WASHINGTON – As the appointment of a new Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is being prepared, Ukrinform discussed a variety of issues regarding U.S.-Ukraine relations with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly, who will shortly complete his tenure in the U.S. capital. The interview was released by Ukrinform on July 30.
How is Washington now assessing the political situation in Ukraine following presidential and parliamentary elections?
There is a vision here that the election results in Ukraine, the victory of new President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with the overwhelming support of the Ukrainians, have provided a new window of opportunity for the rapid promotion of joint initiatives. After the ruling party received a high degree of confidence, there were hopes that rapid results could be achieved given the president’s monopoly control over Parliament and government.
But now more attention is being paid not only to the form but also to the approaches of the new Ukrainian authorities. If the U.S. is very enthusiastic about the form, then there is an ambiguous attitude to some specific steps and some caution in the estimates. The task of government and diplomacy in the United States is to remove this caution.
One such point was the introduction of a new lustration bill. Here, it was actually seen as a lustration of people who stood on the Maidan, fought in the ATO [anti-terrorist operation], war veterans who came to public office during difficult times, and not just corrupt politicians and officials. I think the United States will look at this more closely because it is well aware of Yanukovych’s authoritarian regime and is very wary of groundless attacks on those who stopped Russia’s aggression and, in fact, preserved the integrity of Ukraine during difficult times. America is well aware of these details.
I think that this caution can be removed by respective actions and messages from both the president of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Parliament and the government. I hope this will be facilitated by further intensive contacts at various levels. The more contacts and meetings, the better to explain the situation and form joint actions.
In one comment you called on Kyiv not to “waste time” and appoint a new ambassador to the U.S. because such pauses “will not benefit our foreign policy success.” What did you mean?
This is more about our diplomatic cuisine. A lot of time is spent to ensure the work of the institution, staffing policy, form an effective Embassy team, establish and maintain contacts with partners at all levels, and it is harder to do it without an appointed ambassador. We have now been able to form a really powerful and effective team. But in the context of a constant rotation of diplomats, the management of these processes must be continuous.
The second point is the protocol stuff. That is, the ambassador has a different level of access to certain meetings because a chargé d’affaires, by the U.S. protocol, cannot even get to some of them. Handing over copies of credentials opens the first circle of interaction. But if you did not hand over the credentials to the president of the United States, you would not get to meetings at the White House, the National Security Council by any means. In addition, not every senator or congressman will meet with an acting ambassador.
There is another significant reason: you cannot lose pace. The current Embassy team is working effectively, but without leadership, constant action and direct communication with Kyiv it is impossible to ensure these dynamics. The ambassador can directly contact the president, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, or hold negotiations with the prime minister and ministers.
Therefore, the appointment of the ambassador should be made as soon as possible, and this person should have the diplomatic experience, new ideas and, most importantly, the ability to achieve goals, as well as trust and constant and effective contact with the president.
President Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States is being prepared. Can the ambassador’s rotation process affect its preparation?
Immediately after the presidential election in Ukraine, the Embassy assisted in organizing a visit by a U.S. delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Kyiv for inauguration events. We also showed the initiative and received a letter from the White House chief inviting President Zelenskyy to visit Washington. But at the initial stage, for some reasons that did not depend on us, the visit did not take place, and its preparation is currently under way. So, I think, there will be enough time for my successor to meet the Ukrainian president in the United States.
To be honest, at some point the Embassy stopped being engaged in the meaningful filling of the Ukrainian president’s visit to the U.S. We helped organize the talks between the president’s envoys in Washington, including National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Danylyuk and presidential aide Andriy Yermak, who took over preparations for the president’s visit. The Embassy fulfills all orders, but it is obvious that questions about the content of the visit should now be put to the Presidential Office.
So the Presidential Office is engaged with filling the visit. But you probably need to know what issues should be raised at a meeting between Presidents Zelenskyy and Trump.
Here in the United States, for the last four years the Embassy, on behalf of the president, the foreign minister, has always played a key role in the preparation of the content and the whole program of the president’s visit, which, incidentally, is in accordance with the law of Ukraine on diplomatic service.
Now everything is different for the first time. We have ideas and are ready to provide them, but it remains a question for me whether Kyiv needs them now. Apparently, the new government has great confidence in future achievements in the American direction without our services. I can only wish them success.
As for the topics that, in my opinion, as an ambassador, need to be prepared before the visit in order to have a strong negotiating position, I reported directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
What are these topics?
They concern our further cooperation in military and technical cooperation, including the procurement of arms, cooperation in the energy field. It is also a solution to some of the problematic issues in the space industry. In addition, issues related to the continuation of bipartisan support for Republicans and Democrats in Ukraine, given the rather difficult period before the U.S. presidential election. And finally, these are issues related to our promising plans for the activity of the Strategic Partnership Commission in a new format.
What are you planning to do when you return to Ukraine? Will you engage in politics?
There are some traditional formalities to complete my work in the United States. I will return to Ukraine with a sense of duties fulfilled and gratitude for joint work and the result achieved. I feel that the enormous experience and contacts that I have gained over the past years as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States will still be useful. The positive appreciation of our work and the support of our compatriots on both sides of the Atlantic are inspiring.
As for engagement in politics, it so happened that, as a rule, I “came into power” not immediately after the election, when support is maximal, but when some mistakes already have to be corrected and when routine professional work is needed for the state. But frankly, one cannot stay in power for long. Four to five years, and you have to go back to where you can regain strength and find new ideas. I feel more comfortable with my colleagues from civil society institutions.
In fact, after such intense and exhausting work for five years in public service, I have a great desire to return to the analytical sector in the foreign policy field, which I have been engaged in for many years. There are many ideas in this regard, and most importantly, many like-minded people with whom we have already achieved many goals in establishing a sovereign democratic Ukraine and ensuring the continuity of our chosen Euro-Atlantic course. I am ready to continue to defend these positions wherever I am.