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Speeches and Interviews by Ambassador J. Tefft

Interview to Ukrains'ka Pravda

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft: I hope that Yulia Tymoshenko is going to be released by 2015

By Mustafa Nayyem, UP, posted Dec.28 14:52

The tour of duty in Ukraine of U.S. Ambassador John Tefft is in its closing stage.  The New Year that is approaching is the last one he will have in Ukraine in his career. Next summer he will be replaced by a successor, appointed by the new Secretary of State, most likely, John Kerry.

This is the first interview by Ambassador Tefft since the parliamentary election and since the recent U.S. Senate resolution on Ukraine.  Still, the larger chunk of the conversation dealt with the more recent scandal regarding the revocation of the U.S. visa of Renat Kuzmin.  The Ambassador did not give a direct answer regarding the reasons for this conflict, limiting himself to an exhaustive commentary about the universally accepted rules of cooperation for the law-enforcement agencies of different countries.  Interestingly, while accusing the mass media of lies and misinformation, Mr. Kuzmin himself doesn’t talk about the reason for the cancellation of his visa.  Despite that, as Ambassador Tefft says, those are well known to the Deputy Prosecutor General.

At the end of the interview, John Tefft agreed to answer some of the questions from the social networks users. In particular, on the size of U.S. funding for NGOs in Ukraine.


Our last talk took place before the September U.S. Senate resolution on Ukraine.  Has the passing of this [resolution] impacted the Ukraine-U.S. relationship?

You can ask the government here in Kiev what influence it has. (Laughs.)  Let’s look at it from this angle: it was adopted in a voice vote by the entire United States Senate, unanimously.  Of course, it was recommendatory to the Department of State, not binding.  But judging from my conversations with people here, the resolution sent a pretty strong message.

In the same interview, you also told us that if the United States leaders ask about sanctions for Ukraine, you will share your opinion [with them.]  Has such a conversation taken place?

I am going to leave you and your readers with a mystery on this.  Listen, I am the President’s representative here and the President of the United States asks for confidentiality from the people who work for him.  So, forgive me,  my views on these things go to people in Washington, not to the press here.  But you can be sure that my opinion will be heard there. 

The incident with Renat Kuzmin sparked talk that this is a beginning of sanctions against Ukraine.  Is this true?

I can only say that we haven’t made a decision about broader sanctions against Ukraine.  Mr. Kuzmin’s visa revocation speaks for itself.

Have you seen Mr. Kuzmin’s latest interview?

Yes, he says he is going to the States, right?

He says he has been invited to the Prayer Breakfast held by President Barak Obama, and he will apply for a new U.S. visa.

He is free to apply for a visa – that is his right.  And then we will review his application at that time.  And a decision is made by a consular officer, not me, not President Obama.  What I can say is that I don’t know who invited him to the Prayer Breakfast. 

What is the difference between a visa being revoked and a visa ban?

That’s a long question – you are getting into very legal types of questions here.  We have now in the States this whole debate regarding the Magnitsky bill – you know about that – and it provides namely for visa bans.  I think, the shortest answer to your question is that visa ban is established in advance of an application.  In the case of Mr. Kuzmin, he had a visa and his visa was revoked for cause, and he can re-apply.  But the visa that was issued to him earlier is now void. 

Can you state the reason for the revocation of Mr. Kuzmin’s visa?

I can only confirm that Renat Kuzmin had a five-year multiple entry visa, and that was revoked.  I know the reason, just as Mr. Kuzmin knows the reason, for his visa revocation.  But I can’t go into this in public – I am forbidden under our law to talk about the specifics of an individual visa.  I only confirmed the very fact of his visa revocation because he went public with this, and in fact, he broke the privacy.  We didn’t disclose this publicly. It was his decision to take this public. 

Can you clarify some details, then?  Kuzmin states that he found out about his visa revocation from your letter.  What did that letter talk about?

It was the Consul who actually wrote the letter to Mr. Kuzmin.  This is a consular matter, not the responsibility of the Ambassador. 

Is it true that the visa was revoked because of Renat Kuzmin’s attempt to conduct illegal investigative activities on U.S. territory?

