Britain is in the process of leaving the EU, but this does not mean that the UK will pay less attention to Ukraine, which it has traditionally supported on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. This was made clear by British Ambassador Judith Gough in her second interview for Den/The Day during her tenure as head of the diplomatic mission in Kyiv. Moreover, at the end of the conversation, the ambassador, who tweets in Ukrainian, assured that the next interview would be given not in English, but in Ukrainian.
“THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR RESOLVING THIS SITUATION LIES WITH RUSSIA”
Ukraine’s biggest issue at the moment is bringing Russian aggression in the east to an end and returning the occupied territories under Ukrainian control. There are many suggestions and plans to that end, including the deployment of a peacekeeping mission in the Donbas. However, there is still no progress, despite the active involvement of the US since last year, including that of Special Representative Kurt Volker, who held a series of talks with his Russian counterpart Vladislav Surkov. In your opinion, what should be done to force Russia to comply with the Minsk Agreements’ terms and leave Ukraine?
“If you think why we have sanctions in place – we have a very clear and principled position on Ukraine and on Russia, and certainly from the United Kingdom’s perspective, I think that’s also shared by the European Union, I think we should take heart from the fact that the sanctions have actually remained in place for such a long period of time. But I think we have to be very clear that the responsibility for resolving this lies with Russia, and I think it is very hard to see any progress until Russia ensures that there is a ceasefire which is sustainable and that heavy weapons are pulled back. So really, I think the onus remains on Russia. I suspect that we will see very little progress this side of the Russian presidential elections, but maybe past that, we may see some further progress, but it all depends on Russia.”
Then it may be necessary to stop coaxing Russia and start imposing harsher sanctions instead. Can we expect such steps from the United Kingdom?
“There is already a set of sanctions there, it is international position. But what you are suggesting is that there is somehow some blame to be put on the international community, the fact is, Russia needs to take steps that deliver on security. And we continue to encourage Russia to do so – the sanctions remain, we continue to push for progress on Ukraine. Ukraine is one of the issues in our relationships upon which we very strongly disagree with Russia.”
“THE UKRAINIAN SIDE IS NOT ACTUALLY ASKING US FOR THESE SORTS OF WEAPONS”
Perhaps another way of supporting Ukraine could be for Britain to supply lethal weapons. What will you say about this?
“We have no plans to do so at the moment. Firstly, the Ukrainian side is not actually asking us for these sorts of weapons. Secondly, we have already done a lot to assist Ukraine in terms of increasing its capability to defend itself. We have now trained seven thousand Ukrainian troops, we still have our military operation Op Orbital actively engaged in Ukraine, providing training through our forces.
“The feedback that we have from your ministers of the armed forces is that this training is useful. For example, that medical training that we have provided has saved lives on the battlefield: where previously your soldiers would die, some of the techniques that we have shown them have prevented that loss of life on the battlefield. But I think it is really important to note that the assistance is there, and we continue to provide it.”
“BUDAPEST MEMORANDUM HAS ITS LIMITATIONS, AND I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND UKRAINIAN FRUSTRATIONS”
As is known, the Budapest Memorandum was signed by four gentlemen, heads of four states, including British Prime Minister John Major. And now it is called a mere piece of paper, why has it happened?
“You ask me this question every time! (Laughs.) Well, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States have not broken their obligations such as they are in that memorandum. The one country that has broken its obligations under that memorandum, and indeed, a number of other international legal obligations, is Russia.
“Now, if we go back to that piece of paper, what it says is that in the event that a party breaks its obligations that the parties will convene to talk about it. Now, we tried that in March 2014 in Paris, I was there with our foreign minister Lord Hague, John Kerry was there, and your foreign minister Mr. Deshchytsia was also there. Mr. Lavrov was in Paris at the time but he did not turn up.
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day
“So, the Budapest Memorandum has its limitations, and I completely understand Ukrainian frustrations, but I think the key point is not that the United Kingdom or the United States have failed to live up to the obligations under that memorandum; the fact is that it’s Russia who has done so. If you look at the support that both the United Kingdom and the United States have provided since 2014, I think it shows that these two countries are very, very committed to the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine. We have shown that by not just our military aid, if not lethal assistance, but by our political support for Ukraine.”
