“2012: A Decision Year for Ukraine” Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia

Kyiv, Ukraine

hank you and good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be in the surroundings of our New Embassy Compound here in Kyiv. And I’d like to especially thank Ambassador Tefft, DCM Eric Schultz, and the Embassy staff who helped organize my visit. I’ve become somewhat of a regular visitor to Ukraine as this marks my fourth visit since I started at the State Department less than two years ago.

Today I’d like to talk about the year 2012 as a year of decision for Ukraine. To start, I think we all can agree on at least one fundamental point: It is first and foremost for the men and women of Ukraine to shape their country’s future as a sovereign, independent country. And for the people of Ukraine to do so, they must be able to freely exercise their civil and political rights in an environment where the rule of law is respected and government officials and institutions are held accountable to the people, including through an unfettered press.

I daresay that to truly consolidate Ukraine’s independence, the country must consolidate its emergent democratic character. For what does sovereignty mean in the 21st Century if a country’s government does not understand its origins and purpose to be if not of the people, by the people, and for the people?

As the people of Ukraine make their way forward toward greater democracy and prosperity — a path that has not been and will not be straight or smooth , as is the case with most nations in transition — they can count on the friendship and support of the people and government of the United States. As Ambassador Tefft recently stated in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, the United States is the largest bilateral contributor of assistance to Ukraine. Over the past 20 years our assistance to the country has been $4.7 billion and for democracy and exchange programs alone it is well over $815 million.

It is important to recall how much the Ukrainian people have achieved in their first 20 years as an independent country. They proved the skeptics wrong twice. First, by coming together — East to West, and North to South — to peacefully achieve national independence in 1991, and then, 13 years later, by pushing back against those who had attempted to manipulate a presidential election.

At these critical moments, the people chose a path towards democracy and Europe in a bold attempt to harmonize Ukraine’s political processes with Euro-Atlantic standards.

Unfortunately, the governments that followed — all of them from 2004 to 2012 had an opportunity to chart a distinctly democratic course — failed to consolidate the country’s democratic potential.

It is worth noting that the presidential election of 2010 was — I think all would agree — the best election in the country’s brief history, procedurally speaking. And it stands in stark contrast to the local elections of October 2010.

Throughout these two decades, we have been at Ukraine’s side, steadily building a friendship and a strategic partnership. We have accomplished much together, helping the Ukrainian people seek what they themselves repeatedly have said that they want — a more, secure, stable and prosperous country. But clearly, more needs to be done. And it is up to Ukrainians to take good decisions about their future.

Next year, Ukraine will assume the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, which is built around cooperation in three “dimensions,” including the Human Dimension, which is about democracy and human rights. As it prepares to assume that leadership position in 2013, the United States and other like-minded governments are encouraging Ukraine to serve as an exemplar of how nations uphold human rights, democratic principles of government and related OSCE commitments. Among these commitments are those reaffirmed at the OSCE Summit in December 2010. At the Summit, all OSCE states reaffirmed: “Categorically and irrevocably that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”

The United States — no less than Ukraine — thus welcomed international scrutiny of our adherence to the OSCE commitments on democracy. Further, Ukraine and other OSCE member countries stated: “We value the important role played by civil society and free media in helping us to ensure full respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, including free and fair elections, and the rule of law.”

There are a number of opportunities in the year ahead for Ukraine to strengthen its democracy, most notably by completing the implementation of the new election law, ensuring the participation of all political parties — and their leaders — in the October 28 parliamentary elections, and by welcoming and paving the way for a substantial international observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Ukraine has already issued an invitation to OSCE and given assurances that it will follow through on these commitments. To be sure, to quote five European Foreign Ministers in March 4 article in the New York Times, “On that day the eyes of the international community will be on Ukraine, with the hope and expectation that the country will not renege on its tradition of free and fair elections.”

Also on the horizon — but on hold for now because of the selective prosecution of officials from previous governments– is the signing of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. When those accords are fully implemented, they will generate multiple benefits for the Ukrainian people, move Ukraine closer to integration with Euro-Atlantic structures, and also help strengthen Ukraine’s partnership with the United States, because a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and the legal norms and corporate governance standards that reflects, will make Ukraine a more attractive business partner for North American businesses. Democracy and economic development go hand in hand. And our best and most effective partners are countries that adhere to the rule of law, that have open political systems, free media and open markets that allow all people to prosper.

There is also an explicitly political agenda in our work in recent years to build a strategic partnership. The bilateral Charter on a Strategic Partnership we signed in 2008 demonstrates the importance we attach to Ukraine, and is based on our shared interests and common goals. These include protecting Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity and supporting innovation and technological advances. Importantly, the Charter also places a high priority on strengthening the rule of law and advancing human rights, democracy, economic freedom, freedom of the media, eradicating corruption, and on promoting tolerance.

The fact that the Charter has endured — even after changes in Administrations in both our governments since early 2008 — is testimony to the enduring nature of our partnership and friendship.

