Geoffrey Pyatt, the new US Ambassador to Ukraine, had a very active and quite original start in his diplomatic office in Ukraine. Prior to his arrival to Ukraine, he published a video address to Ukrainians in which he emphasized that he would be constantly using social networks for communication. What was more unusual in comparison to, for example, the Russian ambassador, who seizes every opportunity to popularize Russian history, was that the American ambassador said he was studying Ukrainian and was interested in the history of Ukraine. From day one, he has put his words into actions. Pyatt has already visited several museums and even published a video blog after a visit to the Oles Honchar Museum. For Ukraine’s Independence Day, he sang “Chervona ruta” together with the embassy’s staff and posted the recording on the embassy’s website.
“You presented me so gorgeously in your paper. So how could I not take an opportunity. Fantastic, Fantastic, thank you so much.” Such comments he made when The Day had given to himмthe book The Power of the Soft Sign and Route No.1 with our project “101 reasons to love Ukraine.”
“This morning I was glad to see you put doctor King on the front page. I am already learning about your history. I was so interested when I visited the World War II museum. I knew about the Paton bridge but I never realized that Paton bridge – the connection it had to the welding machine that Paton laboratory invented which did electron welding which is what enabled the construction of these long metal bridges. So this is great. I will read this with great interest. Thank you.”
Mr. Ambassador, you’ve said that your top priority is to support Ukrainian people’s European choice and that this will be your “main focus all the way up to the Vilnius Summit.” How can the United States help Ukraine concretely so that the Ukrainian government indeed walks into the door that Europe keeps open for Ukraine, or in other words, Association Agreement is indeed signed in Vilnius?
“Right. Thank you for the question. Thank you for correctly reflecting the priority that I have placed and my government has placed on supporting the Ukrainian people’s European choice. And I would emphasize, to begin with, that my role is to support a decision that the Ukrainian government has made – and the Ukrainian people have made – to move ahead to, as you say, walk through the door that Europe is holding open. It’s notable to me that in a very divided political environment, this is one of the issues on which there is broad agreement across the Ukrainian political spectrum. The president, the various opposition parties all agree that it is important to take advantage of this opportunity which the Association Agreement provides. In terms of what United States can do, I would flag a couple of things. And I hope you noticed the statement which President Obama put out on the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, where he emphasized his support for Ukraine’s European future. So I think what we can do is twofold. One is to contribute to the debate which is taking place here around the benefits of the Association Agreement. And on this I look forward to working with my European colleagues, but it’s very clear to me that our common hope to see Ukraine developed as a modern democratic prosperous state can only be advanced by progress with the Association Agreement. And that means fulfillment of the conditions that Europe has established. I’ve said before that we see the Association Agreement and we see Vilnius not as an end state but as a marker on the road to building this modern state. I welcome the opportunity to engage with Ukrainian politicians, to engage with Ukrainian society on the benefits that we believe Ukraine will enjoy from signing the Association Agreement and securing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. In terms of economic growth, in terms of economic opportunity, there would be clear benefits to Ukraine associating itself with the world’s largest economic bloc. Another area where we can help is with your other big neighbors. And in this regard, let me underline that we share the view of our European partners which was annunciated in Brussels that it is simply unacceptable for any country to seek to block or prevent Ukraine from moving ahead towards its European future. We see Ukraine as part of Europe. We want Ukraine to move towards a closer institutional relationship with Europe and I will do everything that I can with my colleagues here at the mission to help advance that objective.”
Numerous articles have been published in Western media recently about Ukraine choosing between the EU and Eurasian Union. You had a meeting with President Yanukovych. Is your impression that he is really pondering this choice?
“Let me say a couple of things. I am going to be very protective of my private conversation with the president and other senior leaders. So I have to be diplomatic about that. But I will say that the president, like other leaders I have spoken with in Ukraine, was very clear regarding the priority that he places on Ukraine’s European choice. But I will also emphasize I do not see the issue as you’ve characterized it as ‘either-or.’ It’s not Europe or Russia. It’s Europe and Russia. And I like very much what Prime Minister Azarov said in his description – and I believe it was in a Cabinet meeting – but I saw a press report of his description of his conversations in Moscow. And he offered a view that in an age of globalization, in an age of global economic connectivity, it is illegitimate and inappropriate for anybody to try to build walls. And I agree completely with the prime minister. I think the way to imagine this is that the Association Agreement will open opportunities to deepen Ukraine’s social economic and commercial ties to Europe, even while preserving the very important historical, economic and people-to-people ties you have with Russia. Ukraine is in a fantastic position: has a border with four EU member states. It has the opportunity to become the eastern frontier of a large European economic space at the same time that it serves as Europe’s gateway to the Eurasian heartland and Europe’s gateway to one of the most dynamic economic regions of the world which stretches all the way to Shanhai and Vladivostok. So, I do not think it’s ‘either-or’ – I think it’s ‘either-and,’ it’s Europe and Russia. But it is very-very important to our vision of Ukraine’s European future that that Association Agreement succeeds.”
