January 3, Ukraine and the United States marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations. It would be an understatement to say that many changes have happened since that time. The changes have been dramatic, and a special period has begun with the direct Russian aggression against Ukraine. Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States, Valeriy Chaly tells in the interview with Ukrinform about the achievements in relations between Kyiv and Washington during this period, Ukraine’s expectations from the new US administration, prospects regarding Washington’s plans to continue to put pressure on Russia and provide Ukraine with lethal weapons.
USA NEEDS STRONG, UNDERSTANDABLE, PREDISTABLE POSITION OF UKRAINE
- A quarter-century is largely determinative period of time for the start of bilateral relations. What, in your opinion, are the major achievements of this period?
- If to compare the situation then and now, we will see a striking difference, of course. First, Ukraine hit the highlight of the United States when it was no longer a part of the USSR. Obviously, the attention increased during the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity, and now ordinary Americans do not ask about the difference between Ukraine and Russia.
Second, the qualitative changes have occurred in our relationship for 25 years – from the usual bilateral ties to the strategic partnership. In recent years, after the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s unleashed war against Ukraine, really mutual strategic objectives have appeared, which could not be achieved by one side in isolation from the other.
Third, the contacts between people have become an important achievement. Ukrainians and Americans are now united by shared values. A few years ago, only 2% of Ukrainian citizens said that relations with the US were priority for our country, but now this figure has grown considerably.
- Year 2016 was difficult for the US, given the grueling presidential campaign, and many challenges in foreign policy, including in its relations with Moscow. How it was possible to promote Ukrainian interests in that period?
- Of course, every year can be called difficult, although the situation in the US is relatively stable. However, global problems affected America as well. In addition, we need to take into account a new period of instability in the world and the attempts, first of all, of Russia to destroy the existing international legal mechanisms and replace the rule of law with the rule of force.
We have focused on three key points. The first one is the support of the United States in the fight of Ukraine against Russian aggression. There have been mechanisms for political and military cooperation and military and technical assistance. The military aid has been increased in the budget of 2017 and includes the possibility of granting Ukraine lethal defensive weapons.
The second point is the maintenance of Ukraine’s macroeconomic stability, i.e. allocation of loan guarantees, support for cooperation with the IMF, new USAID programs and cooperation in business projects. Since the funds are allocated under certain conditions, which cover the fight against corruption and reform of the economy sectors, the United States has actually become an important factor in support of reforms in Ukraine.
The third point is achievement of a high intensity of bilateral contacts. This has been testified by the visits of more than 50 official delegations from Ukraine last year, including at the level of the President, the Prime Minister, Vice Prime Ministers, ministers, as well as holding meetings of bilateral trade commission, the meeting of the working group for space cooperation.
In addition, we have maintained a high degree of trust at the level of national leadership. We are grateful for active participation of Vice President Joe Biden in the Ukrainian issue and the European direction as a whole.
Another special moment is rehabilitation of our servicepersons in the United States with the assistance of the U.S. government and the diaspora. Unfortunately, this problem remains urgent.
In terms of information, Ukraine has become more understandable to the American political elite for this year. We have carried out great work to inform the US authorities about the real situation in Ukraine. However, as it turned out, it is not enough to be just informed. We need a strong, understandable, predictable position of our country as a partner in the bilateral relations.
US-UKRAINE RELATIONS ENTERING PERIOD OF OPPORTUNITIES
- The American foreign policy may change significantly with the victory of Donald Trump. We hear from his side the arguments in favor of rapprochement with the Kremlin leadership, despite Russia's behavior in Ukraine and Syria, which is condemned by the current administration. How this may affect the prospects for US-Ukraine dialogue?
- Currently, we do not have all the answers to this question, so we can foresee the main trends in general terms. If we talk about foreign policy, it is likely to approach the position-of-strength policy. The role of individual countries, as opposed to international institutions, will increase significantly. On the other hand, the efficiency of the armed forces and law enforcement system will obviously grow, as was stated during the campaign.
Regarding sanctions against Russia, it is evident that pragmatic Republicans, primarily in the Congress, understand the importance of ongoing active policy in this area. I do not think that the sanctions associated with Crimea will be canceled. As for Donbas, everything will depend on the behavior of Russia itself. The desire to play a "quick game" with Putin is unlikely to find an efficient solution, if Russia does not fully fulfill the Minsk agreements. However, the role of other instruments may increase, including the provision of defensive weapons to Ukraine.
- Could you clarify two points, please? At first, the issue of weapons. Does, in your opinion, Ukraine have more chances to get weapons under Trump presidency?
- Defensive equipment now comes to Ukraine and gives the opportunity to save the lives of our soldiers, as well as to record the ceasefire violations, for example, with the help of the counter battery radars. However, it is no secret that the position of [current] U.S. President is in the way of provision of lethal weapon to Ukraine. Therefore, accordingly, the changes in the White House give an opportunity for a fresh look at this issue.
