In late September Washington hosted the third (in the last two years) working session of the US-Ukraine Policy Dialogue organized by the US-Ukraine Foundation headed by Nadia McConnell. Some 30 Ukrainian participants were present, including parliamentarians, officials of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, National Security and Defense Council, other governmental institutions, prominent NGOs, including the Razumkov Center, and independent experts.
The US side was represented by former ambassadors to Ukraine William Miller, Steven Pifer, and Carlos Pascual; representatives of the Atlantic Council, Kennan Institute, George Washington University, and members of the Ukrainian American community.
In the course of the four-day meeting a wide range of issues was covered in regard to Ukraine’s and US domestic progress and Ukrainian-US relations in the context of the current international situation. Special attention was paid to the new political situation in Ukraine in the aftermath of the constitutional reform and 2006 elections, which resulted in the formation of a ruling coalition and a new government.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The US-Ukraine Dialogue began in September 1991 when Verkhovna Rada chairman Leonid Kravchuk and a group of Ukrainian MPs visited the United States and had meetings with President George W. Bush, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, senators, congressmen, and representatives of the Ukrainian American community. That same year Nadia McConnell and her husband Robert, a noted Washington lawyer and influential Republican, set up the US-Ukraine Foundation whose motto is “Building Peace and Prosperity through Shared Democratic Values.” The McConnells arranged for Mykhailo Horyn to meet Defense Secretary Richard B. (Dick) Cheney (currently US vice-president) and other officials of the Republican administration. During these meetings Horyn succeeded in convincing his US partners of the need to support Ukraine on its road to independence. These meetings took place before the referendum in Ukraine and played an important role in US recognition of Ukrainian independence.
Despite the existence of official channels of communication (diplomatic missions and delegations on various levels), there was always the need to get NGOs and independent experts involved in building broader relations between the two countries. An important role was played by the Ukrainian-American Advisory Committee (UAKK) as a nongovernmental consultative organization (1994-1997) that united prominent public and political figures in Ukraine and the US. The UAKK was founded by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat and former national security adviser to the US president, and former Republican ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The UAKK’s membership boasts billionaires like Malcolm Forbes and George Soros, ex-Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, the noted economist Anders Aslund, and other distinguished individuals. Ukraine was represented by Borys Tarasiuk and others.
I took part in two UAKK meetings in New York and Kyiv, and both proved that the US political elite had a keen interest in Ukraine, its inner transformations and geopolitical choice. The 1995 meeting determined possible Ukrainian-US partnership spheres, including:
— strengthening Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO;
— relations with Russia (e.g., the Crimea, Black Sea Fleet, CIS);
— holding regular political consultations in the central European area of strategic partnership (Ukraine, Poland, Germany);
— enhancing civilian control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, bringing Ukraine closer to NATO standards;
— accelerating the restructuring and privatization of the energy and agrarian sectors of Ukraine’s economy;
— US assistance with Ukraine’s WTO membership.
Recommendations were drafted for the Ukrainian and US governments in regard to each issue. As we can see, a number of questions dating back a decade remain topical, proof of the snail’s pace of changes in Ukraine, unlike in Poland, the Baltic states, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, or Bulgaria.
The UAKK played an important role in Washington’s decision to build relations with Kyiv on the principles of strategic partnership.
In 1996, the creation of the Ukraine-US Intergovernmental Commission (UAMK) was announced; its objective was “to build even closer relations and deepen the partnership between Ukraine and the US.” An official White House statement stressed that “all nuclear weapons had been removed from Ukraine’s territory, the process supervised by the Ukrainian authorities; this was a vivid example of nuclear nonproliferation; such steps by Ukraine signified our considerable progress toward integration with Europe and the West, affirming Ukraine’s role as a key stabilizing force in Europe.”
The U.S.-Ukraine Binational Commission, also known as the Kuchma-Gore Commission, consisted of four committees tasked with handling foreign policy, security, trade and investment, and sustainable economic cooperation. These committees were supposed to formulate recommendations for the president of Ukraine and the vice-president of the United States.
As a participant in the meetings of these committees and plenary meetings of the commission (1997, 1998, 1999), I have the right to state that, despite excessive red tape, clumsy procedures for making joint decisions, and the absence of civic representatives, the Kuchma-Gore Commission played a largely positive role in deepening Ukrainian-US relations according to the principle of cooperation among ministries as well as among departments.
The UAMK, whose work involved frank discussions of various, sometimes painful, issues, helped strengthen Ukraine-NATO relations and further Ukraine’s involvement in the program Partnership for Peace. Thanks to the work of this commission, a trilateral Ukraine-US-Poland project was initiated and Ukraine-US military contacts were reinforced.
