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May 2008 - Ukraine Ambassador Discusses Regional Issues at Europe Project Forum

The Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine, H.E. Dr. Oleh Shamshur, addressed JINSA members and guest as part of the organization's Europe Project, May 22, 2008. The following is a transcript of his remarks:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me in the first place thank you for inviting me to speak to this distinguished audience. It just so happened that two years ago when I arrived in Washington one of my first guests was JINSA's [Europe Project Director] Karla Jones. She kindly introduced me to Washington's political life in general and to JINSA's "Europe Project" in particular, which, by the way, I consider a full success. Today, I'm glad to be here and to reciprocate Karla's kindness by introducing you to the realities of the political life in Ukraine. There are certain generic things about Ukraine that are important to understand the developments in and around this East European country. Ukraine is a major geopolitical platform carrying the EU on the left shoulder and Russia on the right one. In a way of speaking it's a tectonic plate reaching deep underneath, whose stability or instability directly impacts stability or instability of the region as a whole.

Ukraine's foreign policy orientation has been a resonating political topic for quite a while. Many observers see Ukraine somewhat akin to a horseman from Slavic fairytales who comes to the crossroads and sees a sign indicating "Go right - and you'll lose your horse, go left - and you'll lose your life, go straight ahead - you'll lose your soul". I respectfully disagree with political "Cassandras". The choices facing Ukraine are indeed crucial, yet I see them NOT as a "lose-lose", but as a "win-win" situation. And if our choice is smart enough it would be something not only Ukraine, but all its neighbors benefit from.

In my conviction, Ukraine's "smart choice" is its officially proclaimed and irrevocable course towards the integration into European Union. In pursuing this way, we stick with the only economic etalon and the most striking success story in our region. After the centuries of the historical oblivion Ukraine is hungry for success and self-realization. And there literally cannot be a better success recipe than establishing a well balanced mixture of democracy and market economy which helped Europe rise from ruins, create one of the leading economies of the world and become an ample global player. Ukraine wants to be a part of it. And in being a part of it Ukraine would open a new window of possibilities for our other crucial neighbor - Russia. An economically successful Ukraine would mean a field of investments big enough both for the EU and Russia. And a democratically successful European Ukraine would be Russia's good, open and straightforward partner.

Now, I'm aware that there are certain political stereotypes, mostly inherited from the "Cold War" era, which don't let some people recognize these new opportunities. The old, outdated clichés make them see the world through the "clash of civilizations" grid. My hope and conviction is that in the course of time the real nature of things will increasingly come to the surface and bury the old clichés in the place where they belong - under the ruins of the Berlin Wall.

The same goes for reservations and resentments caused sometimes by Ukraine's desire to join the NATO. We are looking forward to this geopolitical goal not because we want to irritate Russia. We see Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic integration as the string to pull if we want to change the tragic routine of Ukraine's history. Not more and not less. We see it as a unique chance to come out of the woods of the historic oblivion which was Ukraine's destiny for centuries.

The history of Ukraine-NATO relations speaks for itself and reflects both the persistence and growing intensity of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Ukraine's rapprochement with NATO started almost immediately after restoration of her independence in 1991. As of today, Ukraine is the only non-member state taking an active part in all peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance (KFOR in Kosovo, NMT-I in Iraq, Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, ISAF in Afghanistan). In 2003-2004 Ukraine was one of the first and most significant contributors to the coalition forces in Iraq.

Admittedly, Ukraine's way to NATO wasn't without bumps and detours. Yet, in the long run, Ukraine proved increasingly persistent in her desire to align herself with the most convincing success story in the European region - the trans-Atlantic community of democratic states. It was the membership in the NATO that became over the years a major benchmark, a powerful political and societal magnet leading the reform-minded forces through the ups and downs, spikes and downfalls of Ukraine's modern history. Now, in the absence of a clear EU-perspective the NATO-membership and MAP-accession are increasingly becoming a matter of the national pride and conscience, an important success factor of the continuous reforms.

Let me use this opportunity to express my gratitude for the determined and unequivocal support the United States renders Ukraine in its Euro-Atlantic ambitions. It was largely due to America's effort that the doors of the Alliance opened so wide to Ukraine after 2005. The pro-NATO faction in Ukrainian population was and is truly energized seeing this goal so close within our reach. Now it's up to Ukraine's leadership to make sure that our people acquire objective information on NATO which would help override the Cold War stereotypes still anchored in some population groups. The President of Ukraine, the pro-Western political forces consolidated in the current cabinet gladly embrace this opportunity. I hope that building upon the successful and democratic elections Ukraine would be ready to sign a Membership Action Plan by the end of this year.

