US high-ranking officials have not been often visiting Ukraine lately. The last one was FBI Director Robert Mueller who came here in June this year to meet President Viktor Yanukovych and thank him for providing adequate assistance and information after the Boston marathon bombing. A few days ago, Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, visited this country for the first time. In an exclusive interview with The Day, he told what the US is doing to make the Vilnius Summit successful and disavowed the statement of Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US Department of State, about Yulia Tymoshenko.
Does the US see any serious risks in a situation when relations between the EU and Ukraine, particularly as far as signing the Association Agreement is concerned, are made conditional on the complicated Tymoshenko case or are otherwise dependent on the destiny of one person?
“I think that the decision of the government of Ukraine and the decision, I believe, of the majority of Ukrainians to seek the signing of the Association Agreement at Vilnius is the decision that reflects many different aspects and one of them is an agreement to adhere to the standards that are established in the Association Agreement, which are consistent with the EU standards. It’s not about any one individual case, but it is true that the European Union has cited the Tymoshenko case as what it considers an example of selective justice and has said that it wishes to seek the resolution of this case before the Vilnius Summit. That is something we strongly support. We believe that the mission of presidents Cox and Kwasniewski is the best possible way to find an agreeable outcome that addresses all of the concerns that have been expressed. We support the mission. And we will support any outcome that presidents Cox and Kwasniewski endorse in their final report.”
The Ukrainian government sees the solution of the Tymoshenko problem in the introducing changes into the legislation, which would allow the convict to go abroad for medical treatment for a certain period of time. On its part the EU insists on partial pardon. How does the US see the way for resolving the issue so that the Association Agreement could be signed?
“I think it’s important to say that we are not going to involve ourselves in choosing one particular approach or another, but coming back to my earlier statement, we endorse the Cox and Kwasniewski Mission. We are in regular contact with Ms. Tymoshenko, Ambassador has spoken with her. And our view, which we’ve expressed to everyone concerned is what is important is that a resolution of this case be found that the European Union can accept, that the presidents Cox and Kwasniewski can certify meets their concerns, and we will then support it without giving a particular views or preference about any particular outcome, because that would not be appropriate for us to do in this case.”
And how can one interpret the recent statement of Thomas Melia that Tymoshenko should be made free and take part in the next election?
“If you see the statement that he put out afterward, in response to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement on the democracy working group, he clarified that the initial quote was taken out of context, was not accurate, that the United States absolutely does not play in other countries’ politics, we are not trying to say who should be a candidate, who should not be a candidate. It’s for the people of Ukraine through their elected institutions to make those determinations.
“I think that the good news is that most all of the disagreements appear to have been solved. I will leave it to my European colleagues to provide specifics because it’s their negotiation and it’s their agreement. But my impression is there are only a few things left that remain subject to negotiation and that’s actually a very big accomplishment. It’s true that now very little time remains, so there needs to be very intensive work to resolve remaining differences. But if you look at the amount that has been achieved over the past years to have this agreement be ready for signing and it’s almost there, I think it’s a huge success. I don’t think we are hearing complaints, I think we are hearing mostly excitement that this may actually be possible and the importance of what it means along with the initialing of the agreements for Georgia and Moldova. But also some impatience to get going, so I hope in the next few weeks these last remaining disagreements can be resolved, so that everyone is ready and what I think is a clear consensus of the Ukrainian public that it can be achieved.”
“I think if you look at the history of our involvement with advancing democracy and human rights in Ukraine, you will see that we have been very involved in and at times very critical of previous cases of selective justice, i.e. the Gongadze case. There is a long history, you can google it and you will see probably dozens of statements, calls for investigation. And all these cases, if you look at our human rights reports, our annual reports issued by the US government, you will see that we give extensive attention to them, we have raised them over the years with the Ukrainian government, not just this Ukrainian administration, but previous Ukrainian administrations in which these cases occurred.”
How can the United States help Ukraine so that the Vilnius Summit would be a success and would become a significant geopolitical event in the former Soviet countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
“I’ve been involved in supporting Ukraine, working with Ukraine since before Independence, starting in the late 1980s, when I was the officer on the Soviet desk at the State Department responsible for relations with the non-Russian republics. I worked to support Baltic independence and then the independence of Ukraine and the other states that arose from the break-up of the Soviet Union. Since that day it has been a strong personal commitment of mine, I lived here for three years in the 1990s with my wife and it is, I think, is something that matters enormously for me. Not just for Ukraine – and I care about Ukraine, I care about the Ukrainian people – but this has significance for Europe and the whole world. This is about the meaning of the break-up of the Soviet Union that sovereign independent countries are free to make their own decisions and to choose their own future. We have been strongly supportive politically and economically of Ukraine ever since. And now that Ukraine is poised on the brink of what we hope are very positive new directions, we are looking for ways that we can provide additional support to Ukraine both economically and politically. And that is something that we will be discussing actively with the Ukrainian government.”
