. I think the United States will look at this more closely because it is well aware of Yanukovych's authoritarian regime and is very wary of groundless attacks on those who stopped Russia's aggression and, in fact, preserved the integrity of Ukraine during difficult times. America is well aware of these details.

I think that this caution can be removed by respective actions and messages from both the president of Ukraine, the Ukrainian parliament, and the government. I hope this will be facilitated by further intensive contacts at various levels. The more contacts and meetings, the better to explain the situation and form joint actions.

Question: In one comment you called on Kyiv not to "waste time" and appoint a new ambassador to the U.S. because such pauses "will not benefit our foreign policy success." What did you mean?

Answer: This is more about our diplomatic cuisine. A lot of time is spent to ensure the work of the institution, staffing policy, form an effective embassy team, establish and maintain contacts with partners at all levels, and it is harder to do it without an appointed ambassador. We have now been able to form a really powerful and effective team. But in the context of a constant rotation of diplomats, the management of these processes must be continuous.

The second point is the protocol stuff. That is, the ambassador has a different level of access to certain meetings because a chargé d'affaires, by the U.S. protocol, cannot even get to some of them. Handing over copies of credentials opens the first circle of interaction. But if you did not hand over the credentials to the president of the United States, you would not get to meetings at the White House, the National Security Council by any means. In addition, not every senator or congressman will meet with an acting ambassador.

There is another significant reason: you cannot lose pace. The current embassy team is working effectively, but without leadership, constant action and direct communication with Kyiv it is impossible to ensure these dynamics. The ambassador can directly contact the president, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, or hold negotiations with the prime minister and ministers.

Therefore, the appointment of the ambassador should be made as soon as possible, and this person should have the diplomatic experience, new ideas, and most importantly, the ability to achieve goals, as well as trust and constant and effective contact with the president.

Question: President Zelensky's visit to the United States is being prepared. Can the ambassador's rotation process affect its preparation?

Answer: Immediately after the presidential election in Ukraine, the embassy assisted in organizing a visit by a U.S.American delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Kyiv for inauguration events. We also showed the initiative and received a letter from the White House chief inviting President Zelensky to visit Washington. But at the initial stage, for some reasons that did not depend on us, the visit did not take place, and its preparation is currently underway. So, I think, there will be enough time for my successor to meet the Ukrainian president in the United States.

To be honest, at some point the embassy stopped being engaged in the meaningful filling of the Ukrainian president's visit to the U.S. We helped organize the talks between the president's envoys in Washington, including National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Danylyuk and presidential aide Andriy Yermak, who took over preparations for the president's visit. The embassy fulfills all orders, but it is obvious that questions about the content of the visit should now be put to the Presidential Office.

Question: So the Presidential Office is engaged with filling the visit. But you probably need to know what issues should be raised at a meeting between Presidents Zelensky and Trump.

Answer: Here in the United States, for the last four years the embassy, on behalf of the president, the foreign minister, has always played a key role in the preparation of the content and the whole program of the president's visit, which, incidentally, is in accordance with the law of Ukraine on diplomatic service. Now everything is different for the first time. We have ideas and are ready to provide them, but it remains a question for me whether Kyiv needs them now. Apparently, the new government has great confidence in future achievements in the American direction without our services. I can only wish them success.

As for the topics that, in my opinion, as an ambassador, need to be prepared before the visit in order to have a strong negotiating position, I reported directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Question: What are these topics?

Answer: They concern our further cooperation in military and technical cooperation, including the procurement of arms, cooperation in the energy field. It is also a solution to some of the problematic issues in the space industry. In addition, issues related to the continuation of bipartisan support for Republicans and Democrats in Ukraine, given the rather difficult period before the U.S. presidential election. And finally, these are issues related to our promising plans for the activity of the Strategic Partnership Commission in a new format.

Question: What are you planning to do when you return to Ukraine? Will you engage in politics?

Answer: There are some traditional formalities to complete my work in the United States. I will return to Ukraine with a sense of duties fulfilled and gratitude for joint work and the result achieved. I feel that the enormous experience and contacts that I have gained over the past years as Ukraine's ambassador to the United States will still be useful. The positive appreciation of our work and the support of our compatriots on both sides of the Atlantic are inspiring.

As for engagement in politics, it so happened that, as a rule, I "came into power" not immediately after the election, when support is maximal, but when some mistakes already have to be corrected and when routine professional work is needed for the state. But frankly, one cannot stay in power for long. Four to five years, and you have to go back to where you can regain strength and find new ideas. I feel more comfortable with my colleagues from civil society institutions.

In fact, after such intense and exhausting work for five years in public service, I have a great desire to return to the analytical sector in the foreign policy field, which I have been engaged in for many years. There are many ideas in this regard, and most importantly, many like-minded people with whom we have already achieved many goals in establishing a sovereign democratic Ukraine and ensuring the continuity of our chosen Euro-Atlantic course. I am ready to continue to defend these positions wherever I am.

Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington

Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov, Ukrinform

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