February 26, 2021

An effective dialogue and a single phone call


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on February 25 that he appointed former finance minister Oksana Markarova to be the country’s new ambassador to the United States. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba proposed Ms. Markarova for the position in late November 2020, despite her having no experience in the foreign service. At the time, Mr. Kuleba defended his decision, saying that Ms. Markarova is “well known” in the United States, including at the State Department, Treasury Department, and at the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Ms. Markarova’s nomination to the post is largely seen as an effort by Mr. Zelenskyy’s administration to build closer ties with the U.S. In a statement announcing the nomination, Mr. Zelenskyy’s office said he had appointed Ms. Markarova to focus on establishing “an effective dialogue” with the new presidential administration in the U.S., and to work with Congress to strengthen bipartisan support for Ukraine. “The president emphasized that the ambassador should focus primarily on establishing an effective dialogue with the administration of the new President of the United States of America Joe Biden,” Mr. Zelenskyy’s office said.

While Ms. Markarova does not have foreign service experience, reaction to the news of her appointment to the post has been positive. Morgan Williams, the president of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, a Washington-based trade lobby group, said Ms. Markarova’s appointment is a positive sign that Ukraine is taking steps toward implementing badly needed reforms.

Ms. Markarova “is considered a heavyweight in international circles, a reformer, and she hits the ground running in Washington because she knows a lot of the folks. It is a strong appointment,” Mr. Williams told RFE/RL.

Ms. Markarova, 44, led Ukraine’s finance ministry from June 2018 until March 2020. She has also played a significant role in talks with the IMF and bondholders that ultimately resulted in the restructuring of $15 billion of Ukrainian sovereign debt. Ukraine is also hoping to reach an agreement with the IMF over a $5 billion funding program that was approved last June, but has stalled because Ukraine has not implemented the necessary anti-corruption reforms. It is believed that Ms. Markarova’s appointment will help on that front.

But we are under no illusion regarding the task ahead for Ms. Markarova. The United States has a long list of priorities it needs to tackle quickly, and it is believed that Ukraine is not high on that list. Mr. Zelenskyy has said repeatedly that he is still trying to hold his first telephone call with Mr. Biden. In order for her to be effective, Ms. Markarova will need to convince Mr. Biden that Ukraine is a major priority. It is here that the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S. can help. Politicians respond and react to pressure. If the past presidential election has shown us anything, it’s that our Ukrainian American diaspora – while deeply divided – is incredibly passionate. Our diaspora can and should channel this passion into bipartisan pressure on Mr. Biden’s White House to pick up the phone when Ukraine calls.