Remarks to the Press
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Good evening, everybody. It’s terrific to be back in Ukraine. We’ll have a fuller opportunity to speak tomorrow after I finish my consultations. I haven’t yet had a chance to sit with the President and the Prime Minister. But I did want to make a brief statement today, because I had the chance over the course of the day to sit with Rada Speaker Groysman, to visit with all of the faction heads of the governing coalition. And tomorrow morning I’ll have breakfast with Yuriy Boyko of the opposition bloc faction. And I wanted to just give you a sense of our message to them.
First, just to say — I am constantly impressed when I sit down with members of the Rada about what a different Ukraine this is in terms of the quality of democracy. You now have a parliament that truly represents the people, debate is lively, the democratic process is exciting, and the kinds of conversations we have with the representatives of the Ukrainian people are really rich and really impressive. Every single one of them is a patriot, and I am proud to know them and grateful for the opportunity to see them.
I don’t have to tell you that tomorrow is yet another historic day in the Rada. There have been a lot of historic days over the last eight months as you work to pass the important legislation that is going to change this country — that brings you true reform, true Europe, true democratic standards. But tomorrow, the Rada will consider a full package of reform legislation, which completes the prior actions requested by the International Monetary Fund, and will — if approved — unlock the next tranche of international support for Ukraine.
This is not simply about what the IMF has asked you to do. It’s not even primarily about that. It’s about taking the kinds of steps that will break the old oligarchic system that operated here and put you on the path to true, democratic, open market governance; clean economy; market standards; European standards. In passing this legislation tomorrow, the Rada will also be protecting — continuing to protect — Ukraine’s reputation as a strong, rules-based stakeholder in the international community. And as we’ve seen recently in Europe, it’s absolutely essential to maintain that trust — that you are prepared to live by international standards. And Ukraine has done that consistently since Maidan.
Tomorrow will also be the first reading — the first review — of a broad package of constitutional amendments primarily focused on decentralizing power to the local regions. This is a package of amendments that has passed through the Venice Commission — the gold standard of European review. It has met — it’s gotten the Venice Commission’s seal of approval. And it will bring to your constitution European standards of decentralized power. It will bring more opportunity for all the regions of Ukraine to control their own future, to have more power in budgeting, to take the kind of responsibility for improving quality of life at the local level — the quality of democracy at the local level — and to bring growth to the local economy.
My country is a country that is very decentralized, as you know. And we believe that people at the community level know best what is right for their people. That when government is close to citizens it is strongest. This is the step that you will take with this package of legislation tomorrow in a first reading.
It will also bring Ukraine into compliance with its Minsk obligations with regard to decentralization and special status. And that is very, very important. At every stage since Minsk was negotiated in February, Ukraine has worked hard to meet its obligations. And that has allowed the United States — it has allowed countries in Europe — to continue standing with Ukraine in insisting that all the parties to Minsk implement their obligations.
So I take this opportunity to now — as Ukraine takes its steps — to again call on Russia and those that it supports in the Donbas to meet their obligations.
And just before closing tonight — and again, we’ll have a chance to visit tomorrow — I want to underscore what my President said when Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was in the White House on Monday. The United States stands with the people of Ukraine — stands with you in defense of your sovereignty, your territorial integrity, your chosen path towards a cleaner, more democratic, stronger, European future.
Thank you very much.