By Natalka Gawdiak, Journalist
Action Ukraine Coalition (AUC)
Washington, D.C., Thursday, April 22, 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C.-According to Deputy Assistant Secretary for
European and Eurasian Affairs in the U.S. State Department and the former
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, the U.S. vision for Ukraine
continues to be one of "a stable, independent, democratic country with an
increasingly strong market economy and with increasingly strong ties to
Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions."
Pifer expressed this view at a briefing on "U.S.-Ukraine Relations." The
briefing was the fourth in a series of such meetings on Ukrainian issues
organized by the Action Ukraine Coalition composed of the Ukrainian
American Coordinating Council, the Ukrainian Federation of America, and
the US-Ukraine Foundation.
Foreground: Steven Pifer, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, currently Assistant Deputy Secretary of State. Seated behind the Ambassador is The Washington Group (TWG) president, attorney Ihor Kotlarchuk
Photo by Natalie Gawdiak
(Click on images to enlarge them)
Invited participants included heads or representatives of Ukrainian American
organizations, U.S. government agencies, senior Congressional assistants,
U.S. business community, think tanks, and the media. Ihor Gawdiak,
President of the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council, served as the
briefing's moderator. Meeting arrangements were made by Morgan Williams,
AUC Coordinator and Editor of AUC's "The Action Ukraine Report." The
meeting was held in the conference room of the Citizens Network for Foreign
Both in his opening remarks and in answer to questions following, Pifer
emphatically rejected the notion that U.S.-Ukrainian relations are
determined primarily by Ukraine's commitment and contribution to the U.S.
invasion of Iraq. He insisted that the question of democracy in Ukraine
remains the most important consideration for U.S. policy toward Ukraine and
that no issue is going to have more impact on U.S.-Ukraine relations than
what happens during the run-up to the October presidential elections.
He reminded his audience that this was the message Deputy Secretary of
State Armitage delivered during his recent visit to Ukraine both publicly
and in private talks with President Kuchma.
Referring specifically to the Ukraine-Iraq issue spoken of in the previous
AUC meeting by the Honorable Ukrainian Rada Member Borys Tarasyuk,
Mr. Pifer asserted that the United States very much appreciated Ukraine's
decision to contribute a "significant number of troops to the stabilization
force in Iraq."
This is a very high US national security interest. "It has had a positive
impact on the broader relationship, but as the Deputy Secretary said when
he was in Kyiv, it is not going to cause us to turn our eye away from the
democracy question. Democracy still remains the number issue for us in
our relationship with Ukraine looking out toward the election."
L to R: Morgan Williams, Editor "Action Ukraine Report" 2004; Ambassador Pifer, UACC President Ihor Gawdiak,Ukrainian Federation of America Chairperson Dr. Zenia Chernyk, UFA President Vera Andryczyk, and Ambassador William Green Miller. Foreground: Mark Taplin, Director Office of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus Affairs at the U.S. Department of State
Photo by Natalie Gawdiak
Pifer listed a number of U.S. concerns connected with presidential election
campaign in Ukraine: increasing pressure on the independent media, with
specific reference to the shutdown of broadcast outlets for Radio Liberty,
increased pressure from such state agencies as the State Tax Administration
on opposition candidates or businesses that support the opposition, and the
manipulation of local elections.
The U.S. believes that the proposed Constitutional change, especially its
timing--"a major shift in the Constitution against the backdrop of an
election year" is not advisable. Such a major change ought to be the
subject of previous discussion by a broad segment of Ukrainian society and
not just a determination made within the Rada. The U.S. recommended
that this be deferred.
In as much as Ukraine wants to eventually join NATO, the United States has
continually stressed that while "NATO is a defensive alliance, it is also a
community of values, and democracy is a big element of that." If Ukraine
wants to draw closer to NATO and the European Union, "it has to develop a
democratic system which is seen as compatible with those that are the norm
in Western Europe." Pifer emphasized that most members of NATO share the
U.S.'s concerns about Ukraine.
SOME RECENT POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
The U.S. welcomes President Kuchma's announced moratorium on tax inspections
and tax audits on media outlets. The U.S. wants to see the same moratorium
allowed for business enterprises supporting opposition candidates, however.
Dropping the idea of having the president elected directly by the Rada
instead of by the people also was seen as a positive step, the Ambassador
stated, because "polls showed that 90% of the Ukrainian population preferred
direct election of the president."
U.S.-Ukraine Foundation President Nadia K. McConnell urges a more aggressive U.S. response to the current Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shutout in Ukraine
Photo by Natalie
DEMOCRATIC, FAIR, AND TRANSPARENT ELECTIONS
Ambassador Pifer concluded his opening remarks by stating that the United
States is "not concerned with who wins the election, our focus is on the
process; we want to see a process that is free and fair and one that meets
the standards that Ukraine is committed to as a member of the OSCE.
