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Henry M. Robert

Geoffrey PYATT: “I can assure you of the strongest support from the US government for the Ukrainian people”

The situation provoked by Russia’s aggression in the east of Ukraine revealed the true friends of our country
5 August, 2014 - 11:32
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

The situation provoked by Russia’s aggression in the east of Ukraine revealed the true friends of our country. The United States in particular is among them, for it instantly called things by their proper names and announced its unambiguous support for Kyiv in the conflict with terrorists, who are sponsored by the Kremlin in various ways.

On July 23, the Ambassador of the US to Ukraine Geoffrey PYATT paid a visit to The Day’s editorial office. He talked to participants of Den’s Summer School of Journalism and answered their questions. Read in the interview with Pyatt about Washington’s position in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and about what the status of the non-NATO member ally means for Ukraine.


Mariana BOLOBAN, Lviv National University (Bila Tserkva): “Your country should be given its due. Its actions relating to Russia are more active than those of the EU, since it virtually implemented the third phase of sanctions. On the other hand, the EU is not too eager to introduce this third phase. Is America’s determination alone enough to stop Putin who stated yesterday that “the current scenarios in Ukraine are unacceptable, counterproductive, and destabilize the global situation”? Moreover – and this is common knowledge – Russia does not adhere to the Geneva or Berlin agreements, according to which it has to stop sending arms and militants into Ukraine.”

Geoffrey PYATT: “Thank you for the question, thank you also for the nice comments about the role of the United States. President Obama’s fundamental principle that drives our policy towards Ukraine is very simple. It is that only the people of Ukraine get to choose this country’s future. Our efforts have been driven by that premise. Unfortunately, throughout my tenure as an Ambassador, Ukraine has been subject to an unrelenting campaign of Russian pressure. It began 12 months ago with the ban on Roshen chocolates, the campaign of information warfare about the negative implications of Ukraine’s European choice, but moved on to including a large military component. First, the invasion, occupation, and illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian military. More recently, the campaign of Russian intelligence agents, military operatives to create chaos in eastern Ukraine. And more recently, the Russian military campaign, including Russian armor, Russian tanks, rocket launchers moving across the border into Ukraine. We know from our intelligence that the separatists are maintaining training camps in Russia, we know that the Malaysia Airlines flight was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, which was launched from separatist-controlled territory, and we know that even after the tragedy of last Thursday, Russian military support across the border has continued.

“President Obama has been clear in our condemnation of this Russian support for separatist fighters and our preparedness to use the tool of sanctions to raise the cost to Russia for its policies. We want to move ahead with that sanctions effort jointly with our European partners, because it has a greater impact in that scenario, but, we have also demonstrated our willingness to move ahead alone if necessary. I want to emphasize: this is not sanctions for the sake of sanctions. It is sanctions to create the political space for the Ukrainian people to choose their own future.”

Kostiantyn TSENTSURA, Zaporizhia National University (Kryvy Rih): “Yesterday media reported, citing US intelligence that the Boeing-777 could have been taken down by separatists accidentally. Also, intelligence cannot definitely say if Russia was directly supporting this launch. Will this have an impact on US resoluteness to punish the culprits, those who directly carried out this crime, and those who backed them, in the words of president Obama the day before yesterday?”

G.P.: “This is exactly what the international investigation needs to establish. We know that Russia is deeply involved with the separatists. So, it does not matter in many ways, whether it was a Russian citizen or a Ukrainian citizen who pressed the button that created this disaster. Most of the leaders of the DNR are Russian citizens. Many are Russian intelligence operatives. So, the investigation needs to determine who specifically was in the chain of command that led to this tragedy. We have conducted an independent assessment of the telephone intercept involving Bezler, and although this was released by the Ukrainian government, we assess it to be authentic. But again, this is why the crash site needs to be secured, international investigators need to be provided constant access, and they need to get to the bottom of exactly those questions.”


Aliona VYSHNYTSKA, National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy (Kyiv): “Yesterday in a CNN interview the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko said to resolve the security issues Ukraine faces, there are grounds for Ukraine to address the US Congress to grant to Ukraine the special status of a major NATO ally, like Australia, Israel, or the Philippines. Would you spell out what this status would mean to Ukraine and what the United States expects from Ukraine as a partner?”

G.P.: “The United States believes Ukraine is a strategic partner. The specific ideas that President Poroshenko talked about yesterday are new. And the most important principle for us is that the Ukrainian people themselves need to decide how they wish to proceed in terms of their security relationships. I want to emphasize that the United States does not view Ukraine as some kind of zero-sum prize to be fought over between Moscow, Washington, or Brussels. The one thing about Ukraine that none of you can change is its geography. So, Ukraine will always need to have a relationship of some sort with Russia. But as I said at the very beginning, Moscow does not get to choose. This is for the Ukrainian people to decide. And as they make those choices, I can assure you of the strongest support from the United States’ government.”


