What You Need To Know:
✅ President Trump’s pledge to put “America first” and his friendliness towards Russia has many in Ukraine concerned about the future of Ukrainian-American relations;
✅ “What is really important to us, is that US taxpayer’s money gets the kind of results that, not only our taxpayers are expecting, but that the Ukrainian people are expecting,” - Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine;
✅ Apart from financial concerns, many Ukrainians are apprehensive about the future of the Russian-American relations;
✅ “I think that with every new administration there is a shaking-out period, and I think that what we are seeing are a lot of really positive steps forward… I think that that would be in keeping with 25 years of a strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Ukraine,”- Marie Yovanovitch.
Hromadske raised the question of Ukraine-US relations, the effectiveness of reform in Ukraine, including those that are financed by American taxpayer's money, as well as the likelihood of a reduction to foreign aid in the US budget and how this might affect Ukraine.
President Trump’s pledge to put “America first” and his friendliness towards Russia has many in Ukraine concerned about the future of Ukrainian-American relations. Three years ago, the United States helped implement and establish numerous initiatives in Ukraine that were aligned with its judicial and anti-corruption reforms. However, in a recent preliminary US State Department budget proposal, the Trump Administration has vowed to decrease foreign aid to Ukraine by 68.8 percent, and many are wondering what this all means.
“What is really important to us, is that US taxpayer’s money gets the kind of results that, not only our taxpayers are expecting, but that the Ukrainian people are expecting,” Yovanovitch said. The Ambassador says that three years ago, the Ukrainian people expressed their specific desires and the United States, together with the Ukrainian government and civil society, created programs to help the Ukrainian people achieve their goals. “What is really important to us, is that those programs show results,” she adds.
However, the day after the interview, the US Congress announced that it has approved a budget allocation of $560 million to support Ukraine.
Noting that real transformation takes time, the Ambassador says there are improvements: “Reform is a process, real transformation takes a while, so what we’re looking for is steady progress, and we are seeing steady progress.” The United States helped establish the ProZorro procurement system as well as NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine), SAPO (Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office) and the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, and continues to provide to these organizations. The US also has a justice program that helped draft important laws and constitutional amendments that were instituted last spring and in the fall.
Apart from financial concerns, many Ukrainians are apprehensive about the future of the Russian-American relations and how it will affect their own country’s relationship with Russia. Yovanovitch says she is optimistic about the direction of Ukrainian-American relations: “I think that with every new administration there is a shaking-out period, and I think that what we are seeing are a lot of really positive steps forward… I think that that would be in keeping with 25 years of a strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Ukraine.”
Hromadske spoke to Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, on May 3rd, 2017 in Kyiv.
There is a lot to discuss about the Ukraine-US relations, US support to Ukraine, and the US-Russian relations, which are very much connected, but recently, Ukrainians have been most concerned about the prospect of the US budget for foreign aid being cut or decreased.
What is really important to us, is that US taxpayer’s money gets the kind of results that, not only our taxpayers are expecting, but that the Ukrainian people are expecting. Three years ago, the Ukrainian people said that they wanted a change. They wanted healthcare that was patient-centric, dignity, that everybody be treated in the same way, that they would not be corruption.There were a number of very specific desires that the Ukrainian people had, and so, working with your government, with your civil society, we have created a number of programs. What is really important to us, is that those programs show results.
That brings me to the question then - what are those results? Some analysts would say that there is some frustration with Ukraine, there is disappointment, and those funds have not been that efficient - I don’t mean misuse of funds, we know that the money is tracked - but, in particular, a lot of Ukrainians would be disappointed with the results of some Ukrainian government institutions.
As we were talking about before, real transformation takes time, and it’s only three years in. Looking at some of the anti-corruption reforms that have been instituted here, I think that our assistance programs have been very helpful with many of them. For instance, the ProZorro procurement system that was established - we helped establish that. The three new independent anti-corruption institutions; NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine), SAPO (Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office) and the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption - we helped with the formation of that. We helped in terms of hiring people, getting them vetted, making sure that they’re clean and also in terms of training that we continue to provide to those organisations.
