Ukrainian Opposition Registers Disappointment with Clinton Visit to Kyiv

By Taras Kuzio

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a two day visit to Ukraine last week as part of a wider tour to the region. This was her fourth visit to Ukraine which she twice visited as First Lady in the Clinton administration, her third working visit to Ukraine was in 2005 as a US Senator and this month.

The visit failed to impress local Ukrainians who feel that the US is ignoring them in the interests of re-setting US relations with Russia or to appease President Viktor Yanukovych because he came to Washington in April bearing gifts (enriched uranium). The visit was therefore a big disappointment to Ukraine’s opposition confirming their worst fears that the Obama administration had ‘betrayed’ Ukraine and its traditional Central-Eastern European allies.

This week’s edition of the weekly magazine Ukrayinsky Tyzhden is a special issue on international affairs and Ukraine’s foreign policy. Prominently featured was an article entitled ‘The Grand Betrayal’ by Economist writer and author of the book ‘The New Cold War’ by Edward Lucas.

The feeling in Kyiv of the lack of a clear-cut US vision for Ukraine was evident in this week’s Kyiv Post cartoon. The cartoon has Secretary Clinton confused as to which of the five buttons offered to her by a State Department official she should take with her to Kyiv. The buttons included ‘Blah-blah’, ‘strategic partnership’, ‘What Ukraine?’, ‘drop dead’, and ‘re-set’.

Traditionally, US Ambassadors to Ukraine have been pro-active both inside Ukraine and after their posting in Washington where they have been awarded senior positions at the Brookings Institution, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and US Institute of Peace.

Of the two blogs written on the eve of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Ukraine by former US Ambassador Steven Pifer and German Marshall Fund of the United States Senior Fellow David Kramer, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush, the latter was more critical of the Yanukovych administration. Kramer called upon Secretary Clinton to seek the resignations of the Interior Minister and SBU Chairman (see reply to Kramer by Hanna Herman, deputy head of the presidential administration.

The passivity of the US Ambassador confirms to Ukraine’s opposition the passivity of the Obama administration. This weeks Kyiv Post complained that: ‘We would also hope that Clinton encourages US Ambassador John Tefft to be more visible and vigorous in defense of liberty and democracy in Ukraine. His low profile comes at a bad time. With Ukraine’s democratic fate hanging in the balance, all — from ambassadors, tourists and businesspeople — need to strongly, publicly and repeatedly show Ukrainians that that they care’.

Judging by Ukrainian media reports and the negative feedback given to the author by the opposition, she chose ‘blah-blah’ of the five buttons she was offered. Roman Olearchyk wrote in his ‘Clinton treads lightly during Ukraine visit’ (Financial Times, July 3) that, ‘The tone delivered by Ms Clinton’s speech in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, was one of mixed praise and light criticism, seemingly gentle enough so as not to push the nation further toward Moscow.

Senior advisers to the opposition told the author that they were quite disappointed by the visit but declined to be directly quoted as they did not wish to have poor relations with the Obama administration. The disappointment was, ‘because Clinton complimented Yanukovych from every angle. Not coincidentally, following her visit the IMF announced its intention to provide Ukraine with a new financial program of assistance even though the Party of Regions had undermined the Stand-by Agreement by voting for populist wage increases in November 2009 and regardless of the fact that the Nikolai Azarov government has no intention of undertaking any radical reforms’. He continued, ‘During Secretary Clinton’s visit to Kyiv her criticism of the Yanukovych administration’s attack on Ukraine’s democracy was barely audible and her support for, and her stress on working with, the ‘pragmatic’ and ‘foreign policy balanced’ Yanukovych was re-played over and over again on every television channel. We feel that we have been let down’.

Given the brief nature of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Ukraine, it was only natural that she allocated time to meet the leader of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko as she won 45 percent in this year’s presidential elections, three times the combined vote of the other “orange” candidates in round one. The Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) also came second in the last two parliamentary elections, and in the last won twice the number of votes as Our Ukraine. Tymoshenko, alone among the former “orange” camp, was also twice prime minister. BYuT continues to remain the most popular opposition political force.

Secretary Clinton did tell a student audience at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute that, “I’ve discussed the importance of defending these rights with your president”, on Friday evening. “He has made a commitment to uphold Ukraine’s democracy, to uphold the rule of law, to maintain respect for human rights.” This commitment is of course laughable to Ukraine’s opposition.
The mild criticism of Secretary Clinton was evident from feedback given by Ukrainian political experts to the media and by Western reporters based in Kyiv. Diplomatic Academy Professor Oleksandr Paliy feels like many Ukrainians that the US has sold out Ukraine’s democracy for the uranium given up by Yanukovych in April. Two other political experts, Volodymyr Fesenko and Vadym Karasiov, told the Segodnya newspaper (ironically on July 4) that Secretary Clinton’s mild criticism was intended to not push Yanukovych further into Russia’s orbit.

The US has always been far stronger in its support than the EU of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of the four US presidents during Ukraine’s two decades of independence the two who gave Ukraine the strongest support were Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Obama administration’s excessive focus on Russia at the expense of Ukraine is perilously similar to the Russia-first policy pursued by President George Bush (senior) in the early 1990s who became famous in July 1991 when he told the Ukrainian parliament to not seek independence. The speech was dubbed ‘Chicken Kyiv’ and took place a month before Ukraine declared independence from the USSR.

Following Secretary Clinton’s visit the Ukrainian opposition believes that President Obama is increasingly following in the footsteps of Republican Party realists who dominated the Bush senior administration in the early 1990s.