BRAMA, Sep 9, 2004, 11:00 am ET|
Ambassadors reflect on their tenure and discuss Ukraine's future
By Christine Demkowych
© The Washington Group
TWG President Ihor Kotlarchuk, Amb. Steven Pifer, Amb. William G. Miller, and Amb. Oleh Bilorus addressing the TWG Conference
TWG Leadership Conference Hosts Ambassadors' Forum
Ambassadors Oleh Bilorus, William G. Miller, and Steven Pifer reflect on their tenure and discuss Ukraine's future
Ukraine's October presidential election will play a pivotal role in determining whether the significant decline in bi-lateral relations between the United States and Ukraine improves, announced former Ukrainian and U.S. ambassadors at the June 2004 Leadership Conference honoring The Washington Group's 20th anniversary in Arlington.
"Ukraine is now at a crossroads," said Oleh Bilorus, Ukraine's first ambassador to the United States (1991-1995). "It [Ukraine] has reached a point of inertia, especially in the sector of executive power. A time for change has come."
The ambassadors agreed the best strategy Ukraine can follow at this time is to hold free and fair elections in October. "Nothing would give a more positive impulse than getting the election process right. It would be a huge affirmation that it [Ukraine] is going toward democracy," said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer (1998-2000).
"If Ukraine meets international standards [during the election process], we're eager to work with whomever emerges as the winner," Pifer added, noting that the U.S. vision for Ukraine is that of a stable, independent and democratic state with a strong market economy and increasingly strong ties to Europe.
Pifer attributed the slump in bi-lateral relations to a few significant events, including the arms transfer shipments to Macedonia in 2001 that took close to eight months to terminate; the lack of follow through with hundreds of signed agreements; the Melnichenko tapes that implicated President Kuchma in the death of journalist Georgy Gongadze; and the Kolchuga case in which President Kuchma was accused of authorizing the transfer of an aircraft detection system to Iraq, considered potentially threatening to U.S. pilots' safety.
Despite Ukraine's setbacks in political reform, the ambassadors noted the tremendous progress Ukraine has made with its economy. "Ukraine is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe," Pifer said, acknowledging that Ukraine's GDP increased recently by 9 percent.
Although it was pointed out that much of Ukraine's economic growth is being driven domestically, with the majority of investments coming from Russia, Bilorus criticized the United States for not actively investing in Ukraine at this time.
According to Ukraine's former Ambassador William Miller (1993-1998), the initial road map that was created to help Ukraine achieve a prosperous and democratic nation can be traced back to his tenure in Ukraine. Miller's mission was to improve bi-lateral relations through a policy of direct engagement. The goal was to create a prosperous and independent Ukraine within a new Europe; overcome decades of stereotypical thinking; eliminate all nuclear weapons; lay a foundation for a new relationship; encourage the development of democratic institutions of governance; and develop a sizeable free market sector in the economy.
Between 1993-1998, Ukraine became the highest policy priority for the Clinton-Gore Administration. U.S. officials were concerned that if Ukraine failed to achieve its goals, the revival of an imperial state in Russia was a very real and highly undesirable threat that could not be ignored.
As a result, the frequency of visits by U.S. officials increased dramatically, as face-to-face discussions were considered crucial for a positive outcome. "Official presence was constant and very visible," Miller said.
During that period, President Clinton visited Ukraine three times; Vice President Gore traveled to Kyiv four times; and Under-Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of State Strobe Talbott conducted meetings in Ukraine five times. It was rare for NATO or Pentagon officials not to be in Kyiv, Miller said.
The result of these meetings was the signing of various treaties and agreements, including the 1994 Tripartite Agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons from Ukraine; the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program; the Partnership for Peace Program; and joint military activity resulting in actual exercises with NATO forces and units from the Ukrainian military held on Ukrainian territory.
Miller said these negotiations also produced direct financial assistance from the United States for eliminating nuclear weapons, making Ukraine the third largest recipient of U.S. aid
Other benchmarks that contributed to Ukraine's development include the 1997 Madrid-NATO Summit where a formal partnership was launched, and the 2002 Prague Summit that resulted in an action plan for political and economic reform.
While the agreements and various treaties provided Ukraine with a blueprint for strategic partnerships with both the United States and Europe, the ambassadors said Ukraine failed to meet many of the requirements outlined in the negotiations. "Ukraine would be close to membership if it had implemented 90 percent of the steps defined at the Prague Summit," Pifer said.
The ambassadors concluded, however, that even if Ukraine is successful in holding a democratic election this fall, it still needs to demonstrate that its political-economic structure is compatible with NATO countries. In addition, Ukraine needs to implement a defense structure consistent with NATO guidelines, showing that it can make a contribution to Euro-Atlantic security. Ukraine also needs to adapt its laws to conform to World Trade Organization rules.