Importance of 2012 Verkhovna Rada Elections to Ukraine’s Future

Source: State Department []

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Special Edition Roundtable:
Providing Ukraine with a ‘Report Card’ Before the 2012 Parliamentary Elections

Importance of 2012 Verkhovna Rada Elections to Ukraine’s Future: U.S. Perspective

Philip H. Gordon

Remarks by Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Special Edition Roundtable: Providing Ukraine with a ‘Report Card’ Before the 2012 Parliamentary Elections, held in Washington DC on September 19–20, 2012.

Thank you, Herman for your opening remarks, and Ambassador Motsyk for that kind introduction. I am delighted to join you this evening to help launch what I’m sure will be a productive two days of discussions that address the full range of issues with Ukraine — from the state of its democracy and economy to questions of energy security and national identity. It is good to see so many friends here tonight from government, think tanks, embassies and the diaspora community.

In the 21 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has worked with its European partners to build a Europe that is whole, free, democratic, and at peace. Today, this aspiration has been achieved across much of the continent as Central European countries have become valued members of NATO and the European Union while significant progress has been made in furthering Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the Western Balkans. Indeed, the United States looks to Europe as our partner of first resort in confronting global challenges because of what these countries bring to the table: shared values of democracy and human rights, strong market economies, and valuable military capabilities.

Despite these successes, we recognize that this historic project is far from complete. Included in this category of ‘unfinished business’ in Europe is the goal of the Ukrainian people to develop a more democratic and prosperous state, which the United States strongly supports. Ukraine is a country of massive untapped potential — with an educated population, a vibrant civil society, rich agricultural land, energy resources, and a large consumer market. It remains deeply in America’s interest to see an independent, prosperous and irreversibly democratic Ukraine; a Ukraine that is modernizing as a European state; a Ukraine where all citizens enjoy the full protection of the rule of law; and an inclusive Ukraine where all citizens can contribute to public life.

Over the last two decades, the U.S. has sought to strengthen and deepen our partnership with Ukraine. The U.S.-Ukraine Charter on our Strategic Partnership, which was signed in 2008, outlines the breadth of our relationship and clearly enumerates our shared interests and common goals. These include protecting Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity, supporting innovation and technology, and strengthening rule of law, economic freedom and democratic institutions.

This partnership was launched in July 2009 by Vice President Biden in Kyiv, with follow-on meetings led by Secretary Clinton in Kyiv and Washington. I was in Ukraine most recently in February and continued our strategic dialogue through discussions with officials, opposition leaders, and civil society on non-proliferation, energy security, economic reform, and advancement of democracy and human rights.

The United States has long put its money where its mouth is in terms of support for Ukraine, as we have been the largest bilateral contributor of assistance over the last twenty years. To support Ukraine’s goal of Euro-Atlantic integration, our assistance programs promote the development of sustainable institutions that advance democracy and human rights, increase the interoperability of the Ukrainian military, diversify options for energy independence, encourage nonproliferation, and improve conditions for economic investment.

We believe that enhanced engagement with the European Union offers Ukraine the best guarantee of prosperity and stability, as it has for so many of its neighbors. The U.S. supports the EU’s Eastern Partnership program that promotes security, stability and prosperity in six partner countries including Ukraine. We work to ensure that our bilateral assistance complements the EU’s political and economic reform efforts. After five years of negotiations, we welcomed the initialing on March 30 of the text of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine as well as the initialing on July 19 of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreement. While initialing these agreements was an important milestone, the EU has said that it will not sign or ratify them until political circumstances are appropriate. We support that approach and remain in close contact with our European colleagues regarding developments in Ukraine.

Let me be clear: we have not and will not ask Ukraine to choose between East and West, between the United States and Russia. That is a false choice that ignores Ukraine’s history and geography. Rather, we want a strong and stable Ukraine that achieves its own goal of European integration and enjoys close relations with all of its neighbors. The U.S. has been striving under the Obama Administration to improve its own relationship with Russia. We do not expect the Government of Ukraine to do otherwise.

Together, the United States and Ukraine have made significant achievements. Earlier this year, Ukraine completed the removal of highly enriched uranium from its territory, supporting our joint efforts to secure the world’s vulnerable nuclear material and make the world safer. We also appreciate Ukraine’s important contributions to peacekeeping and security operations, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

On the economic front, we welcomed the recent selection of Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell in tenders to develop shale gas resources as well as the selection of a consortium led by Exxon Mobil to explore for hydrocarbons off-shore in the Black Sea. And the U.S. remains committed to on-time completion of the Neutron Source Facility at Ukraine’s Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology, which will enable Ukraine to apply new industrial and medical techniques for the benefit of its citizens.

