Wednesday, June 22, 2016
US Ambassador-Designate to Ukraine: Strong Ally
Ukraine has been fortunate to have supportive US Ambassadors since it re-established independent statehood, beginning with Ukrainian American Roman Popadiuk. Ambassador-designate Marie L. Yovanovitch fits that mold rather well.
In her testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, June 21, Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer, demonstrated knowledge about US and Ukrainian issues as well as their interdependence. She was also quick to point out an affinity for ethnic American matters.
Yovanovitch serves as dean of the School of Language Studies at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, a position she has held since 2014, according to her official biography. She has extensive leadership and management experience, having previously served twice as an ambassador. She also has broad and deep expertise, gained from numerous assignments working on the region, including as principal deputy assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and as deputy chief of mission in Ukraine. Yovanovitch served as US ambassador to Armenia (2008-11) and US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005-08) and Deputy Chief of Mission at US Embassy Kyiv (2001-04). She earned a BA from Princeton University and a MS in Strategic Studies from the National War College. She speaks Russian and some French.
From the outset of her statement, Yovanovitch emphasized that her mission will be to work with Congress and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “to continue our strong support for the Ukrainian people, enhance our already deep bilateral relationship, support Ukraine’s reform agenda, and protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. These steps will be critical to advancing our shared goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
With these words, Yovanovitch demonstrated a commitment to the importance of US-Ukrainian bilateral relationships and the need to perpetuate them. She understands that Ukraine is moving forward with its important reform agenda regardless of the current dire circumstances in and around the country. Finally, above all is the need to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which were recently brutally violated by Russia. Consequently, she said, if these issues are nurtured, then Europe will enjoy the resulting benefits of being whole, free and at peace.
These are significant concepts for a US official to enunciate and for the world to take to heart.
With her 88-year-old mother in attendance, in a touching tribute to her parents, Yovanovitch said their experiences under Communist and Nazi regimes changed their lives forever just as they did the lives of Ukrainian Americans. She recalled that her parents immigrated to the United States in search of freedom, opportunity, dignity and accountability “the very values that Ukrainians demanded in the 2014 Revolution of Dignity,” recognizing the sacrifice of more than one hundred Ukrainians in ousting Viktor Yanukovych, Putin’s minion, and pulling the Ukrainian nation away from Russian subjugation.
Yovanovitch paid tribute to Ukraine’s important progress on reforms in the two years since the Revolution of Dignity. “And I am especially optimistic about Ukraine’s reform trajectory this year, given several key achievements since the reformation of the coalition and government in April,” she said, singling out the overwhelming approval of constitutional amendments to strengthen judicial independence.
“These reform achievements are all the more impressive given that they have come in the face of Russian aggression,” Yovanovitch said, nudging US officials and world leaders to appreciate that all of Ukraine’s accomplishments are reached at a time of an undeclared war with its historic enemy. Therefore, if Ukraine’s reforms are too slow or incomplete, don’t take its leaders to the woodshed just yet.
Her simple declaration that “The best defense against Russian aggression is a successful Ukraine” should be etched in concrete in Kyiv, Washington and even Moscow. A modern, democratic, market oriented, successful Ukraine, with a well-educated population that shines with national pride, and builds confidence in global partners near and far would be a sought after ally and trading partner.
Composing a to-do list, Yovanovitch reminded US and Ukrainian officials that “Ukraine still has to implement difficult changes such as: taking further steps to root out corruption; advancing energy sector reform; recapitalizing and reforming the banking system; working to improve the business climate by levelling the playing field; improving accountability and civilian control in the defense sector; reforming the PGO and justice sector; and breaking the hold of oligarchs over Ukrainian politics and business. Ukraine must also continue to adhere to IMF conditions and ensure that the $17.5 billion program continues.”
Returning to the Revolution of Dignity, the ambassador-designate thanked Congress for its commitment and support by providing assistance to Ukraine, which has been critical to “making real changes in the lives of Ukrainians and delivering on the promise of the Maidan.” Indeed, a subtle reminder for national leaders in Kyiv to exorcise corruption, arrest former government crooks like Yanukovych, and fulfill accession to the European Union.
Yovanovitch reiterated that the US has provided Ukraine with $1.3 billion in assistance since 2014 as it continues to support Ukrainian civil society and independent media, “which help Ukrainian citizens hold their government accountable to its reform pledges.” Ukrainian civil society has been traditionally vibrant and in the forefront of serving as the nation’s watch dog against government abuses.
With Congress’ support, the US has been able to provide Ukraine with $600 million in security assistance, she said. “Just as we stand firmly behind the Ukrainian people in their efforts to transform their nation, we stand with Ukraine as it seeks to reform its military, stop further Russian aggression, bring the conflict in the Donbas to a peaceful conclusion via the Minsk agreements, and end the occupation of Crimea,” Yovanovitch pointed out.
Again, she broached the key points of stopping Russian aggression, ending the conflict – I prefer to call it a war – in Donbas and end the occupation of Crimea. Yovanovitch repeated a few times that the US will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and the sanctions will continue. She said Washington’s goal is restoring peace to eastern Ukraine by implementing the Minsk agreements.
Realistically, that alone will not result in the hoped for conclusion. Russia must be subdued and forced to withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine. Otherwise, Russian terrorism will spread west to Eastern Europe.
“Ukraine has lived up to many Minsk commitments already. But Russia and the separatists have not,” she said correctly. In that case, stronger measures must be applied to Russia to force it to stand down in the face of violence that has spiked in the past two months, reaching levels not seen since August 2015.
“Russia and the separatists must end their attacks – they continue to commit the majority of ceasefire violations – and withdraw banned heavy weapons, while providing the OSCE full, unfettered access throughout the conflict zone and guaranteeing monitors’ safety,” she demanded.
“Finally, as President Obama has stated clearly, we do not and will not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea. We are working with the Government of Ukraine as well as our partners and allies to highlight Russian abuses targeting Crimean Tatars and others opposed to Russia’s illegal occupation as well as ensure that the costs to Russia continue, including through sanctions, until Crimea is returned to Ukraine,” Yovanovitch said, echoing comments made by Ambassador Samantha Power, US Permanent Representative to the UN, another strong campaigner for Ukraine.
Based on this statement, Yovanovitch will be a strong asset for US relations with Ukraine and a strong advocate of Ukrainian independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.