WASHINGTON – The American foreign policy direction has remained the most important one to Ukraine in recent years amid Russian aggression and the conduct of the necessary reforms. During this time, the United States allocated more than $3 billion in aid to Ukraine, provided lethal weapons, imposed sanctions on Russia and treated heavily wounded Ukrainian soldiers. And this is far from a complete list. Bilateral relations have gained intensity that was not seen before.
Washington has a positive vision of further engagement with the new government in Ukraine. The preparations for a meeting between Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Donald Trump are under way. At the same time, the appointment of a new Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is being prepared. Ukrinform discussed these issues 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.
You have been working as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States for the past four years, at a difficult time when war is ongoing in our country. What was the most difficult thing? What achievements would you highlight?
The period of work that fell upon me to represent Ukraine in America was really special for our country. Support from our partners was needed to fulfill our main priority in countering Russian aggression and ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Amid the asymmetry of the military potentials of Ukraine and Russia, it would be hard to hold positions without such international support, first and foremost, from the United States.
Therefore, Washington’s political support, the signals coming from here, are always expected in Ukraine. I felt it especially when I was in the Joint Operations Area in August last year in Avdiyivka. There are high expectations among our officers, soldiers, volunteers who are now in the defense of Ukraine’s security and Europe as a whole.
One of our main efforts in this direction is to increase the country’s defense capability. We can really talk about achievements here. When I arrived in the U.S. in 2015, getting lethal weapons looked like a very difficult prospect. Over the past few years, we have been able to get the decision on providing Ukraine with weapons, training our troops, providing other assistance. This support was constantly growing, both from the Pentagon and the State Department. Since 2015, we have seen an increase in aid by over $50 million annually. But this is not done automatically. This is constant, persistent and complex work.
In total, the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $3 billion over the past four years, including assistance to reform the field of security and defense, anti-corruption and judicial reform, and improving the efficiency of public administration. The emphasis has recently been placed on energy sector reform. In addition, cyberthreats are a new challenge. This year, we expect the approval of a total amount of U.S. assistance of over $700 million to meet these challenges and carry out reforms.
Another priority is to help our wounded people who were undergoing rehabilitation here in the United States. These are the true heroes of Ukraine. Among them are Ihor Hordiichuk, Vadym Svyrydenko, and Oleksandr Kosolapov, as well as a lot of other guys. Now they are helping those wounded in Ukraine to find their place in society. This was and remains an important task for us. Oleksandr Popruzhenko is currently recovering after eye surgery, and we are hoping for a miracle.
Is it a warrior with injured eyes who participated in the Marine Corps Marathon?
Yes, it’s him. Unfortunately, Sashko cannot see yet, but last fall he ran a full marathon distance. And when the accompanying sportsman could not withstand his pace and had to stop, an American “intercepted” our soldier and they ran to the finish. We found this American athlete, invited him to the Embassy, and expressed gratitude to him. It is a sign of a completely new unity, human contacts between Americans and Ukrainians.
If we talk about gains, I felt that our countries have become closer, obviously because we have common threats. People in Ukraine and America have also become closer. The merit of this belongs to our Ukrainian Americans.
This helped the Embassy work more actively regarding the expansion of political support. For four years, I alone had more than 250 meetings with congressmen and senators. I’m not talking about meeting with partners of our delegation members, visits of government officials and civil society representatives, and there were about several hundred of them. Therefore, for example, almost the entire U.S. Congress knows what is happening in Ukraine and supports Ukraine on a bipartisan basis. This is a unique case in America when a foreign country unites all political blocs. Both Republicans, Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the White House have actually united on the issue of Ukraine.
Particular attention should be paid to the signing by U.S. Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] of the Crimea Declaration, which calls a spade a spade and contains clear messages in support of Ukraine. It can also be called one of the most important achievements over this period. These achievements were the result of consistent and effective work not only by the Embassy but, of course, by the Ukrainian authorities, our friends and the Ukrainian community in the United States.
Many bilateral meetings and events in the field of business and investment have been held over the past few years. What has changed in this area?
The development of economic opportunities of Ukraine through cooperation with the United States is another priority, an area where we have real achievements. These are not only projects that we implemented before, for example, in agriculture, space, but also great potential for the future. First and foremost, the issue concerns the energy sector – the involvement of American companies to supply nuclear fuel to Ukraine, the storage of spent nuclear fuel and strengthening the security of energy infrastructure. This is a promising multi-billion-dollar project on the construction of small nuclear reactors in Ukraine.