However, more must be done in order to fulfill Ukraine’s potential as a hub for foreign investment. When I was in Kyiv, I met with American business people who described the challenges of working in Ukraine. Their anecdotal frustrations are confirmed by Ukraine’s continued low rankings in international surveys on its business and investment climate. For example, Ukraine was listed 152nd out of 183 economies in the 2012 World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” rankings. While U.S. companies are interested in further investment in Ukraine, they are confronted by tax and customs problems as well as corruption. And they rightly worry about fair treatment in court. In order to alleviate these concerns, Ukraine must provide companies – both foreign and domestic – with a level playing field that includes better legal protections and transparent, predictable rules.

The Yanukovych Administration has adopted some important legislation, including measures related to the tax and customs administrations, a new Criminal Procedure Code, and laws guaranteeing public access to official documents and enhanced due process protections. On the governance front, the parliament established a sound basis for NGOs to operate, while the parliamentary election law did, in the end, pass with the support of most opposition MPs. These are all helpful steps that will have positive effects — if the laws are fully and properly implemented.

Ukraine is now in the midst of another key event in the development of its democracy — the campaign leading up to parliamentary elections on October 28. When Ukrainian citizens last went to the polls in 2010 to choose a new president, the election reflected the peaceful expression of their political will. That election provided a clear choice among candidates in a calm atmosphere that was followed openly by the media and engaged citizens who turned out in high numbers. And that presidential election was judged by international observers to be free and fair. I was proud to be part of the US delegation that attended President Yanukovych’s inauguration. President Yanukovych and other senior officials have pledged that the October 28 parliamentary elections will similarly meet international democratic standards, including full access for international and domestic election monitors. We urge Ukraine to follow through on these commitments.

The United States is providing approximately five million dollars in funding for activities to promote free and fair parliamentary elections. We are supporting long-term observation by over 260 Ukrainian and international monitors and short-term monitoring by 3500 domestic observers, as well as a Parallel Vote Tabulation and exit poll. We are strengthening the capacity of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to train election management bodies, training lawyers and administrative court judges to ensure the protection of voters’ and candidates’ rights, and encouraging the promotion of public debate and engagement in the electoral process through voter education campaigns.

It is worth stressing that free and fair elections extend beyond activities on election day to the three month campaign that precedes voting. Media freedom is a key component of this process. We are therefore concerned by reports of harassment of independent and opposition outlets by local authorities, tax inspectors, and prosecutors’ offices. The disappearance of independent television station TVi from cable operators in multiple cities has the appearance of a deliberate effort to silence one side in the pre-election debate. We urge the Government of Ukraine to address these problems.

We deeply regret that two imprisoned opposition leaders – former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Lutsenko – have been disqualified from participating in the election. As Secretary Clinton stated on May 1 of this year, we “call for Ms. Tymoshenko’s release, the release of other members of her former government and the restoration of their full civil and political rights.” We also urge the Government of Ukraine to cease further prosecutions against them and other political opposition leaders. While two former members of Ms. Tymoshenko’s former Cabinet were released earlier this year, we are disturbed to see the Prosecutor General’s Office continuing to pursue additional investigations against Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Lutsenko.

When I was in Ukraine earlier this year, I reiterated our concerns about politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders. Such trials undermine democracy and democratic values, risk ingraining self-censorship in the media, and discourage civic participation given fear of prosecution. They also create a stumbling block in our bilateral relations as well as in Ukraine’s quest to become a truly democratic society. Leaders of the EU and its member states have specified that they will not move ahead on signing and ratifying their agreements with Ukraine until this problem of selective prosecutions has been addressed.

Ukraine’s parliamentary elections come at a time when Ukraine is preparing to assume the Chairmanship-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2013. In order for Ukraine to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to the Helsinki principles on democracy and good governance, it will be important to demonstrate that its elections met the highest international standards. We look forward to working with Ukraine to ensure that the OSCE remains a potent force for democracy, human rights, and rule of law across Europe and Central Asia.

In conclusion, Ukraine has made tremendous progress in the last 20 years. The country can be proud of its achievements, as a young generation of Ukrainians is growing up with new freedoms and opportunities as well as a new mentality. But there is still much work to be done. History shows that in industrialized societies, economic modernization and political modernization go hand-in-hand as both are rooted in transparency, competition, rule of law, and strong democratic institutions. Indeed, America’s best partnerships are with like-minded countries who share our values: commitment to democracy and rule of law, free speech, open markets, and protection of human rights. We will continue to offer our active support, but Ukraine’s success will ultimately depend on the choices and actions of the Ukrainian people.

Free and fair elections are at the heart of the democratic process. We encourage Ukraine to seize the opportunity of the October parliamentary elections and to use them as a springboard toward becoming a modern, prosperous, democratic, European country.