- Could you please be more specific about the pressure on Russia? You are obviously familiar with the article published in the Bild, saying that Henry Kissinger offers Trump’s administration giving up the issue of Crimea in exchange for a guarantee of settlement of the situation in Donbas. How would you comment on this?
- Henry Kissinger has vast experience in conveying his ideas to the top officials of the state. I would take it seriously, as one of the proposals of still influential American diplomat, despite his 93 years of age. These are ideas and vision, which may or may not have a bearing on the actions of Donald Trump. In any case, the position of the president-elect will emerge from many offers.
The team of Donald Trump is gradually reaching out to us for a new period of work, and, in my opinion, there is just need to step up the competitiveness of proposals, ideas and approaches, not only to react emotionally to the media publications.
ROLE OF U.S. PRESIDENT BECOMES MORE POWERFUL
- You have repeatedly stated that you keep in touch with the Donald Trump’s staff since the election race. Have you received encouraging signals for Ukraine from the transition team?
- I have indeed had a number of personal meetings and used the opportunities of visits of the delegations from Kyiv, especially to the Congress, with those who supported Trump from the very start. There have been meetings with people who have a certain influence directly on the president-elect. We will continue this dialogue in the future.
Three signals can be highlighted here. The first one is the emphasis on bilateral relations with particular countries, which may influence the situation in the U.S. interests. Here, Ukraine is seen as an opportunity to counteract Russia's attempts to destroy the world order.
The second signal is the change in the existing model of interaction between the administration and the Congress. On the one hand, the decisions, initiated by the President in the Congress, are expected to be approved faster thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. On the other hand, currently there is no agreed position on many issues between the Congress and the president-elect.
The third message, addressed including to Ukraine, is that reliable, predictable, and responsible partners will have the opportunities for further cooperation. Meanwhile, the partners, who prove themselves incapable of complying with the agreements, will have problems in relations with the United States. This pragmatic approach is reasoned, not least, by a certain number of large business representatives in the new administration.
- The information has appeared recently that ExxonMobil company, which has contracts with Russia, lobbied against the STAND for Ukraine Act because of the anti-Russian sanctions. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, is going to lead the US diplomacy. How are such prospects estimated in Kyiv?
- Now we hear much about lobbying, but, in fact, I would be very surprised if the evidence emerged that ExxonMobil made individual senators change their position. This is somewhat beyond the scope of the model, which has been established in the Senate in recent years. The legislators can listen to suggestions, but it does not mean that this type of activity have a certain impact on them.
STAND for Ukraine Act provides for the consolidation of the Congress’s control over anti-Russian sanctions as a counter to the present prerogative powers of the president to extend the sanctions or to annually decide on weakening or canceling sanctions.
The next thing that will happen in the Congress is re-submission of the document to both chambers. I do not think that the wording will undergo significant changes. It will remain, including as certain leverage of the legislative branch on the executive branch in matters of sanctions policy. We now have an appeal to the president-elect on the need for passing this law and providing support for Ukraine. Therefore, the role of the Congress becomes more significant for us.
- However, Trump, being the president, may not sign the law that limits his possibilities in the policy with Russia...
- This will be a testimony to the emergence of a new model of interaction between the Congress and the White House. However, there is another point: new performers will replace those, who are now engaged in the sanctions policy. Therefore, there are questions to the "institutional memory", which we would like to see at the Department of State, the White House – the replacements will be sweeping.
As for the influence of the president on such things, I would call it drastic, but it occurs in cooperation with the Republican majority. The system of institutions in the United States is balanced, however, the role of the President of the United States becomes even more powerful than before amid new geopolitical conflicts, wars, and cyber threats.
UKRAINE’S PARTICIPATION IN U.S. PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION IS SUBJECT OF MUCH SPECULATION
- The inauguration of the president-elect will take place on January 20. Who will officially represent Ukraine at the ceremony?
- It is a subject of much speculation. The Embassy received an official note saying that the upcoming inauguration will be held according to the same rules as in previous years. That is, the ambassadors are invited to these official events, and no invitations are sent to the heads of state. Therefore, the question of arrival of the President of Ukraine, as well as of other presidents, is not raised.
- What are the short-term plans of Ukraine in the U.S. direction this year?
- The key issue for us is to organize a personal meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and the USA. We schedule the visit of Petro Poroshenko to the United States for February already. This is an opportunity to solve a lot of issues we talked about, including within private communication, bilateral cooperation, and geopolitical aspects. The meeting is expected to give a new impetus to the work of the commission for strategic partnership. We plan to hold a meeting of the working commission for space research. We expect there will be progress in military and technical cooperation. We also plan to participate in the traditional meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, the trade commission meeting.
Another idea for the next year is going outside the District of Columbia. I will offer members of the Government of Ukraine and the Prime Minister making visits not only to Washington, but to other states and regions as well. This is something that should be developed, because there are rather ample opportunities for cooperation and financial support for joint projects in such states as Texas and California, which are ranked among top 20 world economies.
We also plan to hold a series of events to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and the United States. I would like to congratulate Ukraine and our American partners on this occasion.
Yaroslav Dovhopol, Washington