The US embassy was among the first diplomatic missions in Ukraine to establish contact on social networks. The new US Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, started a video blog in August 2013. However, despite this access and transparency, many questions remain unanswered, especially now and especially for media people. Mr. Pyatt was kind enough to answer some of these questions at The Day’s editorial office (interview was recorded on January 31, 2014).
“Mykola Siruk’s was one of the first interviews that I did after arriving in Kyiv. It has taken me too long to come out to your office, given that we’re almost neighbors, but I thought it is a good time to talk a little bit about both the short-term, the immediate crisis that the country finds itself in right now, but also, our long-term commitment to the American partnership with Ukraine and our enduring commitment of building Ukraine’s relationship with the United States, with European institutions, and strengthening Ukraine’s status as a modern European democracy. At this moment of crisis, there has been an intensification of US engagement with Ukraine.”
Alla DUBROVYK: “You have also made a number of important statements concerning the situation in Ukraine, but frankly speaking, the one you made yesterday took us by surprise. Media reports say you approve of the amnesty law and that it allows peaceful acts of protest. In actuality, such peaceful rallies are allowed by the Constitution of Ukraine, so no additional laws are necessary. A number of Ukrainian lawyers have already condemned this law and tagged it as one on hostages. They have a great many censorial remarks to make on the text and the ratification procedures. Did you consult your experts in regard to this law? How would you explain your positive attitude to it?”
“To begin with, this is one of those cases where you have to be careful what is in the headlines and what is actually said. We put out today a transcript of what I sad on camera yesterday afternoon after the briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. You will see that what I focused on there was our concern about maintaining and continuing the process of political reconciliation and confidence-building in Ukraine. Secretary Kerry said the same thing today in Berlin, which is that we believe, that the burden is on President Yanukovych as the country’s leader to reach out to the political opposition and take the steps that will be necessary to rebuild confidence and create the climate for moving Ukraine’s political process off the street and back into democratic institutions, including the Rada.
“You ask me what I thought about the amnesty law, so let me say: it was a missed opportunity, and we wish that it would have been produced through a process of full debate with the opposition parties, through the kind of transparent process that occurs in a normal parliamentary system. We believe that those who have been detained for the exercise of their democratic rights’ free expression should be released. What I did strongly welcome, and will welcome again today, is the statement, which the minister of justice provided. And specifically, her assurance that under this new bill, the peaceful demonstrations on Maidan will be allowed to continue indefinitely. She stated that the government wants to have administrative buildings released. But she also stated explicitly, that peaceful demonstrations on Maidan, on Instytutska, in the Zhovtnevy Palace, in the Trade Union Building should be allowed to continue. And that is to be welcomed, because our hope is that the waves of violence that have swept across the center of Kyiv over the past two weeks can be brought to an end. There is no place for violence on either side of this debate.
Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
“Indeed, I have said before, one of the most remarkable and impressive things about the Euromaidan is the atmosphere of non-violence that has characterized the demonstrations, up until two weeks ago. The United States opposes violence. It opposes the violent seizure of government buildings, and we hope very much that the government and the opposition, through the dialog that has begun in recent days, can identify a path to rebuild confidence and establish consensus on a political process that will bring Ukraine back to economic health and put Ukraine back on the track to Europe.”
Mykola SIRUK: “You must have heard President Yanukovych’s statement to the effect that the government has met all requirements of the opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said today that Yanukovych’s concessions to the opposition do not suffice to settle the political crisis in Ukraine. Do you see any opportunities of reaching a compromise? Do you believe that Ukraine will sign the Association Agreement under President Yanukovych?”
“Let me do the last question first. As I said in our first interview, I am very confident that Ukraine will sign the EU Association Agreement. We hope that it will occur under President Yanukovych. And if it does not, I am very confident it will happen under one of his successors. And there are clearly millions of Ukrainians who share that hope as well.
“On your first question, again, as Secretary Kerry said, we welcome the steps that president Yanukovych has taken: the withdrawal of all the black laws, the dismissal of the government, and the assurance that peaceful demonstrations on Maidan will be allowed to continue unimpeded. But obviously, the opposition is looking for additional confidence, one important step could be the release of some of the recent detainees. Another one would be to stop the alarming pattern of abductions and disappearances of civil society activists and targeting of journalists, which I will talk about later.”
