Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield on U.S. Support for Reform and Stronger Civil Institutions in Ukraine

Special Briefing
William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Via Teleconference
August 4, 2015


MS THOMPSON: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us today. This afternoon we’ll have a discussion on security, law enforcement, and rule of law in Ukraine with Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield. He is the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. This call will be on the record. Assistant Secretary Brownfield will open with remarks and then we’ll turn it over for Q&A.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Thank you very much, Nicole, and thank you, Dan, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am Bill Brownfield and I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for drugs and law enforcement here in the State Department in Washington. And to be quite honest with you, I wanted to have this opportunity to engage a little bit with the media because over the last 6 or 12 months, for understandable and perhaps even logical reasons, there has been a tremendous amount of media focus on Ukraine stories that are related to combat and violence, bilateral and border issues. And my suggestions for you, who obviously had it right from the very beginning, but for those who did not, is that you’re also missing a fairly big story in Ukraine as well, and that is the success of the Government of Ukraine in overhauling its law enforcement and rule-of-law institutions.

I was in Ukraine on a four-day visit the – between the 21st and the 24th of July, about two weeks ago. I had the opportunity to spend time in both Odessa and Kyiv, and while there I was able to meet with and discuss the two key elements of our support for Ukraine and Ukrainian reform efforts, and that is reform of their police services and efforts to improve anticorruption and eliminate corruption from government institutions. And in one minute or less, let me give you a quick snapshot of what I found and what I think has been accomplished so far.

Police reform – we in the INL Bureau of the State Department have focused on three basic elements: the new patrol police, designed to replace literally city by city the old DAI police of Ukraine. We see that as conceivably the coolest success story in Ukraine over the last two years. There are now 2,000 brand-new patrol police in Kyiv. They have been trained by their own trainers but supported by trainers from the California Highway Patrol and the Reno and Dayton city police forces in the United States. And may I tell you, as you walk the streets of Kyiv, you see not only the patrol police in their new vehicles and their new uniforms, but you see millions and millions of citizens of the city of Kyiv who are, in fact, extraordinarily pleased with and proud of their new police, up to and including the fact that the cameras are out for selfies virtually any moment that the patrol police come to a stop while working their rounds.

There are three – the next three cities in line for training and replacement of their police are Odessa, where I visited the training compound when there, Kharkiv, and Lviv, all of whom we hope to have completed by the end of this calendar year, 2015. Also in the police reform area, the Government of Ukraine has suggested to us that we could work with them in creating one single specialized police unit with SWAT and crowd and riot control capabilities. I committed to trying to work with them on this with funding being an issue I would have to work through.

And finally, I was both pleased and proud to visit the Ukrainian state border guard service, with whom we have a close working relationship now for almost 10 years. And I would draw everyone’s attention to the fact that a year or so ago, when border issues became very complicated and violence became the order of the day, the border guard service was virtually the only law enforcement entity in Ukraine that had the tactical capability to do operations in the violent areas.

That’s police reform. The second area of our focus was anticorruption, and there we are supporting on two fronts. One, the Prosecutor General’s Office in terms of allowing them the capability to do investigations and build cases against individuals in the government who are suspected of acts of corruption. Many people with whom I spoke on my visit suggested this is a target-rich environment and there should be many such opportunities. And in Odessa, in my meetings with the government of Oblast Odessa, we also committed to support their surge on fighting corruption in the Odessa Oblast where, as we suggested, our objective was to turn Odessa into the anticorruption capital not just of Ukraine but of the entire world.

So police reform, anticorruption – pretty good news story on both fronts. With that, I’ll now pause and turn this conversation back over to Nicole and Dan and whoever else wants to ping at me.

MS THOMPSON: Okay, thank you. We’ll now turn things over for questions and answers.

OPERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question today, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue and you may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you are using a speaker phone today, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you do have a question for today’s conference, please press * then 1 at this time.

And our first question comes from the line of John Hudson from the Foreign Policy magazine. Please go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Hi, Secretary Brownfield. Thanks for taking the call. You mentioned that Odessa is the next challenge for the training program. Can you speak to a little bit about the challenges that you see that Odessa will pose, and the possibilities of what former Georgian President Saakashvili, who’s got a long reputation of police reform, might bring to the table when it comes to police reform over there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Sure, a very good, very fair question. My answer into two parts, which in turn will go with the echoes that I hear from my voice (inaudible) with everything that I say.