These days, as you, probably feel too, there is a fairly tense situation regarding Vilnius. Ukraine, on its part, has not yet fulfilled certain conditions for signing the Agreement, plus Russia steps up its pressure to make Ukraine join the Customs Union. In addition, spy scandal erupted between the United States and Russia. Hence, some experts are concerned that America may “swap” Ukraine for Snowden. And it seems such concerns are not without merit: we have this kind of experience. These were NATO summits in Istanbul in 2004 and in Bucharest in 2008, when Ukraine was denied. Can something similar happen in Vilnius?
“I do not even want to give that question the legitimacy of a serious answer because I do not see it as a serious prospect. The US-Ukraine relationship stands on its own solid foundation. The US-Ukraine relation is based on our strategic interests and our convergent outlooks, and so I would discourage any suggestion of trades-off or compromises in that agenda on the basis of other relationships. And let me leave it at that.”
By the way, since you are studying Ukraine’s history, don’t you think it was the West’s mistake not to grant MAP to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, which President George W. Bush supported, and he visited Kyiv right before the Bucharest summit?
“I was not part of those discussions. In 2008 I was living in Vienna and I was focused on things like Iran and Syria, working closely with my European partners on that. But I wasn’t part of these discussions in 2008 so really I do not think it would be useful for me to speculate on that. But again, our agenda today stands on its merits. And I am very-very confident of the United States’ commitment to fulfilling the very large ambition that we have for our strategic partnership with Ukraine. And my mission here in Kyiv is to seek to fulfill that ambition.”
We hear calls to live as good neighbors with Russia, and we ourselves would have very much liked to have mutually beneficial relations with the northern neighbor. According to the Budapest Memorandum the United States and Russia are the guarantors of Ukraine’s security. Several days ago President Obama cancelled his summit with President Putin in Moscow and announced a pause in the relations with Russia which hasn’t been observed for quite a while in the US-Russia relationship. What corollaries can this have for our nation?
“I would say two things. Again, I will leave the question of US-Russia relations to Ambassador McFaul and my other colleagues. But I am very-very confident of where we are on US-Ukraine relations. And I can assure you there is no pause in US-Ukraine relations, and in fact what I want to do is to hit fast-forward button, to use your analogy, on the US-Ukraine strategic partnership and I think we have a very good chance to do that as we look towards the Vilnius Summit and beyond.”
What do you think of the article in Den by Edward Lukas “Syria Has Proved That Russia Is not Our Friend” (http://www.day.kiev.ua/en/ article/syria-has-proved-russia-isnt-our-friend)? In this light, how should the West treat Russia?
“I will leave Russia to my good friend and colleague Ambassador McFaul. I am sorry, it simply is not my place. But what regards Ukraine, I am very confident about the favorable opportunities that we have ahead of us.”
It is known that the US has taken a tough stance on Ms. Tymoshenko – although her case is not that simple. Maybe, as you were getting ready for your Ambassadorial duty here, you attended a Senate Committee hearing in May, where Representative Cohen raised the most high-profile cases from the Kuchma presidency time – those of Gongadze, Yelyashkevych, and Podolsky. It has been reported that criminal cases have been started in Ukraine to pursue those who ordered crimes against the abovementioned individuals. Do you consider pursuing those cases and bringing the culprits to justice important of the development of Ukraine’s democracy?