Don’t you think that the West, meaning Europe and the US, cannot currently cope with Russia, which is becoming an increasingly revisionist country, due to a lack of political leadership? We know an example of the opposite, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan stopped an “evil empire” and even broke it in their time, but today it is restored again.
“I disagree with two parts of your question. The first thing, the Soviet Union did not fall because of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, it fell because the economic model was totally broken, and because Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, wanted to go their separate ways. Obviously, there were moments in history where certain people were able to ensure that transition was actually a peaceful transition. But I would not characterize it as those two people bringing down an empire.
“I don’t like the term ‘evil empire,’ because I think it wrongly demonizes a nation. We have issues with Russia’s leadership and the decisions taken by Russia’s leadership, the biggest of them being the annexation of Crimea and events in the Donbas, but we want to have a good relationship with Russia.
“We are not Russophobic, we do not have a policy which is defined on rejecting Russia or Russian people. For example, what we saw on December 22, our foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has been to Ukraine twice already, made a trip to Moscow, because it’s important that we continue to engage and talk to Russia. There are areas such as Ukraine where we strongly disagree, we have made very, very clear these points, but there areas where, both of us being members of the UN Security Council, permanent members, we have to discuss, we need a relationship. We want to see Russia as a successful, responsible member of the international community. What we do not want is a Russia that challenges the international order and illegally interferes within internal affairs of its neighbors. We want to see a responsible Russia that is a net contributor to global security. But what we cannot ignore is what Russia has done and continues to do with Ukraine, and that is why we remain very, very committed to supporting Ukraine.”
“WE – AND OUR PARTNERS DO TOO – NEED TO DO EVEN MORE TO COUNTER DISINFORMATION”
Ambassador, Prime Minister Theresa May said recently that Russia was “seeking to weaponize information. Deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions. We know what you are doing.” Was not your nation much too slow to reach this conclusion?
“We have always been alert to the threats that our country faces. We are a country that has very effective military, very effective intelligence services, and a high degree of awareness of the threats. I think what you are referring to is a recent acknowledgement that we have to build on our existing capabilities to understand and counter even more issues of disinformation. This is nothing new for us, it’s not like we have suddenly woken up to the threat. We have been working with Ukrainian colleagues here and understand only too well – the issue is that Ukraine is at the forefront of all of this in so many ways. But we understand that we – and I think our partners do too – need to do even more to counter disinformation in an age when people are but one finger away from all sorts of stories on their personal devices that can inform and misinform.”
Yesterday [the interview was recorded on February 7], The Guardian published an article in which Theresa May made the statement that the decline of local journalism was dangerous for democracy, so the state had to react in some way to such a situation. In your opinion, is it the right decision for the government to take measures to keep the local press afloat?
“I think there is a challenge that a lot of local newspapers face and social media rise to the heart of this. We have seen an awful lot of our local newspapers go out of business, because that local model is no longer profitable. Why do you need to go to your local newspaper, when you can for example have a local social media group that reports on local issues, citizen journalism.
“My suspicion is that there is an acknowledgement that local journalism, its model is threatened. But people want to ensure that we have quality, independent, reliable journalism which is really important for democracy in the United Kingdom and for democracy in Ukraine – to have these good, quality, professional journalists who are ready to report independently, and to hold governments, civil servants, people like myself to account.”
ON LEARN AND DISCERN INITIATIVE, MEDIA LITERACY, AND CRITICAL THINKING
Ambassador, you recently participated in launching the Learn and Discern initiative and you said there that “Ukraine is setting an example for the rest of the world, and in particular for my country.” Can you elaborate what you meant?
“I think with Ukraine engaged in a very difficult hybrid conflict with Russia, it is clear that information has been and will continue to be weaponized. And what we see in Ukraine is that your leaders and ministers have a very clear understanding of this. And I think your education minister has taken a very wise decision, which is to ensure that the education curriculum contains an element of media literacy and critical thinking. I think this is very important, something we will also look at. Because we now have so many different sources of information, but we have not necessarily equipped people with means by which they can interrogate that information and understand whether that is believable, where is a reliable source, whether it’s disinformation, whether it’s true or not true. So, this is a pilot project in 50 schools in Ukraine, but I think this is really important that we all learn from Ukrainian experience.”
“DEFINING AN EVENT AS GENOCIDE IS A DECISION FOR THE COURTS”
Recently, it has become known that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is about to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. And when is the parliament of your country going to make such a step?