In general, much work was done in the area of trade, investment, joint projects, and increased volumes of Ukrainian exports. Ukrainian exports to the United States have increased by 2.6 times since 2016, amounting to over $1.1 billion at the end of 2018. The potential is obviously much larger, despite a large geographical distance between our countries. The export structure has changed dramatically. IT sector supplies have actually equalized with the traditional supply of steel, iron and chemical industry products.
In addition to commodity turnover, an equally important direction is an increase in investments. We did a lot to open the possibility of American investment in the defense industry of Ukraine. It was not easy to establish credibility so that Americans could begin to think about the joint production of weapons. This is a very sensitive topic, but it is a real next step in our strategic partnership.
What weapons are in question?
I will not reveal the specifications of weapons, but it should be understood that such a stage can become a reality only because we have already passed the path of military and technical cooperation, including the supply and procurement of various types of weapons, including lethal weapons.
In order to make this way, it was necessary to take important steps, for example, to open the possibility of direct arms purchases by the Ministry of Defense abroad, primarily in the U.S. Why do I say “primarily”? Over the past four years, 92 percent of all the assistance received came to Ukraine from the United States.
This happened thanks to the trust in Ukraine, which was missing back in 2015, as well as the amendments to the Ukrainian legislation which now reform this field. We expect a large project on the purchase of lethal defensive weapons to be implemented this year.
Ukraine is now a strategic partner of the United States in the field of security and defense, and respective tools of such interaction are already operating independently of the political processes in Ukraine and the United States.
I would like to single out an area that I call the restoration of historical truth. I can say that in recent years there has been a large number of Russian attacks – both against Ukraine and against the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States. These are the provocations of the so-called “Russian media outlets” – Sputnik, RT, as well as personal attacks on the ambassador. I was surprised that this is possible in America, but it really is the case.
Personal attacks? What do you mean?
Initially, these were attempts to picket the Embassy, but they were quickly stopped. Then there were cyberattacks, attempts to use fraudulent schemes, and later calls by so-called prankers on all my contacts with governors I met and mayors of cities with lies and attempts to stop our successes. I am not talking about attempts to illegally promote plans to exchange Crimea for the end of the war, counter the imposition of sanctions against Russian aggression, information attacks. Eventually, after failed attempts, they decided to take revenge and included Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States in the Russian sanctions list. I see this as a kind of distinction for our diplomatic success in the United States.
The Holodomor was one of the issues the prankers worked on, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. These actions intensified when we began to promote the idea of recognizing the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine as genocide. Now I can already reveal some of the nuances – how the plan we developed worked.
Here, where we are now talking [at Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington], I met with the leaders of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) and the leaders of Ukrainian organizations from different countries. I found out why it couldn’t be done. I was told how this had happened during previous attempts and what had stopped it.
With experience in the think tank, I approached this issue comprehensively and built a project scheme for two years in advance.
The idea was, first and foremost, to explain the importance of this issue to our partners from Jewish organizations in the U.S., from other diasporas. You know that at one time there was a wary attitude towards recognizing the Holodomor as genocide and bringing this tragedy to the level with the Holocaust of the Jews. We are very grateful that Jewish organizations in the U.S. supported our idea following explanations of the extent of the tragedy and in the context of the attack first by the dictatorship of the Soviet Union and then by Russia against the people of Ukraine.
In addition, we understood that the main difficulty [in recognizing the Holodomor as genocide] would be in Congress. Because there is a difficult procedure there. If the Senate had enough support from several co-sponsors of this bill, then the House of Representatives needed at least 25 co-sponsors, and among them, there should have been 10 members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I remember that when this issue came to the level of the House of Representatives, very serious opposition from Russia started. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson then declared that it was unacceptable and active pressure from all sides began.
Now I can reveal some of our technological developments. In order to divert our attention and reorient the opposition of opponents, we decided to work in all states at the same time. These were joint efforts of diplomats from the Embassy in Washington, Consulates General in Chicago, San Francisco and New York, as well as American Ukrainians and Ukrainian organizations in the U.S. and our friends from other diasporas. We sought the adoption of proclamations in every state for recognizing the Holodomor as genocide. In all, 23 states have done so today. At the same time, importantly, each state thus signaled to its congressmen and senators about support for our initiative.
After my meetings with state governors who adopted the respective proclamations, bots immediately started to enter their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and the flow of criticism began. There were also calls from prankers who introduced themselves as Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. and said that we met with you and asked to cancel their decision. As a result, I believe that through joint actions, together with the Ukrainian authorities, with Ukrainian organizations in the U.S., we were able to achieve our goals.