M.S.: “Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, in an article for The Wall Street Journal, referred to events in Ukraine as the first geopolitical revolution of the 21st century, adding that it isn’t just a confrontation between hundreds of thousands of people and the regime but a struggle between two ideologies, one of independent Western democracy and the other of Putin’s Russia. Don’t you think that the West and the United States failed to timely respond to Russia’s pressure and left Ukraine to cope with its problems?”
“We are absolutely convinced that this issue should not be seen in zero-sum terms vs. Russia. A democratic Ukraine, Ukraine that is open to Europe, and Ukraine that is economically healthy and is building a better future for its citizens should be good for Russia as well. But I do not want to sound naive, and we recognize that there has been unreasonable pressure that Moscow has brought to bear on the choices that Ukraine has made. I have said on many occasions that it is totally unreasonable to be using trade embargoes and manufactured slowdowns at the border as a way to exercise political and diplomatic pressure on this country. Russia and Ukraine are members of the WTO, and Russia has obligations under those agreements. Russia also has obligations under the OSCE, and the Helsinki Final Act. The government will decide which one of those tools to use, but I can assure you that the United States will stand with Ukraine and stand with the people of Ukraine as they see to exercise their sovereign choice.”
M.S.: “Talking of timely support and response, not so long ago Victoria Nuland admitted during a hearing at the Committee on Foreign Affairs that Washington was aware of the problems facing Ukraine last summer. I mean economic ones in the first place, and that the matter was brought to Europe’s attention. However, Washington, Congress and the EU mostly discussed the Tymoshenko case, thus actually ignoring the economic aspect and the Russian factor’s impact on our economy. Any comment?”
“I agree with Assistant Secretary Nuland that the economic issues are of critical importance, and I think we talked about this in our first interview as well. The United States wants to work with Ukraine to put this country back on the path to economic health. We are prepared to invest in that effort both economically and diplomatically, working with our European partners. But I come back to my basic principle, which I know we talked about, which is the best way over the long term to grow the Ukrainian economy is to sign the Association Agreement, move ahead with Europe, and work to achieve greater energy independence.”
A.D.: “Talking of energy independence, according to the press service of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, a letter was forwarded to the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology. It stresses the serious threat to Russia’s environment on the part of shale gas extraction in Ukraine using US (sic) technologies. The letter requests a bilateral working meeting on the issue. Don’t you think this is further proof of Russia’s pressure on Ukraine, and that this also threatens US investments (like Chevron) in the Ukrainian gas market? What would you recommend under the circumstances?”
“I have not seen the Russian letter, but I doubt very much that Russia is genuinely concerned about the environment in Ukraine. And I suspect they are much more interested in maintaining their monopoly and control over Ukraine’s energy future. It is one of the reasons I have worked so hard on the goal of the energy independence, and not just in terms of shale gas, but in terms of energy efficiency, non-conventional sources, like wind and solar power, reverse flow of gas from European markets, and even over the long term, gas exports from the United States to Ukraine. Ukraine’s shale gas resources over the long term offer the prospect of making this a very wealthy country and dramatically transforming your energy security situation, just as the United States has enjoyed energy independence as a result of our own shale gas revolution. We hope that the same technologies which have been demonstrated to be safe and ecologically sustainable in the United States, can be applied here. And it does not surprise me at all if the Russian Ministry of Environment is unenthusiastic about that.”
A.D.: “Further to US investments, your predecessor Ambassador John Tefft said that nepotism is the biggest problem US investors face in the Ukrainian economy. Do you agree? What do US business people complain about in Ukraine?”
“Let me start by saying: there is enormous potential in this country. I have seen it in the natural resources, I have seen it in the land, I have seen it in the human resources, and especially in the young people. One of the greatest challenges to governance in this country is how to monetize those resources, how to capitalize on those resources. Ukraine is an underperforming asset in Wall Street terms. I have seen in my half year here projects that are absolutely world-class. Operations in Dnipropetrovsk that could be in any place in the United States. Administrators and political leaders in Lviv, who are on the same level as their counterparts anywhere in the world in terms of their administrative and reform vision. I am not at the point where I can tell you what the single greatest obstacle is, but what is clear to me, US investment in trade with Ukraine should be much larger than it is today, and that American business will respond if there is a clear signal from the government in terms of its commitment to transparency, rule of law, regulatory facilitation.”
