Remarks to the Press by Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Cabinet of Ministers Club
1:40 P.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Prime Minister, let me begin by thanking you both for your hospitality, but much more importantly for the incredible leadership you’ve shown under very, very, very difficult circumstances.
We just celebrated Easter, and Easter is supposed to be a season of peace, of family, and a time when we all come together. But today there are some who are trying to pull Ukraine apart. Ukraine is in the struggle for its very future.
When I left the hotel this morning, the hotel management asked me to sign their book that they have before I left. And as I told you, Mr. Prime Minister, I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” I wish it were that easy, just signing my signature. But the truth of the matter is we, the United States, stand with you and all the Ukrainian people on a Ukraine united. And I’ll say at the top we do not recognize -- we do not recognize -- Russia’s actions in the Crimea.
But today, as I said, there are some trying to pull Ukraine apart. And you have -- we’re in the struggle for your very future. There’s been a lot of talk about geopolitics, about East and West. But here in Ukraine, people know that it’s about something much more fundamental. It’s not about geopolitics; it’s about unity. It’s about independence. And at its most basic level, it’s about restoring respect and dignity.
For months Ukrainians braved bone-chilling, cold weather and stood down snipers’ bullets in the Maidan. And I know not every Ukrainian feels the same way about the Maidan. I understand that. But it’s my view that all Ukrainians can agree on the core idea that government exists to serve the people. The people do not exist to serve the government. And that the people of the Ukraine -- of Ukraine should have the right to choose their own future.
I offer my personal sympathies to the families of those who laid down their lives for this cause. These heroes remind us of the true cost of a better future and the nobility of those who reach for it. I came here to Kyiv to let you know, Mr. Prime Minister, and every Ukrainian know that the United States stands with you and is working to support all Ukrainians in seeking a better future.
The road ahead obviously, as we discussed at length both here and in Washington, Mr. Prime Minister, is difficult. And you should know, as I told you at the outset, you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.
Today, the Prime Minister and I talked about the work before us. We discussed the most acute problem, the most acute matter facing the Ukrainian people, the ongoing threat to their country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. I’ll say it again, Ukraine is and must remain one country from Lviv to Kharkiv down to the Black Sea -- one country, one united Ukraine.
The United States supports a strong, united Ukraine with productive and peaceful relationships with both the East and the West, with both Russia and Europe. And that's a goal that I know you share, Mr. Prime Minister. But no nation -- no nation -- has the right to simply grab land from another nation. No nation has that right. And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world, as was demonstrated by the overwhelming vote that took place in the Security Council in the General Assembly.
No nation should threaten its neighbors by massing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull back these forces. No nation should stoke instability in its neighbor’s country. We call on Russia to stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms, sowing unrest in Eastern Ukraine. And we have been clear that more provocative behavior by Russia will lead to more costs and to greater isolation. The United States has demonstrated, as Ukraine has, that it supports diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation.
Mr. Prime Minister, your government has taken important steps to uphold the agreement reached in Geneva just last week, including putting forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists, which you’ve done, who give up -- amnesty for those who give up buildings and their weapons. You’ve also sent senior representatives to the east to help the OSCE move the process forward. You’ve met with the head of that delegation, as I did yesterday.
We’ve heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days, but now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting. Act on the commitments that they made: to get pro-Russian separatists to vacate buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically; to get out on the record calling for the release of all illegally occupied buildings. That's not a hard thing to do, and to send senior Russian officials to work with the OSCE in the east. These are commitments made; they should be fulfilled. We need to see these kinds of concrete steps. We need to see them without delay. We will not allow this to become an open-ended process. Time is short in which to make progress.
In this time of testing, the instability in the east is only one of several challenges Ukraine and the government must confront. It also has challenges in politics, economics and in energy.
Today the Prime Minister briefed me on preparations for the presidential election on March [sic] the 25th, and his aspirations for constitutional reform and a presentation on May the 15th. The United States for this election is providing substantial assistance to make sure that they are clean and closely monitored so that nobody on the 26th of May can question their legitimacy. I’m encouraged and I’m genuinely encouraged to see so many people in the east rejecting violence, choosing the ballot box over bullets to determine Ukraine’s future. And I’m all -- and I was pleased to hear about Ukraine’s significant progress on constitutional reform and decentralization.
