I was going to summarize the following speech, but on reading it find it such an excellent summary of recent momentous events in Ukraine that I thought I would reproduce it here in its entirety:
Ambassador John Tefft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Remarks to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
February 7, 2005
I am very pleased to be with you today. I want to talk about the exciting events of the past three months in Ukraine and the role played by the United States. Against great odds, the Ukrainian people took an historic stand for democracy, and the United States stood by them. I also want to look forward and talk about the challenges that lie before Ukraine and the U.S. as we support the democratic process in that country.
One of the most interesting things about the "Orange Revolution" -- and I think "revolution" is probably not too strong a word for it -- was the extent to which it was a truly democratic movement, that is, a movement of the Ukrainian people to decide their own fate. This came through clearly in the many stories that emerged from Kiev's Independence Square, known in Ukrainian as the "Maidan." One of my favorite stories came from, of all people, the ambassador of Kazakhstan to Ukraine. The Kazakh ambassador told our Ambassador John Herbst that he visited the Maidan in the tense days before the Supreme Court decision of December 3rd mandating a re-run of the second-round vote. The Kazakh met a man from western Ukraine who said he had been working in Western Europe for a couple of years to earn money. He returned to Ukraine with $8,000 and all his belongings. Between the border and his home, the man had to pay $5,000 in bribes to various officials. When he got home, he was so angry that he used the remaining $3,000 to travel to Kiev to join the demonstrators to make sure that the system that stole his money was brought down. The Kazakh ambassador said that after talking to this man, he knew that the "Orange Revolution" would succeed.
The Ukrainian people's heroic stand for democracy in the last few months should not really surprise us. As dramatic as the recent events have been, they are part of a long, hard journey by the Ukrainian people in search of independence and self-determination.
Ukraine enjoyed a brief period of independence after World War I, but following several years of conflict and civil war, the western part of Ukraine was incorporated into Poland, and the central and eastern regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. While the Ukrainian national idea would persevere, Ukraine suffered immeasurably during the Soviet period. In the 1930s, the Soviet authorities waged a campaign of terror against Ukrainians, creating an artificial famine (called the HolodoMOR in Ukrainian) that took the lives of many millions of innocent victims. World War II was another heavy blow to Ukraine, which lost millions of civilians and soldiers and suffered enormous destruction. In 1986, Ukrainians again suffered a tragedy of historic proportions with the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power station.
Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and set about the task of creating a modern, democratic, and economically prosperous state. Ukraine's success in this endeavor has been uneven. In some areas, its achievements are undeniable and laudable. Ukraine has strengthened its statehood, putting to rest the fears of those in the early 1990s who predicted that Ukraine could not survive as an independent country after years of Russian imperial, then Soviet, domination. Ukraine has also successfully rid itself of nuclear weapons, acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state in 1994 and completing the transfer of its weapons to Russia in 1996. Ukraine's recent strong economic performance has been another major achievement. While much remains to be done in terms of economic reform, Gross Domestic Product over the last few years has grown at phenomenal rates.
Poor Record on Democracy and Human Rights
The one area where until very recently Ukraine has significantly lagged, however, has been in the development of democracy and human rights. In fact, in the period preceding the "Orange Revolution," Ukraine experienced a deterioration in its democracy and human-rights records. The latter Kuchma years were characterized by selective enforcement of laws, corruption, and growing government interference with the media through harassment, intimidation, and, in some cases, violent attacks against journalists. The murder of the journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, which earned Ukraine international condemnation, was one of the most notorious cases. (I would note, by the way, that President Yushchenko in his speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France, on January 25 said that the Gongadze case represented a moral challenge to his government and that it was important to act fast to resolve it.)
The negative trends of the late Kuchma years only accelerated during the 2004 presidential campaign. Let me give you some examples:
- We witnessed the harassment of, and attacks on, the opposition;
- Abuse of state resources to support the government's candidate, Prime Minister Yanukovych;
- A near-monopoly of media attention for Yanukovych;
- Violence and intimidation directed against independent media outlets; and
- Eleventh-hour attempts to change the Ukrainian Constitution to extend the authorities' hold on power.