“I can refer you back to recent discussions and debates in our House of Commons, and that’s all available on the public record. But I think the answer is very simple: we do not believe that defining an event as genocide is a decision for governments. This is a decision for the courts, because it is a point of law. There is a legal definition which has defined it in international law. So, we believe that is a judgment that is best made by the courts, and we will allow the courts to make that judgment themselves. But of course, we are very, very clear that Holodomor was a terrific tragedy which killed millions of Ukrainians, and it was a manmade tragedy in which large majority of those who suffered were Ukrainians. We are not seeking to downgrade what happened at all. But it is a part of our principles: on any event of this type we defer to the courts.”
In this country, a court recognized the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people. Can it play a role, then, in your country recognizing the Holodomor as genocide, as over two dozen countries have already done?
“No, it would have to be a court with jurisdiction that would be relevant to the UK.”
Does this mean that Ukraine should bring this issue for consideration before a British court?
“It’s not for me to advise Ukrainians on what they should do. You asked me to explain government policy, our government policy is that we do not take a view, we leave that to court to take a view.”
“IT IS IMPORTANT TO GIVE CREDIBILITY TO THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN THIS COUNTRY”
And now it is logical to turn to the issue of justice. A British newspaper recently reported that several British judges would work in a Kazakhstani court of appeals. On Monday, your colleague, EU Ambassador to Ukraine Hugues Mingarelli, told a party of the Euro-optimists: “You have the best team, ensure that you have an honest referee, and believe me, you will be unable to lose.” My question, then, is whether there is any possibility of British judges coming to sit on Ukrainian courts and perhaps taking part in the creation of an anti-corruption court, which Ukraine has made a commitment to create.
“You would have to ask Ukrainian government leadership for that, because obviously, that would have to be their decision as to whether they want it – people from outside to come in and provide that kind of assistance. The Kazakh government has taken a very clear decision, it wants to borrow British legal system and they need the expertise to do that.
“Obviously, if the government of Ukraine makes any subject question, we will answer it. The key thing for us is to support Ukraine and encourage Ukraine in reforming the judiciary.
“When I talk to people, one of the biggest problems that is always quoted is a lack of faith and belief in the judiciary, and a lack of faith and belief that people would receive a prompt and fair trial. And that’s important for the Ukrainian electorate – belief in institutions. I think it’s also important for any investor who comes to Ukraine. When I talk to potential British investors, they are concerned that they will not have access to fair and independent justice. So that’s why we support judiciary reform, but obviously, it has to be a system and a solution that works for Ukraine.
“The British legal system is very different, and we have been practicing it for 800 years. That may or may not work in Ukraine. The key thing is that Ukraine finds a solution that works in this environment, and the anti-corruption court is a priority, that’s a condition for IMF program, and something the EU is pushing for as well. It is important to give credibility to the fight against corruption in this country, but there should be a wider judicial reform as well.”
Ambassador, as the local representative of the United Kingdom, you are a member of the G7 ambassadorial group. What does your country see as the priorities of this group?
“The G7 ambassadors’ support group exists to support and encourage the Ukrainian reformer efforts. And occasionally, we think things are not going in the right direction, and when we think it’s helpful we point that out. I think I would direct you to the brand-new webpage and Twitter account of the Canadian presidency which is really very useful as it outlines five priorities for the work of the G7. They are actually the Ukrainian government’s priorities. So, what we have done, is focus very, very clearly on Prime Minister Hroisman’s reform action plan, translated that into a very clearly set of objectives.
“And we will support that work. This is not the international community imposing something on Ukraine, this is the action plan that your government has decided and wants to implement. So, those are the priorities and objectives around economic growth, it’s around tackling corruption, strengthening the institutions. You will see on that website all these areas – human capital, energy reform, privatization.”
“WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT WE MAINTAIN A VERY STRONG BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP WITH UKRAINE”
Ambassador, your country has started the second stage of negotiations with the EU on its exit from this economic community. I wanted to ask you, how can Brexit influence future relations between our countries – do we already need to prepare an FTA agreement between the United Kingdom and Ukraine?
“There is negotiation ongoing between the United Kingdom and the 27 members of the EU. The key thing for us is that we want to remain a very close partner and friend of the European Union. This is obviously really very important for both sides. We want to have as smooth a transition as possible.
