Senior Director for Human Rights and Human Freedoms at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, Washington, D.C.
David Kramer, Senior Director for Human Rights and Human Freedoms at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, Washington, D.C., gave an interview to the Ukrinform own American correspondent Yaroslav Dovgopol.
– The first question is probably more general. In your opinion, how does the U.S. think-tank community evaluate the current situation in Ukraine and a possibility of its escalation?
– If you look at the think-tanks around Washington, the Atlantic Council has done a tremendous work on Ukraine, people at Brookings, other places… I’m along with my colleague Kurt Volker, who is an executive director of the McCain Institute. We have been speaking at a number of conferences and panels. I’m reluctant to speak about think-tank community’s views in Washington, because I don’t like when other people do that for me. But I think there is a concern many people have about further escalation, and I think, some of us feel that the likelihood of that is increased, because the U.S. is unwilling to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
The Atlantic council, Brookings, Chicago Council on Global Affairs – issued their report, you may recall back in February, I think – calling for the U.S. to provide military assistance to Ukraine. So, they had three think-tanks: two in Washington and one in Chicago arguing for this. I think it’s been a strong support to Ukraine, but it’s also strong concern about the possibility this can get worse before it gets better.
– On Thursday, the US Senate passed the defense policy bill that calls for arming the Ukrainian armed forces. How do you think, do the Ukrainian amendments have a chance to remain in the latest version of the law?
– It’s hard to say what will happen to the legislation because of the possibility that the President will oppose it. That would mean a Continuing Resolution without amendments.
– What can you say about the Ukrainian lobby in the US? Is it strong or not?
– No. This is a short answer. I don’t know that there is anyone who is actually officially registered as a lobbyist for the Ukrainian Government. Right now, Ukraine doesn’t have an ambassador here. You have a very effective Charge d’Affaires in Washington, D.C. Yaroslav Brysiuk, he is doing an excellent job, and I’m a big admire of his. But whether it’s Valery Chalyi – or somebody else – they need to get here soon. Leaving that position vacant at this time is not a smart thing to do.
There are people arguing against providing assistance. As you probably may have seen -the U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Ted Yoho, who guided an amendment passed about not providing military assistance to “Azov” battalion. There are obviously lobbied by somebody to make that possible. So, Ukraine needs to do a better job here. It costs money, and so I don’t need to be just critical about it, but it is very important to do, to try to get the views of the Ukrainian Government, the Ukrainian people and express them very clearly here.
– What do you think about an impact of pressure on Russia? Is it effective?
– Obviously, it is not effective enough to force Putin to rethink his policies, and attacks, and aggression against Ukraine. The sanctions are having an impact on the Russian economy, and I don’t think there is any question about it. Putin, if you may recall in December – I don’t know, where he came up with these numbers – said that it was responsible for 25-30% of Russian economic problems. Medvedev has also said that sanctions had a major impact. But they are not having the impact that they are intended to have which is to change the situation on the ground in Ukraine. I think the mistake has been made, that we have been talking about maintaining current sanctions, and we have not been doing ramping them up, and increasing the sanctions.
Sanctions are as much psychological as they are punitive, and the target of the sanctions has to think that he is going to be hit with more sanctions unless he changes his behavior. And Russia’s behavior, Putin’s behavior has only got worse, not better. These Minsk agreements from September and February are not very serious. They’ve been violated regularly.
So, we need to do a better job of applying pressure on Putin and his regime and on his circle. I support kicking Russia out of SWIFT. I know a lot of people resist that, they think it’s too radical. I find it tremendously radical that Russia has invaded the European country.
– Most of the political analysts affirm that the main obstruction for the U.S. to increase sanctions against Russia is the EU’s position. Do you agree with that, and would you explain your thinking?
– We have led it become the obstacle, and it’s a mistake in my view. I think the White House has mixed up its goals and objectives. They have kept saying the goal is the unity with the EU. That is not an objective to me, that’s a means to accomplish the objective of getting Russia out of Ukraine and supporting Ukraine. But as long as we put unity with the EU ahead of those other goals, then we will be reduced to the lowest common denominator. We will not take leadership. We have let German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande led the negotiations with Putin in the Ceasefire Agreements. Where was the United States? We’ve abandoned our leadership position, and this pains me greatly. I’m not saying we have to do everything here, we should be doing it together with the EU. I’m not opposed to unity with the EU. Everyone is in favor of it. But at a certain point the U.S. has to show leadership and the U.S. has to recognize it’s easier for one government to take steps than it is to get an agreement among 28 states.
– The last question is about Ukrainian oligarchs and their harmful impact on the national economy. What is the way to address that problem for Ukraine?
– There is no magic solution. You have to have elected officials who are accountable to the voters which means that Ukraine has to implement elections of governors. Appointing of governors by Kyiv is not a good idea, because those governors uphold then not to the voters, not to the residents, the constituency in their region, but to the President. So, that’s number one.
Number two – it’s an independent judiciary that looks into abuses by oligarchs. It is making sure that no one is above the law – from the highest level of the Government to the highest levels of the business community. And it means that people like Mr.Firtash need to face justice – if not in Ukraine, than in the United States. So it’s a huge challenge, but it’s the one that has to be addressed.