This approach was carried over from the campaign to the conduct of the election itself. The first round of balloting on October 31 was plagued by numerous problems and irregularities, as detailed in the reports by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other reputable international and domestic election monitors. But if the first round represented a "step backwards" for Ukrainian democracy, as the OSCE found, the second round on November 21 featured even greater and more widespread fraud and abuse. Senator Richard Lugar, President Bush's special representative at the election in Ukraine, noted "a concerted and forceful program of election day fraud and abuse with either the leadership or cooperation of the governmental authorities." A U.S.-funded foreign NGO observer mission also described "a coordinated, systematic pattern of major violations leading to an outcome that does not reflect the will of the Ukrainian people."
On November 22, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) announced preliminary results showing Yanukovych in the lead. Yushchenko supporters began pouring into the streets wearing orange ribbons and scarves, the campaign color of the opposition. In Kiev, the demonstrators eventually numbered in the hundreds of thousands, despite daily temperatures below freezing. A number of municipal and regional councils declared Yushchenko the rightful president. Many government functionaries from various institutions declared their allegiance to the opposition. The latter included several diplomats at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, who issued a statement decrying fraud in the election, supporting Yushchenko as the winner, and calling on other members of the Ukrainian diplomatic corps to join their protest. Eventually, three hundred other diplomats reportedly signed their letter. To their credit, the Ukrainian military and other security forces remained on the sidelines of the crisis, though there were reports of troop movements at times and credible indications that government officials were, at one point, preparing to crack down on the protestors. In the east and south regions where support for Prime Minister Yanukovych was strongest�several governors declared that they would seek autonomy or even secession from Ukraine if Yushchenko were to be declared the winner; these calls were criticized by most Ukrainian leaders, including Kuchma, but not Yanukovych.
Resolving the Crisis
The Ukrainian leadership and government at first appeared stunned and surprised by the strong reaction of Ukrainians to the reports of fraud. They evidently believed that the demonstrations would melt away and protestors would return home as temperatures dropped and the finality of the results sank in. A precedent for such a scenario was set in 2001. Then, large-scale protests following revelations of the probable involvement of President Kuchma in Gongadze's disappearance and murder died out as protestors realized the government would not yield to their moral outrage. This time, however, the protestors were able to maintain discipline and their numbers did not decline and, in fact, increased with time. Their resolve appeared to strengthen after the Supreme Court's order on November 24 that the CEC's announcement of Yanukovych as the winner could not be promulgated (and thus become official) until the Court heard the opposition's case for election fraud. With no apparent resolution of the crisis in sight, international mediation efforts were begun by Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus, EU High Representative Javier Solana, and OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis. A roundtable framework for negotiations was set up to include Yushchenko, Yanukovych, Kuchma, Parliament speaker Lytvyn, and the European mediators. The roundtable produced an agreement that included an opposition promise not to block government buildings, and renewed pledges from both sides to refrain from violence, reform electoral legislation, and preserve the country's territorial integrity. There was also a controversial pledge to adopt constitutional reforms, which had been rejected by the Rada last April but were still supported by President Kuchma. The constitutional change would shift significant power from the presidency to the Rada and prime minister. On December 3, after hearing testimony from both sides, the Supreme Court demonstrated a welcome independence and ruled that there had indeed been significant fraud in the second round vote, declared the vote invalid, and ordered a re-vote of round two by December 26.