You’ve seen that this is in the press, and I have too.  I just can’t go into any of that.  The only thing I should stress is that there are sets of rules that apply to international legal cooperation, and people have to follow those rules.  As countries deal with each other on international law enforcement, or judicial matters, it’s always done in a cooperative spirit: you let the other side know what is going on, what you are trying to do.  We would certainly do nothing here in Ukraine, neither our Legal Attaché, our FBI agents, nor anybody else, unless we coordinate this with the Ukrainian government.  That’s the standard rule of procedure, it’s understood by all law-enforcement agencies, it applies everywhere that I know of. 

Have you received from the General Prosecutor’s Office any requests for cooperation in the investigation of Yevhen Shcherban’s assassination case? 

We have received multiple what are called mutual legal assistance requests – we have a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Ukraine.  A number of these requests are still pending with the Department of Justice, and they have a process of considering them, and they will come back directly to Ukrainian authorities on them.  Now, we have made clear our concerns about political motivations, as you know, playing a role in criminal prosecutions of people here in Ukraine, and about the fair administration of the criminal process in these cases.  Now, when we are requested to follow our bilateral Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance, I’d like to emphasize that according to this Treaty, as it’s laid out in there, – any requests for assistance in criminal investigations and prosecutions have to be considered in the light of this larger context, taking into account the concerns we have raised.

What do you think of Kuzmin’s letters to the Senate and to President Obama.  Will there be any response to them?

The first I heard about it was when they appeared on the website.  I have seen letters in the past from different people, but this is very unusual.  I think Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it the best.  The Foreign Ministry says this was not an official communication.  So, it’s not what we consider [to be] government-to-government communication.  I mean, it was not sent through the Foreign Ministry or it was not sent through the American Embassy.  It’s the private view of a man who has a position in the Ukrainian government, but what we have been told, let me point out, is that it is not a shared view of the Ukrainian government. 

In this letter, Renat Kuzmin stated, quoting Mykola Melnychenko, that there was an intention to arrest him in the U.S.  What do you know about this? 

There was no plan that I am aware of to arrest him at all, to arrest Mr. Kuzmin.  And, with respect to lobbyists and other people mentioned by Mr. Kuzmin, I will tell you what I am aware of: that with the case of revocation of his visa there were no lobbyists involved in that at all – this is truly the decision of the U.S. Government. 

Can Melnychenko have problems in the U.S. because of what he told?

I don’t know the answer to that.  That will be something Justice Department will have to decide.

What is Pavlo Lazarenko’s status right now?

Right now Mr. Lazarenko has completed his prison term.  He is applying to stay in the United States – that’s my understanding.  And he is in an immigration facility in California until he can make his case.  But, I mean, I don’t talk to Mr. Lazarenko.  This all is adjudicated through our Department of Justice.  The State Department has not been involved in the process. 


What is your opinion about the parliamentary elections in Ukraine? 

The Secretary of State, as you know, issued a statement not long after the OSCE monitors issued their statement. She, basically, said that we agree with many of its findings, that there was a step backward.  We consider the elections to be the entire process: from the first days of the campaigning all the way through the campaign to include election day.  We have had and continue to have concerns about selective prosecution and keeping Mrs. Tymoshenko and others from participating.  We also had people deployed to every oblast in the country and we shared with the Ukrainian government, all the way through the process, whenever we saw violations.

I would say that on election day itself we saw, in the end, the party list vote came out roughly where many of the exit polls had come out.  So that, perhaps, was some good news.  But then that was immediately followed by the contesting of at least 13 seats in single-mandate constituencies, which I thinks actually cast shadow, on the entire process!  Now, we know that the Election Commission has decided to re-run five of those seats.  I know the opposition feels that they won those seats.  I hope we, with our friends, will be able to monitor those five elections

What is your biggest impression from this election?

The pluralism that emerged in the parliament.  There are now a substantial number of different opposition parties in the session hall.  People have come to take their seats in the Rada, and I hope that people will follow the rules and treat each other fairly.  We will wait to see whether the Rada will be the place where the people’s business is conducted.  In any case, having some pluralism in the parliament is actually a good thing.

You watched the first week of the new parliament at work.  Are you sure this will be a working parliament?

I am not sure, but I hope so.  I understand that here in Ukraine people in the parliament sometimes fight, physically fight, not just politically fight.  I am not in favor of fistfights. I don’t think this solves anything.  I’ve been in other countries where that occurs.  When I was in Italy earlier in my career, I used to see those kinds of things.  I don’t think that solves anybody’s problem.  The point is you got to debate the issue and you got to come to a compromise or you have a disagreement.  We create these institutions because we need to govern ourselves – [this is] the essence of democracy.

