With the assignment of William Taylor as the new US ambassador to Ukraine we asked one of his predecessors, Ambassador Steven Pifer, to comment on some of the challenges he might be facing as he begins his work in Kyiv. We also asked Ambassador Pifer to give his views on the current situation in Ukraine. The interview was conducted on June 14 by Myroslava Gongadze.
Myroslava Gongadze: Ambassador William Taylor is starting his assignment in Kyiv this week. What do you think are some of the main challenges he will be facing?
Amb. Steven Pifer: I think Ambassador Taylor is going to be there pursuing long-standing US policy, which is to promote a good relationship between the United States and Ukraine and also to support Ukraine’s development as a stable democratic state with the strong market economy, increasingly integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community. He is going to arrive at a time when, in fact, the US-Ukraine bilateral agenda is actually in pretty good shape. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last year. Ukraine’s been graduated from Jackson-Vanik, the bilateral protocol on WTO accession has been completed, Ukraine passed a new law on intellectual property rights protection. So, the bilateral agenda per se is in good shape. So, I think, a lot of his focus is going to be on supporting things like how do you develop investment in Ukraine, how does Ukraine address the issue of energy dependency, how does Ukraine move more effectively to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community.
Myroslava Gongadze: What about challenges?
Amb. Steven Pifer: There are a number of challenges that Ukraine faces. The one challenge right now, of course, is the absence of a coalition. And certainly this is a process that Ukraine is going through as a young democracy, as it tries to find the combination of political wisdom and compromise to promote a coalition that can have a majority in the government. Hopefully, that process will come to closure fairly quickly because I fear the costs for Ukraine of not having a coalition and not having the government are beginning to mount.
Myroslava Gongadze: Ukraine, since you were there as US ambassador, has changed. What would be some of your priorities if you were in Ambassador Taylor’s position today?
Amb. Steven Pifer: Well, I think there are several priorities. One is -- there is an opportunity now for Ukraine really to integrate into the global economy. So what sorts of things can you do? And here I think it will be important that Ukraine has a new government quickly. It’s how do you promote greater investment, how do you expand the economic relationship between Ukraine and the United States, and Ukraine and the West, which, I think, will be mutually beneficial to the two countries. A second issue that, I think, is going to be very important for Ukraine -- and where the United States may be able to provide some assistance and advice -- how does Ukraine move forward in terms of its energy situation where it has an economy that, unfortunately, is very inefficient in its use of energy. So how does Ukraine come up with a policy of increased production, greater conservation at home and diversification of supply, so that it is in a more stable situation and in a more secure situation with regards to energy? An another question, of course, is as Ukraine begins to draw closer to the Euro-Atlantic community, how can United States help Ukraine to make that integration a successful one?
Myroslava Gongadze: How have US priorities in Ukraine in general shifted since you were in Kyiv as ambassador?
Amb. Steven Pifer: Well, if you asked what sort of was the overall approach 7 or 8 years ago we would have said that the United States wants to see Ukraine develop as a stable democratic state, strong market economy, good relations with all of its neighbors, including Russia, but also with increasing links with Euro-Atlantic community. And I suspect, I mean I am not longer in the government now, but if you were to ask somebody at the State Department or the National Security Council, that would be sort of the same objective that guides you as policy. And, of course, developing a thicker, broader relationships between the United States and Ukraine. So, I think, that, overall, policy is pretty much the same. And again with the progress of the last year there are fewer bilateral problems on the agenda. So it’s going to be more of working together to tackle some of the bigger challenges like energy security and Euro-Atlantic integration, and more importantly how do you develop investment and business relations, because ultimately what is the source of real gravitas or weight to a relationship is when you really have strong economic and commercial relations, and there has been progress, but I think there is a lot more potential for the United States and Ukraine.
Myroslava Gongadze: How do you assess [the situation]? Will it be harder or easier for ambassador to work in Ukraine now?
Amb. Steven Pifer: I’d say it is going to be different now. Some of the challenges that we had to deal with when I was there 7 or 8 years ago I think are in the past. But there are different challenges now. And I think he is going to find… he’s got some interesting tasks ahead of him. I think he is going to be hugely effective and he is somebody who was a frequent visitor to Ukraine when I was there, when he was the Coordinator for assistance. He knows the country well. And, I think, particularly when you are looking at business questions and economic relations and energy issues, he is going to be a source of very good advice.