We want to see a level playing field. We want to see the abuses of
democratic processes ended. We want opposition candidates to be able to
speak freely and independently, and we want to see a situation in which the
media is able to cover what issues it chooses, how it chooses, when it
"We are looking at ways to get Radio Liberty back on the air because it has
a well earned reputation for objective broadcasting, and we think that would
be a real asset to Ukraine in the campaign.
We will have a presence on the ground in Mukachevo to demonstrate our
interest in the May 18th election there."
The Ambassador noted that various U.S. officials and members of Congress
will be going to Ukraine, and private individuals will also be asked to
stress the democracy issue. He also said that he would be in Ukraine in 10
days to see how the "democracy situation" has developed. He also revealed
that he will be meeting with opposition figures as well.
Although a variety of issues were raised in a lively question-and -answer
period that followed, the overriding concern of the participants in the
briefing was that the Bush Administration has not sufficiently and
forcefully enough communicated to the Kuchma government how much the future
of US-Ukrainian relations depends on the "free and fair" October elections
and the process leading up to it.
Recalling the previous AUC meeting at which Rada Member Borys Tarasyuk
stressed the importance of sending a high level administrative person to
Ukraine, one questioner asked whether there is any plan for a U.S. official
at the Cabinet level to visit Ukraine in the near future.
Clockwise from top left: Mark Taplin, Director Office of Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus Affairs at State; background-Christopher Grewe Desk Officer for Ukraine at the U.S. Department of Treasury; Ambassador Pifer; background-Jeff Trimble, Director, Policy and Strategic Planning, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; UACC President Ihor Gawdiak; Ukrainian Federation of America Chairperson Dr. Zenia Chernyk, and UFA President Vera Andryczyk
Photo by Natalie
Mr. Pifer replied that Deputy Secretary of State Armitage visited three
weeks ago and carried a message from President Bush as well to President
Kuchma, focused on democracy and a free and fair election. This was the
highest level person from the U.S. in the last two and a half years. No
decisions on others have been made yet. "It is something we are thinking
about," he said.
When a questioner stated that during the Armitage visit to Ukraine, the
Iraq issue totally trumped the "democracy message" the U.S. supposedly
emphasized, Mr. Pifer said if anyone doubted the strength of the U.S.
message, they could visit the State Department website and read the
Some participants, not satisfied by the U.S. reaction to negative
developments in Ukraine, pressed the Ambassador for specifics on anticipated
U.S. reaction to these developments. What steps were actually going to
follow the words that we are expressing in favor of fostering democracy?
For example, are we just merely going to say "we hope" that Radio Liberty
can get back on the air? What steps are we willing to take? "Words don't
seem to be working," one participant asserted.
"We have told the Ukrainian government some things that we see will be
possible if the election goes well and others that will not happen if the
process does not go well. If the election process goes badly, you will see
much less energy devoted to Ukraine. It is not proper to lay out all the
specifics in public, however," the Ambassador replied.
Pressed further on the need to ratchet up the U.S. government's involvement
in fostering democracy in Ukraine, the Ambassador again referred to the
Armitage message and the statements of others who have visited Ukraine. "We
had a problem with selective reporting of Armitage's message in Ukraine, but
we are making the message," he said, "both publicly and privately and also
putting in resources."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller
Photo by Natalie
About 30% of the Freedom Support Act going to Ukraine is for democracy
programs--monitoring, support for independent media. "We are pretty
comfortable that we have targeted as much as we can in resource terms."
"We can debate about whether or not there are gaps."."Ultimately,
however," he said, "it is going to be a Ukrainian decision.we don't have a
magic way to make that election happen democratically."
Asked if the U.S. would compensate the family of the Ukrainian camera man
Taras Protsuk, a Reuters employee killed by U.S. friendly fire while
embedded in Iraq a year ago, the answer was also in the negative. "That was
a tragedy; we regret that it happened, but the context was important to
remember. It was a combat situation. We did request a report from the U.S.
Central Command, and we shared that with Ukrainian authorities. Journalists
made a conscious decision to go into a war situation and that entails some
On a question concerning investing in Ukraine's high tech capabilities, the
Ambassador said there was good potential there, but that American companies
are still fearful of Ukraine's investment climate. He pointed out that there
were some successes, such as Boeing's $400 million dollar Sea Launch
project. Ukraine has to work on making its business climate more favorable
The other problem is for Americans to learn to see how they can marry
their capital with the sources of scientific and technical expertise in
Ukraine, such as are available in Kharkiv, for instance.
Photo by Natalie
Ambassador Pifer agreed that Ukraine has met the requirements of
Jackson-Vanick and stated that the Administration would be in favor of
graduation from it should Congress propose such legislation.
He stressed that the decisions that are made now in Ukraine will affect the
country 10 years down the road. "The economy is moving in the right
direction; it needs to move faster, but the question is can Ukraine get it
right democratically," the Ambassador concluded.