I can only talk from the United Kingdom’s experience, and what we see is that the monarchy has given us a thousand years of stability and tradition, and it plays a very important role for us. But that’s a model that works for us. We have a very specific model that is well respected and well understood. I think it is up to every country to decide on their own model. Obviously, we are extremely proud of the role of the royal family, and I am, after all, Her Majesty’s ambassador to Ukraine. But what we see in our monarchy is a huge degree of stability, continuity. The Queen has been on the throne for 66 years, that’s a lot of wisdom, a lot of continuity.
“In terms of Ukraine, we want to make sure that we maintain a very strong bilateral relationship with Ukraine. We are not yet able to start formal negotiations on transition to DCFTA with Ukraine – you have virtually the DCFTA with the European Union – but obviously, we will be looking to transition to that, and we will discuss with the Ukrainian government how we might do that. But we want to ensure that we continue to trade freely with Ukraine, and indeed, we can increase trade and investment between our two countries.”
Ambassador, having spent several years in Kyiv, can you say that this country’s business climate is improving and British investors need to have a greater presence here because of it?
“I would like to see more inbound investment here. I think we will see more interest once privatization really gets underway. I think at the moment there is huge potential for investment coming to Ukraine, and we need to see further progress with privatization. We have just seen a law passed, and that’s really important. But people are a little skeptical because they don’t feel the corruption has yet been tackled. They say, ‘I will have again deal with corruption,’ which for a British person would be illegal even though it’s overseas, or ‘When will I be able to repatriate my profits?’ and ‘Will I get a fair hearing in a Ukrainian court?’ So, these areas are important, and I think the biggest signal that Ukraine could send that it is open for business is to show that it has made progress in tackling corruption at all levels. Because at the end of the day, it’s a competitive market, investors have choices, they don’t have to come to Ukraine.”
I have heard a lot of complaints from former diplomats that Ukrainians have troubles obtaining a British visa which is issued in Warsaw. Can we expect visas coming to be issued in Kyiv after the UK leaves the EU, and possibly even a liberalization of the visa regime?
“I don’t see at the moment any change to the current arrangement, where, while people apply in Kyiv, the processing is done in Warsaw. This is not unique to Ukraine, we have this model around world. I know some people have had issues, we have always worked to resolve them very quickly, I don’t think they are necessarily as bad as people suggest. Obviously, when you have a particularly high number of people who experience a problem, that gets magnified, but actually, refusal rates for Ukraine are not high, and where they occur, it is largely because people have not actually completed their forms properly, in line with the instructions. We are always looking at ways how we can improve the service, but for the moment, I do not see a change in the visa regime coming.”
Ambassador, we know that you visited the east of Ukraine at the end of last year. Would you like to share your impressions of the situation in that region which is bordering the occupied territories?
“I have now been there twice, and it’s important as an ambassador that you get outside the capital and travel, particularly in a country as large and diverse as Ukraine. But for me, it is important to go and see the impact of the projects and programs that we are running in the east, that’s what I was doing the last time I went there. And for me, what is quite heartening is to see how British assistance is actually helping on the ground, so I visited Halo Trust who are carrying out demining – not just carrying it out, but also training Ukrainians to be able to do it. Britain is the largest demining donor in Ukraine. Our project with UNFPA which supports women, particularly on the issues of gender-based violence and consequences of conflict, we have helped 100,000 women within that program. Our project with the IOM where we are providing microfinance to small businesses, people, in particular IDPs who have come out of the conflict area and are wanting to start up a business, but lack the capital to do so.
“We are seeing how these businesses which we helped to start are now starting to flourish and grow. Because the biggest problem in Ukraine at the moment is that small and medium businesses, and in fact larger businesses, struggle to have access to credit, and it is very hard to grow and build a business if you cannot get finance. So I think the project we have there is crucially helping people.
“I also try to understand situation on the ground seeing how areas come up, but of course understanding that the people in the east have lived through an extremely dramatic conflict, and its consequences will be there for a long time. It’s really important that diplomats and policymakers engage with the issues when they happen, so that it is not just theoretical exercise, and they really understand what the issues are, what conditions people live in.”
At the end of last year, Darkest Hour was released in your country, and the McMafia series started showing this year. The first film depicts the period when Winston Churchill became prime minister at the beginning of the Second World War, and the series deals with the Russian mafia fighting each other in London. How do you personally perceive these films, why were they released just now?
