With the assignment of William Taylor as the new US ambassador to Ukraine we asked one of his predecessors, Ambassador William Miller, to comment on some of the challenges he might be facing as he begins his work in Kyiv. We also asked Ambassador Miller 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. What do you think are some of the major challenges that he will be facing?
Amb. William Miller: Well, he’ll face the situation of a Ukraine that has not yet formed its government after almost three months, in which the people of Ukraine in a fair election expressed their will. And the so-called negotiations over the nature of a democratic coalition have been the cause of this delay. Bill Taylor will come to Ukraine facing that uncertainty. He is already there. I think it’s the view of most friends of Ukraine, not just Americans, that the Orange Revolution was the turning point for Ukraine of great significance; it was a defining moment. What that means is that it had decided that the kind of people it wanted to lead at this critical time were those they supported on the Maidan and chanted for. I can remember and I can hear it now in my ears: “Yushchenko, Yulia, Moroz.”
That coalition really reflects a broad consensus of opinion in Ukraine from the point of view of practical experience, economic viewpoints [and] ideology. It’s a very broad consensus and this is remarkable to have a bridge between those who are fervent believers in free market capitalism and socialism, and everything in between. But paramount among the issues in the Orange Revolution was a government that the people could believe in, that was not corrupt, that was going to provide for the people, was going to make sacrifices. They saw in the revolution itself, in the figure of Viktor Yushchenko, my very good friend, sacrifice, even risking life, in order to have the nation succeed. It required the combined abilities of people like Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Moroz, people of different persuasions and attitudes and personalities, to work together to achieve a victory. And it was a tremendous victory and great moment of inspiration to the people not only of Ukraine, but throughout the world. It changed the attitude of my government here towards Ukraine. They saw with the Orange Revolution a profound change and they were willing and wanted to support this change.
Now what has happened in the year after the Orange Revolution is a great disappointment – a great disappointment to many people in Ukraine. And I know this because I’ve been there several times since the Orange Revolution and I’ve talked to all of the leaders and to many of the people throughout the country. And I know this disappointment. The disappointment is in failing to live up to the ideals of the Orange Revolution, the promises made on Maidan, which millions, in fact the whole country, heard through television and millions heard face to face. And I heard [them] because I was there every day during the Orange Revolution.
So Bill Taylor comes with that dilemma of the Orange Revolution not yet realized, the leaders not in agreement with each other, and an uncertain future with difficulties in the Crimea, pressure from the Russians, a gas deal of uncertain quality and many important issues to be addressed by a government. And there is no government -- there is a caretaker. So it’s a very difficult situation, but I can say that Bill Taylor’s attitude, I know, is one of wanting to help in every way possible. It is certainly my attitude and I think it`s that of most Americans who know and have experienced Ukraine.
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. William Miller: Well, I think an ambassador’s and certainly an American ambassador’s job in Ukraine is to help in every way possible. There is no question about friendship. It’s not an uncertainty at all… Certainly, an ambassador’s job is to assure that that friendship is strengthened, and governments can do this by helping in financial ways, which we are doing, certainly with technical assistance. For example, this week the chairman of the Ukrainian Civil Service is here, along with several of his colleagues. They are working with our Civil Service to compare systems and methods that might improve the situation in Ukraine. We should be doing that at every level of governance. Certainly, the most important is law and order. I would say that’s the priority -- to strengthen the integrity of the legal system, to do everything possible to help Ukraine rid itself of corruption, which is the greatest complaint of the Ukrainian people. But there is no doubt that as difficult as the situation is now we will continue to help in every way we can.
Myroslava Gongadze: How have US priorities in Ukraine in general shifted since you were ambassador in Kyiv?
Amb. William Miller: Well, when I first came in 1993 there were two issues. One was extraordinarily fundamental. There was no certainty that Ukraine would survive as a state. There was a hope; there was the desire. But there were many who believed that it was quite conceivable that Ukraine would once again become a part of Russia and that this was only a temporary phase, and that the independence movement and Rukh would disappear and something else would take its place and, bit by bit, it would be re-absorbed into Russia.
When I came that question was open in Washington. I was convinced almost immediately that there was no doubt that Ukrainians wanted to be independent, that they were determined to maintain their sovereignty and would fight to the death. I became a rabid supporter believing in the integrity of this movement of wanting to be separate and to carry out a life according to the traditions of their forefathers.