First, the challenges that would affect doing this sort of patrol police training anywhere in Ukraine, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. And they’re logical, and you can figure them out on your own. First, you are bringing in brand new cadets who have been recruited, vetted, and have no – necessarily no experience in law enforcement. So there’s the basic training challenge, which is to say, how can you take an individual who has been selected and in less than six months convert them into qualified police officers? Because the plan on this, Dr. Hudson, is quite literally a one-for-one swap, which is to say the existing DAI – D-A-I – police of the Odessa Oblast are retired out and the new patrol police come in to replace them.

My own view is they learn some good lessons doing this in Kyiv and what I saw in Odessa was an exceptionally professional training operation, and the trainers now, unlike in Kyiv, are 100 percent Ukrainian police trainers. These are the trainers that – 200 trainers that were trained up by California Highway Patrol and Reno and Dayton police departments in the early months of this year. I’m quite optimistic that they are in fact going to produce a trained cadre ready to deploy in the course of the next three months for Odessa.

Now, what are the Odessa-specific challenges which you also correctly and legitimately mention? First, keep in mind Odessa is not Kyiv. Odessa is very much a multicultural, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic community, and it has been for – your guess is as good as mine – 3,000 years or so. It is an area where in fact you have many different languages, cultures, and ethnicities coming together. That is going to be a challenge of some sort.

Second, as the senior government officials of the Odessa Oblast made quite clear to me, it is an area which in their opinion has deep-seated corruption issues. And the challenge that we will have, which is very much an Odessa-specific challenge, is the challenge of bringing on a brand new police force and inserting them into an environment in which many of the institutions over and above that of the police are, in fact, penetrated and shot through with corruption. And this is Governor Saakashvili’s proposal and suggestion: that we should be doing two things at the same time. One is reforming and completely retraining the local police force, but the second is to surge in efforts to root out corruption through the – throughout the institutions of the Odessa Oblast. And I would say that the extent to which we are successful in the latter will have a great deal of impact in terms of how successful we are with introducing and deploying the new patrol police for Odessa Oblast.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Anatoly Bochinin from TASS News Agency. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. My question is: Will these new patrol forces will be able to fight, to deal with radical nationalists in Kyiv and Odessa? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yep. Anatoly, that’s a legitimate question, and it’s a legitimate question not just for Kyiv and Odessa Oblast, but obviously for the entire country. I would say to you first that better trained, professional police are better able to deal with all forms of crime and extremist behavior, whether they are extremists from the left or from the right; whether they are extremists from the Ukrainian side or the Russian-speaking side; whether they are Ukrainian – extremists from the north or from the south; from the rural areas or from the city areas. The government, the state, the society is better protected and more secure if they have well-trained, professional police who receive legitimate salaries that are adequate to support them and their families.

So I cannot tell you with a great deal of precision what the history will develop into over the course of the next 6 to 12 months. You all know as well as I do that there are a number of factors at play – some internal and some external, some that are generated within Ukraine itself and some that are generation from outside Ukraine’s borders that will play into the question of what is the law enforcement mission and likelihood of their success in the months ahead. Some of the mission is police in nature; some of the mission is law enforcement – is military in nature. Some of the mission is community policing and some is border policing. I cannot tell you precisely what will happen over the next 12 to 24 months, but I can say with absolute certainty the following: that the society, the culture, the communities of the Republic of Ukraine are likely to be more secure and better governed if they have properly trained professional police rather than the police that they had before, and that statement I am quite comfortable making.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, if you do have a question for today’s conference, please press * then 1 at this time. Our next question comes from the line of John Hudson from Foreign Policy magazine once again. Please go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Ambassador Brownfield. I just wanted one more question on – hoping to get your sort of post-mortem assessment of what happened with the standoff between Kyiv authorities and Right Sector involving the cigarette smuggling. And maybe you could talk about the issue of cigarette smuggling more broadly, Ukraine as well. Thanks very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yep. John, let me give you a more general response rather than a specific response, because I’m not going to get into any specific cases or any specific investigations. At the end of the day, that is the responsibility for law enforcement and the prosecution services, eventually the courts as well, in Ukraine.

I can say to you that Ukraine, for reasons of geography, for reasons of history, for reasons of natural flow of goods, people, and services between Asia and Europe, and for that matter even between the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere, is now and has been for probably 1,000 years a natural hub for individuals, usually criminal in nature, who are engaged in trafficking. And the trafficking can cover the range of goods and services and people that skilled trafficking organizations move around the planet and have done for hundreds and hundreds of years.

As we assess the role of law enforcement in Ukraine in the years ahead, this obviously has to be one of the issues that they take into account that they train for and prepare for. It is my understanding that the leadership of the Ukrainian ministry of interior as well as its law enforcement community believes it will approach the trafficking issue with a multifaceted approach. At the basic level, they believe that with better trained and more professional community police – those who are walking the streets in the cities and towns of Ukraine – the extent to which they are engaging more closely, more regularly, and more directly with the community will allow them to have a better understanding of what is going on in those communities and pick up information that would suggest that more sophisticated criminal organizations are trafficking.