“Let me say two things. I paid very close attention to the Helsinki Commission hearing that Foreign Minister Kozhara attended. And for the United States regarding the specific issue that you raised of the Gongadze case, I read with interest the interview that Myroslava Gongadze published. And I also have paid very close attention to the wider issue of press freedom in Ukraine. You’ve read my other interviews, so you know that I have said that Ukraine’s democracy and the continued deepening of Ukraine’s democracy is the bedrock of our bilateral strategic partnership. It is the foundation on which everything else is constructed. And in that regard, questions of media freedom and the fact that you have a vibrant media environment in Ukraine is one of the key attributes of our bilateral relationship. So we are concerned about any steps which appear to be reducing the space for media freedom. And we believe that it is important, in cases like the Gongadze case which are of particular concern, that there be a complete investigation. I know also that it has drawn the attention of the OSCE special rapporteur for media freedom who I met with in my office in Washington, probably a little less then year ago now. And I know that she has addressed the Gongadze case as well. But let me emphasize for the United States: our broad concern is with the principle of media freedom, where Ukraine has a good story to tell. And it is important that we sustain and deepen that media freedom.”
Also, connected to the previous question, another one involving Kuchma. In a recently released documentary Battle for Ukraine by famous Russian (and formerly Hollywood) film director Andrei Konchalovsky, Kuchma, remembering the time of the Orange Revolution, says “It’s not me who governed poorly, it’s America who led people out on the Maidan.” What would you say to this?
“I have not seen the film. So I really cannot address it. I would come back to the point for United States and me personally, one of the most inspiring things about Ukraine today is the genuine democracy and the passionate commitment to democratic principles that I have found among the politicians, among civil society, among the journalists. You have the democratic DNA which allows you to build the modern European democracy that we hope for. That is an enormously satisfying and attractive characteristic. And I certainly will work in my tenure here to strengthen and to consolidate that.”
It is great that your support for Ukraine’s aspiration to true energy independence is a priority for you. We welcome the presence of such important companies as ExxonMobil and Chevron which plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into shale gas development in Ukraine. But as we know, Russia has extensive experience in countering US plans: for instance, in 2007, Russian task force attempted to influence Czech public opinion, through Czech media, public and political figures, concerning deployment in the Czech Republic of a radar as an element of missile defense. Is the US prepared to face resistance to shale gas projects in Ukraine? Do you see a way out of the situation after the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast Council vote that blocks the permission to develop shale gas there? Has such contingency been foreseen?
“Well, as you saw in my TRK Ukraine TV interview, my view on Ivano-Frankivsk is sign of the healthy status of Ukrainian democracy. It is good that this kind of debates is happening. We have had the same debates is the United States. I am very confident that as these debates continue and as our companies have the opportunity to share with political and civil society leaders what they are prepared to do, what the experience has been in the United States. I think the US experience with non-conventional gas is very important for the decisions that Ukraine will have to make. This has been a game changer in the United States. It has helped us to achieve greater energy independence. It has helped to drive employment in the United States. It has helped to improve the competitiveness of American companies. I am very optimistic that these new energy plays in Ukraine have the potential to do some of the same which would be good for America, but it will also be very good for Ukraine and it will be particularly good for the communities that host these resources. And I look forward to visiting Lviv – I will be there this weekend. I will be talking to political leaders. I look forward to hearing their concerns. I will share with them some of the lessons we have learned in the United States. But I know that this is an important decision and I know that this is the decision which has important long term economic benefits. Because what we are talking about here is investments which will pay their benefits over years and years and have the potential to generate – if the resources are found, if the gas is there the way the companies expect, and if the government has the correct policies in place – this could generate jobs and economic growth for decades and decades. So it is in the same way that unconventional gas has been a game changer in America. It has the potential to be a game changer in Ukraine. And I am not afraid of having debate about that.”
You are sometimes referred to as the rising star of US diplomacy, who can get things done, like in the instance with huge commercial contracts. What do you consider to be your success?
“You are very kind to say this. I said in my swearing-in statement in Washington DC and I truly believe this: I am in a business where the most important factor is the people. And my most important responsibility is to lead the very large team of both American and Ukrainian colleagues we have here at the embassy. So, you ask me, where do I think I have been successful? Where I have been successful in the past and will hope to do in my current role is to build a strong team of colleagues all of whom draw on their strengths to advance the strategic objective of the United States.”
What is the most important task or objective that the US Government set for you to solve in Ukraine?
“My most important objective is to fulfill the promise of the US-Ukraine strategic partnership, to advance the three priorities I have talked about: Ukraine’s place in Europe, Ukraine’s energy independence and the deepening of Ukrainian democracy. But all of that happens under the umbrella of the strategic partnership which was launched by Secretary Rice and President Bush’s Administration and was inaugurated by Vice President Biden under President Obama. So it is a framework that the United States has committed to at very highest levels of our government with a strong sense of ambition.”
Can you share ideas about how Ukrainian diaspora in the United States can be encouraged to invest more in Ukraine, and what hampers this?