This may be the most important election in the history of Ukraine. This is a chance to make good on the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians east and west and every part of this country. For a Ukraine that empowers local governance and respects and protects different linguistic and cultural traditions, but fundamentally holds together as a single state -- united and sovereign. There’s such possibilities ahead, Mr. Prime Minister.
Ukrainians have also made clear that after an era of staggering public theft -- not debt, public theft -- that they will no longer accept corruption from public officials. Your former leader had to run in hiding for fear that after everyone saw the excesses to which his theft had taken him and others. The fact of the matter is I’m of the view -- and it’s presumptuous to ever tell another man what his country thinks -- but I’m of the view that Ukrainians east, west, north and south are just sick and tired of the corruption.
Mr. Prime Minister, Ukraine’s new law on government procedure -- procurement I should say represents a first important step in dealing with this kleptocracy. The United States is ready to help Ukraine take further steps to build transparent institutions, to win back the trust of the people. And just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. Let me say that again, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms all threats and attacks against Ukrainian Jewish communities as well as Roma and others, as you do, as well, I know, Mr. Prime Minister.
Mr. Prime Minister, you and I also discussed the efforts to stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy. Just last week the United States government signed a bill proposed by our administration for a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement with Ukraine. The United States has also been a driving force behind the IMF, working to provide a multi-billion package to help Ukraine address the immediate needs and get Ukraine on a stronger path. I expect the IMF package to be finalized imminently, and I congratulate you and your government here in Ukraine for having made the difficult -- and they are difficult, very difficult -- economic reforms to get this done.
The Prime Minister and I also spoke about energy. An American team is currently in the region working with Ukraine and its neighbors to increase Ukraine’s short-term energy supply. And I’ve been on the telephone with many of your neighbors, as you know, talking about the way to increase that supply. And more teams are coming to support long-term improvements so that no nation -- let me be precise, so that Russia can no longer use energy as a political weapon against Ukraine and Europe.
With the right investments and the right choices, Ukraine can reduce its energy dependence and increase its energy security. We will stand with you to help in every way we can for you to accomplish that goal.
Finally, even as we pursue diplomacy we’re also providing nonlethal support to Ukraine security services to deal with the challenges that have arisen. We’re providing communications gear, bomb disposal technology, transportation and engineering equipment for Ukraine to protect against infiltrators and deal with explosive threats. And our security support now totals nearly $20 million.
Mr. Prime Minister, I know we’ll be talking again, and I’m confident that you will continue to be as consistent and persistent as you have been in order to bring about the kind of change that's needed. We will stand with you. It’s been inspiring to watch you and your fellow countrymen. For all the obstacles placed in your way, you continue to move forward with resolve -- genuine resolve.
And I’m proud to affirm that you do so with friendship, partnership and strong support from the United States of America that will not go away. God bless your country. And God willing, we will, in fact, see a much better day for your country.
PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Let me shift to my native language.
(As interpreted) Mr. Vice President, between our two countries there is an agreement about strategic partnership. And this agreement is not only on the paper. This agreement is in action. The goal of this agreement is the development of free democratic and stable Ukrainian society and government. The goal of this agreement and objective of it is our joint work and cooperation in providing stability and peace on the continent. The goal of this agreement is to support the strategic relations between the United States and Ukraine.
We value the position of the United States and the support that the Ukrainian people receive from the United States during the past few months -- the Ukrainian people that choose their own way to manage their own country, the people of Ukraine that continues its fight for its rights, democracy and for the -- for having Ukraine as a successful country.
We separately would like to thank the administration of the United States of America, the Congress and the Senate for the allocation of $1 billion as a financial assistance for the Ukrainian economy. Ukraine asked and adopted several necessary even though complicated decisions and difficult decisions in order to reestablish financial programs with the international financial institutions.