The leadership of the ministry of interior seems quite well to understand that taking on professional and normally armed trafficking organizations requires a more sophisticated approach. The sophisticated approach would be professional investigators who can build the case, collect the evidence, and basically put together case packages for eventual action by the third phase in this operation – the direct action police units that are capable of taking down sophisticated and well-armed criminal organizations.

So the thinking process – which, by the way, is not significantly different from how we do this here in the United States of America – is a three-stage policing process: community policing to identify those areas where the trafficking is happening; professional investigators to collect the evidence and build the target cases on those that they eventually want to take down; and finally, a SWAT-qualified police organization or unit that is capable then of taking on, arresting, detaining, and delivering for prosecution those individuals who are engaged in this.

Now, is this going to be an overnight process? No. Is cigarettes the tip of the iceberg? It could be in some places, and other places it is the iceberg. Obviously, Ukraine is a very large place. You may find this hard to believe, but it’s larger even than the state of Texas, as I can personally attest, and there are different threats and different criminal activities in different parts of the country. But this is a problem that is not going to go to away, and I repeat, it is as much a matter of geography and history as it is the current state of political and economic realities in Ukraine.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Cami McCormick from CBS News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. I have some questions about Kharkiv, it being so close to the border with Russia and the bombings that we’ve seen there over the past several months. Who is supporting the training there? Are U.S. trainers there? Is there a timeline for this training? And are the police there going to undergo any sort of counterterrorism training?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yep, good questions all. First, to be clear, Kharkiv is on (inaudible) of the top four because the decision by the Ukrainian Government – and it was a courageous decision – was to start with the four largest metropolitan areas in Ukraine at that particular point in time. And that took them to Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, and L’viv. And their expectation is once we have worked our way through the four largest population centers, we work down to the next tranche – there’ll probably be, at least initially, about five of them – which is the next level down in terms of population and size.

Are we training at Kharkiv now? Yes, we are. Who is in the lead from the U.S. support side? It is once again my increasingly favorite police trainers from the United States of America – and it is not easy for a Texan to say this – and it would be the California Highway Patrol, who have proved to be extraordinarily capable at engaging with and working with the Ukrainian patrol police. And I urge you when you have a moment to actually talk to some people, both here and out in California, in terms of what their experiences have been.

Now, I repeat what I said to you earlier on in this discussion, and that is: Please remember that our business model is we train initially the trainers, so the overwhelming majority of the trainers out in Kharkiv right now are in fact Ukrainian police trainers who were trained in the process of standing up the first 2,000 of the new patrol police that now are deployed in the city of Kyiv. There are, however, U.S. mentors and advisors that are working with them in Kharkiv as they train up the unit that will eventually deploy into Kharkiv.

Are there elements of the training that are counterterrorism in nature? The answer is not specifically, because that is not this mission. This mission is to provide and train community police, those that walk the streets and patrol the streets and roads of the big cities and, for that matter, the highways outside those cities. That said, are the Ukrainian police trainers obviously going to insert into their curriculum elements of training that would be relevant to the location, the city, the region where these police will eventually deploy? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Our model is actually to allow the trainers and their leadership to make the final determinations in terms of what the curriculum and the agenda will be. We do not try a one size fits all as though every single city and town in Ukraine is exactly the same and should receive precisely the same training. There is a core curriculum that all of these vetted police cadets will be trained in.

Will they receive additional training that is Kharkiv-specific? Yes, they very well may, but may I conclude with this comment: The purpose is not to give them the ability to do large-scale counterterrorism operations. There are elements of the Ukrainian law enforcement and, for that matter, military communities that do have and should have those missions. What we hope to produce and see produced in Kharkiv, along with Odessa and L’viv, will be thousands of professional and trained patrol police who can serve as community police in constant, regular, 24-by-7 communication and engagement with their communities. And should that have an impact in terms of lowering the risk of violence and bringing the community more together in terms of how they respond to other factors affecting them – it most assuredly should – that would be the contribution of the patrol police, not any ability to conduct specific counterterrorist organizations.

MS THOMPSON: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, if we have any more questions, I think we have time for maybe one more.

OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, once again, if you do have a question today, please press * then 1 at this time. And Ms. Thompson, I’m not showing anyone as queueing up at this time. Please continue.

MS THOMPSON: Okay. Well, everyone, thanks very much for joining us today, and we hope you have a great afternoon. Thanks a lot.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Thank you all very much.