WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States remains committed to supporting Ukraine’s political and economic transformation and is stressing the “urgent need” for Ukraine to press forward with economic reforms and “redouble efforts to combat corruption,” says a State Department official.
David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, made these remarks at a panel discussion hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington.
Speaking on a panel titled “After the Orange Revolution: the U.S. and Ukraine,” Kramer said bilateral relations “are on a new track, characterized by open dialogue and closer cooperation.”
He said that during the preceding week, he and Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs E. Anthony Wayne went to Kiev, Ukraine, to meet with current and former Ukrainian officials and members of the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament), and to convey messages of continued U.S. support.
Wayne said in a speech at Kiev International University that the United States is optimistic “that with the confirmation of Prime Minister Yekhanurov and other new Cabinet members, the process of economic reform is back on track.”
Yekhanurov was appointed after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko dismissed much of his original Cabinet in September, amidst internal divisions and accusations of corruption.
Kramer told the SAIS audience that “we stand ready to help through support for the development of democracy, for help with anti-corruption efforts, and for economic reforms. Ukraine can count on the continued support of the United States.”
He said he remains optimistic about the future of the former Soviet republic. “The atmosphere in Ukraine is very different today. ... The media operate more freely, respect for citizen’s rights has improved and the courts appear to be more independent.”
He cited as proof of the new atmosphere the extensive Ukrainian press coverage of the corruption allegations, as well as reporting on the lavish lifestyle of Yushchenko’s son. He added that “no country has made the transition from communism to democracy without ups and downs. … We need to have realistic expectations.”
Although Kramer acknowledged that factions and personal rivalries present significant challenges for Yushchenko’s government, he called threats of separatism “over-exaggerated” and “a red herring.”
Kramer said he had been impressed while in Ukraine with the government’s commitment to economic reforms and anti-corruption measures, and to setting aside personal animosities to cooperate on these issues. The new prime minister “said all the right things,” he noted. “There is some hope that the new government … will act as a cohesive team.”
Kramer described progress on economic reform as “slow,” noting that now that Yushchenko no longer has a majority in the Rada, the passage of crucial legislation “will be considerably more difficult.”
One area where this could hurt Ukraine is in its bid for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, Kramer said. Calling Ukraine’s admission “the priority of the year,” the deputy secretary personally met with Finance Minister Victor Pynzenyk, as well as former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych during his recent trip.
Ukraine’s admission to the WTO “is a priority for us,” Kramer said. “The U.S. will not be able to complete bilateral negotiations with Ukraine if the government does not work with the Rada” to approve a package of reforms required to meet WTO norms. Today, I read that Mr. Yanukovych – after telling me last week that he was supportive of WTO -- is now attaching significant conditions to the support of WTO passage.”
During Yushchenko’s visit with President Bush in April, the Ukrainian president himself called corruption the Number 1 problem at home. Kramer said that while he and Wayne were in Kiev, they reinforced the importance of taking corruption seriously.
“We feel an obligation to stress to the Ukrainian government that its reputation and image are extremely important,” he said. “And both of those are founded on the fact that [the Yushchenko government] was going to be a new, different, clean team. The government needs to translate words and intentions into actions and accomplishments. ... This is going to be a very tall order.”
“Of course,” he added, “that’s very easy for me to say sitting here in Washington.”
Source: U.S. Department of State