During sessions of the committees dealing with current economic cooperation, the emphasis was on such key issues as the macroeconomic situation; measures to secure financial stability and enhance Ukraine’s energy security; privatization; and small business progress.
Our US colleagues warned the Ukrainian leadership about the 1997-1998 world financial crisis and offered recommendations aimed at reducing possible consequences to a minimum.
After George Bush came to power and the crisis in relations between Washington and Kyiv became more acute, the intergovernmental commission was suspended, but the need for a mechanism of permanent dialogue remained.
The US-Ukraine Foundation became arguably the only NGO trying to fill the gap that had formed in Ukraine-US relations. The Community Partnership Project, focused on developing local self-government, turned out to be one of Nadia McConnell’s most successful undertakings. Launched in the 1990s, the program helped establish contacts between 1,700 Ukrainian and US communities in small towns and villages. Representatives of business and civic structures, as well as local self-government bodies “in the backwaters” of Ukraine and the US effectively shared their experiences in various spheres of life and learned to understand each other better.
The US-Ukraine Policy Dialogue started in 2005, when the organizational and first plenary session took place in Washington (February and June 2005, respectively) and in November that same year in Kyiv. This two-year project is an attempt to assist democratic reforms in Ukraine and establish a genuine partnership between our two countries not only on the highest level of leadership but also on the broader range of “public diplomacy.” Taking part in this dialogue, apart from the US-Ukraine Foundation, are seven US partner institutions and a number of independent experts. Four working groups have been formed on a parity basis, focusing on foreign policy and national security; politics and governance; economics and business, and media and information.
Unlike the purely governmental-bureaucratic Kuchma-Gore UAMK, the Dialogue applies a more flexible mechanism whereby extensive and free discussions of problems are conducted on topics in which the four working groups specialize. Jointly formulated recommendations for organs of state power in Ukraine and the US (action plans) are the end result of such discussions.
One of the most important results of this work was the Jackson-Vanik Graduation Coalition that reached its goal and helped abolish this discriminatory amendment with regard to Ukraine.
DISCUSSIONS, ISSUES, RESULTS
The fall 2006 discussions in Washington were marked by diverse and at times polarized assessments of the international situation and Ukraine’s domestic situation, voiced by representatives of the Orange camp and the Party of Regions. The composition of the Ukrainian delegation, including Viacheslav Koval (Our Ukraine), Andrii Shevchenko (BYuT), and the members of the Party of Regions faction (Leonid Kozhara, Ihor Shkiria, Andrii Pinchuk, Olena Bondarenko) intensified the overall dialogue and considerably boosted the US’s interest in the views of the ruling coalition. Many questions arose in regard to Viktor Yanukovych’s statement on NATO in Brussels and the beginning of the confrontation between the prime minister and the president of Ukraine. Someone joked that the conflict could be resolved by resorting to the Polish solution — assigning the highest posts to twin brothers.
Be that as it may, Washington is looking forward to Prime Minister Yanukovych’s visit.
Regardless of a number of controversial problems (like Ukraine’s NATO membership), in most cases the Ukrainian and US participants succeeded in reaching a consensus and formulating clear-cut recommendations for the governments of Ukraine and the United States within the framework of topics covered by the working groups.
Among Ukraine’s most important achievements over the past two years the Dialogue participants mentioned a high level of democracy, freedom of the press and expression, development of a civic society, and a readiness to carry out pressing administrative, economic, and social reforms.
The high level of the Dialogue was ensured by meetings at the White House (e.g., National Security Council), and with officials of the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce, and other officials, who presented the US view on the status of Ukrainian-US relations and the world situation.
It was especially interesting to hear a certain official’s opinion that “...what is good for Ukraine is good for the United States.” Our American partners stressed that today there are no problematic issues between the US and Ukraine. This thesis was confirmed by Oleh Shamshur, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States. On hearing this, I honestly envied my colleague, remembering the long lists of problems and grievances the US side had submitted in the past, when there was all-encompassing corruption in Ukraine, especially on the highest level, when the civil rights of citizens were being brutally violated, and the interests of foreign and domestic businessmen disrespected. In other words, something had changed in the atmosphere of Ukrainian-US relations over the years of progress and crises, ordeals, and hopeful expectations.