Marta FRANCHUK, National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy (Ternopil): “Some experts say that the crash of the MH17 became the awakening of the West, in particular as to the revision of its policy towards Russia. Zbigniew Brzezinski noted that Putin started the Cold War; others believe that the missile will end this hybrid war in Ukraine, which was started by Russia in order to destabilize the situation in this country and to make Ukraine its satellite. How do you estimate this situation. And do you agree with some American experts who say that Obama should make a public statement about the failure of his administration’s policy towards Russia, that the ‘Russian reset’ is dead, and that the United States must employ a new strategy for dealing with Russia, which would recognize Russia as a strategic competitor and a destabilizing influence in this region?”

G.P.: “There are a lot of questions there. So, as we say, let’s ‘unpack’ that. First, I think this is a game-changer. I think the tragedy of the Malaysian flight has captured the attention of the world and led to a closer analysis of the deeply destabilizing impact that Russia has had on Ukraine. I was on Twitter as I was driving in just now, and I saw comments from Carl Bildt today in Brussels about the debate that is taking place right now among European leaders. As regards the reset, just like Ukraine cannot change its geography, the United States cannot change the fact that both the United States and Russia have global interests, and indeed, across the Bering Strait and Alaska, we are neighbors. We are both members of the Permanent Five in the UN Security Council. So, we have to make this relationship work. I would hope that over time our dialog with Russia could help to advance the idea that Russia should not be threatened by Ukraine, which is developing its democracy, which is deepening its institutional ties to Europe, and which is becoming a more attractive market for trade and investment, including for Russian companies. For me, this has been one of the great mysteries of my first year in Ukraine: in a country where Russia enjoys so much soft power, the Kremlin has chosen to exercise only its hard power. But I want to be clear, the United States will continue to be a friend of the Ukrainian people as they make their own sovereign choice about their future political and economic orientation. My highest priority is support for Ukraine’s signature and implementation of the European Association Agreement.”


Yulia BALKA, Donetsk National University: “Don’t you think that the West should share the responsibility for the annexation of Crimea and for the destabilization in the East? Wasn’t it because of the position of France and Germany that Ukraine did not get the NATO Membership Action Plan, first at the Istanbul Summit of 2004, and then at the Bucharest Summit of 2008? Besides, it was three NATO nations, the United States, Great Britain, and France, who were signatories to the Budapest Memorandum that guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

G.P.: “I will let the historians sort out the question of who is to blame. My job, first, is to make sure that our policy is clear in terms of our support for the choices that the Ukrainian people make now and going forward. On the question of responsibility, it is very simple from where I sit: it is Vladimir Putin who decided to send troops into Crimea, it is Putin who made the decision, apparently in March, to begin this campaign of destabilization in the East, and it is Putin who in recent weeks appears to have made the decision to escalate Russia’s military involvement in the East. This crisis is made in Russia.”

Natalia VUITIK, National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy (Kirovohrad): “Petro Poroshenko recently appealed to the US Congress to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics as terrorist organizations. Is the US ready to take this step?”

G.P.: “To begin with, we have already placed both the DNR and LNR on our US sanctions list. We have imposed individual sanctions against Strelkov, against several other DNR leaders, and we are not finished with that process. The question of formally designating these groups as terrorist organizations is very much on the table, but it also raises complex legal questions that have not been fully resolved. I note in this regard that several other countries are going through a similar process of review at this point. And as throughout this crisis, I know we are going to work very closely to ensure that our policies and our strategies are coordinated especially with our European partners. And the fact that nearly 200 Dutch citizens were among the victims of this attack is critically important in this case.”

Anastasia PANCHENKO, Kirovohrad University of Human Development “Ukraina”: “It is critical for Ukraine that Mistral warships are not transferred to Russia. The Baltic States, Poland, and the US share this position. How can we make sure that these ships are not transferred to the aggressor? What are the options of responding to this challenge?”

G.P.: “Let me say, to begin with, we have been very clear in our view that this transaction, under the current circumstances, is inappropriate and ill-advised. That being said, France is a sovereign government which will make its own decisions. I know that President Poroshenko has very strong relationships in Paris. I hope that the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people will continue to speak out strongly on this issue. And I hope very much that effort will be incorporated into France’s final decision. We have been very clear that now is not the time for business as usual with Russia.”


Mykhailo DRAPAK, Donetsk National University: “The United States traditionally supports Ukraine’s energy independence. How do you view the cooperation of our nations in this field? What place in Ukraine’s oil market do you envision for American oil companies? Is it a consortium for Ukraine’s gas transit system, is it the development of shale gas, or is it some kind of joint venture to produce nuclear fuel, or something else?”

