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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Apr 22, 2004, 1:00 pm ET

    Press Release

    Washington's Action Ukraine Coalition holds briefing with Ambassador Steven Pifer
    by Natalia Gawdiak for AUC


    © NGawdiak/AUC

    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.


    Washington, D.C. April 22 — 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" at the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs in Washington, D.C. on April 15. The meeting 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. 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, Editor of AUC's Action Ukraine Report.

    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."

    U.S. CONCERNS

    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.


    © NGawdiak/AUC

    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.


    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.


    © NGawdiak/AUC

    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.


    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."

    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 chooses."


    © NGawdiak/AUC

    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.


    "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.

    VIGOUROUS QUESTIONING

    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.


    © NGawdiak/AUC

    Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller.


    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.

    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 Armitage transcript. 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. 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 risk."


    © NGawdiak/AUC


    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 to investments. 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.

    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.



    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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