So, Ukraine's strategy towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration remains unchanged. This doesn't mean, however, that our tactics on this way are carved in stone. Rephrasing a famous comedian, diplomatic tactics are like shampoos. You have to change yours every once in a while or else they stop working. There was a period of time in Ukraine's history where we expected a clear-cut and straightforward recognition of our ambition to become at some point an EU-member. It didn't work out. In the mid 90s there was a window of opportunity to jump on the first waves of the EU-extension, but Ukraine's rhetoric and record weren't clear enough. Now where Ukraine's rhetoric and record are clear enough, the window seems to be temporarily shut.

Nevertheless, we don't get discouraged. If you miss the elevator you take the stairs. The tactic of small steps we chose in relations with the EU might turn out even more preferable and beneficial in terms of changing Ukrainian realities than one "frog leap". What is important for us is that we fully utilize the possibilities of the Ukraine-EU partnership anchored in the new enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, to be signed, I hope, in the near future.

There was a time in Ukraine's newest history where we were more consumed with political symbols than political realities. In the 90s Ukraine was struggling with a deep economic crisis, coping with national identity issues, overcoming growth pains of the democratic and market economy transition. At that point we were looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, which we thought would be the political, symbolic recognition of our European future by EU. Now Ukraine is out of the tunnel. Our economic growth ranges from 6 percent to 9 percent annually. The industry is rebounding from the downfall of the 1990s. Agriculturally we are restoring Ukraine's reputation as the bread basket of Europe. Come to Kyiv - and you'll see a gigantic, truly European metropolis. Come to smaller cities - and you'll see once poor neighborhoods rising up and rebuilding in front of your eyes. Because Ukraine is no more desperate, it is focused on the reforms inside rather than the political recognition from outside. We want and feel capable of reaching a stage where the EU would recognize not our legitimate desire to become a member, but the long overdue necessity to embrace Ukraine as one of its own.

We are interested in realities rather than symbols, in small concrete steps rather than symbolic frog leaps. An important step on this way was done last week when Ukraine finally joined the WTO - a crucial precondition for becoming a part of the world economy and signing a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.

I know that the idea of free trade zones is quite controversial in this country. Yet, I hope that at some point we will reach a day where both the United States and Ukraine would realize how beneficial a Free Trade Zone between our countries would be. And wouldn't it be great if Ukraine became a part of a wider U.S.-EU Free Trade zone so adamantly advocated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

The great thing about the 21st century is that none of this is a mere wishful thinking anymore. Nothing is impossible now, especially at the new markets of Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. There is a world of new opportunities opening up in these parts of the globe and I'm proud to state that Ukraine is an integral part of this young and immensely promising world.

Ukraine is no more a terra incognita for U.S. investors. Over the passed years we saw the bilateral economic regime and investment cooperation significantly improving. Last year the bilateral trade has reached a new record of $3.32 billion. This year can be even better, considering that during the first months the trade growth exceeded 70 percent compared to the same period of last year.

I'm sure many of you have been following the energy dispute which periodically flares up between Ukraine and Russia. The main point about that dispute wasn't who was right and who was wrong. It was much more about the simple realization that energy dependency is an urgent problem that needs to be tackled in the shortest terms both by giants as the United States and middle weights as Ukraine.

Addressing this distinguished audience I feel compelled to touch upon Ukraine's relations with the State of Israel. As one of co-founder's of the United Nations Ukraine takes pride in being one of the countries who 60 years ago voted for recognizing the right of Jewish people for their own state and returning Israel to the political map. The following decades proved at least two things. First, that this decision was justified and overdue. Second, that thousands years of tragic history cannot be rectified in a couple of decades. They burden heavily on Israel's relations with its neighbors. It will take years of careful and persistent political effort to resolve them.

It's also obvious that the United States is bound to play an absolutely instrumental role in this process. If anybody in the world has the power to remedy the violence and hate filling so many hearts in that region, it can be only America. Therefore we fully support the courageous ambition of the current Administration to relinquish its tenure on a high note by bringing movement into the peace process in the Middle East.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion I would like to make a short reference to the sport so passionately loved in this country - baseball. I like to compare Ukraine to the great Boston Red Sox team, notoriously good players with notoriously bad luck, a big team without a big win. A big win in our eyes is not just economic success and democratic rule. Ukraine de facto is a part of the Western civilization. In this capacity it wants to be accepted in the European and Euro-Atlantic community as a full-fledged member. Therefore NATO- and EU-membership have been chosen as our strategic goals. This is the direction we diplomats work on. And in the light of the democratic achievements of the last years I'm convinced: this is the direction we are bound to succeed on.

Thank you.

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