US Ambassador William Taylor last week completed a three-year tour of duty in Ukraine. In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service the career diplomat shared his views on the current political situation in Ukraine, US-Ukraine relations and the role of Ukraine as a geopolitical player. Ambassador Taylor spoke to VOA Ukrainian Kyiv correspondent Ruslan Deynychenko.
Ambassador Taylor remarked that he regrets having to leave Ukraine. Local journalists called him a trouble-shooter – and not without reason. Prior to his assignment in Kyiv, he served in such hot-spots as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Often it was said that his mission in Ukraine was not much easier – having to deal with feuding politicians who, as many believe, are stymieing Ukraine’s progress. Ambassador Taylor says that reconciliation between Ukraine’s leaders offers the only way forward.
“If the two people involved – the President and the Prime Minister, if they wanted to make it work, if they were committed to make it work, even if they didn’t like each other, if they wanted to make it for the good of the country, for the ability of Ukraine to deal with the economic crisis or policy crisis or gas crisis, if they wanted to make it work, I think they could make it work. Sometimes, they have. Sometimes, they’ve made it work. I remember that the economic crisis in January gave an opportunity for the President to call the Prime Minister and the Speaker, Minister of Finance, the Central Banker, the representative of the opposition, to come together to deal with the economic crisis. The President and Prime Minister sent a joint letter, a couple of joint letters. They met regularly. They dealt with the economic crisis, not fully, there are still problems. But, they were able to do the things, sometimes with the Rada, sometimes without the Rada, that the International Monetary Fund needed in order to provide this big loan to Ukraine that will enable Ukraine to get through the crisis. So, it can be done. We know if there is a motivation and the economic crisis was a motivation, it can be done. And with that motivation, I think it can be done, even under this Constitution.”
Even though the stand-off in Ukraine continues, Ambassador Taylor points to progress in US-Ukraine relations.
“I think that Ukrainian-American relations have improved pretty significantly in these five years. Ukrainian-American relations don’t depend on any personality. They don’t depend on the personality of George Bush. They don’t depend on the personality of Viktor Yushchenko. They depend on common interests and common values. In the past five years those common values, values of democracy, values of free and fair elections, values of an independent press, independent media – those values have drawn us closer together. Ukraine’s commitment to a democratic system of government is a commitment that the United States respects and appreciates and points out to other nations in the region. We point out to other nations in the region that Ukraine is committed to democratic principles. Ukraine is committed to democratic practices. Ukraine executes democracy in a way that is representative of all Ukrainians. They have good elections. They have free and fair elections. In Ukraine, you don’t know beforehand who is going to win the election. In the United States you don’t know who’s going to win the election before the election [is held]. But, in other countries in this region, you do know who is going to win the election before the election and that’s not a real democracy. A real democracy is when there is a true choice for the people of Ukraine, the people of the United States, of other countries, to make.”
Reflecting on his work in Ukraine, Ambassador Taylor says that he also had to deal with matters he never imagined would rise to his level and beyond.
“The capital of Ukraine, three years ago, in the U.S. government, was Kiev. I came here and I said -- that’s not the way Ukrainians spell their capital. It’s – Kyiv. And so we had this discussion. You would be surprised at the level of discussions that we had to have just to make that change. But we made that change. So now, the whole U.S. government understands that Kyiv is spelled K-y-i-v and not K-i-e-v.”
As for US-Russia relations, Ambassador Taylor says that the two countries pressing the reset button will not be to Ukraine’s detriment.
“The Ukrainians should not be afraid that there will be any Ukrainian interests traded in any of these discussions. We support Ukraine. We will continue to support Ukraine. The Obama Administration has said it supports Ukraine. The Obama Administration has been very clear about this. We have said, Vice-President Biden has said very clearly in Munich and the President and Secretary of State Clinton have all said that we don’t recognize spheres of influence. Spheres of influence are from the past century. Assertions that the Russians have a sphere of influence that includes Georgia or Ukraine – we disagree, we disagree with that. So, Ukraine should not worry that we are going to trade its sovereignty or its interests in an attempt to be better friends with the Russians. That’s not an issue. I would say one other thing. If the Americans and the Russians are getting along better, are having conversations, good conversations about arms control, about missile defense or about Iran or about Afghanistan, where we can agree on things that should be good for Ukraine. That should be good for Ukraine. If the Americans and the Russians are agreeing, then Ukraine has much more maneuver room. It is not in a position of having to choose one side or the other. So, I think better relations between Americans and Russians is good for Ukraine, and Ukrainians should not worry that we will trade away any Ukrainian interests in these discussions.”
Ambassador Taylor also said that preliminary talks are underway for Presidents Barack Obama and Viktor Yushchenko to meet.
“The United States always tries not to interfere in the internal political affairs of any country – Ukraine and other countries, as well. So, when there is a political campaign going on or about to start, the United States is careful about visits. That’s number one. Number two -- we have been discussing a visit by President Yushchenko to the United States or by President Obama to Kyiv. President Obama is considering all of these invitations. As you might imagine, he’s gotten a lot of invitations to come visit. He’s been able to do some travelling and he will do some more travelling, as we know, this summer. He will continue to make these decisions about where to go based on the politics, the internal politics, of the country. Not wanting to interfere, but also knowing that there will be other opportunities for the presidents to get together. So, these are the kind of considerations that are going on. It’s an active consideration.”
Ambassador Taylor’s replacement has yet to be announced. He says the task is not being taken lightly as Washington sees an important partner in Ukraine.
As for advice to his successor, he would recommend that he or she travel Ukraine as much as possible so as to be able to meet and better understand her people, especially the young generation.