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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Vitaliy Haidukevich of TVi Television


Interview
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Kyiv, Ukraine
February 6, 2012

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QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. Going back to what former U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer said about the idea of a blacklist of Ukrainian officials, under what conditions would Washington be ready to start freezing assets of businessmen close to the current administration and blacklisting Ukrainian senior officials from traveling to the Western countries, the United States – or is such scenario impossible in principle?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me tell you how we’re dealing with this set of challenges. We prefer direct engagement. If we have an issue to discuss with our friends in Ukraine we will bring it up very directly and clearly with the top leadership and we’ll talk about it publicly as well. So on this question of the Tymoshenko case, Secretary Clinton – when she met with President Yanukovych – raised it. She told him it was creating a real problem with the perception out there in the international community of selected prosecution, and that it would be an impediment to the sort of relationship we would like to build. So we’re for engagement and clarity in these relationships.

I know Ambassador Pifer and others have talked about things like sanctions and visa bans. We can be clear about that as well. It is the policy of the United States to deny visas to those who are guilty of grave violations of human rights or who have been responsible for measures like arbitrary detentions.

As you know, in the case of Sergei Magnitsky in Russia - that’s the context in which this often gets discussed - we have said there are people who will not be given a visa to the United States. But these are really two separate issues. That’s not what we’re talking about in Ukraine. We are having a very frank conversation with our Ukrainian interlocutors and we’ve said, as I said both privately and publicly, that there’s a real problem here and to fulfill our relationship we hope that Ukraine is able to deal with that problem.

QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. What you are trying to appeal to, is to the statesman-hood perception, what is the state officials supposed to do? Your argument that when Ukraine will become more democratic there will be, in the long term, greater economic success for Ukraine. But doesn’t Washington understand, don’t you figure it out - the people who are running the country, they are pursuing their own private agenda? Big business, hit and run, earn more money, invest it. They are not basing their policy on statesman-hood.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: What is clear is that the country as a whole will only develop when it creates a climate that is attractive to foreign investment and foreign trade. And I think we are vastly under-performing and Ukraine is vastly under-performing in that regard.

The link between the democracy discussion and the economic discussion is: I think the Ukrainian people want a government that’s going to be responsive to the needs of the entire country and not themselves. So by insisting on free and fair elections and transparent democracy, you give the people a chance to put in office those who will serve the country as a whole. If they don’t, then the people have the right to remove them from power. That’s what a democracy is. In the long run, that’s the way to ensure that leaders are accountable to their people, are transparent, are not corrupt, is to have a functioning democracy. Without a functioning democracy you can have all sorts of things happen by the government with no accountability. That’s why if leaders are seen to be serving their own needs or enriching themselves and not the people, the people deserve the right to choose different leaders.

QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. Is there an understanding in the West - because there is a concern internally here - that with the very categorical stand of the West, European Union, that Ukraine should follow certain procedures, certain requirements, that Kyiv will slip into the Moscow orbit? And don’t you realize that a reincarnation that may occur that Putin will get his geopolitical victory here and Ukraine will be totally under Russian influence? It will be a kind of Russia-lite here, and it will be lost.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We don’t want to see Ukraine lose its independence and we don’t want to see Ukraine totally in the Russian orbit, as you describe. But we don’t think Ukraine wants to lose its independence or to be in anybody’s orbit. We want - first of all, we have said we want a stronger relationship with Ukraine, we want it to orient towards Euro-Atlantic institutions, the United States and European Union. We don’t believe that necessitates a bad relationship with Russia. We don’t see our own relationship with Russia in zero sum terms. It’s not a competition for Ukraine.

So we’re not asking Ukraine to reject Russia, but we also don’t want to see Ukraine be overly dependent on Russia. We’re trying to offer Ukraine diversity in its relationships and its economic, geopolitical orientations. Our whole attitude and approach towards European security is to get beyond this notion of zero sum relationships. But at the same time I think Ukrainians shouldn’t misunderstand. We are not so motivated by the specter of a Ukraine under Russian influence that we will sacrifice our own values and principles in dealing with Ukraine. That’s why when we say we need to see certain things happen in Ukraine before that relationship develops, that’s actually the reality. If the result of that - if Ukraine isn’t, for example, able to move forward with its relationship with the European Union and it’s more dependent on Russia, that’s unfortunate from our point of view, but it’s even more unfortunate for Ukraine.

QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. Imagine the situation that the majority of the Ukrainian public is for a democratic orientation, which by default is pro-West, and a narrow circle of power brokers in Ukraine are orienting toward Russia. Is Washington ready to fight for Ukraine, that it remains oriented toward democratic societies? Or you will give up on Ukraine and then Ukraine will appear in the club of failed states?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Washington, the United States, we’re willing, interested, determined to vigorously support democracy in Ukraine. We think the Ukrainian people want to have free and open democratic institutions, they want to have a prospering market economy, they want a relationship with the European Union and ultimately join it, and they want to have positive relations with the United States. And that’s why we stand for free and transparent democracy in Ukraine because if the Ukrainian people have a say we think that’s going to be the outcome.

Frankly, that’s why I’m here. That’s why Secretary Clinton is engaged on issues. We want Ukrainians to know that we want to develop this relationship and it is in their hands and that’s why we will continue to press vigorously for a fair democracy to develop in this country, because ultimately I think Ukrainians will be better off and we’ll all be better off if that orientation continues.

QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. The U.S. has a huge influence on the IMF: geopolitically, economically as a contributor. Can’t there be made a connection, in addition to the economic requirements that Ukraine should meet to get another IMF tranche, a requirement that Ukraine abides by democratic requirements? Free and fair elections, free and fair democratic system is in place, will be made a requirement for Ukraine to get another tranche. That the economic requirements are intertwined with these democratic institution requirements?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think inevitably they are. The willingness of the international community in its different forms to support Ukraine does depend on democracy developments as well as economic ones.

Typically the IMF will focus in on more narrow criteria that are solely in the economic area, as is appropriate. Those conditions are hard enough to meet. But I do think that in reality if a country is seen to be violating its democratic obligations, it becomes more difficult for international institutions to support them, especially in this climate where there’s a lot of pressure on funding and a lot of countries that need support. So even when democracy is not an explicit criterion from the IMF, I think it is fair to say that the international community will be less enthusiastic about supporting a country if it’s not upholding its democratic obligations as well. And certainly those countries outside of the international institutions will do so. The most important example as we speak is the European Union which will have a very explicit democracy criteria for what it has to offer a country like Ukraine and others as well.

QUESTION: [Through Interpreter]. We know you met during your brief visit with representatives of the government. Are there any meetings with the opposition planned, and who, and what kind of message are you going to deliver to the opposition representatives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I said earlier that our messages in private and public are the same, and they will be the same. I’ve been very frank in private and in public about what we think on energy, democracy, the IMF, Tymoshenko and I will say the same thing. So the short answer is yes, I will meet with civil society representatives. I will later today meet with civil society representatives and members of the opposition just as I met with members of the government and my message to them will be consistent with everything I’ve said in private and public so far in Kyiv.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you.



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