A New Birth of Freedom and Democracy
Despite some irregularities, the December 26 re-vote of the second round was a great improvement. According to the OSCE assessment, the election "brought Ukraine substantially closer to meeting OSCE election commitments and Council of Europe and other European standards." Other observer missions, including the large mission mounted by Freedom House and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) -- which included observers from central and eastern Europe, including the countries of the former Soviet Union -- recognized the elections as valid, as did Ukraine's CEC. Only the official observer mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the organization of many former Soviet states) said its monitors had witnessed a large number of irregularities. The final results gave Yushchenko approximately 52 percent to Yanukovych's 44 percent. The turnout was 77 percent (compared with 75 percent on October 31, and 81 percent on November 21). Yanukovych said he would never concede defeat. His campaign filed thousands of complaints to local courts and polling stations, contending that new restrictions placed on "mobile ballot boxes" and absentee voting effectively disenfranchised millions of elderly and infirm voters. The Supreme Court rejected all his complaints, however, and eventually the inauguration went forward. President Yushchenko took the oath of office on January 23, as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians looked on at Independence Square and people all over the world watched with a sense of deep respect and solidarity.
Role of U.S. Policy
Nowhere were the feelings of joy and good will toward the Ukrainian people's accomplishment greater than in the United States. The U.S. has long been a strong supporter of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people's quest for freedom, independence, and democracy. The U.S. has been a leading nation in terms of assistance to Ukraine, and we were in the forefront of those members of the international community advocating an election process in Ukraine that was free, fair, and conformed to international democratic standards.
Indeed, from at least the fall of 2003, the presidential election was the primary focus of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Over a period of many months, the U.S. and our European allies repeatedly advised Ukrainian authorities, publicly and privately, that we were watching the election closely and considered it a test of Ukraine's commitment to democracy. The United States funded local civil society groups to conduct voter education and get-out-the-vote campaigns. We worked with independent media to improve coverage of campaign issues. We provided nonpartisan training to political parties and leaders, trained election officials and observers, and more. Our election-related assistance to Ukraine was approximately $18 million. Of particular note, the U.S. funded what we believe was an unprecedented election-observer effort, which turned out to be critical in spotlighting electoral fraud, particularly in the November 21 second round.
Some in the U.S. and abroad have accused the U.S. Government (USG) of interfering in Ukraine's affairs by supporting Yushchenko's candidacy. This is absolutely untrue. A careful review of our statements and actions would demonstrate to any unbiased observer that the USG at no time offered its support to any particular candidate. This was confirmed on December 30 by the Ukrainian Ministry of the Economy and European Integration, which is responsible for monitoring such things. We did, however, strongly support a democratic process in Ukraine, and I must say that I think the American people can be quite proud of the role that the United States played in helping to ensure that the will of the Ukrainian people was respected. Beginning last February, a wide range of senior U.S. officials and prominent private citizens visited Ukraine carrying a strong message about the importance of democratic elections to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. These included Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, former President Bush, former Secretaries of State Albright and Kissinger, a number of Congressional delegations (CODELs) and, of course, Senator Lugar. The President asked Senator Lugar to return in November as his representative to deliver a letter to President Kuchma and observe the conduct of the voting.
The White House and the State Department communicated clearly our standards and expectations. Secretary Powell spoke frequently during the election crisis to President Kuchma, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, President Kwasniewski, EU High Representative Solana, and many others. At the crucial moment when the Central Election Commission announced that it had certified Prime Minister Yanukovych as the winner of the fraudulent second round, Secretary Powell spoke out publicly, saying that the United States could not accept that result as legitimate. President Bush issued a statement saying that the "United States stands with the Ukrainian people at this difficult time." Many Ukrainians have told us that these statements, in particular, were seen in Ukraine as a watershed in terms of international reaction to the election. President Bush, who spoke with Presidents Kwasniewski and Adamkus during the crisis, made known his strong support and deep appreciation for the mediation efforts of European leaders. The day before the Ukrainian inauguration, President Bush called President-elect Yushchenko to congratulate him and to commend him and other Ukrainians for the courage they showed in standing up for democracy. This was appropriately the President's first phone call to a foreign leader after his inauguration speech, in which he emphasized his support for freedom and democracy. Secretary Powell -- in one of his last official acts as Secretary of State -- attended President Yushchenko's inauguration as President Bush's representative.