And when we say about the package of difficult reforms, we are saying that these reforms in the packet was not passed from the IMF. It was passed and adopted for Ukraine. Ukraine needs real reforms.
Mr. Vice President, we value the level of technical assistance that is provided by the government of the United States. I separately would like focus on the corruption issue. The government of Ukraine understands and is conscious that the money is given only to those countries that actually overcome and fight corruption. And one of the key goals and objectives of my government and the new president that should be elected on May 25th of this year is real fight against corruption and victory over corruption.
And on the other note I would like to underscore our joint vision with regard to the needs of constitutional reforms in Ukraine. And we implement -- we are planning to implement the constitutional reform, not just to meet the requirements of Geneva agreement, but rather to answer the request of Russia. The constitutional reform in the country is the way to restore the balance of power. This is the requirement of the Ukrainian people. Thus within the constitutional reform we plan to provide additional power to regions and give the Ukrainian regions opportunity to have independent financial and budget policy in order for them to have special status for national minorities and language of national minorities, including the Russian language and make sure that every citizen of Ukraine would be able to affect the local and the central government. Thus the constitutional reform should be implemented and must be implemented. And it is inadmissible when the constitution is written and drawn for specific president. Constitution should be drawn for the Ukrainian citizens and Ukrainian people.
As to our talk about the energy, Mr. Vice President, I would like to reiterate that Ukraine is ready for cooperation in the broadest sense with both U.S. and European companies. We do require investments into our energy sector, and the best response for energy independence from Russia will be the presence here in Ukraine of European and American investors, and among other issues related to review, joint-use and modernization of the Ukrainian gas transportation system.
As to the elections, we did discuss this topic, and we appreciate the support of the United States in the build-up of democracy in Ukraine. We clearly understand that whatever happens in the east, and is being supported by the Russia Federation, has, among other goals, the goal of disrupting the presidential elections, while the goal of the government is to conduct fair and transparent elections.
Even now we have two dozens of candidates who run in this election who represent the whole spectrum of the political parties of Ukraine. And each of them could receive the needed support from the voters. Ukraine does require a legitimately elected president, something that Russia does not need. We will carry out the presidential elections and the elections in Ukraine, which will be conducted with the involvement of both the OECD observers and observers from the international community, should be open, fair, transparent and legitimate. Let me reiterate Ukraine should have a new president who will support the reforms -- curbing corruption, introducing changes and amendments to the constitution of Ukraine, who will support integration with Europe, energy independence, fostering of democracy and independence of the Ukrainian state.
Separately we discussed with Mr. Vice President our northern neighbors. Let me reiterate the position of the Ukrainian government once again. Never, under no circumstance Ukraine would acknowledge the annexation of Crimea. We will require from our Russian neighbors to immediately get their special forces out of the eastern region of Ukraine, so get its military forces from Crimea, thus closing down this ignoble page in history of occupation of our territory by the Russian troops. We believe that in this century and in the modern world, no country should be allowed to behave like an armed bandit.
And it’s inadmissible, especially for those countries who are standing members of the Security Council of the United Nations. And it’s inadmissible to a country that used to be a member of G8. Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. We are not asking anything from Russia. What we demand from them is one thing and only, they should deliver on the international commitments, and they should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.
Ukraine has signed the first part of the political part of the association agreement with the European Union, and for us this association agreement lays the course that is required to successfully implement reforms. This is the best agenda for Ukraine. In order to implement the reforms and to make Ukraine a country that meets the highest standards of democracy, that meets the highest standards of curbing corruption, that meets the highest standards of protecting human rights and the rights of citizens.
We acknowledge the challenges that Ukraine is facing. And our government will deliver difficult but so much needed reforms for Ukraine. We would like to thank once again the government of the United States and the people of the United States for their support. You also witnessed a very difficult path in developing your nation. We are going through this path. You became a successful nation. We are becoming a successful nation. If we work together side by side so that the people in the United States and people in Ukraine will live better, and the world will feel safer, then for sure, we’ll all be successful.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your visit.
2:06 P.M. (Local)