Myroslava Gongadze: The formation of a coalition in Ukraine seems to be a never ending process. Are these the normal growing pains of a young democracy or is this process beginning to damage Ukraine’s image internationally?
Amb. Steven Pifer: I think this is also a difference from 6 to 7 years ago, because in the Rada in the late 1990s you had 8, 9 or 10 different political parties. So the consolidation down to five parties is going to be useful in terms of making it easier for the Rada to develop as a normal institution. And certainly some if the jockeying and political negotiations we have seen in the last three months, these take place in normal democracies, this is not something unique to Ukraine. Look at Germany and the two months of negotiations that took place last fall. Now, having said though, I’m also beginning to worry that the process has to come to closure at some point and it can’t wait much longer. And that is going to require that the parties negotiating the coalition, they have got to show a certain degree of compromise, political maturity and wisdom because the costs are beginning to mount of Ukraine of not having the coalition and a government. One cost is that President Bush is not coming to Ukraine next week. But in issues like how do you begin to draw investment into Ukraine, the absence of the government hurts Ukraine because investors can’t say – what is the government’s policy going to be on a business climate when they don’t know what the government is. World Trade Organization -- you need to have a government in place that will push the Rada to pass these 8 or 9 laws that bring Ukraine’s trade regime into compliance with the WTO. That’s not happening. And there is a certain competition here, of course, because Russia is moving towards WTO and I think Ukraine wants to be in the position to join the World Trade Organization at the same time, if not before Russia. Also, on the question of energy. It will be very interesting to see what happens on July 2nd because the Ukrainian government is saying that they expect the prices not to change for gas coming to Ukraine. The Russians say the price will change. Ukraine needs to have a government to tackle that issue and it is very much in Ukraine’s interests to deal with that issue before the St. Petersburg summit because Ukraine will have leverage there in that GazProm and Russia aren’t going to want to be seen as bullying Ukraine in the run-up to a summit at which energy security is going to be the main topic. That leverage goes away after the summit. And the there are also the other issues -- Euro-Atlantic integration and the NATO question -- which is still an issue, on which there needs to be a national discussion within Ukraine. But there needs to be a government that can begin to talk about this in a way if Ukraine wants to keep its option open for a membership action plan.
Myroslava Gongadze: [Further on the subject of NATO], although, recent [anti-NATO protests] in the Crimea might have been on the extreme side of the spectrum, support for NATO membership in Ukraine is not very strong. What compelling argument can the US make in support of Ukraine’s membership in NATO?
Amb. Steven Pifer: First, I would agree with your point that… I was a little bit surprised to see all of the brouhaha about the See-Breeze event. I mean, my first year in Ukraine in 1998 we had a See-Breeze exercise. The Russian Navy had two ships participating. The commander of the Russian Back Black Sea fleet was in Odessa for the main exercise day. So this was not a controversial thing. So I was a little bit surprised to see what happened last week and suspect that there was certain amount of staging for that. It seems to me, from a US perspective, and Washington has made clear, that it sees Ukraine’s integration into NATO and the Euro-Atlantic community as contributing to a broader, more stable, more secure Europe. From the US perspective, that’s in Europe’s interests, that’s in the American interests and that’s in Ukraine’s interests. Obviously, as you said, there is a debate going on in Ukraine. And what has to happen now really is that the Ukrainian government has to begin to explain to the Ukrainian people -- these are the advantages of joining NATO, this is why it makes sense from the perspective of Ukraine’s future integration to follow the course that Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States have taken. And there has to be that discussion. And what I sometimes become concerned about is -- when you look at some of the protests against NATO, some of the protestors that you saw down in the Crimea last week, my sense is that they are protesting against the NATO of 1960s and 1970s, of the Cold War. They haven’t realized that this is a different NATO; that this is a NATO that has a very cooperative relationship with Russia. But I think that the government has to begin to explain that and there has to be that national discussion and it’s my own belief that if there is that discussion, in fact, Ukrainians will begin to see that this is in fact a sensible policy course for the country.