Statement and Q&A at U.S. Embassy Kiev, Ukraine
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good morning. I am delighted to be back in Kyiv at this historic moment. President Obama and Secretary Kerry asked me to convey a simple message—a message of deep admiration for the courage and determination of Ukrainians in the face of last week’s tragic violence, and a message of strong American support for a stable, democratic, inclusive, and prosperous Ukraine.
I was profoundly moved by my conversations last evening at St. Michael’s Cathedral with the medics, religious leaders, civil society activists and protesters who demonstrated for the whole world such bravery and selflessness on the Maidan. Let me repeat my sincerest condolences to the family members and loved ones of all who were injured or lost their lives in pursuit of a more just and democratic Ukraine. Their sacrifices inspire us all, and their selflessness should be a source of strength as Ukrainians seek to heal their society’s wounds, renew their democracy, and revive their economy.
I have had extensive meetings over the past two days with a wide range of Ukrainian leaders, including Speaker Turchynov, Mr. Yatsenuk, Mr. Klychko, Mr. Tyahanybok, Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Tihipko, and former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. I also met with Lady Ashton, the EU High Representative, and UN Special Envoy Robert Serry, with whom we share a strong interest in supporting Ukraine on its democratic path.
In all my meetings, I emphasized the urgent importance of the Rada’s efforts to form a multi-party, technical government that represents all regions of Ukraine. Once that government is formed, we and our international partners can begin to take immediate steps to help support Ukraine economically and implement the reforms necessary to restore Ukraine’s political and economic health. A team of economic specialists from the Department of Treasury and White House accompanied me to Kyiv, and will stay on after my departure today to continue our consultations.
We also look forward to working with the new government and civil society to support free and fair Presidential elections in May. We will continue to firmly support Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity, and healthy relations with all of its neighbors, including Russia.
Again, I am glad to be in Ukraine as it enters a crucial period in its history, a period of considerable challenges, but also great promise. The United States stands with the Ukrainian people at this remarkable moment, and we will do all we can to help them build the strong, sovereign and democratic country they so richly deserve.
QUESTION: So you are talking about the immediate steps for the government in Ukraine. What exactly are you talking about? Is this just the matter of time for the expats to know the situation here? Or is it that you have something planned in mind, to help, to support? Is it just not involving in the political situation? Just economics or is it politics as well?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We will provide strong support not only for the revival of the Ukrainian economy, but also support for the political process, which has to begin with the formation of a new multi-party technocratic government. That will help prepare the way for free and fair elections in May, which as you know better than I do, will be very important for the future of this country. We also have an interest in working with our international partners to support the efforts of the new government to try and improve the security situation in this country as well.
On the economic side, the reality is that the new government that will be formed will inherit an economic mess. It’s a reality that Ukraine has always had a great deal of economic potential, but it’s also a reality that its business climate has never matched that potential. That can change. It is possible to realize that potential. It is possible to fight corruption and all the other impediments to realizing that potential. We recognize that that effort will require and deserves support from the friends of Ukraine like the United States, like the European Union, like the IMF. And we’re working quite practically and quite intensively to be ready to provide that support.
The first step, again, is the formation of a new government and an opportunity to sit down with that new government and identify the plans of the new Ukrainian government, their diagnosis of the problem, and then identify specifically what we can do to help. And we’ll be ready to do that along with the EU and the IMF because we recognize the urgency of the situation, we recognize what’s at stake for Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: I’d like to hear more about the groups that are staying behind. What exactly are they doing? Their tasking, their mission and how far you have moved in what you described as an intensive study of Ukraine’s problems. I would like to hear more detail about that.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. I have one colleague from the Treasury Department and one colleague from the White House staff who have accompanied me here to Kyiv. They have met with the Central Bank Governor, the acting Finance Minister, a range of other bankers and economic specialists here. They are also meeting with colleagues from the EU and IMF to try to coordinate in anticipation of the formation of a new government, so that we can be ready to move ahead once that new government has begun to lay out its plans and its needs. We don’t want to waste any time in trying to be prepared. We recognize the magnitude of the challenge and there are a lot of resources the international community can bring to bear in support of the IMF.
QUESTION: As you know Russia has not yet recognized the current government and what do you think the West should to do to convince Russia to recognize us and even to give us some help, some aid to clear this mess? And what do you think about Mr. Brzezinski’s proposition/suggestion that there should be some kind of federalization of Ukraine?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I’ll just say a couple of things. First, let me reinforce the American position that we strongly support the choices that Ukrainians make to renew their democracy and revive their economy. We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its unity. That is deeply in the interest not just of Ukrainians, but in our view, of the entire international community, including Russia. And so we hope over time to build on a common interest in a stable, prosperous Ukraine. I recognize all the challenges that lie ahead. But I do have considerable faith in the capacity of Ukrainians to make the right choices. And certainly, as they do they can count on the strong and continued support of the United States.
QUESTION: There is evidence in the Ukrainian media and from observers of Russian military equipment in Crimea what do you think about those reports and evidence And how far is the United States prepared to go to prevent any military intervention or any military “game” in this context?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: All that I would stress is what I said before, and that is that the United States strongly supports the unity and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Separatism of the sort that you’ve seen some speculation about in recent days is not in Ukraine’s interest and it’s not in anybody’s interest; and the United States will continue to reinforce that very firm position.
QUESTION: In what way, do you think Ukraine establishes this good, healthy relationship with Russia? You know it is quite hard for us to have relations with Russia on an every-day basis. What other dangerous situations do you see for Ukraine?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: On the first part of your question, I don’t underestimate the challenges ahead. But objectively, it seems to me to be very much in the interests of both Ukraine and Russia to have a healthy economic relationship, and also over time to build a stable and healthy political relationship. That’s never easy. On the broader question on what kinds of challenges Ukraine faces right now, you all know them far better than I do, you live them. There are obviously economic challenges. And there are bigger political and social challenges. There’s going to be a challenge to good leadership in Ukraine, to be able to reach out to people across this country, whether East or West, North and South, and help heal the wounds of recent weeks and months. That’s also never easy, especially after the emotion and the loss that people have suffered. But that’s what I meant by drawing inspiration from the selflessness of the people on the Maidan, to try to put the interests of the country above personal rivalries or political ambitions.
QUESTION: My first question, did you discuss with any of the Ukrainian high-ranking officials who you met, the issue of the possible NATO membership perspective for Ukraine in the future. Was this issue raised in the discussions and talks that you had? And my second question, you mentioned that now the United States and the EU are standing hand in hand in unity with respect to Ukraine. Don’t you think that now it’s a time to do everything possible to promote the idea of EU membership for Ukraine, because like now it’s a bigger opportunity to do that, and we don’t have much time? What do you think about it?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We did not discuss the first issue, at least in the meetings that I’ve had over the last day and a half. And on the second issue, we’ve been strongly in favor of the choices that Ukrainians have made in the past and will continue to make in the future, the interests that Ukrainians have in a European future. The pace of that and the mechanics of that are obviously up to Ukrainians and to the European Union. But the United States certainly continues to be strongly supportive of that choice.
INFORMATION OFFICER: That’s all the time we have.
QUESTION: Do you know where our President is?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t, I don’t have any more light to shed on that this morning.
QUESTION: Did this (inaudible) ever come up in the conversations with the leaders?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: A general conversation about it, but I as I said I don’t have any more light to shed on it this morning.