The second most important issue was nuclear weapons and the elimination of the third largest arsenal in the world. Before going out to Ukraine I was convinced that the Ukrainians believed that the new sovereign state should be a non-nuclear weapon state. I had a meeting with leaders of Rukh before I went to Ukraine. They came to Washington, and [so did] representatives of other factions in Ukraine, and they asked me to believe that they wanted a non-nuclear state. And I found after coming [to Ukraine] and meeting with all of the leaders and working in the Rada very extensively with both [Leonid] Kravchuk and [Leonid] Kuchma, in his then position, and all of the military leaders that this desire was a genuine one even though there were many who said Ukraine should keep its weapons as a bargaining chip. Nonetheless, they made with a lot of help from people like me the firm decision to eliminate the third largest arsenal in the world. And this is an example of national courage, which is unparalleled. The wisdom of this, I think, future generations will fully appreciate but it was the right step and the one that gave integrity for me to this promise of a new independent democratic state. Not only where they are saying -- we don’t want to even contemplate nuclear war, we want a clean environment after the experience of Chornobyl and terrible ravages of industrialization. And they wanted a new, clean start. And this is admirable.
As a person who was born in a country that was a product of revolution and revolutionary ideals, I believe those ideals are critically important. And the Ukrainian ideals for me were inspiring; they were valid. I could see at first hand that many, if not most, Ukrainians were willing to make a sacrifice to have these ideals realized. So that was the situation when I came.
What’s different [today] is that the transition has, we can say, destroyed the Soviet system, the Soviet pattern of governance, education, mentality, and almost everything, although we all maintain what we already knew. The Soviet experience is very deep and, of course, in the Soviet experience there was both good and bad, and for the leadership of Ukraine, which in most respects was Soviet -- they came from the Soviet era and from a Soviet background -- still there were tremendous changes of mentality. So I am one who believes in the possibility of change, even of convictions.
However, at the same time, the confusion about economic purpose, the difference between a free market and a planned economy, the greed of oligarchs, the growth of corruption – all of this seriously affected the potential of Ukraine. And it’s a major problem now. All of the leaders understand this. And the main agenda is to have a system of governance which is worthy of its people.
So I’d say the change is that [government] is now democratically elected -- there is no doubt. There are multiple points of view -- of that there is now doubt. Just look at the first free elections. You saw the spectrum of views - they are different. And now the difficulty -- and perhaps it explains the last three months -- is how people of different points of view can work together. The past system was – there was a party of power. There was one view. This was the Soviet way. Now there have to be compromises. There has to be an understanding of the rights of the minority. There has to be a willingness to accept less than your position in the interest of the whole. And the struggle of the last three months reflects this difficulty.
Myroslava Gongadze: The formation of a coalition in Ukraine seems to be never ending. Are these the normal growing pains of young democracy or is this process beginning to damage Ukraine’s image?
Amb. William Miller: Well, I think both are true. It has damaged Ukraine’s image of resolution, of decision, but I think at the beginnings of our country there were great disputes between the people in New England and in the southern states. There was a great difference of view between Jefferson and Adams, for example, about the nature of governance. And here were great differences on the question of the power of the Supreme Court. This caused great division and, in fact, it was the beginning of our party system. George Washington was a unanimous candidate. Immediately after that we divided into the Federalists and Republicans. The cleavage was partially that between the merchants and the farmers, and the economy of that day in the 18th and early 19th century. It is not so dissimilar from some of the cleavages in Ukraine. And, of course, it’s the challenge of personality. Major political figures all believe that they are the best. There can only be one president at a time, one prime minister, one speaker. And to arrive at that judgment is a matter of democratic process, not imposition, not diktat. That’s no longer the case. And Ukraine now is in the full atmosphere of having to make democratic choice. The people expressed themselves in the elections; the results are very clear. And the reasons are very clear, too.
Myroslava Gongadze: There has been a shift to the possibility of an orange-blue coalition in Ukraine. Would it affect Ukraine’s image, foreign investments and Ukrfaine’s Euro-Atlantic integration?
Amb. William Miller: That’s a complicated question. It seems to me that the differences that were quite evident in the Orange Revolution between what is described as Orange and Blue are profound. It would take a major accommodation and compromise for that to happen. But the election results showed how the country is divided according to opinion on major issues. The political thinking that I have read and heard and listened to has been that the Orange coalition best represented the aspirations of the Orange Revolution and that the opponents of the Orange revolution, after all, were the Blue. Obviously, compromise is possible, but it would have to be the one in which the principles of the Orange Revolution were carefully considered, [as well as] how it would affect those views [and] attitude towards the nature of governance.
