WASHINGTON, D.C. --- After a break of several months, Ukraine has a new ambassador to the U.S. Next week, Valeriy Chaly will meet with President Obama to present his credentials. In an exclusive interview, he told Ukrinform what his work will focus on, whose support he counts on, and why the Americans are more interested in Ukraine’s fight against corruption than in the provision of lethal weapons.
INVITATION FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA
----- Valeriy Oleksiovich, you have already had several initial meetings in Washington and next week you plan to meet with President Obama to present your credentials. Obviously, this event is mostly for protocol; however, you will certainly have an opportunity to talk to the President of the USA. What will you tell him?
From the moment of handing my credentials to the U.S. President, I will be able to work in my full capacity as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States. Obviously, I want to use the opportunity for a short meeting with the U.S. President for more than just protocol. Of course, I will wish peace and prosperity to the American people and thank for the support to Ukraine extended by the United States. This is also what the President of Ukraine has asked me to convey on his behalf.
I will also say that the Head of the White House is welcome to Ukraine and perhaps he can find time in his schedule to visit our country. In addition, according to procedure, I have to pass a separate document (Remarks) where I have presented some thoughts for the President of the United States.
----- You have said you will invite President Obama to Ukraine. Will this be an official invitation?
It is an invitation on behalf of the President of Ukraine, which I officially confirm.
----- What do you plan to make the focus of your work as Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States? What are your highest priorities?
To identify briefly my three main priorities, the first would be the trust. Trust between countries, between people, between top leaders. After all, strategic partnership and constructive relations are built on the basis of such trust.
The second point is continuation of U.S. support to Ukraine in various fields. I mean support to macro-financial stability of Ukraine and strengthening of interaction in the security and defense sector.
Besides, I mean the cooperation in trade relations which is a complicated area requiring at the same time intensification. In today’s environment, the trade and investments are indispensable to reform our country.
The third priority can be briefly described as the approximation between Ukraine and the U.S. This means deepening relations, implementation of joint objectives and joint efforts. We have many mechanisms for bilateral cooperation and strategic partnership which are not currently engaged.
They do not work fully because of objective reasons of distrust to the previous Ukrainian government. We must renew them. A simple example would be that the agreement on customs cooperation was concluded yet in Soviet times. This must be changed.
Talking about activities concerning the representation function of the Embassy I see a large amount of work with the Ukrainian diaspora as well as with the Ukrainian businesses trying to enter the American market. There are many issues related to ensuring the rights of Ukrainians abroad.
In addition, it is important to coordinate the work with the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations. This coordination is especially important now as we seek a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council and seek out the establishment of an international tribunal concerning the MH-17.
----- You have been working for a long time at Ukraine’s central government while the position of ambassador mostly entails the work away from the center. Do you feel this difference, and have you already determined your super task in this office?
First of all, no objective can be achieved in isolation. I will do everything to avoid any separation because no results can be achieved without solid support in Ukraine. I have all these possibilities. The level of support from the President of Ukraine, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parliament and civil society is a serious carte blanche for me to meet sufficiently high expectations.
My personal super task is very simple: I want my work to leave good memories for the people in both Washington and Kyiv after I leave. It includes 50 thousand Ukrainians who are on the consular register in the U.S., the 7,500 adopted children, and the large diaspora and volunteers here in the U.S. who help Ukraine counter the aggression. The kind words of people are worth very much.
The super task for the Embassy is to reach, in a certain period of time, a level that will allow for implementation of the defined priorities, which is not easy. This means the most effective implementation of Ukraine’s national interests through interaction with the U.S.
WEAPONS AND MORE
----- The question of weapons for Ukraine is one of the most debated topics in the country for many reasons, primarily because of the war in Donbass. In fact decisions of many other Western countries will depend on the U.S. position. What do you think needs to happen to change the White House’s position?
In this matter I have a clear position, which I stated many times here and which is supported as far as I can see. It is a strong Ukraine with powerful defensive capabilities and strong armed forces that will not give a chance for any further aggression. A weak Ukraine can become a provocative factor for those who have violated our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
A strong Ukraine can be built through implementation of agreements and programs for which the U.S. has already allocated $244 million. In addition, the plans for the FY’16 defense budget which are now being considered in Congress and will be considered by the White House are those factors that have real influence over Ukraine’s defense capabilities.
Today, we have a professional army which did not exist a year ago. Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to receive such assistance and I hope that the situation will obviously be better and better.
At the same time I am not sure whether the need for lethal weapons is the only point we should emphasize all the time. More lives are saved also with the new secured means of communication and new types of medical hospitals. The hundred Humvees recently delivered to Ukraine have also been helpful.
Today we are able to produce heavy weaponry ourselves, but we need high-tech systems such as counterbattery radar. These are means of defense helping at the same time avoid a large number of victims. Moreover, they are also means of monitoring the ceasefire as part of the implementation of the peace plan.
In addition, there are things of the same importance. I am talking about the training programs which, starting from fall, will cover not only the National Guard of Ukraine but also the entire armed forces. I personally visited Yavoriv training site and saw these programs in action. They are a very valuable and provide new mechanisms for Ukraine to strengthen our defensive capabilities.
In summary I would say that it is important for us to comply with all existing agreements in the defense sector, and the Embassy will support and monitor this process. The next period provides for deepening cooperation in the security sector. Ultimately, we need to pursue the end state when Ukraine will be able to work with the US to achieve common goals.
Many say that the processes should happen much faster and I agree with that. But on the other hand everything needs certain time. I think you will see the situation changing early next year.
