BRAMA, Sep 10, 2004, 11:00 am ET|
Ukraine's Ambassador to the U.S. spoke about Ukrainian-American partnership at TWG Leadership Conference
Note: Ambassador Reznik's speech was delivered in Ukrainian. The text below is a translation provided by the Embassy of Ukraine.
by Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine
to the United States of America
H.E. Mykhaylo REZNIK
at the ceremonial lunch on the occasion of 20 years' anniversary
of Washington Group
(Washington DC, June 12, 2004)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
© The Washington Group
Ambassador of Ukraine, Mykhailo Reznik, delivers the Luncheon address
First of all let me pay tribute to our distinguished guests Honorable Ambassadors Miller, Morozov and Bilorus. What we now call Ukrainian-American partnership, started 13 years ago as a kind of bridge built from both sides by these gentlemen. Please give them a heartfelt welcome, for their contribution to Ukrainian-American partnership was indeed invaluable.
I hope you indulge me, if the rest of my speech I address this Ukrainian-American audience mostly in Ukrainian. I hope the written translation is available.
Let me thank you for the invitation and extend to you my deepest and warmest feelings on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the Washington group.
The twenty years line in a human life presumes blooming of young hopes and expectations for the future. The twenty years line in a life of spouse presumes rising of children and sometimes even birth of grandchildren.
In politics the same twenty years can be a broad line dividing completely different realities. At the beginning of this speech I face an obvious seduction to compare these two realities: Ukraine of 1984 and the contemporary one. The distance dividing them is indeed impressive. Ukraine has passed a long way from the surrogate Soviet republic to a full-fledged European player and one of leaders of economic development in Eastern Europe. It would be logical to make such comparisons, and - I won't conceal it - very pleasant for the Ambassador of Ukraine. However, the most pleasant things too seldom happen to be the most useful ones. Therefore, today I am not going to dwell once more on historical importance of independence for the Ukrainian nation. It's an obvious thing that needs no illustrations.
Today I would like to talk about the historical importance of the current moment for Ukraine and about its influence on Ukraine-US relations.
We all remember how Ukrainian independence began. Namely, with a big desire of Ukrainians to live in a country of their own - strong, stable and democratic. Shortly, a European one. As it often happens, dreams dissolve in real life, but give us strength and inspiration to overcome difficulties. We couldn't integrate with the European Union as soon as our neighbors. I won't conceal: it was a bitter disappointment. But the desire to live well, like in Europe, gave Ukrainians strength to overcome economic chaos of early 90-s, to step on the way of economic revival. And it was the biggest accomplishment of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian state is becoming more influential and competitive, which is a huge success for all of us. Having no European perspective and no big protectors in the continental and global politics we nevertheless managed to get back on our feet. By own strength we created the current situation, when annual economic growth totals 9-10% and industrial growth amounts 15-17% (twice as much as for instance in oil-rich Russia). According to this May statistics the growth of economy is running at a rate over 11 percent. Many branches are really booming: construction industry - 32% growth, manufacturing industry - 21%, wholesale and retail trade - 18%, power engineering and water-supply - 13%. Ukrainian exports were by 45% (!) higher the first quarter of this year compared to the same period of 2003.
According to statistics of the National Bank of Ukraine, national hard currency reserves have reached about 9 billion dollars. Oleh Bilorus and Kostyantyn Morozov must remember completely different figures Ukraine had in early 90-s. By that time the Ukrainian treasury was half-empty: 180-300 million dollars. Not to mention the real tragedy of average Ukrainians' personal savings: they were eaten up by catastrophic inflation. As a contrast, during last year the personal savings of Ukrainians deposited in domestic banks grew by 6 billion dollars. During last two years we had a 230% growth in this sphere. This was a moment when the timely privatization and consequent modernization of Ukrainian banking system undertaken in last years really paid. Moreover, in this sphere Ukraine is ahead of such countries as Romania and Bulgaria, although they have already been recognized as EU accession candidates. Last year investments in Ukrainian economy grew by 33%.
European financial bonds equal 1 billion dollars issued by Ukraine last year were recognized by "Business Week" magazine as the most promising ones in emerging markets. This year we repeated this positive experience and started a presentation, so-called "road show", of Eurobonds for another 600 million dollars. Could we ever dream about that six years ago, when Ukraine undertook a similar project placing Eurobonds in the markets and later on couldn't pay credits back? You will say: he is an Ambassador and must say positive things about his country and his government. But isn't it a patriotic duty for every Ukrainian wherever he lives?
Of course, the legacy of recession still lies as a heavy burden on Ukrainian households. One third of them are still below the official poverty line. But, again, it is a progress comparing to 2001 when over 40% of Ukrainian households lived in poverty. More and more Ukrainians become aware, that their country has turned the corner. They look towards future, not the past. Maybe 13 years ago this nation was deemed in a different way, than it turned out to be. But Ukrainian state, the way we see it now, already yields fruits we can be proud of. And I am sure it's just the beginning of its long and glorious way in new Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen!
