David Kramer: Obama’s Administration Can Marginalize Ukraine

By Alena Getmanchuk, “Glavred”, Washington


Last time we talked to David Kramer in November 2007. Then he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus affairs, and later an Assistant Secretary of State.

Then during the interview for “Glavred” David Kramer specified what Ukraine should do for the USA to support the plan of actions of Kiev referring to NATO membership. Specifically he told about a letter for the NATO Secretary General that should have been signed by Ukrainian Leaders.

Today David Kramer serves in an influential German Marshall Fund of the United States and is considered as one of the main supporters of Ukraine in Washington. We met right after another failure of BYT (Bloc of Yulia Timoshenko) and the Party of Regions to ally in a common constitutional way. That is why David Kramer and other numerous upholders of Ukraine in Washington breathed freely: no one approved such a step and in such a time (before another elections). And the opinion, often sounded during the talks of “Glavred” with American experts, mainly resulted in the idea that Viktor Yushchenko should resign and stop this mess.

Today you are one of the main upholders of Ukraine in Washington. You support Ukraine, because the Administration of Obama doesn’t give urgent attention to Ukraine. Or are there any other reasons?

A country with 46 million population in the heart of Europe with a great potential should be of priority for the United States. The success of Ukraine can enhance the chances for success in neighboring countries, even in Russia. That is why the processes in your country should be precisely observed. And only Ukrainians themselves should choose your leaders and the foreign policy direction.

It’s difficult to have affairs with your country due to Ukrainian policy. Experts and analysts on Ukraine are tired and greatly disappointed. But in some issues we should omit this disappointment and understand the importance of the country. I was a co-author of a recent article for Foreign Policy, - surely you read it.

There I wrote that I would like for the President Obama to visit Ukraine.

It’s difficult as elections are coming. It’s difficult as the political situation is unfavorable – but the case is what the USA should demonstrate: they support the country and people, but not leaders. I am a bit worried that Obama’s Administration will marginalize Ukraine. I know people from this Administration who care a lot about this country...
For example...
For example Michael MacFaul who supports Ukraine sincerely despite he is responsible for Russia in the National Security Council... There is Phil Gordon in the State Department (Deputy Secretary of State – Edit.) and others. What I’m trying to do even outside the Government is for the USA to give deserved attention to Ukraine.


> Ukraine Map

What do you usually say to those American diplomats and politicians, who think that Ukraine doesn’t deserve the attention of the United States and Obama visit due Ukrainian behavior?
I tell them, that Ukraine puts many efforts into the struggle against terrorism. I tell them that Ukraine together with Belarus and Kazakhstan refused of nuclear weapon. I tell them that it plays a significant role in Europe in the sphere of energy and in economy in general. I try to remind them (luckily many of them remember this) that Ukraine is important. I also add that in spite of disappointment and persistent political instability, Ukraine remains a peaceful, democratic country acting in the framework of constitution.
Frankly speaking, I was nervous about constitutional reform. It seemed to me that there was an attempt to deprive people of the right to choose a President, which is a bad idea. Ukraine really needs a constitutional reform, but not in this way ant not in such a time as now before Presidential elections.

In the mentioned article for Foreign Policy you also wrote that Ukraine is a “right country in a right place”. It’s clear about the place, but why is it right?
I meant its sizes, its potential. If Ukraine leads another elections under international standards, it will make a very significant way of democratic development. Ukraine is a right country to help it and to be sure that there will be no economic collapse. But again we can’t help the country that is not able to help itself.

Washington is worried that current Presidential elections in Ukraine won’t be free and fair?
(Sighs) I think that modern history of Ukrainian elections demonstrates that Ukraine is able to hold free and fair elections. I can’t understand why oncoming elections can be unfair or not free. Another thing would happen provided the planned constitutional reform is accomplished. And now, as you know Ukrainian Mass Media has never been so free as today, thus there should be no problem with the campaign coverage. Hardly will also administrative resource change. That is why I expect that Ukraine will be able to hold fair elections.

