WASHINGTON – Speakers from Washington, Kyiv and Brussels discussed Ukrainian foreign policy priorities for newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a June 20 telecast organized by the German Marshall Fund (GMF), and supported by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation as well as the Reanimation Package of Reforms.
Opening remarks were provided by Jonathan Katz, senior fellow at the GMF, and Orest Deychakiwsky, vice-chairman of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF). Messrs. Katz and Deychakiwsky are co-chairs of USUF’s Friends of Ukraine Network Democracy and Civil Society Task Force.
The principal Washington speaker was Brad Freden, director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He began by presenting a broad overview of U.S. policy toward Ukraine and outlined several priorities for the future. Mr. Freden stated that the U.S. remains committed to a prosperous, war-free, and united Ukraine.
Mr. Freden echoed President Donald Trump’s earlier comments about the United States’ unwavering support for the country, citing the statistic that the U.S. has provided $1.5 billion in support for the Ukrainian war effort since 2014. Mr. Freden said he believes that Ukraine under newly elected President Zelenskyy poses a real threat to authoritarianism in Russia and other post-Soviet countries if it can successfully demonstrate the advantages of a democratic state through reforms and a commitment to transparency.
“The fundamental threat that Zelenskyy poses to Putin is to create a Ukraine that shows the rest of the Soviet space what a free and democratic country can look like, and that’s a real threat – to Putin himself, to the authoritarian government in Moscow,” Mr. Freden said.
Olga Stefanishyna, director at the Ukrainian government’s Office for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Sviatoslav Yurash, foreign policy advisor to President Zelenskyy, and Olena Halushka, head of international relations at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, all provided their insights on the policy priorities for Ukraine from Kyiv, highlighting Ukraine’s closer political and economic ties to the European Union since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.
Looking forward, Mr. Yurash said the Ukrainian government’s priority is Euro-Atlantic integration. He predicted that Mr. Zelensky’s Servant of the People party will form a single-party majority in the Verkhovna Rada, the first such parliamentary majority since Ukraine’s independence. Among Mr. Zelenskyy’s priorities is the creation of a new Russian-language channel, as well as social media campaigns that will be broadcast in the occupied territories to combat disinformation.
“It is very clear that what we are aiming for is Euro-Atlantic integration and realizing the destiny of the Ukrainian nation, that is, to be part of global western alliances,” Mr. Yurash said.
With the Ukrainian parliamentary elections scheduled for July 21, Mr. Freden said this presents a unique opportunity for Ukraine to pass domestic reforms, particularly anti-corruption legislation. For the domestic reform agenda, Mr. Freden reaffirmed the U.S. stance that Ukraine has to combat corruption, stating that there is still a lot of work to be done. While the Ukrainian economy has stabilized as a result of the efforts of the Ukrainian central bank and the Finance Ministry, foreign direct investment is only 2 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) – a low statistic for a developing country that has a highly educated workforce. Mr. Freden said Ukraine needs to create institutions that will attract foreign investment into the economy, particularly the energy sector.
From Brussels, Richard Tibbels, head of the Eastern Partnership Bilateral Relations Division at the European External Action Service, outlined three major points in respect to Ukraine’s relationship with the EU and the country’s accomplishments thus far.
Mr. Tibbels argued that the increase in the amount of trade between Ukraine and the EU is undoubtedly beneficial for both sides, noted the advantages of the visa-free regime and commended Ukraine for the significant number of reforms undertaken in the past several years.
“There should be no price put on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Tibbels said. “We would have hoped that Mr. Surkov would have reacted more positively to the ideas of Kurt Volker regarding the idea of a UN peacekeeping force as a way to transition to the reestablishment of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Vladislav Surkov is an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s point man for talks on Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine.
The discussion was moderated by Jonathan Katz and Bruno Lete, both at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, as well as Vasyl Babych, the head of international relations at the Reanimation Package of Reforms.
The event was part of an ongoing series of discussions focusing on key issues relating to U.S.-Ukraine-EU relations under the auspices of the Transatlantic Task Force on Elections and Civil Society in Ukraine.