So far, over the last three months those who have advocated an Orange-Blue coalition have been in the distinct minority. It’s been a very small group that has been advocating this, largely, to prevent leaders and groups from the Orange coalition to assume power and position. It appears to be for personal reasons rather than for matters of policy or national welfare. Of course, it’s been rumored from the beginning that there would eventually be a coalition and, I think, to some extent that’s true insofar as there’s a temporary electoral division between the East and the West, the artificial quarrels about language. Some of these issues and attitudes towards matters of foreign policy – whether it’s wise to enter NATO or not – need to have a national consensus on. And the place to get that national consensus is in the Rada over the next several years working with the president and, of course, the people.
So it is very important that the Rada be formed, and it is very important that the government be formed based on the results of the election. The election was run on Orange versus Blue -- that was the campaign. And the expectation of the people is that the new government would be Orange, because they won the election.
Myroslava Gongadze: But half of Ukraine expected that Yanukovych will win the elections and he has.
Amb. William Miller: Not half, 34 per cent. We forget that people in the East also voted for the other candidates in substantial numbers. It’s like the United States, even in the most Democratic or Republican states there are always Republicans or Democrats who are voting; sometimes -- in the majority and in so-called “safe districts.” And that’s why we have a national system to take account of these asymmetries. But this is a matter of Ukrainian politics. It is developing the quality of the politicians that have been exposed by a media that’s now free in large measure and not reluctant to point out mistakes, chicanery and subterfuge. So it’s a healthy situation in some ways, but what’s not good for Ukraine, it seems to me, is delay when they need action. And the belief that the people had in the leaders of the Orange Revolution, in my view, should not be lost. This is a treasure that is of tremendous value. The respect that the people of Ukraine and throughout the world had for the leadership of the Orange Revolution is something that shouldn’t be squandered.
Myroslava Gongadze: What do you think is the main problem, the main distraction between the leaders of the Orange Revolution that they can’t form the coalition among themselves?
Amb. William Miller: Well, I’m not there, so I can’t really answer that fully. But I’ve been there enough to get some sense of it and I follow it very closely. I would say a constant complaint that has been made is that there hasn’t been enough talk among them; there has been a reluctance to face each other directly and work out the difficulties face-to-face. This was the great thing about the Orange Revolution and everyone expressed this – Yuschenko, Moroz, Yulia and the people. They said you stood with us shoulder to shoulder; you looked in our eyes, we looked in your eyes; you heard us, we heard you; we agreed [that] that’s the way.
Myroslava Gongadze: One more issue that Ukraine is facing right now is its future NATO membership. Recent events in the Crimea might have been on the extreme side of the spectrum, but 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. William Miller: As our country and most of the NATO allies expressed, Ukraine, as a democratic independent state, is welcome and I think that remains. The advantages are that of any security system this is the most powerful in the world, of course. It’s a protection of sovereignty; it’s an association of nations with shared values -- democratic values. It’s a commitment to keep the peace. It’s a mechanism for interchange of ideas, not necessarily on the military, which is, of course, necessary and useful but, more importantly, political, cultural and economic issues. It’s a tie between governments that is civilized.
I think the more is understood about the purposes of NATO after the Cold War -- I mean it’s not any longer an East-West conflict’ it’s for keeping the peace. It’s one of the international institutions that we invented -- with all of the shortcomings -- that have worked reasonably well. The UN mechanisms are another. Very often NATO and the UN work together on issues that require military force or political action. So it’s useful but it’s not a compulsion. It doesn’t require any abandonment of sovereignty. In fact, it enhances sovereignty. No individual nation is required to undertake an action that its people are opposed to. This is one of the basic understandings.
So I would say that a careful understanding of what has happened in Europe, what has happened in the world since the end of the Cold War, is the necessary foundation for deciding on the question of NATO. I really believe that Ukraine would find itself isolated and vulnerable if it didn’t take up the NATO option. And it would be foolish to do that. It seems to me that such issues as Crimea… When I first came one of the first issues that I had to deal with was pressure on Crimea. As you remember, there was an independent republic of Crimea declared by Yuriy Meshkov. And our position, stated in the UN and elsewhere and directly to our friends in Russia, was [that] Crimea is a part of sovereign Ukraine. That was understood and [it is] still the case. So these issues will come up and the mark of solidarity, to use the Polish concept, is coming to the aid of friends when these pressures do emerge and they will from time to time.