“The UK is really very good at creative industries, and producing films, and television, and music. If you look at a lot of reality show formats on television, a lot of those started in the UK, and got imitated around the world – ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent,’ ‘Voice of the Country’ – there are a whole lot of TV formats that started in the UK.
“I have not seen the Darkest Hour because I want to see it in English. I think for me, part of the attraction of Churchill as a statesman was his gift for the English language. Much as I love Ukrainian language, and I am watching films in Ukrainian, this one I would like to see in English.
“McMafia, I have seen two episodes of, both in the United Kingdom when I were away for Christmas, and it’s quite a tense drama, you know, it’s good for watching. We produce very good television. Every year when we have the Oscars, we are always looking for British people who have been awarded Oscars. It’s an industry that we are very proud of.”
“WE ARE VERY CLEAR THAT THE UNITED KINGDOM SHOULD NOT BE A CONDUIT FOR SUCH MONEY”
Recently, your country passed legislation requiring foreigners, mainly Russians, to declare their wealth. Why was this done right now, and not before?
“I don’t think it’s anything particularly new. Over the past couple of years, we have introduced legislation which has shifted the burden of proof, whereby people now have to explain where their wealth came from. You know, the UK is an open market and an open democracy. We are very proud of that fact, that’s why we are one of the world’s largest economies. But obviously, that openness is something that people with criminal intent are seeking to exploit. And I think the British government is being very aware of that, that’s why we hosted a corruption conference a few years ago. And there have been changes in legislation which shifted the burden of proof to try and make it harder for people to launder money through the United Kingdom. People will always seek to do it, but I think we are very clear that the United Kingdom should not be a conduit for such money.”
Ambassador, at the end of last year, one of my colleagues met you near Sloviansk and presented you with a copy of Den’s Library book about aristocracy and history, about the monarchy, which is called The Crown. Have you read it already?
“No, I have not yet read it, but it’s on my reading list.”
“THE MONARCHY HAS GIVEN US A THOUSAND YEARS OF STABILITY AND TRADITION”
Last year, our publication published a series of articles devoted to the monarchies of Europe, in particular their role in maintaining links between epochs. Meanwhile, this year has been declared the year of the Hetmanate by Den/The Day. So, I would like to hear from you, as a representative of the United Kingdom, whether such an institutional arrangement as the monarchy contributes to stability in the modern world.
“I can only talk from the United Kingdom’s experience, and what we see is that the monarchy has given us a thousand years of stability and tradition, and it plays a very important role for us. But that’s a model that works for us. We have a very specific model that is well respected and well understood. I think it is up to every country to decide on their own model. Obviously, we are extremely proud of the role of the royal family, and I am, after all, Her Majesty’s ambassador to Ukraine. But what we see in our monarchy is a huge degree of stability, continuity. The Queen has been on the throne for 66 years, that’s a lot of wisdom, a lot of continuity.”
In the summer of last year, the international media covered the visit of Princess Kate and Prince William to Europe. When can we expect a visit of royal family members to Ukraine, which would emphasize the importance of this country as one indispensable for peace and tranquility in Europe? After all, the British journalist Lancelot Lawton highlighted precisely this in his 1935 address to the British Parliament entitled Ukraina: Europe’s Greatest Problem.
“I do not have any advance exclusive schedule of the royal visits. Obviously, time will tell.
“I think we have demonstrated that Ukraine is important. In the past couple of years, since I’ve been here, your prime minister and your president have both been to the United Kingdom, they had talks at No. 10 Downing Street. My foreign secretary has been here twice, and the defense secretary, we have had numerous ministerial visits. I think there is enough bilateral engagement that demonstrates that Ukraine continues to remain a priority for us and we continue to support Ukraine and remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”
On the other hand, during the years of Ukraine’s independence, we had only one head of the United Kingdom government visiting, namely John Major. So, when can we expect the visit of the current prime minister, Theresa May?
“Nobody can give you the answer! I can’t, we never talk about visits in advance.”
Are you preparing it, perchance?
“I’m not saying that (laughs).”
And ending our conversation, what would you like to wish our readers?
“I wish for Ukraine stability in the coming years – stability, prosperity, and security. We want to see this country succeed, and we know the path is difficult. Ukraine has made choices. We are supporting the government realize the aspirations and the goals that it has set for itself, and giving the best advice that we can to allow this country to succeed.”