“The discussion has already begun. Even before my visit. And there will be more visits and a lot of contact in both Washington and Kyiv over the coming months. Our support which has been consistent for Ukraine from the beginning was support from across the ocean, it was support in the post-cold-war period for a country that was new and independent and seeking partners and new ways of organizing its society. We were very glad to help and that help continues and it will continue. But at the end of the day Ukraine is in Europe, it always has been in Europe, despite some who say that this part of the world is Eurasia, we believe very strongly that this has been and always will be Europe. And, therefore, it is entirely natural that the focus be now on Ukraine integrating with the European Union, being an active member of the European family. That does not exclude any of our extensive relations with Ukraine and it does not mean our relationship will decline, it will not decline. What it means is our close relationship with the EU will now, we hope, include Ukraine. So, for example, as we begin negotiations on our Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which, we hope, one day will result in free trade market between the US and European Union, ultimately, Ukraine in association with EU will also be part of that and there will be the need to decide how to harmonize that. But our vision is that Ukraine will be part not only of the European market, but also of the American market, which creates huge opportunities for economic growth. The European Union is the project that we have supported since the 1940s, since the first ideas of Schuman and Monnet came together, it’s been a central part of our foreign policy. We think the European Union, overall, is a miracle, it is an incredible accomplishment. And to see Ukraine moving into association with it is something that, I think all Americans feel so, is a very exciting and promising prospect.”
For a long time Europe and the United States have been pointing out the issue of selective justice in Ukraine. But over the years a lot of high-profile cases have piled up here – Yeliashkevych, Podolsky, and Gongadze cases, which were mentioned by the Congressman Steve Cohen during the Helsinki Commission session in May. Why is the US Administration not paying attention to those cases and only mentions selective justice in the context of the Tymoshenko case?
“I think if you look at the history of our involvement with advancing democracy and human rights in Ukraine, you will see that we have been very involved in and at times very critical of previous cases of selective justice, i.e. the Gongadze case. There is a long history, you can google it and you will see probably dozens of statements, calls for investigation. And all these cases, if you look at our human rights reports, our annual reports issued by the US government, you will see that we give extensive attention to them, we have raised them over the years with the Ukrainian government, not just this Ukrainian administration, but previous Ukrainian administrations in which these cases occurred. I think at the moment the name that you were hearing is Tymoshenko because, number one, she was the prime minister, number two, she was the presidential candidate, who lost and, number three, this has become a major issue that the European Union is seeking to resolve. So, that is why you are seeing her name most often but it does not mean we only care about one case, it’s the broader principle that’s important and that is that prosecutorial discretion must not lead to selective prosecution and that political retribution must not be carried out through the legal system.”
Mr. Rubin, what is your mission in coming to Ukraine: do you have some messages to pass or signals to make to the Ukrainian authorities or do you want to hear something from them?
“ I’ve just started as the Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for Eastern Europe, my portfolio shifted. We have created a new division in our European Bureau devoted to the Eastern Partnership countries. And, so, this is my first trip to Ukraine in this capacity and the reason I’m here is, first of all, to reintroduce myself and to meet a lot of old friends and colleagues. But, second of all, to say that we think this is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s history, we want to do everything we can to help Ukraine cross the finish line in Vilnius. And also be there to support Ukraine as it deals with all the other difficult questions, including the financial question, and other things that it has to deal with.”
It says in your biography that you speak Ukrainian. How do you manage to maintain a good level of Ukrainian in Washington?
“I take whatever opportunities I have but they are not very frequent, when we meet with Ukrainians or Ukrainian-speaking friends, I practice. But the truth is it has been hard, especially after three years in Moscow, which was my last posting, which, I think, made it harder for me to speak as easily as I would like to in Ukrainian. But after four days here now, it’s already coming back and I feel very good about that. And I know if I could spend some more time here, a few more weeks, my ability to speak as freely as I would like to would return.”