A key component of the Strategic Partnership Commission is the Political Dialogue / Rule of Law Working Group, which brings together not only American and Ukrainian officials, but also welcomes input from civil society and non-governmental representatives from both countries. To date our Working Group — which I co-chair together with a senior Ukrainian counterpart — has met six times in Kyiv and Washington since 2009. In fact, today was our sixth meeting.

Over that same period, we’ve also had a significant number of other meetings with Ukrainian officials to discuss our relationship and goals in Washington and Kyiv, and during OSCE multilateral events in Astana, Warsaw, and Vilnius. These engagements matter and have produced results. We believe our engagement has helped to inform Ukraine’s decision-making in several key areas.

For example, last year’s passage of a law on “Access to Public Information,” which mandates more transparency and accountability of government, benefited from international experience, as has the new Criminal Procedure Code — which Parliament passed last month and President Yanukovich signed earlier this week– that will replace a Soviet-era legal system with laws that comply with European standards.

Another significant development was passage of a new law in March on Public Organization, which is of significant importance to build a sustainable civil society in Ukraine. Passages of these three laws are concrete improvements.

Notably, these developments have to a certain degree been shaped and influenced by civil society, which are key actors in our bilateral working group dialogues. In this way we have facilitated and fostered more direct contact between civil society and Ukrainian government officials — in Kyiv and Washington.

I’ve been delighted to visit Ukraine four times — not just Kyiv but also Sevastopol, Simferopol and this time to Kharkiv.

I have enjoyed these visits and the openness of Ukrainians with whom I met — from senior officials to civil society and labor activists, journalists, and rank and file members of NGOs. We’ve had honest, substantive, and thoughtful discussions about the challenges, problems and opportunities confronting Ukraine and that have an impact on our bilateral partnership.

When I and other US officials speak to our Ukrainian counterparts — as President Obama did recently with President Yanukovych in Seoul at the Nuclear Security Summit — we do not shy away from clearly and frankly expressing our concerns about the current setbacks to the rule of law and democratic development, and the obstacles this poses to strengthening our partnership.

We have voiced our concerns about selective, politically-motivated prosecutions on multiple occasions, including the prosecution and conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and the conviction and sentencing of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and former Defense Minister Valeriy Ivashchenko. Altogether, thirteen former senior officials from Tymoshenko’s government — including four cabinet ministers, five deputy ministers, two agency heads, one governor and the head of the state gas monopoly — have been charged. And we raise them all.

Let me be clear about our interests in these cases. By calling attention to them, we are not expressing a preference for a political party or individual, but our serious concern over due process, fairness and treatment of those who are imprisoned. As we state in our annual country report on Human Rights Practices in Ukraine: “The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary remains subject to political pressure and lacks public confidence. In certain cases, the outcome of trials appeared predetermined.”

Politically motivated trials not only deprive citizens of potential political candidates, and thus weaken the political process, but also contribute to mistrust in the integrity of the judicial system, which is the linchpin of a modern economic system.

2012 is a year of decision for Ukraine. The people of Ukraine face important decisions about their future. As friends and partners, we in the U.S. Government remain committed to working with the government and people of Ukraine to fulfill their long-stated goals to expand and protect its democracy, in part because this is who we are as a Nation — but also because we believe it is fundamental to Ukraine’s long-term stability and economic development.

The United States welcomes the Yanukovych administration’s stated commitments to pursue political and economic reforms, its pledge that Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in October will showcase Ukraine’s democratic bona fides, and the government’s recent initiatives to strengthen and develop civil society. As Secretary Clinton has said “civil society is the lifeblood of democratic politics.” Indeed, earlier today in Washington the Secretary hosted a global town hall at the State Department. The purpose of which was to reinforce the United States’ commitment to strengthening civil society and highlight how dialogue is helping integrate ideas from civil society into U.S. foreign policy.

Thus, we continue to believe that similar progress and cooperation with civil society in all areas of endeavor is in the best interest of the Ukrainian people.

Before I entered government two years ago, I spent many years as a professor and activist promoting democracy. I have seen democracy emerge and take hold in some of the most unlikely places on every continent and among people of widely varying cultures and conditions. Ukraine should NOT be an “unlikely place” for real democracy. Neighbors like Poland and Lithuania have shown the way. Ukrainians in Canada, the U.S., Europe and the world over have certainly thrived in democratic societies. For Ukraine to fully realize its sovereignty it needs to strengthen its democracy.

That is why the United States and others nations in the democratic community are strongly committed to helping those in Ukraine who continue to work for human rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, accountable government, freedom of the media, and thereby strengthen Ukraine’s ties with the democracies of Europe, North America and across the globe.

Once again, Ukraine is approaching a crossroads — and 2012 is a year of decision for Ukraine. And we believe and hope that, once again the people of Ukraine will prove the skeptics wrong and they will make the right choice as they have bravely done in the past.

We cannot make these decisions. But we and other friends of Ukraine will continue to hold out the prospect of a closer and mutually-beneficial partnership. And that is our leverage — that we can be better friends and partners for a more democratic Ukraine than we can for a less democratic Ukraine.

Thank you for your attention.

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