BRAMA, Sep 29, 2004, 11:00 am ET|
Ukraine's transition to a stable democracy
UKRAINE'S QUEST FOR MATURE NATION STATEHOOD - ROUNDTABLE V:
UKRAINE'S TRANSITION TO A STABLE DEMOCRACY
(Sept. 16, 2004) UCCA During the final panel of the two-day conference entitled Ukraine’s Transition to a Stable Democracy, two highly respected politicians, Senator John McCain and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, provided concluding remarks. Although from different political camps – Republican and Democrat, both speakers agreed that an independent Ukraine is important to the national interests of the United States. On September 14, 2004, addressing one of the Roundtable’s four focus sessions, the speakers provided their assessment of the state of democracy in Ukraine from the US perspective, to a standing room only audience at the US Library of Congress’ prestigious Montpellier Room.
The venue host of this year’s conference, Dr. James Billington, introduced the keynote speakers. Following a brief, but eloquent introduction by the Librarian of Congress, Senator John McCain began his remarks by stating that “the title of this conference is ‘Ukraine’s Transition to a Stable Democracy’ and I think we can all agree that a stable democracy is in the national interest of the United States of America; the real question is whether Ukraine is headed down this path.” In this regard, he asserted a mixed picture: “There are strong democratic currents [in Ukraine] today – a robust opposition and wide ranging discussion of political issues leading up to the Oct. 31 elections; at the same time, the opposition has faced harassment and official disadvantages throughout the campaign and there are strong indications that the election may not be free and fair.”
Senator McCain went on to remind the audience of a critical fact that has been lost in much of recent thinking in Washington and Europe. “Ukraine is extremely important to its region, to the world and to the United States . I’d like to repeat that – Ukraine is extremely important to the world to the US and to its region. I fear that in recent years that US and Europe have not been fully cognizant of the critical role Ukraine plays and as a result, the aspiration of Ukrainians to see their nation firmly ensconced in the West have drifted. I don’t believe that most Ukrainians, if offered the choice, would choose a future tied closely to Russia . But many Ukrainians believe that they have not been offered this choice. NATO has made clear that Ukrainian membership is not on the horizon, and the EU has offered Kyiv little hope of joining one day. While the West’s door seems closed, Russia’s is always open.” If the trend continued, he thought that it would “be of little surprise if Ukrainian leaders increasing aligned their county’s ambitions with those of their Russian neighbor.” As he saw it: “The US and Europe must see Ukraine for what it is – an important, proud and populous country in a geostrategically critical position – a country with much to offer the West. It would be a terrible blunder if, because of our inattention or mistakes, we allowed Ukraine to slip back into the Russian orbit.” The Arizona Senator did add that “while US needs to pursue an enhanced relationship with Ukraine , it is also imperative that we make clear to its leadership that close ties to the West and membership in our institutions bring certain obligations and the most important of these is to move down the path of democracy.”
Commenting on his recent trip to Ukraine, the Senator stated that “although democracy in Ukraine is under siege, if the president and the Prime Minister make the courageous decision that the Ukraine people deserve the right to freely choose their government – if they decide that Ukraine’s future best lies in a system of democracy and not autocracy and if they allow free and fair elections that all the world can see – I believe the world needs to be prepared to respond. This means looking hard at Ukraine’s eventual membership into NATO and the EU and expanding our bilateral relations with Ukraine and determining ways to enhance our trading relationship. It means treating Ukraine like the strong, independent and democratic state we hope it will become.”