Some European politicians have some concerns that Svoboda has entered the parliament. Do you?  Are you also asking the opposition not to cooperate with this party?

I am not asking that, but, yes, we do have concerns, too.  I think, you have probably seen already in America that we’ve had the Anti-Defamation League come out quickly, forcefully expressing real concern about views expressed in the past by leaders of Svoboda, anti-Semitic kind of views.  We oppose anti-Semitism anywhere in the world, this is a global policy for us.  And I very much hope that we won’t see that kind of thing manifested in the Rada.  There is no place for that in a modern democracy – either anti-Semitic, or racist or xenophobic kinds of language.

Regarding Yulia Tymoshenko:  how will the United States react if her name is not on the ballot in 2015?

I very much hope that she is going to be released by 2015.  But if she were still prevented from running in 2015, that will also be considered by the OSCE and us to be a violation.

But you said so now, in the parliamentary elections, and this hasn’t changed anything.  Will you limit yourself to the same thing in 2015? 

(Pause.) I don’t know the answer now.  Let’s not speculate on things years in advance.  Besides, I won’t be Ambassador here.  You can ask my successor when he comes.

Will there be any change in policy toward Ukraine, if John Kerry is the next Secretary of State?

I know that Senator Kerry has followed the situation in Ukraine pretty carefully.  I’ve been in touch with one of his assistants, who covers Europe for him, and I know he keeps the Senator very well-informed.  About a year ago I had a chance, when I was in Washington, to actually talk to Senator Kerry – he knows Ukraine and he knows the problems here, and I am pleased, as the Ambassador in Ukraine, that we will have someone who understands the problems and the issues that we wrestle with here.

Shall we expect some tougher policy toward Ukraine from John Kerry?

You are going to have consistency. I just can’t go any further than that.

What are your senses regarding Ukraine’s own foreign policy?  Do you have a feeling that Yanukovych and his Administration are changing their mind on the European Union?

I listened to President Yanukovych a week ago addressing the diplomatic corps at a reception in Ukrainskii Dim, and he made it very clear that European integration remains not just the goal of his government, but it is also in the law.  I am not privy to all of the negotiations with regard to Russia, but I know that the President has tried to reassure the European Union leaders that his policy is consistent.

Do you think it may happen that Ukraine will remain in the middle? Between Russia and Europe?  And are you involved in this process?

I think the Association Agreement with the EU is the right way to go and is something that I would like to see Ukraine move ahead on as fast as possible.  We understand that Russia is the big neighbor, and economic partner.  Of course, Ukraine should be able to maintain trade and industrial relations with it.  But, again, we believe in and support Ukraine’s path into Europe – the path declared by President Yanukovych, and by President Yushchenko, and before him.  Our policy had been for many-many years to support the European vocation [calling] of Ukraine.

A question that social network users asked us to ask: how much does the U.S. provide annually for non-governmental organizations in Ukraine?

I don’t have figures by year and specifically regarding NGOs, but I know that we’ve spent over four billion dollars here on our assistance in 20 years.  And one of the things we spend money on is what we call “democracy and governance.”  We try to support programs and institutions and NGOs that further the broad goals that we have on democracy and rule of law -- and freedom of the press, so we provided assistance to monitors of the press.

Another question from the social networks users.  Why you don’t have accounts in social networks – people there have questions to you?

The Embassy does have.  Since I became Ambassador here, we put out Facebook for the Embassy, we put out photos on Flickr, we put out videos on YouTube, we do commentaries.

But those are not your personal accounts, like for instance your colleague in Russia, Ambassador McFaul has.

He is probably better than I am.  (Laughs).  Speaking seriously, I’ll be honest with you.  I have two State Department email accounts. On my unclassified account, I get 200 emails easy a day, and then I have another classified account, where I get 40 or 50.  Then I have my own private email that my friends communicate with me, and I go home at night and I work on that.  And usually I don’t have time after that.

In closing, let me just say I hope everyone has a nice holiday with their family.  God bless them all, and hopefully, the New Year will be healthy and prosperous one.

Text of interview on Ukrains'ka Pravda site in Russian