As for Russia, we discussed repeatedly with Russian officials our concern over the conduct of the Ukrainian campaign and elections and the role of Russian citizens in that process. We consistently encouraged the Russian Government to join other states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in organizing common monitoring and mediation activities to promote a free and fair election that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people. We urged them to refrain from any activities that could limit Ukrainians' ability to choose freely. And we urged them not to view Ukraine in traditional "sphere of influence" terms, but to work together with Europe and us. As Secretary Powell said in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the early December OSCE Ministerial conference, "You can have friends to the East and to the West and it is not a matter of a 'sphere of influence.' It is a matter of allowing a country to choose how it wishes to be governed and who it wishes to have as its friends."
Long-Term U.S. Policy
U.S. strategic interests in Ukraine have remained steady for more than a dozen years and will continue unchanged. The U.S. wants to see Ukraine develop as a secure, independent, democratic, and economically prosperous country that respects human rights, has good relations with its neighbors, and increasingly draws closer to European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
President Yushchenko faces many challenges in trying to realize this vision.
Expectations of him among the Ukrainian people are already high -- and rising; meeting those expectations will be a serious challenge. Large majorities in Russian-speaking eastern and southern Ukraine opposed him, and some regional officials there have, as I have said, spoken of federation, autonomy, and even secession. His anti-corruption policies will directly challenge those Ukrainians who have used corrupt practices to enrich themselves. He will have to work hard to maintain a working majority in the parliament, which will be essential to enacting his legislative agenda. Yushchenko went to Moscow for his first foreign visit. He declared Ukraine and Russia to be "eternal strategic partners," while at the same time reiterating his intention to pursue integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. But eventual membership in the EU and NATO will depend on Ukraine's willingness to implement difficult political, economic, and military reforms. We stand ready to help Ukraine as it launches on this path.
Indeed, U.S. policies toward Ukraine in the aftermath of the election are designed to help the new president and his government meet these goals. We have already unveiled some of these programs. For example, the U.S. has just announced that it will assume lead-nation status in a NATO - Partnership-for-Peace program to assist Ukraine in the destruction of excess and outmoded small arms, munitions, and the very dangerous portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS). This is the largest program of its kind ever undertaken anywhere and will take a dozen years to complete. It meets a critical need, as there have been several fatal explosions in the past year at Ukrainian munitions depots. The U.S. is also prepared to make an additional contribution in the tens of millions of dollars to the construction of a new safe containment structure (called the Chornobyl Shelter Implementation Program SIP), which will completely cover the deteriorating old Chornobyl sarcophagus. We are encouraging our G-7 colleagues to do the same. Finally, the Bush Administration will seek to increase significantly assistance to Ukraine, including through the FREEDOM Support Act, to support the new government's reformist plans.
Beyond these immediate measures, we will work closely with the Ukrainian Government on a number of other issues that Ukraine has designated as priorities. One of these is "graduation" from the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, a measure passed by the U.S. Congress during the Soviet era to force the USSR to permit more liberalized emigration for Jews and other minorities. Ukraine has met all requirements of the legislation, and the Administration hopes Congress will soon address the issue. Accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is another priority for Ukraine. The U.S. strongly supports Ukrainian accession, but Ukraine will need to make progress in several areas of economic reform and adopt several pieces of legislation before it can do so. We are planning meetings with Ukrainian legislators and officials of the new government to discuss accession-related issues and to explore ways to offer Ukraine additional technical assistance on WTO issues.
A third important consideration is Ukraine's relationship with NATO. U.S. policy toward Ukraine and NATO is no different from that toward earlier aspirants: the United States is prepared to support Ukraine, if it so chooses, in its efforts to draw closer to, and ultimately enter, the Alliance, provided that Ukraine takes and implements the decisions needed -- for defense, economic, and political reform -- to meet the standards of NATO.