Which is the way out of persistent political instability in Ukraine for the USA? And do you observe it in the short run?
I’d like to observe it... (sighs). Political instability seems to be endless. You need political leaders who value the interests of the country more than their own. This is not a unique problem of Ukraine. This problem is observed in other countries, but with the help of “Orange revolution”, free press, fair elections Ukraine demonstrated that it is able to move forward. Yes, this is a complicated period – due to economic situation on the eve of Presidential campaign. But I hope that the situation will improve after the Presidential campaign and people will compete in a more “competitive” manner, using more adequate methods.

Who can be the most adequate partner of the USA among potential candidates for the President?

I can’t give you the answer you expect (laughs). I’d say that we need powerful democratic Ukraine, headed by the leaders, chosen in free and fair elections. This is my diplomatic answer (laughs).

I’ve just wanted to note the same thing. They say that there are no former diplomats in the United States...


What is the main reason due to which Obama can’t visit Ukraine? Russia, political instability in Ukraine, Presidential elections?
There are few reasons. One of them is time and his schedule. You know, that American Presidents should be in the US on the 4th of July (Independence Day – Edit.), and already on the 6th he is visiting Moscow. And also he will participate in the G8 Summit in Italy. I would like to include Ukraine into this list. And even more I would like for Obama to pay an official visit to Ukraine, but I don’t think it is possible at the moment. And there will be no sense in visits after July as pre-election campaign will start. And all these talks about constitutional reform will hardly help.

Thus, regarding your question, I don’t think that Russia is the reason due to which the President won’t visit Ukraine. It’s because Presidential schedule is pretty full at the moment.

Do you think the issue of the integration of Ukraine into NATO is not topical for the USA?
No, I don’t think it’s not topical. As you know in the end of George Bush Presidency Ukraine and the United States signed a Charter on integration into NATO. This issue should be laid off for the period of pre-election campaign as it will be hardly covered correctly. Ukraine should hold a discussion of NATO issue but after Presidential campaign, as the support is still low – only 30%...

But 30% is not that little for Ukraine...
Yes, it’s more than it was, but still this issue should be followed by informational campaign. NATO would like to see greater support if Ukraine is really interested to move forward. Common stance of political leaders is also urgent to join NATO.

The letter signed by Yushchenko, Timoshenko and Yatsenyuk previous January demonstrated such a unanimity, that is why the United States actively supported the development of the Plan of NATO membership. Provided there was no such a letter, there would have been no such support. That is why it’s better to raise this issue after Presidential elections in Ukraine, depending of course on who will be the winner.
The only thing that we should prevent is for this issue to be observed within the framework of Russia. If Ukraine is interested in NATO membership, than we shouldn’t impede this process only because Russia won’t like it: Russia doesn’t favor many things.

Can President Obama refuse of further NATO expansion under the pressure of Russia?
I hope no. Considering the statement of President Obama on March the 23rd after the meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, it was a great statement (he claimed that NATO should open its doors for all countries willing to join the alliance – Edit.). I hope that the Administration won’t be suppressed by Russia.

However, in this case the reset button will be also inefficient as the view of the United States on NATO expansion is more than demonstrative for Russia...

You are right. For Russia it’s a very important moment. Lately some representatives of Washington have started talking about “Finlandization” of Ukraine – and I think this is insulting. I’m convinced that Ukrainian people should define their future independently from Russia and the USA.

Will President Medvedev raise an issue on NATO expansion in general and with Ukraine during the meeting with Obama in July?

Probably. But it would be of no use as the answer will be negative. President Obama doesn’t recognize the division into influence spheres, supported in Moscow. But I perfectly imagine that sooner or later these issues will reveal and lead to a conflict between these two states. I hope to be mistaken, but it’s inevitable. This happened during the presidency of Bush, the same will be during Obama.

Translated from Glavred