The joint Bush-Yushchenko “Statement on Strategic Partnership,” issued on April 4, 2005, sounded very optimistic. The US side has fulfilled a number of promises that were made at the time. Specifically, the US government recognized the market status of Ukraine’s economy; a bilateral protocol was signed, giving Ukraine practical access to the WTO. As mentioned above, the US Senate and House of Representatives graduated Ukraine from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment (November 2005 and September 2006). President Bush granted Ukraine permanent most-favored nation trade status. (It should be noted that the US refused to sign a similar protocol with Russia and did not annul the Jackson- Vanik amendment in regard to that country.) In addition, the US supported an intensified dialogue concerning the possibility of Ukraine’s NATO membership. The commencement of a bilateral energy dialogue and creation of an appropriate consultative mechanism are considered among the greatest achievements in Ukrainian-US relations. In January 2006, the bilateral consulting group discussed the issue of energy security in the context of the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute.
The US government provided another 45 million dollars for the Chornobyl Relief Fund and doubled its contributions to the anti-HIV/AIDS information campaign.
Cooperation on issues, such as the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, export control, border security, and the functioning of power structures, was deepened.
The list of positive shifts in our relations with the US is quite significant and attests to the considerable progress in our strategic partnership.
At the same time, some participants in the discussions expressed views on the lessening of US interest in Ukraine and its stabilizing role in Europe owing to the US’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other objective and subjective reasons. Even though the American participants of the Dialogue optimistically reassured us that the US’s interest remains unchanged, some doubts remain.
I would like to point out that similar questions are being raised by Poland, the US’s most reliable ally in Europe, in conjunction with the recent visit of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It is also interesting to note the recommendation offered by Charles Kupchan, a leading American political analyst. He said that “Poland is investing lots of energy and political capital in its relations with the US, but little in its relations with Europe...America will continue to be present in Europe, but is ending its role as the watchdog of European security...The US is dismantling its defense infrastructure in Europe and transferring it to the Middle East and Asia. And it does not regard Russia as an immediate threat.” Brzezinski says that Poland is a “third-rate ally of the US.” If so, what about Ukraine with its indecisive president and anti-NATO prime minister?
Therefore, regardless of our American partners’ assurances, it is necessary to acknowledge an objective fact: the international role of Ukraine, which cannot define its geopolitical orientation, is lessening, regardless of the growing imperialist threat of Russia, which, as the Russian-Georgian conflict shows, is ready to seriously toughen its policy in the vast post-Soviet space.
After four days of meetings several packages of recommendations were drawn up, which may be reduced to the following:
1. In the sphere of politics and governance:
— Organs of state power and political forces in Ukraine must abide by the clauses of the Constitution of Ukraine and the Declaration of National Unity, which [the latter] must serve as a long-term document and must not be linked only to the formation of the coalition in the Verkhovna Rada in 2006;
— The Verkhovna Rada must accelerate the deliberation and passage of the bills “On the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine,” “On the Civil Service,” “On the Parliamentary Opposition,” and the Code of Honorable Conduct for State Officials;
— The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine must focus its efforts on the struggle against corruption by publicizing the annual tax returns of officials on Web sites; submitting them for queries by the media and individual citizens; continue the work of creating a special agency to combat corruption in the highest echelons of power and state administration;
— Enhance the responsibility of Ukrainian parliamentarians in the question of preventing political corruption; institute yearly declarations of parliamentarians’ financial and property status; develop and enact the Code of Parliamentary Ethics;
— The country’s leadership, together with the public, non-governmental organizations, and analytical centers, are to formulate a number of measures aimed at consolidating society, uniting the nation, and overcoming inter-regional conflicts.
The US side was advised to continue supplying Ukraine with technological aid in its struggle against corruption, and to help set up a special anti-corruption agency.
2. In the sphere of information policy and the media
— Secure access to information (pass a package of bills allowing journalists access to information on all official levels; set up a national press club based on US experience; hold joint training sessions with US journalists, etc.);
— Introduce a public broadcasting (the Verkhovna Rada should pass a bill on public broadcasting; set up a public broadcasting working group with the participation of international partners on questions pertaining to the introduction of public broadcasting);
— Introduce digital broadcasting (ratifying the European Convention on Transborder Television as soon as possible; implement Ukraine’s commitments regarding the switch to digital broadcasting no later than 2015);
— Privatization of the state- and local press;
— Strengthening the mass media market.
