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Q&A: Outgoing British Ambassador Roy Reeve 'The government [has] mastered the phraseology of reform'

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May 13, 1999, 1 a.m. |
As ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ukraine, Roy Reeve has cut an unusual figure for a government representative in Ukraine, playing an active role in expatriate life and demolishing the stereotype of the reserved, inaccessible diplomat. Reeve has been a visible supporter of the Ukrainian Rugby Federation, and a British Embassy publication features a front-cover photograph of Reeve, a motorcycle enthusiast, posing next to his Harley-Davidson. In his frequent appearances before the local press, Reeve has been unusually frank about Ukraine's hesitant progress toward market reform. More recently, he has forcefully articulated his country's stance on the necessity of the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. At a briefing on the Kosovo crisis convened by diplomatic representatives of NATO countries to Ukraine, Reeve told reporters that any suggestion that the bombing sparked a refugee crisis is 'totally wrong.' Punctuating his remark, he added that, 'We need to ensure that Mr. Milosevic is not going to profit by his actions.' During his term in Kyiv, Reeve also threw his weight behind several human-rights causes and was one of the diplomatic community's strongest supporters of Ukrainian non-governmental organizations, such as the Association of Psychiatrists of Ukraine. Educated at Dulwich College and the London School of Economics, Reeve trained as a specialist in Soviet studies and international economics. He joined the Foreign Office in 1966 and earned his first Cold War credentials when he was posted to Moscow in 1968. Reeve later returned to Moscow as the British Embassy's commercial first secretary in 1978. Reeve was appointed ambassador to Ukraine in June 1995; Roland Smith, who succeeds him as British ambassador, arrives in Kyiv on May 16. Q: Commenting on your term of service in Ukraine, you said that you see a lack of consensus in the country about moving forward. How has this affected Ukraine's ability to attract British and Western investment? A: As far as the investment climate in general is concerned, Ukraine has failed to attract the major players. It's difficult to encourage companies to make the initial investment if the playing field has been tilted against your favor. On top of that, we have a bureaucracy that has been in place since the days of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Not much has changed in terms of the bureaucratic habits. For instance, you have an import certification process that requires duplication of paperwork and quality control for products that meet international standards. Together with the general downturn in economic indicators, you have little assurance that an investment can be protected. Q: How could you account, then, for recent American reports that cite an improvement in the investment climate? A: If we look at the words that issue out of the Cabinet or the government, you find that they have mastered the phraseology of reform. But there is often a lack of correspondence between the words you hear uttered by your Ukrainian officials and the regulations that go into practice. You have draft legislation aimed at lifting those obstacles that has been on the books for six months without going anywhere. Q: How would you characterize overall British investment? A: Marginal. Our biggest investment to date has been an oil and gas exploration [the joint venture JKX]. Q: How long can Ukraine maintain a 'multi-vectored' - or as some would have it, directionless - foreign policy? A: Ad infinitum, I would think. The United Kingdom has a global foreign policy, which, by definition, is multi-vectored. If you are asking how long Ukraine can keep this balance between integration in European structures and cooperation with the Atlantic alliance, and moving away, then that is a different question. Foreign policy is not the engine of domestic politics. The same rule holds true in Ukraine. It doesn't greatly affect public opinion. You find that it does at some time have resonance and it can be used to build political capital during an election, but domestic economic concerns are what's on people's minds. Q:: Are Kuchma's efforts to broker a settlement in Yugoslavia part of an election year ploy to 'act presidential'? A: I think that President Kuchma genuinely feels that he has a role to play in negotiating a settlement. There are historical links between Ukraine and the Serbs, so I feel they've got a very genuine interest in trying to negotiate a peace, but in what capacity it's difficult to say. Clearly Ukraine has been there throughout - it has kept a presence in the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Bosnia. I think that you may have some of the arguments that appear that in Moscow about calling for volunteers. But I think trying to cooperate through back channels - which I believe is what [Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys] Tarasyuk has been trying to do - can be useful. Q: Have you seen any tangible shifts away from Europe and the Atlantic alliance after the commencement of the air campaign against Serbia? A: I have been traveling around Ukraine on my farewell tour of the country. I went everywhere - eastern and western Ukraine, I visited Crimea. I was a bit surprised to find that Kosovo was not people's main concern. I had expected a barrage of criticism. Even in Simferopol, people did not come to pillory the British ambassador over Yugoslavia. Within Kyiv, it's more topical. In your meetings both with officials and with the press in the capital, Kosovo is much more the topic of discussion. But, much as Moscow does not represent Russia, Kyiv does not speak for Ukraine. Outside of the capital there's no raising the temperature on the issue. People are much more concerned about economic issues. Q: You made several very public visits to Crimea (to lay wreaths to Britain's fallen in the Crimean War) and have made the repatriation of formerly deported Crimeans part of your agenda. What changes have you seen on the peninsula? A: When I first arrived four years ago, Crimea was perceived as a potential hotspot, and frictions over the Black Sea Fleet were very much in evidence. There was a large community of 250,000 Tatars returning from exile who faced adverse living conditions. When I began, they had just returned. There's a feeling that the government in Crimea has been able to reduce some of the antagonism. That, along with the efforts of the government to improve procedures for registering the Crimean Tatars [to help them adopt citizenship], has led to a lessening in tensions. Unfortunately the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitoring mission is coming to an end - in part, the improvement there was thanks to the continued presence. Q: How genuine is Crimea's new autonomy? A: The feeling I've got down there is that now, with the passage of the constitution, Crimea has an edge on other regions of Ukraine in terms of economic autonomy. Its prime minister has had some success in creating a free economic zone in the region. The whole relationship between the Kyiv and Simferopol changed with the passing of the constitution. Q: What are the prospects for a free and fair presidential election this year? A: Certainly press freedom is a strong concern, and I am confident that the United States and Europe will not stand idly by if Ukraine violates these principles. It is, after all, signatory to several international conventions, and you can't expect to have the benefits of membership in a particular club without meeting the requirements. The British government and the Council of Europe will be watching Ukraine closely during the elections to make sure that Ukraine does the right thing. Q: Nonetheless, whether in resolving investment disputes or putting a moratorium on the death penalty, Ukraine often seems to get away with just a warning. A: We can always argue about whether quiet diplomatic pressure is more productive than making a lot of noise. That debate will always go on in foreign policy.
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