Press Availability in Ukraine
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Mr. Lalley: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. My name is Jonathan Lalley. I’m the Embassy Spokesperson here at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, and I’m delighted that you’re all here for a special on-the-record briefing this evening with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland. Assistant Secretary Nuland is making what is at least her eleventh trip to Ukraine as Assistant Secretary. She’s someone who needs no introduction, as a close friend of Ukraine, so I’ll turn it over to her for opening remarks, and we’ll take three or four questions. Over to you.
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thanks, everybody. I am very sorry to keep you waiting. I am delighted to be back in Kyiv to once again reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s democratic journey. I am struck once again on this trip by the resolve of the Ukrainian people to change the future of this country into a modern, democratic, European state.
I was honored to be here today when Ukraine and the Verkhovna Rada took very important steps along this path, including passing on the first reading the package of constitutional reform measures bringing broad decentralization to the country, and bringing government closer to citizens, and Ukraine closer to European norms, as approved by the Venice Commission.
I’m also pleased to have seen the passage of a major package of economic reforms, which were necessary to keep Ukraine in compliance with IMF standards. This package also puts Ukraine that much closer to unlocking the next tranche of economic support from the international community.
I am grateful and I thank all of the leaders I was able to meet over the last two days. We had the chance to see the leaders of all the major parliamentary factions. We also saw Speaker Groysman and his team, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, Minister of Interior Avakov, NSDC Turchynov, Mayor Klitschko of Kyiv, Foreign Minister Klimkin, Chief of Staff Lozhkin, Ambassador Chaliy, NSA Yeliseyev, and business representatives. Special OSCE Representative Sajdik and I met for the first time here in Kyiv. And of course I had a very long and generous meeting with President Poroshenko.
In every one of those conversations, we talked about the vital importance of unity among the democratic forces -- the reformist forces -- here in Ukraine, about the importance of sustaining economic reform and rooting out corruption wherever it lives, and about implementing the obligations that Ukraine undertook under the Minsk Agreements, so that on the Ukrainian side there are no excuses. And on the other side, there is a question of whether they will meet their obligations.
The decisions that were taken today at the Rada reinforce the trajectory along all of these paths, and I am very pleased to be able to go home and report so much progress here in Ukraine.
One last word — tomorrow, all of us will honor the memory of the 298 innocents from around the world who perished here when Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was brutally shot down in eastern Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine and those who lost citizens around the world in insisting that there be justice for this heinous crime. And we are reminded by that memory of the vital importance of the international community standing with Ukraine to see peace here, to see security, and to guarantee your territorial integrity.
I’m prepared to take some questions.
Mr. Lalley: We have time for three or four. The first question is from the Associated Press.
Question: (Inaudible.) Do you have any new details on the investigation of this tragedy, and does the U.S. support an international tribunal under the United Nations?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, as you know, just a few days after the tragic shoot down, my boss, Secretary Kerry, came out publicly making clear that we believe that Malaysian Airlines 17 was shot down by a missile from eastern Ukraine. I don’t have anything else to share here. We are cooperating intensively with the Dutch who have the lead in the investigation. We understand that they are making progress in that investigation. But I won’t get ahead of them. There are discussions, obviously, in New York and elsewhere, about the right venue for finding international justice and ensuring those who are responsible are brought to justice, but I don’t have anything new to announce today.
Mr. Lalley: Our next question is from Interfax.
Question: (In Ukrainian.)
Assistant Secretary Nuland: I have to say that I find the question offensive. The United States is not in the business of trading one thing for another in its international relations. The United States was pleased that we were able — with our Allies, and with China, and with the European Union — to cooperate with Russia in reaching this historic agreement with Iran. But we don’t judge that Russia did this as a favor to the United States or anybody else. It did it because its own interests were served by ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.
At the same time, as you know, we continue to have very tough, difficult conversations with Russia about Ukraine. My President had a conversation with President Putin that included Ukraine not too long ago. And we have made absolutely clear that we expect not only Ukraine, but obviously Russia, to live up to its obligations under the Minsk Agreement, including its obligations to ensure that there is a full ceasefire, that there is a full exchange of hostages, that there is a full withdrawal of all weapons and foreign forces, and that the border is returned to Ukraine as agreed in Minsk. So among the things that we now — I am now working on myself — is not just supporting Ukraine in its preparations for Minsk Group meetings, but also trying to work with Deputy Minister Karasin to ensure that the Russian side, too, meets its obligations.
Mr. Lalley: Our next question comes from Novoye Vremya.
Question: (In Ukrainian.)
Assistant Secretary Nuland: First of all, for somebody who’s been coming in and out of Ukraine for 25 years, it really was very exciting to stand in the Verkhovna Rada today and see vibrant democracy in action, and lots of different opinions, and a real debate — not like the fake debates of old. I thought President Poroshenko spoke quite clearly in the Rada — and persuasively — that in contrast to the accusation, this actually protects Ukraine from federalization. This is decentralization that provides the same rights of budgeting, of local authority, of responsibility for your own affairs to every region of Ukraine.
With regard to the single sentence about the need for the law that’s already been passed by the Rada on special status — as you know, that’s a direct quote from the Minsk Agreement, which was signed by Ukraine in the hope of having peace and having the restoration of its territory in eastern Ukraine. So the hope is, having fulfilled Ukraine’s obligation under the Minsk Agreement to include this, this will now be answered by responding steps by those responsible in Donetsk and Luhansk, and those who support them in Moscow. So it puts you in the strongest possible position to say your obligations are being met, what about the other side.
Mr. Lalley: We have time for one more. Last question, Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon.
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Max! You’re far from home. (Laughter.)
Question: Following up on the question here. The Deputy Speaker of the Rada, Oksana Syroyid, wrote on Facebook yesterday that the constitutional changes that were passed were being forced on Ukraine through unprecedented pressure from the West. And going by what a lot of people in the Ukrainian political sphere have said recently, there seems a lot more enthusiasm on the Western side — the U.S. and the EU — to (inaudible) these things done from the Ukrainian political establishment. What kind of pressure have you been putting — in your conversations — on the Ukrainians to get this done, and what kind of resistance have you been running up against?
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, first of all, 288 out of 300 plus deputies voted for this, so it was a very strong mandate for — first and foremost — decentralization of the country, which public opinion polls show is second only to countering corruption in terms of what the people of Ukraine are asking for — whether they live in Lviv or Donetsk. So this was an important step to de-Sovietize, de-oligarchize the country — to liberate Ukraine from the structures of the past and bring it closer to Europe. Did we want to see Ukraine meet its obligations that it took in Minsk by including this sentence as it agreed to do? Of course. But the reason that we wanted to see that happen was so there would be no excuses on the other side for renewed violence. No excuses to break the agreement. That Ukraine is doing its job. Now it is up to the other side to do its job. Thank you all very much.