3. Foreign Policy and National Security
— The single most important recommendation was the desire of the president and the prime minister of Ukraine to improve the mechanism for coordinating foreign and defense policies in the sphere of national security, taking into account the changes to the Constitution of Ukraine and the broader powers vested in the Cabinet of Ministers. It is necessary to enhance the coordinating role of the NSDC in building consensus in this sphere;
— The government of Ukraine, despite Viktor Yanukovych’s statements in Brussels, is advised to proceed with the full-scale implementation of the Ukraine-NATO Membership Action Plan (2002), as well as the annual Target Plan for 2006-2007; the president and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine should formulate a joint approach to NATO before the Riga summit, which would include Ukraine’s attitude to the NATO Membership Action Plan;
— The government of Ukraine should improve the information campaign concerning NATO and Ukraine- NATO relations, so as to provide the public with objective information regarding the advantages and drawbacks of Ukraine’s NATO membership;
— The government of Ukraine is advised to enlist NGOs and analyze the effectiveness of the implementation of “The State Information Program on Euro-Atlantic Integration” and adopt an improved program for 2007, involving NGOs and commercial organizations. The Ukrainian government must ensure adequate financing of the information campaign;
— During the next year, national televised debates focusing on Ukraine-NATO cooperation and the possibility of Ukraine’s NATO membership should be organized;
— The US government is advised to maintain its strong support for Ukraine-NATO relations and keep the doors of NATO open;
— The Transdnistrian conflict: a recommendation was made to conduct an active and well-coordinated policy on the part of the EU and US, based on the recognition of a single Moldovan state with Transdnistria as a part of it, while granting the region a large degree of autonomy. Ukraine must continue supporting the EU mission on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border;
— Where Ukraine-US relations are concerned, it is stated that in connection with the implementation of the majority of provisions set forth in the presidents’ joint statement, both sides must consider a Road Map version of deepening Ukrainian-US relations;
— Both sides were urged to strengthen and institutionalize contacts between the Verkhovna Rada and the US Congress.
As the co-chairman of this working group, I would like to note the especially productive activities of Valerii Chaly, the director of international programs at the Razumkov Center; Ukraine’s NSDC officials Oleksandr Lytvynenko and Kostiantyn Kononenko; our US colleagues Steven Pifer, Stephen Larrabee, Jeffrey Simon, and others who have made their contributions to developing analytical documents and recommendations.
Naturally, the scope of this newspaper article does not allow me to list all the recommendations and provide a detailed account of the debates that focused on problem issues within every working group. I should mention the inter-group discussions of energy security issues that were held by the Heritage Foundation with the participation of leading US experts. The American participants stressed that the government and Ukrainian society should become accustomed to the idea of having to pay world energy market prices; on the other hand, it was noted that the Ukrainian economy needs a certain transition period (between three and five years) for adjusting to these prices.
Energy conservation and increasing the domestic energy output, including alternative and diversified energy sources, must be Ukraine’s highest priority.
On the very days that we were discussing energy questions, the American print media reported on an extraordinary experiment carried out at Edwards Air Base in California. An obsolete strategic 8-engine B-52 bomber flew over the base using synthetic fuel obtained from natural gas (it is also possible to obtain air fuel from coal). The tests were carried out in keeping with President Bush’s program to lessen US dependence on oil imports by 75 percent by 2025. When will Ukraine have its own program — not just one on paper — but a realistic one that would involve Ukraine’s research and technology potential?
The US capital was experiencing another Indian summer: it was sunny, the air was crisp; it was a sad early fall. The media was focusing on the bitter national debate on the Iraq war, initiated by the Democrats on the eve of the US House elections. The “National Intelligence Estimate” added fuel to the fire by declaring that “A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” This, in turn, heightens the international community’s anger against the US and made the world even more dangerous. Opponents of the war in Iraq promptly used the document against President Bush.
Everywhere you hear the sad statistics: 2,700 soldiers killed and 20,000 wounded in Iraq. The operation in Afghanistan is also largely a US burden; the German coalition participants are not taking part in any combat actions; some of the allies refuse to conduct combat operations at night. There are press reports about unfortunate Americans who have sustained head and spinal injuries and will be paralyzed for life. Television reports feature killings of children in schools and missing children. Despite this, the US economy is showing signs of growth, gas and housing prices are falling, which somewhat reduces the Democrats’ chance of winning the elections.
The burden of the world’s only superpower, which has been shouldered by the United States, appears too heavy even for the giant US economy. Some of my American friends expressed nostalgia for the days of Bill Clinton (1994-1999). Today that period seems so quiet and prosperous, like a fairy tale. For what periods should we Ukrainians sigh over-for the 2004- 2005 period of nationwide expectations and overall social upsurge that was fruitlessly squandered by temporary victors?
But such sad questions are not meant for the participants of the US-Ukraine Policy Dialogue. They are meant for us Ukrainians.