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day
Ivan KAPSAMUN: “Mr. Ambassador, I think it is impossible to figure out what’s happening in Ukraine without knowing the background of the problem. Like the reprisals against activists. I have long concentrated on high-profile cases dating back to the Kuchma presidency, including the murder of journalist Gongadze, assault on public activist Podolsky, and attack on Yeliashkevych, an MP of two convocations. I’m well informed about these cases. Recently, the Kyiv Court of Appeal heard the complaint against the sentence passed by the Pechersk District Court in the case of General Oleksii Pukach (he was sentenced to life for complicity in the acts of crime committed against Gongadze and Podolsky). Among those present in the courtroom were the surviving victims, Podolsky and Yeliashkevych, and they were the only ones who insisted on public court hearings. We know that the trial over Pukach by the court of first instance was held behind closed doors. We also know that the American side has always been all out for public court hearings, that Rep. Steve Cohen has been monitoring these cases (that are historic for Ukraine) on behalf of the Helsinki Commission. Why didn’t the US embassy respond in this case? The US government has granted Yeliashkevych political asylum.”
“Of course, I am familiar with the Gongadze case, but a lot of the details that you described and some of the other cases that you mentioned are not familiar to me. So, I will look into some of those, and maybe, on our next conversation, I will have a specific opinion. But let me say on the general topic of media freedom and freedom of speech. One of our greatest concerns in Ukraine today is the crisis of human rights, the crisis of attacks on free media, and the recent pattern of disappearances and targeting of journalists and human rights defenders. It is almost impossible for me to imagine that in Ukraine, a country which is part of Europe, which two years ago hosted the Euro Cup football tournament, you now have people showing up in the forests with their hands tied behind their backs, dead. That you have dozens of people, who have now disappeared, dozens of journalists injured doing their jobs, and outrageous cases of politically motivated disappearances, like the activist of Automaidan, who reappeared last night. This is somebody with a family, with a wife, with children, who had his ear cut off, who was nailed to a cross.
“I have talked with some of Ukraine’s most senior security officials, and have made clear that this has to stop. And not just those who disappeared need to be released, but the investigations need to occur to determine who is responsible. I have said on many occasions, one of the things that makes me optimistic about Ukraine over the long term is the strength of your civil society, the vibrancy of your media. Over the past several weeks, there appears to be systematic effort to attack those pillars of Ukrainian democracy. I cannot tell you who was the author of those attacks, but I can assure you, the United States will do everything in our power to protect and defend those who are helping to uphold the pillars of Ukrainian democracy.”
I.K.: “Had you personally met with Podolsky and Yeliashkevych to publicly demonstrate your support of their stand in the matter of detecting, apprehending, and trying those guilty of the crimes that had been previously mentioned?”
I.K.: “Are you planning to do so?”
“I do not know.”
I.K.: “Do you think the FBI would agree to cooperate with Ukraine in investigating into the ‘death squads’ if Ukraine requested such cooperation? We know that the FBI has a great deal of experience in this matter.”
“I do not know and we do not have a request yet from the Ukrainian government.”
M.S.: “Mr. Ambassador, do you believe in the effectiveness of US sanctions against Ukrainian functionaries and businessmen in stimulating Viktor Yanukovych and opposition to achieve a compromise and resolve the political crisis?”
“The United States has made clear that all policy instruments are on the table, and if there is further violence against peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine, there is a package of significant sanctions that could be invoked, both financial and travel-related. This is not a track that we wish to find ourselves on. Our policy is one of engagement. But if those who have advocated a violent response to the demonstrators of Maidan achieve primacy, there is a significant risk that is where we would end up. And in the meantime, we have already exercised the State Department authorities to revoke the visas of several individuals, directly linked to the violence against the peaceful demonstrators on Maidan.”
M.S.: “How many?”