G.P.: “All of the above. Energy is one of the most important political and security issues before Ukraine today. And for 23  years of independence, energy has been the lever through which Russia has managed to influence and, I would argue, weaken Ukraine’s politics and security.

“The good news is that the United States itself has gone through an energy revolution over the past few years. So that we have actually become an energy exporter now, including shale gas or LNG exports.

“The first and the most important step for Ukraine is to create transparency, rule of law, and an environment in which investment in the energy sector can be recouped, free of corruption. This sector, the energy sector has been the epicenter, ground zero of political corruption in Ukraine since independence. If this sector can be run in a more transparent and honest way, there are huge opportunities.


“There are opportunities for investment in energy efficiency. Just as in the United States we have made huge gains through modern gas turbines, better home insulation, and more efficient use of energy in industrial buildings.

“Ukraine has made very few investments in this area, so there is a great deal of space for greater efficiency and efficiency improvement. Those investments could produce very rapid improvements in energy use literally in a matter of months. Over the longer term, of course, Ukraine also has the potential for the development of its shale gas resources, both in eastern Ukraine and in the west. There is great interest from American companies in participating in the diversification of Ukraine’s nuclear fuel cycle. There are opportunities that American companies would be eager to be involved in, in renewable sectors, like wind and solar power. And we are working very closely with our European partners to advance the agenda for reverse flows of gas from Western Europe, so that Ukraine can reduce, over a very short term, its reliance on Russia for the supply of piped natural gas. But President Obama has said that the American agenda for energy efficiency and independence needs to be based on a strategy of ‘all of the above.’ And the same applies for Ukraine.”

Vlada SOLOVIOVA, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute: “Ukraine has one of the most developed IT sectors, but, for instance, Apple still does not have its office in our country. Why do you think it is so? Is general cooperation between the US and Ukrainian IT specialists possible and it can be developed further?”

G.P.: “Last question: absolutely yes. You make exactly the right point about Ukraine’s potential in this area. I have been very impressed by what I have seen of Ukraine’s human capital and technical capabilities. Including in visits to Dnipropetrovsk, where of course you have Yuzhmash [Southern Machine-Building Plant. – Ed.] with truly world-class capabilities in the areas of space and aerospace, and where we already have concrete cooperation, with Yuzhmash providing the first stage, the largest part of rockets, which are launched by the American company Orbital Sciences from the coast of Virginia in the United States to supply the International Space Station. And there, of course, Ukraine has a flourishing business process, outsourcing and software industry, running mainly from Lviv. And you have companies in Kharkiv, who are engaged in some of the same. The biggest obstacle to further investment in this area is Ukraine’s poor record of enforcement of intellectual property rights. It is the same reason that there is not an Apple store on Khreshchatyk. The good news is that you have now in President Poroshenko’s office a new senior executive responsible for coordination on issues of e-governance and technology. Dmytro Shymkiv, who has this role, was previously the head of Microsoft in Ukraine. I have also spoken with Mayor Klitschko, who I know is very interested in bringing in companies like Microsoft and Apple to help with the implementation of electronic governance here in Ukraine. And this morning, in fact, I was on e-mail with my counterpart, the American Ambassador in Estonia, who indicated that the government there is interested         in collaborating with Ukrainian government to move ahead on these e-government applications, where Estonia has been a global pace-setter. One of the benefits of moving towards these electronic platforms, and your economy minister has been very explicit about this, is that the move to electronic governance is also a strong weapon against corruption. This is, I think, a characteristic of many aspects of Ukraine. There are good solutions that are clearly visible. The challenge for all of you and for the media is exposing and defeating those who profit from the structures that you inherited from the Soviet Union 23 years ago. Ukraine should be a very wealthy country. It is one of the largest countries in Europe, it has some of the best agricultural land in the world, it has superb human capital. And now you have the European Association Agreement, which has the prospect of helping you to monetize your border with four EU member states. But the application of technology should be an important piece of that effort.”


Larysa IVSHYNA: “You mentioned the role of the media and it seems important to me to discuss one more challenge. Before the beginning of the forceful aggression of Russia against Ukraine, we witnessed a whole range of informational special operations, and it is obvious that the media in Russia (and that has been highlighted by our authors from Moscow who are opposing Putin) became some kind of task force of the Russian government. We can see them operating in Europe as well, and targeting even the United States and Canada, because ‘Russia Today’ can hardly be called journalism. How can we counter that? Many people believe that this should be banned altogether, others propose to make the procedure of obtaining licenses more difficult, at least so that they are not present free of charge in our cable TV, since such destructive work later requires a tremendous rehabilitation process of those harmed by these information forces, which we can observe on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. What would you advise? Shall we still consider them journalists or shall we designate them as information troops?”

