Response to Russia on OSCE Activities in Ukraine

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to the Permanent Council

Vienna, April 30, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Just a few points to make, and thanks for letting me take the floor again. First of all, thank you to all of the colleagues who today have announced further contributions to the SMM. Without getting myself in trouble, I will report these back to Washington and I’m sure they will encourage thoughtful reflection there, and we really appreciate the leadership that so many have shown in stepping up and making contributions towards these important efforts on the ground.

I wanted to respond to what I think was an important and a different theme that I heard from our distinguished Russian colleague today, and also to offer some of the constructive proposals that he said that I lacked. But first, there were a few points that I think are worth responding to.

There was in the statement the emergence of this narrative of there being “two camps” in Ukraine.  And I think that’s a false narrative, and one that we should be very careful to bat back.  Ukraine — like most countries around this table — is one, and is many. The United States is one, and is many. There are not two camps in Ukraine, there are different people, different peoples, who make up the national fabric, and it’s very important not to let this assertion of ‘two camps’ frame the way that we think about this. Ukraine is one, and they are many.

Second, there is constant reference to popular movements, and I think we should be careful about falling into the trap of believing that certain groups are popular movements when they aren’t. The armed-to-the-teeth, highly uniformed people who are taking over, with military precision, buildings in the east, are not popular movements – they are paramilitaries. Now, the people in the East have grievances. I’ve said this before. So do the people in the West, and in the South. So do people who speak Ukrainian or Russian; there are grievances – different but overlapping grievances – around the country. This is not surprising. Everybody in Ukraine has been robbed blind by the Yanukovich regime, which stole tens of billions of dollars. Everybody in Ukraine is concerned about the things that we are all concerned about: jobs, a decent economic future, a government that doesn’t steal from you, and good anti-corruption practices that allow businesses to flourish – real businesses, not crony businesses. That’s the popular movement. And it’s a unified popular movement, a demand for good government, for a fair shake in life.

I heard about political pressure against those who disagree with the government in Kyiv. It’s baseless – what we’ve seen and heard repeatedly over the last few weeks is the outreach by the government in Kyiv to those who disagree with them, saying, “We want to engage you in dialogue, we want to engage you in a discussion about the future of our country, we want to engage you in our common opportunity to have elections next month and to begin to turn the page.”

I heard that there were only two candidates who could represent the East and the South. It is not the place of the Russian Federation to make that judgment for the people of Ukraine. As in any election, it’s the job of any person going into a voting booth and casting their vote in private to decide who can represent them and who can’t. There are a number of candidates who have made it clear that they see one Ukraine with many Ukrainians, that they are deeply committed to reaching out to the people across Ukraine and to working with them to build a better future. It’s hogwash to say there are only two candidates.

I heard a positive commitment toward disarming, with a narrow focus on Pravy Sector. Disarming, removing illegal weapons, should be a primary focus, and the Russian Federation can join in supporting that focus by also calling on the people who are illegally armed and taking over municipal buildings in the South and the East of the country, to put down their weapons, to accept the amnesty, and to join in a constructive political process to resolve their grievances.

So all of this is to say that I strongly agree that national dialogue is important. Indeed, the entire leadership of Ukraine’s government has made clear that they strongly agree that national dialogue is important. But for the Russian Federation to be pushing for national dialogue at the same time as they make that dialogue impossible through their continued support for destabilizing activities in Ukraine is disingenuous. It’s not fair. It’s a distraction. Yes, national dialogue, town hall meetings, the kinds of local civic engagement that make a real democratic political process, that is what is needed. But that cannot happen until Russia decides to stop doing what it’s doing, so we can unite around what the Russian Ambassador recommended, we can unite around supporting Ukraine’s national political dialogue at all levels. But first, there needs to be a change in behavior from the Russian Federation and those that it supports in the East.

As far as constructive proposals go, let me offer a few:

First, stop demonstrating contempt for us and for Russia’s own international commitments and participate in this afternoon’s joint PC/FSC. I appreciated the defense minister’s statement that all of the Russian troops were returning to their peacetime positions. Like previous Russian statements, we are concerned by the gaps between words and reality, and I would appreciate the chance for dialogue, to ask questions, as I assume others would as well.

Second, dispatch a senior Russian official to support the SMM in its negotiations, and to publicly call on those who are holding buildings in the East to come out and accept amnesty, to hand over their weapons.

Third, cease offering private support and make publicly clear that those who are fomenting instability in the East do not have Moscow’s support. Say that clearly from the very top.

Fourth (and this is not an exhaustive list), publicly offer strong support for the election of May 25 as the first of several important opportunities for the people of Ukraine to come together and turn the page on the Yanukovich era, for them to demonstrate the value of the political dialogue – the national dialogue – that Russia so strongly advocates.

Finally, regarding the Ambassador’s assertion that this is a repeat of previous conversations: there is overlap with previous conversations, because the challenges and the concerns are ongoing. There are also new events. And for as long as there’s continuing escalation, for as long as there are new events that give rise to new concerns, it would be wrong of this body to not give those events the attention they deserve. It would be wrong for a security organization to not pay attention to the threat that they pose to our common security. So it is important for us not to be silent in the face of those continuing events.

Thank you.