Visiting recently Ukraine the US Eximbank President Philipp Merrill said that with the current rate of growth, in ten years my country can become a second France. I hope he didn't mean decline of France. I hope this respectful American banker and a good friend of mine meant a good perspective facing Ukraine.
Reports about Mr. Merill's visit reminded me 1994 - the first visit of the US President to independent Ukraine and famous meeting Kravchuk-Clinton in Boryspil airport. I hope Ambassadors Bilorus and Miller confirm my words. That day the US leader was asked how United States was going to support Ukrainian independence. His answer happened to be somewhat unexpected: "Can any country be independent, if it's in economic decay?" If we look at Ukraine from this point of view (and I agree to that), Ukrainian independence has never been as strong and distinct as nowadays. Independent Ukraine became the same integral reality of contemporary Europe as Reunited Germany, or let's say, French Bordeaux. If you indulge a play of words, only now independence has become really independent, including independence from such economic factors as financial assistance of international organizations and even from whimsicality of world markets. Economic growth in Ukraine is progressing despite of stagnation in European Union and record oil prices.
Does it mean that today's Ukraine is interested in the United States less than in recent years? No way. However, our countries' interests toward each other indeed became different. Ten years ago Ukraine needed, so to say, a life vest in order not to sink in the deep economic crisis and not to get into political isolation under pressure of its own nuclear potential. Today we need a long-term strategic partner, who would support Ukraine in resolution of issues, which can't be resolved individually, including membership in European Union and NATO. Ten years ago the matter was about short-term crisis management, which was vitally important for Ukraine as an independent country. Nowadays Ukraine needs a strategic partnership with the United States relying on mutual interests of our countries. Using diplomatic slang, Ukraine is ready to be not only a recipient, but also a contributor in relations with the US.
Our participation in Iraq is only the most vivid political illustration of this idea. The economic illustration can and should be participation of the US investors in large and small projects in the Ukrainian market - one of the most dynamic in Europe. I'm sure that we are standing on the verge of investment boom in Ukrainian economy. Economically it is not so important where these investments come from. However politically we are interested that they come from our priority partners, in particular from the United States.
In the past the Ukraine-US partnership was often reminiscent of famous American side-show switchback, which in Ukraine is called amerykanski girky, meaning nothing less, but "American mountains". Every sharp upsurge was followed by an equally sharp descent and the periods of huge expectations used to end with harsh disappointments. In this logic, after some problems encountered by our relations in 2002, the upsurge is about to start. And it is already starting. There are signs of active improvement in bilateral trade. In the first quarter of this year it grew by 70% comparing to this moment last year. Although politicians in both countries are focusing on the impending presidential campaigns, the political dialogue is getting more and more dynamic. Active exchanges at both regional and scientific-educational levels are taking place.
However, can we content ourselves with a mere up and down improvement? Is it enough for countries like Ukraine and the United States? I guess no. Our ambition is to transform the Ukraine-US partnership from a switchback to a regular railway going both ways. A railway carrying not only single diplomatic cars, but multiple passenger and cargo trains. A railway functioning in a normal operating mode, perhaps with no political breakthroughs, but definitely with no emergencies.
The basis for that remains unchanged. Like in nineties, the very existence of Ukraine as a strong European country is a guarantee of stable development in Europe. Like in nineties, the real independence of Ukraine is a guarantee against appearance of new empire on the former Soviet terrains. These are generally known and generally accepted geopolitical concepts, which can be referred to as Brzezinski-Kissinger theory.
However, the new millennium made its corrections here as well. The matter here is about three most significant political moments related to the ongoing development of Ukraine.
First of all, Ukraine has clearly and unambiguously declared its aspirations to become a NATO member. In this way its importance for European affairs became even more significant. A complete Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine must become a token of its equally complete juncture with Western community of democracies. We appreciate the United States' support to this aspiration. I hope that Ukraine's invitation to the Istanbul summit will initiate a political shift, after which our way towards NATO becomes faster and smoother.
Secondly, economic increase of Ukraine makes it an active political player, not a political card in hands of others. Z. Brzezinski, visiting recently Kyiv, mentioned that Ukraine is not a queen, but definitely not a pawn on the global chess-board. I would add: Ukraine's will and desires can't be ignored anymore, and its questions can't be left without answers.
Thirdly, somewhat unexpectedly for many, it turned out that strong European Ukraine not only can but must be a close partner of the former Soviet republics. Politically these countries go different ways and have different aspirations, but they are connected historically and economically. That's why their way is not confrontation, but mutual and equal complementation for the sake of welfare of their peoples and European stability. This makes the importance of Ukraine, as a geopolitical platform supporting European Union on the one side and the CIS region on the other side, even bigger. Again this makes Ukraine a bit different nation, than it was anticipated by many people in early nineties. But isn't such a nation - peaceful, growing, stable and geopolitically important - a natural partner for the United States? This question sounds to me as a merely rhetorical one.