In his concluding remarks, Senator McCain reaffirmed his belief, that “because we understand the difficulties of transition from a non-democratic to a democratic government; we believe it is important to offer carrots and not just sticks. We believe that it is important that the world realize and the US realize the geostrategic importance of Ukraine and I hope we can maintain this careful balance in this administration and the administration of the next four years”
Following the Senator’s observations, Ambassador Holbrooke stepped up to the podium and stated that it was an honor to follow a long time friend and a man that all Americans admired. With a bit of humor, the Ambassador opened his remarks by stating: “As in most cases, with one notable exception, I completely agree with Senator McCain.” Elaborating on the topic, Ambassador Holbrooke informed the audience that he too recently returned from Ukraine and his views did not differ from those of the Senator’s. “ Ukraine must decide its own destiny. You are obviously a part of Europe, but how you develop your foreign policy – whether it faces east, west, north, south or a bit of all of the above because of its geography, economy and history – is up to Ukraine. Everyone understands the unique relationship between Russia and Ukraine; everyone understands its unique history, but it is up to the people of Ukraine to decide their future without any veto by anyone else, and by this I mean, Russia. If Ukraine wishes to join the institutions of the West, specifically, NATO and EU, that is Ukraine’s decision, and the US must lead the effort to make sure that Western countries no longer think, for some odd reason, that what Ukrainians do can be second guessed, decided, or vetoed by Moscow. He made it clear that he was “not saying all of this to be provocative towards the Russians. This is not a hostile act toward Russia, it’s about the expansion of the community of democracies ever eastward since the end of the Cold War. We are not baiting Moscow by saying this; we are talking about the rights and aspirations of Ukrainians.”
Speaking specifically on the topic of NATO enlargement, Ambassador Holbrooke asserted that “although Ukraine was not on the list of the first round of expansion, should Ukraine decide it wants to apply for membership following the upcoming elections, I predict that, despite the fact that some countries in Europe think that [such a move] is a bridge too far, within a few years Ukraine will become a member.” However, he couched his remarks by stating this was for Ukraine to decide, not the United States . “Prior to the decision as to Ukraine’s future orientation, must come the all important elections and in my view they are the ‘second most important elections in the world this year’. These elections are an absolute precondition for the processes [membership in NATO] I just talked about here.” Clarifying this remark, the Ambassador stated that “it is not that Americans wish to interfere in Ukraine ’s internal affairs; it is just simply unavoidable that the election and how it is perceived will be a critical factor whether Ukraine is invited in.” In doing so, he emphasized “that the United States does not support any political party of candidate”, but “what Americans care about is that the elections be free, fair, open and transparent.”
In a provoking afterthought, the former US envoy to the UN added: “I think that a lot of the West has a misperception of Ukraine for the most simple of reasons; the Western media reporting on Ukraine tends to be based in Moscow . This is a harsh truth; I saw it also in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia on recent trips, but nowhere is it truer than in Ukraine . There are still many Americans who can’t quite absorb the fact that Ukraine now is an independent country and will be forever.”
In his closing remarks, the Ambassador spoke on a topic that is dear to his heart – the potential AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. He stressed that HIV AIDS is spread by the sailors through the ports, thru intravenous injections and through the white slave sex trade and if the problem was not dealt with immediately, the economic cost to Ukraine would be immeasurable. In conclusion, Ambassador Holbrooke reassured the audience that he is “bullish on Ukraine” and deeply honored “to be here and share the dais with Dr. Billington and my dear friend John McCain.”
Following the presentations, a brief question and answer period ensued. In responding to a question posed by the former Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, Dr. Yuriy Scherbak, concerning the recent terrorist attack in Russia, the force based responses by Russia and general implications for Ukraine, Senator McCain responded that terrorism in Russia is in danger of becoming an international threat. However the Senator stated that he believes that the “genesis of the threat is the failure to recognize the yearning of the Chechens for some form of autonomy, if not independence…” and for this to be successfully resolved, there had to be some form of negotiations with the Chechens to satisfy their aspirations. With regard to the any implication for Ukraine , Senator McCain stated, “…I don’t speak specifically about President Putin, but there is no doubt that in Russia there are forces who yearn for the old Russian Empire. One of my friends Dr. Kissinger once said that Russia without Ukraine is an Eastern power and with Ukraine is a Western power. This is why the American Administration, Congress and the American people have to understand what is at stake as far as the future of Ukraine is concerned.”
The two-day conference ran four regular sessions featuring twelve panels; four focus sessions, two working lunches and two RT receptions. In total, more than seventy experts – a veritable Who's Who from Ukraine, the United States, and Europe – addressed the conference proceedings.