As a journalist, we have to ask questions about the issues we are most worried about, and what our audiences are worried about, and justice sector reform is probably one of those issues. We know that the US has provided funds for this, there has been talk of reform in the Prosecutor General’s Office. What is your opinion on this?
The justice sector reforms? Absolutely critical. Whether you’re talking about Ukrainians who want to be dealt with fairly in a court of law, whether you’re talking about foreign investors who want to be assured that, if there is a business dispute, that they can go to a court of law and have their side be heard with no questions. We had a justice program that helped draft the very important laws and constitutional amendments that were instituted last spring and in the fall. We are now also working with all the relevant parties with regards to the Supreme Court justice hiring. One of the things that we think is absolutely critical is establishing an anti-corruption court here, in Ukraine, because right now, you have an independent and capable investigator, you have a prosecutor that is independent and capable, you need a court system that is also independent to get the kind of results that are required by the Ukrainian people.
You say that this is critical, but is there anything in particular that you are watching out for? I ask not just because you are a foreign embassy, but because you are financially involved in this. How satisfied are you?
I think that reform is a process, real transformation takes a while, so what we’re looking for is steady progress, and we are seeing steady progress. I think the trend lines are going in the right direction. One of the things that is important, bringing us back to where we started, that assistance budgets are there and that we have good programs. It’s also important the Ukrainian institutions and Ukrainian leaders do the things that they need to do in order to see those reforms move forward.
Ukrainians are probably looking at US policy, internal politics and foreign policy more than ever before. We can’t not ask about the American president’s relationship with Russia. We have been closely following the talks between Rex Tillerson and Sergei Lavrov. Speaking on behalf of some Ukrainian citizens, there are concerns about the positive way in which the president talks about Russia. We’ve seen the official statements from the state department, but as an ambassador, what would you say about that?
I am very optimistic about the direction that Ukrainian-American relations are going. I think that if you look at the strong support that Ukraine has traditionally had, but continues to enjoy. On the Hill, and in this administration, I think we have the foundation for very positive development. You mentioned state department statements and, obviously, Secretary Tillerson, both when he was in Brussels several weeks ago at the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting, and then when he went to Moscow and met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin, he said exactly the same thing, that we are committed to Ukraine, that Russia needs to take the first step in terms of what is happening with regard to the east and that we are committed to the sanctions, both in Crimea and Donbas, until we see those positive steps moving forward. I think that we are on a very positive trajectory.
How would you explain the totally different discourse everywhere else regarding the concerns about the president himself; his involvement with Ukraine, relations with Russia? In the past there have never really been any doubts regarding the president, but now there are.
I think that with every new administration there is a shaking-out period, and I think that what we are seeing are a lot of really positive steps forward and I am really optimistic, and, I think that that would be in keeping with 25 years of a strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Ukraine.
Today is Freedom Day celebrating freedom of press, and there have been statements regarding independent reporting in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine, also by the US government. We are also closely following the US media environment and there seems to be tensions between the current administration and the US media. In this respect, it is very hard to understand how the issue of the independent media will be strongly supported and addressed by the current administration.
First of all, let me congratulate you with World Press Freedom Day, it’s a really important day that, every May 2nd, we take a moment to remember the important job that journalists all over the world do. You’re doing it here at Hromadske, others are doing it in equally difficult or dangerous situations, and we need to honour that work. I think it is absolutely critical in a democracy that the citizens of the country get unbiased information. We are all entitled to our opinions, but we don’t get our own facts, and it’s important that journalists are able to go out, talk to people, report of the facts and provide citizens with the information so that citizens can make their own well-informed decisions about what kind of a healthcare system they want, or about who they want to vote for president, what they think about various things. That is the absolutely critical function that journalists and journalism provides in any country, and so we want to honour that.