G.P.: “First of all, it is a critically important issue, because the Kremlin throughout this conflict has weaponized the media, it has turned the media into a part of the broader campaign. I do not think taking channels off the air is the right answer. But it is critically important to create alternatives. I remember in March and April, when the destabilization began in Donbas, Russian media worked as hard as they could to convince the Russian speakers of eastern Ukraine that they were under physical threat from Kyiv, that Kyiv had been the subject of a fascist coup, and that Right Sector and these right-wing groups were coming to the East to steal property, to rape the women, to deny people the right to speak the language of their homes. I think it has been a very healthy way in which Ukrainian media outlets, including The Day, have focused on the message of national unity, because it is Moscow, it is Russian media that have tried to sow the message of division. And I think the best answer to that information war is not to turn them off, but to create a credible and honest alternative. Ukraine has a unique history, but it also has a positive history and a positive story to tell.”

Geoffrey PYATT: “As we talked about as regards the information war from Russia, a professional, aggressive, and creative media is an essential ingredient of a healthy democracy.”

Mykola SIRUK: “Many countries are trying to negotiate the creation of a free trade agreement. Can there be a possibility of a free trade agreement between Ukraine and the US?”

G.P.: “I come back to the European Association Agreement. We are in the process of negotiating with Europe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This will be the most ambitious trade and investment agreement in the history of the world, because it will bring together these two giant economic blocs of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the European Union. But there is an important detail. Because tariff levels in the NAFTA space and in the EU space are already relatively low, the most important issues to be negotiated in TTIP are not the tariffs, are not the taxes. It will be the regulatory standards, the safety standards, the health requirements, so that goods can move freely between the different markets. This is going to be a huge project, but it will have an enormous impact if we are successful. Then I come to Ukraine. TTIP is like two large railroad trains that are being connected. The European Association Agreement and the DCFTA is how the Ukraine wagon gets attached to the EU train. So, this is very much part of the future that we see for Ukraine, anchored in European institutions.”


L.I.: “This is a great perspective. But since we are living in a war every day, I would like to sound this message that is often mentioned on social networks. Politicians often talk about ‘deep concern,’ and so on. People live in a state of constant anxiety. Many wonder whether we can count on something more tangible in terms of assistance for our army.”

G.P.: “I always try to avoid that phrase, ‘deeply concerned.’ In part because it misses the fact that all of the incredible trauma that Ukraine has endured since November involves individual human beings. I do not think there is a single family in Ukraine today that has not been touched, one way or another, by what this country has been through. I also do not believe that the answer to this crisis can be found on the military battlefield. We will continue to work with the Ukrainian government to help Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself. We have spent about 23 million dollars so far this year on military assistance, and that number will grow. We will continue our program to train, to raise the professional capacity of the Ukrainian military. But ultimately, this crisis has to be ended through diplomacy, through negotiation.

“And that comes back to one of the first questions of the morning: what are the choices that Vladimir Putin is going to make, and how do we work with you and with our European partners to encourage the Kremlin to take the diplomatic off-ramp that President Obama and many other world leaders have worked to create.”

Tetiana STOLIAROVA, Kharkiv State Academy of Culture (Kharkiv): “Under your leadership the US Embassy started congratulating Ukrainians with various holidays in very creative ways. Could you let out a secret and tell what are you planning for Independence Day this year?”

G.P.: “I cannot say what we are going to come up with yet. And I will share a secret  that it is actually Yaryna [Yaryna Ferencevych, press attache at the Embassy. – Ed.] who gets a lot of the credit for all of these initiatives that we have come up with. So, I have the same question for her, which is what are we going to come up with for Independence Day? But I know that there is pressure to deliver more and more.

“Let me say thank you for the opportunity and for the good questions. But let me also very sincerely encourage you to keep up the work that you are doing. As we talked about as regards the information war from Russia, a professional, aggressive, and creative media is an essential ingredient of a healthy democracy. It is also a business which, as I know and you know very well, is changing rapidly. Television has become much more important. For those of us who grew up reading newspapers, online updates have become much more important.”

L.I.: “I would like to mention that people on the front lines in the East are reading our paper copies, because they do not have either time or access to the Internet. In fact, we have a whole collection of photos, in which our guys are sitting on armored personal vehicles or at checkpoints, holding our papers and reading them. We keep all the options of information deliverance in sight, we even have a television project, virtual 3-D tours of various parts of Ukraine. Some things are only being planned elsewhere in the country, but The Day is already implementing them.”

G.P.: “And then you have this extraordinary phenomenon of social media. There are cameras everywhere, information everywhere, some of which is real and some of which is manufactured.”

L.I.: “And that is where we need quality journalists.”

G.P.: “Exactly. To separate the wheat from the chaff.”


By Marta FRANCHUK, Kostiantyn TSENTSURA, Den’s Summer School of Journalism