What happened last December 26 with the final vote was a major step in the right direction. NATO already has a substantial and important relationship with Ukraine within the framework of the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine (signed July 9, 1997). NATO has advised Ukraine on the content of its annual Action Plan goals on defense, economic, and political reform. The decision on whether to speed up Ukraine's reform efforts belongs to the new Ukrainian leadership. If they do, the U.S. will support their decision. I am also pleased to note that NATO and Ukraine have just last week announced that they would hold a summit meeting later in February during President Bush's visit to Brussels.
President Yushchenko has set as one of his main priorities a closer relationship with, and eventual membership for Ukraine in, the European Union. The EU has invited Ukraine to participate in its new European Neighborhood Policy, and the parties have negotiated a draft Action Plan for strengthening relations. The Action Plan calls for strengthening Ukraine's democratic institutions, especially with respect to free elections, freedom of expression, and media freedom. Similarly, Europe hopes to see Ukraine make progress on improving its investment climate, which involves transparent and predictable conditions for doing business, improving rule of law, and fighting corruption. It's a challenging agenda, but in many ways it coincides with the priorities Yushchenko has already articulated. Europe has made clear the importance it places on a stable, democratic Ukraine, and the U.S. anticipates closer relations between Ukraine and the EU and will actively look for ways to coordinate with them.
Ukraine's deployment in Iraq has been another important bilateral issue. The U.S. deeply appreciates Ukraine's troops in Iraq, which number just under 1,600, one of the largest contingents in the Multinational Force. The Ukrainian brigade operates in the Polish-led division in the south-central sector of Iraq and has played an important role in securing freedom for the Iraqi people. While President Yushchenko has set withdrawal of Ukrainian troops as an eventual goal, he has assured the U.S. that Ukraine would only do so as the situation warranted and in close consultation with coalition partners. More broadly, he has made clear his intention to work with us as a responsible partner on international challenges.
Finally, I should note the large number of high-level visits that we have planned for U.S. officials going to Ukraine and for Ukrainian leaders coming to the U.S. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary Powell attended President Yushchenko's January 23 inauguration as President Bush's representative. On January 26, Vice President Cheney met with President Yushchenko in Poland and reaffirmed U.S. support for his leadership and vision. We have invited President Yushchenko to visit Washington for official talks. The President may have an opportunity to see President Yushchenko during the NATO-Ukraine Summit later this month in Brussels. Of course, we expect as well a large number of Congressional delegations and executive-branch officials to travel to Ukraine in the months to come, as Congress considers how it can play its part to support reform and democracy in Ukraine.
I began this talk with a story from the Maidan, and I would like to conclude with another. This one comes from one of our political officers at the Embassy who spent quite a bit of time on the Maidan talking to the demonstrators and monitoring developments. He noticed that a group of Crimean Tatars with their distinctive flag seemed never to leave the area around the rostrum. The Crimean Tatars were amongst those peoples deported wholesale from their homelands to Central Asia by the Stalinist government at the end of WW II for alleged disloyalty. It was only in the 1990s that they began returning home. Our officer asked the group on the Maidan why they were there. They replied:
Those of us who have suffered collectively and individually understand what has been at stake here over the past five weeks, for our own future and for the country. We had to travel here to Maidan from Crimea to add our voice and support to the Orange Revolution. When Yushchenko is inaugurated President, we'll be back; watch for our flags up front.
Sure enough, when Yushchenko was inaugurated the first flag behind the camera stand directly in front of the rostrum was a Crimean Tatar standard, its inverse trident dancing above the crowd. Because of the built-up stands where the choirs, cameras, and bands were situated, our officer couldn't see the people who were holding the flag, but he didn't really need to; he knew they were there.
Ukraine now moves from the drama of revolution to the more mundane -- but no less important -- work of reforming its polity, economy, and society. But this work, too, will require heroism as Ukrainians make difficult choices and new sacrifices. The U.S. is ready and willing to help them in this effort, and we look forward to a new and increasingly close and mutually beneficial relationship with Ukraine. Thank you.