Sometimes it seems that United States understands the importance of the current moment, but procrastinates with the formation of the new policy towards Ukraine till presidential elections in both countries. If so, we will take the decision made by our partners with due respect. However I would like to fulfill my moral duty as Ukrainian Ambassador and a consequent optimist concerning the future of Ukrainian-American relations. Namely: to assure this distinguished audience and the whole American establishment that the partnership with America stays Ukraine's priority whatever outcome of elections. Strong relations with the United States are indispensable for a strong European Ukraine. I am also personally convinced that Washington's interests in Eastern Europe will be served best if America stays on the course of partnership with Ukraine.
It is no secret that Ukraine has been lately subjected to criticism. Some of this criticism was deserved, some - not. I am not intended to justify or comment in any way the controversial events in my country, which provoked this reaction. Let me just say that for some reason local events and actions of private companies sometimes get extrapolated at Ukrainian government as a whole. This approach appears to me, as Americans say, counterproductive.
It's quite obvious that attention fixed at these events is closely related with forthcoming presidential elections in my country. The elections are deemed as a key for the future both of Ukraine and Ukraine-US relations. Personally I agree only with the first half of this theory. Indeed, there is no doubt that elections are important for Ukraine. However is it worthwhile to bind the very future of US-Ukraine partnership with this event? Speaking to some of my compatriots I can't get rid of the feeling that they apprehend the coming elections as some kind of impending collapse. I guess, Askold Lozynsky gave a worthy answer to the panic moods in his recent letter addressed to American congressmen.
He referred to the three parliamentary and three presidential campaigns held by Ukraine. Unlike in most post-Soviet countries they were recognized by international community as generally democratic (despite minor flaws).
I can only add: unlike most post-Soviet countries, six months before the presidential elections nobody has enough courage to predict the winner in Ukraine. In some of our neighboring countries the winner is obvious before the presidential campaign even gets started. In the United States holding elections simultaneously with Ukraine, it's quite obvious that the name of the future president will be either John or George. Ukraine doesn't have even this luxury, keeping all options open. Doesn't it speak in favor of Ukraine as a young democracy?
Again, unlike most post-Soviet countries, in Ukraine opposition has a serious influence on decision-making process. Enough evidence was delivered during recent parliamentary debates over so-called political reform.
Then why, again unlike most post-Soviet countries, it is Ukraine which is branded as the human rights violator in the region? I'm sure that this year's presidential elections will be the next political exam successfully passed by Ukraine. There is no reason today to stigmatize Ukraine as a violator and criminal. And making in advance conclusions based on suspicions and local cases, to my mind, just plays into hands of those interested in spoiling relations between Ukraine and West.
There will be no collapse. There will be however conclusions made by both sides basing on today's situation. For Ukraine the conclusion is very simple and it was articulated many times by numerous political forces, including President Kuchma: the elections must be transparent and democratic. For the United States one of the conclusions was voiced at the recent Congress hearings on situation in Ukraine. One of the American participants mentioned: what influence can we, United States, have on Ukraine, if American investments in this country are so insignificant?
I agree with that only to some extent. I don't agree because I know that all political forces in Kyiv listen carefully to the voice of the Unites States. I don't agree because American investments to Ukraine are growing. But I do agree that American interests will be served best, if businesses of this country don't waste an opportunity of the present moment and start confidently investing in one of the most dynamic economies of the European continent. Political reputation of Ukraine could be decisive in this sense, either stimulating to invest now or making businesses wait up.
Summing up I would like to remind you a twelve years old story with participation of one of the distinguished guests of this meeting, honorable Konstyantyn Morozov. 1992. The first visit of President Kravchuk to Paris. Dinner with French President Mitterrand. Our leader, talking about ethnical concord in Ukraine, gave an example: "Look - the first Defense Minister of Ukraine - and what a Minister! - became Konstyantyn Morozov of Russian origin and sincere Ukrainian patriot". Mitterrand swiftly answered: "We, French people, are more liberal. The head of my government is Ukrainian". And he pointed to Pierre Beregovoys, with Ukrainian ancestry.
I told you this story just to make one conclusion: whatever citizenship - Ukrainian or American - there is one thing uniting all of us: Ukraine. Therefore the political turbulences over coming elections in Ukraine shouldn't become an obstacle on the way of its economic growth. This is a chance our nation has been waiting for its whole history.
Maybe nothing else is so unfavorable for digestion as serious political topics. I hope my report was some kind of garnish, which didn't prevent you from enjoying other courses.
Therefore I would like to stop here. Once again let me thank you for invitation and wish to the Washington group many years of fruitful work for the sake of successful Ukrainian-American relations.
Thank you for your attention!
God Bless America!