“Thank you for asking this question. And I would say a couple of things. I see this as helping to strengthen the ties at the people-to-people level between our countries. And our strongest bilateral relationships are those which are focused at the people-to-people level. Our new press spokesperson Yaryna is a perfect example – somebody who has fluency in the language, who has family roots in Ukraine. I see this as helping to build confidence. It helps us to understand better the challenges Ukraine is working through. And also Ukrainian diaspora in America can help you to understand what America’s agenda is here. I am deeply confident that Ukraine has no better friend than America. The United States is powerfully committed to Ukraine’s success, Ukraine’s democracy and Ukraine’s prosperity. And that comes from the people of our country.”
You said you are interested in deeper study of Ukrainian history. Can you tell us what books or textbooks do you use to learn about our history?
“Right now what I am finishing is Bloodlands which is a fantastic and sobering introduction to the incredible violence that was inflicted upon this society first by Stalin and then by Hitler. But also as you read that history you cannot help but be inspired by the resilience of Ukrainian culture, the strength and endurance of Ukrainian culture underneath these various external forces that came across the country. So it is a very dark period of history, a dark period in Europe’s history. But it is important to understand, so I have been working through that.”
Do you know about researcher of Holodomor James Mace, an American who worked at Den and whose studies exposed Holodomor in Ukraine to the world [note – Den daily has a special history section and a professor of history on staff who takes care of it; Den published collections of history essays from this section as separate books].
“I have not read his works, but I look forward to looking into them.”
Den has a special project called “101 reason to love Ukraine” – what do you think of such an undertaking? Maybe you can name a couple of reasons to love Ukraine?
“On people, I should say since we are here at the American Embassy, I can’t help but name Sikorsky who, of course, is somebody from Kyiv, who has made a huge mark on America and American technology. Generally what I have been most impressed by so far is the people. I have had a wonderfully warm reception. You can’t help but be impressed by hospitality, the cultural richness of this society. I count that as a highlight. It is also a beautiful country. I saw that in my second week in the office, when I traveled to Crimea to meet with the President, much of which looks like my home in California. But really I am very interested to travel all over the country and to see the incredible resources and the fantastic people that you have.”
When I have interview with former ambassador John Tefft he told me that he used to get 5 e-mails with you in a day. What have you asked him?
“Yes. Actually I will share a secret. After I have moved out of my house in Washington DC, I was living with my family at a hotel in Northern Virginia. It was the same hotel that Ambassador Tefft was in. So we walked our dogs together and we had lots and lots of conversations. And he impressed upon me the incredibly warm feelings that he has from his time in Kyiv and the incredible importance that he saw behind this particular moment in the country’s history. We, America, have made a 22-year investment in our bilateral relationship with Ukraine. But we are coming up on an incredibly important period now as we look towards the Vilnius summit and the decisions that will be made around the Association Agreement. So, we talked a lot about these issues.”
You’ve said you intend to experiment with various social networks – Twitter, Facebook – and a blog in order to explain American policy and to understand problems and expectations of Ukrainians. Which of the received questions and comments from our citizens strike you most?
“Very-very thoughtful questions. The most inspiring conversations I have had in Ukraine have been with the young people. There are so many impressive inquisitive inspiring young people in this country today. It gives me a great deal of hope about Ukraine’s future. I am focused on the social media: Twitter, Facebook, the videoblog – as a way to better connect with that generation who usually does not read a newspaper – they are getting their information in different ways. Some of the questions are about visas and routine issues. But a lot of them are also about America and what does America seek. I hope you saw the video that we did for Independence Day which has gotten many-many views. But what was so interesting to me was the warmth towards America in many of the comments. But also the questions that emerged in comment strings about what is America’s agenda in Ukraine. And I can be very clear: America’s agenda in Ukraine is to help Ukraine achieve its vision as a modern prosperous democratic European state. A lot of the questions focused around these issues. I am going to answer as many of them as I can – some on video, some just on the Facebook, but we will be very engaged across these different channels.”
Do you agree with Christopher Hill about the role of twitter diplomacy? He recently wrote an article by this name for Project Syndicate.
“I have not read Ambassador Hill’s article, but I will take a look at it. I will be very honest with you. I think sometimes there are not enough characters. Diplomacy, international relations involve long abstract concepts. And sometimes that does not fit well into the characters of a Twitter massage. But if it helps to have direct connection, I will want to pursue it.”