SIGNALS AND THE SPEED OF REACTION
----- At the U.S.- Ukraine Business Forum two weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden mentioned the word “corruption” twelve times when he addressed the major problems of Ukraine. Why is this issue more important for Americans than providing Kyiv with defensive weapons, and what results do they want to see?
Today we say that the aggressor’s actions are being modified. The accent is being switched to attempts to undermine Ukraine’s capabilities from within. That is, to prevent us from having success in reforms, to make us face the internal political problems again and to make the corruption in the country, so to speak, rust that simply eats away our defense capabilities.
These are not just issues emphasized by the Vice President of the U.S. but the issues continuously raised in Ukraine. A different story is the fact that for all the decades of our independence there has not been enough will to overcome this phenomenon, which has taken deep roots in all sectors of Ukraine, including those connected with defense, law enforcement system and economic development.
So, we understand this signal: without overcoming corruption or achieving serious results in combatting it we cannot carry out successful reforms to ensure Ukraine’s survival. I know that a lot is being done in the country. Today, the main work in the battle against corruption is legislative, institutional and expert-based. Nevertheless, everyone wants quick and meaningful results that would qualitatively change the situation. There is only one answer: reforms which are rapid and painful but effective.
I will tell you openly that when I presented a copy of my credentials at the US State Department I promised that our American partners’ signals would very quickly be conveyed to Kyiv at the highest level. This creates trust. And another task I foresee is to ensure that these signals are properly responded in Ukraine. Here, in Washington, we will be informing to the greatest extent possible about what is being done in this area in Ukraine and what results are being achieved.
WHERE LOBBYISTS ARE NEEDED
----- In your view, does Ukraine have a sufficient lobby in the USA? Does our State intend to engage professional American lobbyists to promote its interests in Washington?
On one hand, the situation has changed seriously in the last years starting from the Orange revolution. Ukraine became well known, although not yet to all of American society. Those who work with us know our situation well.
In Kyiv, I was responsible for promotion of Ukraine’s interests around the world in the light of the program carried out under the auspices of the National Reform Council headed by the President. I know how to bring in wider potential than just that of the State. I will rely on that and try to use it.
As to paying for lobbyists, consultants or law firms, in some questions we need to bring them in, for example, in securing our interests before international courts on the matters of Crimea or at the international criminal court. In these cases we need to spend money to pay for lawyers.
Concerning professional lobbying structures in Washington, unfortunately we don’t have the money to do so. In comparison with other countries that do so on a permanent basis there is a clear imbalance.
Still, we compensate it by active interaction with all partners who are friends of Ukraine. Some may view it as an unprofessional approach, but in current conditions this is how we bridge the existing gaps. A simple explanation: for me to make contact not only with the Ukrainian Caucus in the Congress but also with at least a hundred Congressmen I do not need lobbyists. What I need is to be active, to have time and to find mutual interests. At the same time, we will consider this possibility for the longer term.
CUTTING THE NUMBER OF DIPLOMATS IS A TEMPORARY MEASURE
------ In your previous interviews you mentioned that the staff of the Embassy of Ukraine to the USA will be downsized. Is this a common trend? How can it impact achievement of the key objectives in Washington?
It was just today when we discussed this issue with MFA leadership. Indeed, this is a common trend. My position that I stated before coming here is that savings should not be made on diplomacy which now is as important front line as the anti-terrorist operation. Sometimes the diplomacy can generate significant revenues for the budget.
So I perceive it as a temporary measure for the period while Ukraine spends up to 5% of its GDP with defense.
The only way not to decrease the efficiency is to rely even more on professionalism and physical endurance of our diplomats. For me it is a normal procedure after my experience of working for 15 or 18 hours a day with the President.
The Embassy team and those who arrive here according to the rotation schedule understand that this is a difficult work requiring absolutely outstanding qualities. This is how I work my colleagues up and they understand me.
However, it is clear that it will be difficult to work with such limited resources for years. But I hope that when Ukraine starts its economic recovery this downsizing will be compensated.
INFORMATION FRONT LINE
----- What would be your assessment of the informational support to Ukraine in the USA on the background of Russian media propaganda? What needs to be done first to strengthen our positions?
To assess the situation in an objective manner, the level of Russian propaganda in the USA is lower than in EU countries. On the other hand, Russian Federation has big capabilities. Our advantage is that we do not need propaganda; we just need to deliver truthful information.
Hence, we need to find resources to do so. I am now analyzing this matter with respect to the United States and I count on support of the Center in implementation of our suggestions concerning how we can expand our informational presence here.
One of the key tasks is to keep Ukraine in the focus of attention of US governmental entities which grant assistance to us. Today, on the background of the global problems – situation in Syria, “Islamic State” and event US internal policy, this task is not an easy one.
This is without saying that one year ago there was a big deal of attention but today it is decreasing because of objective reasons; so, this should be the common effort for both Ukrainian Embassy and mass media.
For the future, with support of the friends of Ukraine we will aspire for reaching out the wide American audience through the modern information means. It is obvious that we should expect increase of the informational pressure over Ukraine so the task to counter such challenges becomes one of the higher priorities.
We need to convey to everybody the message that today Ukraine is defending not only its territorial integrity but also, without exaggeration, the world order and the international legal system.
Ambassador Valeriy Chaly interview by Yaroslav Dovgopol, Ukrinform, Washington, D.C., Friday, July 31, 2015
Original article in Ukrainian: http://bit.ly/1MyxA9h, unofficial translation into English exclusively for USUBC by the Dialog-Kyiv translation agency.