June 24, 2016

Ambassador-designate for Ukraine testifies before Senate committee


WASHINGTON – Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 21, Marie L. Yovanovitch, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, stated that “more progress has been made in Ukraine in the past two years” than in the past 25 years of Ukraine’s renewed independence.

She was one of three nominees for ambassadorial posts throughout the world who appeared at confirmation hearings before the committee. Also on the docket were nominees for Lithuania, Anne Hall; and Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt (the current U.S. ambassador to Ukraine).

The nominees were greeted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who thanked them for their public service to the country. The nominee proceeded with opening statements about their anticipated roles in their respective countries and how to bolster and enhance their relationship with the United States.

In her opening remarks, Ambassador-designate Yovanovitch, who currently serves as dean of the School of Language Studies at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, said her objectives as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine will be to assist in reforming key sectors in Ukraine and fighting corruption.

As regards implementing the Minsk peace protocols, she noted that Russia bears the weight and responsibility of ensuring security and stability in eastern Ukraine. (Ambassador-designate Yovanovitch’s full remarks appear on page 7 of this issue.)

Sen. Cardin asked all the nominees about best practices in combating and countering Russian disinformation and propaganda in the region.

Ms. Hall, the nominee for ambassador to Lithuania, replied that “Russia has never really stopped targeting the Baltics” with its false information. She offered that training Lithuanian journalists and being active in civil society is the best way to counter the Russian narrative.

Ms. Yovanovitch enumerated three aspects to countering Russian propaganda: 1) get the story out, 2) put a premium on analyzing the stories and countering with facts, and 3) build capacities in training journalists to recognize the disinformation and how best to reply.

Mr. Pyatt responded that “the truth” is the best weapon against such propaganda, adding that the strongest counter to Russian disinformation is to implement successful, sustained reforms in Ukraine.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) both complimented Ambassador Pyatt for his diligent work and efforts throughout his tenure in Ukraine.

The Minsk agreement came under scrutiny by Sen. Menendez, who commented that the European Union is sending more warnings to Ukraine to implement the peace accord than to Moscow. “Other entities [Russia, Russian-led separatists] have to be kept to standards” of the agreement, the senator underscored. Voicing agreement, Ambassador Yovanovitch acknowledged that Russia and the separatists have the major obligation to uphold the ceasefire.

Sen. Murphy inquired of Ambassador Pyatt how he plans to keep the Greeks on board with EU sanctions against Russia for non-implementation of the Minsk accords. The ambassador responded that as long as Russia does not implement the Minsk agreement, then the Greeks should remain united in continuing the sanctions regime.

The nominees await a vote by the entire Senate before taking up their posts.

Ms. Yovanovitch served as deputy chief of mission in Kyiv from August 2001 to June 2004 and was then nominated to become U.S. ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic. Following her post in Kyrgyzstan (2005-2008), she served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia (2008-2011). If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Yovanovitch would be the eighth U.S. ambassador to Ukraine since its restoration of independence in 1991.