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Looking Ahead To 2013: US ambassador will leave with confidence in Ukraine

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Dec. 20, 2012, 10:46 p.m. | Op-ed — by John F. Tefft

“Ukraine is a country that matters to the U.S. and that will continue to matter not just in 2013 but into the future.” - John F. Tefft America’s ambassador to Ukraine.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

For 20 years, the U.S. has been a strong supporter of Ukrainian independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We remain so today. Ukraine is a country that matters to the U.S. and that will continue to matter not just in 2013 but into the future. 

There are many reasons why: to start with, U.S. policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been to work to create a Europe “whole, free, democratic, and at peace.” That remains our objective today and Ukraine is one of Europe’s key unfinished pieces.

In addition, Ukraine is a country with enormous potential. Ukraine has an educated, talented population of 46 million people and plentiful natural resources, especially some of the richest agricultural land on the planet.

A Ukraine that is fulfilling its potential -- a prosperous, democratic and European Ukraine -- would be a great partner for the U.S., much as it has been already in such important areas as preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This valuable partnership could help us confront the many challenges that the world faces today: hunger, climate change, terrorism, and religious fundamentalism to name just a few.

Around the world, our best partnerships are with countries that share our values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free speech, and open markets. A Ukraine that shares those values, a Ukraine in which elections are free and where political opponents do not imprison one another, would be a country that could serve as an example to those of its neighbors who are also struggling with their own transitions to democracy and free market economies.

While we can help, it is up to Ukraine and to Ukrainians to realize their potential and to assume a global role commensurate with that potential. The U.S. has been Ukraine’s largest bilateral donor of assistance over the last 20 years and we will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts. However, real change must come from within and there are no easy fixes.

Take for instance, energy. Cheaper gas is not the answer to Ukraine’s economic problems. It will not suddenly make Ukrainian companies globally competitive or its bureaucracy more efficient and transparent. Quite the opposite, it will only fuel dependency, inefficiency and corruption as it did in the past. Ukrainians must, like people everywhere, pay market price for their energy.

When this happened in your western neighbors in the former communist bloc, consumption of energy declined dramatically and the push to utilize domestic sources of energy became profitable. The same thing would happen here. Ukraine has enough resources to be almost energy independent – especially given the “shale gas revolution” which began in the U.S. -- and Ukraine’s own potential shale gas reserves. Such a development would fundamentally alter the energy relationship between Ukraine and Russia, a co-dependency that serves neither country’s best interests.

Gas prices at market rates would also help Ukraine negotiate another agreement with the IMF. A new IMF agreement is the best short-term solution to help Ukraine deal with a very difficult financial situation in 2013. Ultimately, however, Ukraine will need to borrow money to cover its deficits, either domestically or internationally, or it will have to stop running deficits. However, IMF agreements are only supposed to be temporary packages to tide a country over until it can once again manage its finances on its own. They are not meant to be a permanent source of funding. That is why they include conditions that are intended to help a country make the necessary reforms to put it on a sound financial footing and on the path to sound economic growth.

When I first arrived here, a Ukrainian official told me that some of the world’s best computer hackers were Ukrainians. Wouldn’t it be better for Ukraine and the world if those hackers were instead creating new information technology companies; if the next Apple were a Ukrainian company? What would it take for that to happen? It would take a new business climate, one in which people with influence didn’t feel empowered to harass and to shakedown private enterprises. And for that to happen, Ukraine needs a new legal and judicial system, one that protects the rights of the individual rather than the interests of the state or well-connected insiders. Ukraine has taken some initial steps toward this goal, such as implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Code, but the nation still has work to do before the justice system can effectively tackle problems such as rampant corruption.

2013 will be my last year as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. I will be sad to leave but that sadness will be lessened because I am so optimistic about the future of this country. In my three years here, I have met many impressive young Ukrainians: smart, honest and hard-working. I am confident that these young people will accept responsibility for making their country a better place – the sort of place in which one would want to live and raise children, knowing that those children had a chance at a better and more fulfilling life.

Children have been much on my mind of late, since the tragedy last week in Newtown, Connecticut. I would like to thank everyone in Ukraine who has expressed sympathy to us over this senseless tragedy.

In closing, I would like to recall U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech in Kyiv in early July 2010. She spoke of the long journey that is involved in building a democracy and society ruled by law. We understand that our Ukrainian friends are only 20 years into this process. The criticism that we offer Ukraine’s government and society is offered in a spirit of friendship and solidarity.

Ukraine is an older country than America with its own proud traditions from which we can learn. I marvel every day at the strength and the resilience of the Ukrainian people who have endured centuries of suffering and have finally reclaimed their independence. I am confident that Ukrainian strength and resilience is ultimately what will see you through to a brighter, better future – з Новим Роком.

John F. Tefft is America’s ambassador to Ukraine.

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