Will President Biden Say “Yes”: A Big Interview with Former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Photo: UA

On August 31, the visit of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the United States begins.

“The president will stay in Washington D.C. for two days – August 31 and September 1. Then he travels to California” – Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said last night.

The program of the visit is extensive. But all attention is focused on the meeting of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden. It was first scheduled for August 31st. However, on this day, the final withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan should be carried out. Therefore, the summit of the presidents of Ukraine and the United States was logically shifted to September 1.

What issues will Zelensky and Biden discuss. How will the relations between the two countries develop. Will the United States join the Donbas negotiation process? And what do we know about the new ambassador of the United States to Ukraine. These and other topics are covered in an interview of the American diplomat, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (2006-2009), U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine (2019-2020) William Taylor to UA TV channel.

Vitaly Sizov hosts the interview.

Two topics

– Which pieces of advice could you give to the administration of Zelenskyy before the visit to make this visit more successful and get better results? 

– So I think President Zelenskyy is well prepared. He probably doesn’t need advice from me because he’s been thinking about this interview, this meeting for more than a year, as we know.

And I believe that the meeting can be very successful. I think both presidents have things to offer each other.

President Zelenskyy can offer to President Biden cooperation and support for the kinds of work that President Biden is trying to do. President Biden can offer President Zelenskyy support for the kinds of things the President Zelenskyy is trying to do. So two things. I think president Zelenskyy can encourage president Biden to do.

First is, president Zelenskyy can ask President Biden to help with the negotiations with the Russians on Donbas. I think that would be a good message for President Zelenskyy to get President Biden. President Biden and the US administration could help bring peace to Donbas. So that would be the first thing.

The second thing, of course, is the internal work that President Zelenskyy needs to do and is doing on economic reform and judicial reform, on fighting with oligarchs. And that’s mainly a job for President Zelenskyy, but he can indicate to President Biden that this work is going forward, that this work is proceeding, is having some success.

So, both of those topics, both the war against Russia and the fight to reform Ukraine. Those are good topics for President Zelenskyy to talk about with president Biden. 

Supporting Ukraine against Russia

Could you tell you expectations on the restart in some relationship? I cannot say that the relationship between Ukraine and the U.S. was bad. Absolutely not. The institutions have a strong connection, the cooperation, contacts. But, we all know, there was a not very good situation with a former ambassador of the United States in Ukraine and with some figures former administration were involved. Can Ukraine expect some changes, more positive atmosphere? 

– I think yes. I think yes. And in particular, I think a specific way that those relations can be better and broader and even more important.

And that is the first thing that I mentioned a minute ago, and that is if President Zelenskyy advice President Biden to send a delegation, U.S. delegation to join in the negotiations with Russians and Ukrainians on Donbas, that can be a new element. That can be a new chapter in U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

If the United States get engaged in those negotiations that could bring some results. As we know, there have been the Normandy format and the Minsk Group conversations and the Trilateral Contact Group, but all of these negotiations, first seven going on, eight years with no success.

Maybe if the United States joins that discussion, joins the Normandy format, or maybe a new format, maybe the United States gets engaged directly. With Ukraine and in negotiations with the Russians. Maybe, they can make some progress. And if so, that would be a new element of our relationship. 

– Do I get you right? The United States are ready to become part of the Normandy format – one of the participants – like Germany, France or Russia, do they? Did I understand your idea correctly?

– I hope it does. This issue remains open for discussion. It will be one of the topics that President Zelenskyy and President Biden will discuss during talks at the White House. I hope President Zelenskyy will invite President Biden to join this negotiating platform – the Normandy format.

I hope so, but we don’t know whether President Biden says yes. I hope he responds positively, and the current US administration assumes such obligations.

I hope so, although I do not know for sure whether it happens or not. We will find out when the conversation between the two presidents takes place.

– Do you think Russia is ready to agree with this approach, or will it still toughly oppose it?

– Perhaps. Anything is possible. The Russians do not have a clear position on this issue. Immediately after Putin’s meeting with Biden in Geneva in June, President Biden referred to these negotiations – the Donbass and the Minsk agreements. But President Putin also spoke out about the talks and the possibility of the United States joining them.

But President Putin can see this as a proof that the United States should put pressure on the Ukrainians to force them to comply with the Minsk agreements. The Americans will not do this. The Americans will definitely not do this.

We understand very well that the Minsk Agreements are a one-sided document. The Minsk agreements are beneficial for Russia and disadvantageous to Ukraine.

Therefore, if President Biden agrees to join these negotiations, he will join them in order to support Ukraine – against Russia.

Another question is what will the reaction of Russia be. The Russians want negotiations with Americans. Let’s see how they can agree among themselves on this issue.

– Perhaps Russians are waiting for any concessions from Ukraine in order to agree to the United States joining these negotiations? What concessions can Ukraine make in order to minimize potential risks for itself?

– It seems to me that the Ukrainians could take some actions that could be a response to the fears expressed by Russia.

The Ukrainian government has already taken some steps: for example, it has launched a process of decentralization, which gives local authorities much more freedom in making decisions about infrastructure, building schools, repairing bridges and building new roads. More freedom in taxation policy and more choice about how to use the funds received more wisely.

The decentralization reform that the Ukrainian government has been carrying out for several years now deserves the highest praise from me. And if this decentralization makes it possible to respond to the concerns expressed by the Russian side, then some steps in this area may well be taken into consideration.

He learned a lot

A couple of years ago, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president, you wrote an article in which you assessed this fact positively. The elections were generally open and fair. It became possible to prevent Russian interference in their implementation. You said that in this regard, Ukraine can be an example for the United States. In what issues could Ukraine, in your opinion, be an example for the United States?

– It seems to me that Ukraine can be an example for the United States and Europe, I would say, in several ways.

These are the elections you mentioned. But in addition to elections, this is Ukrainian civil society, and those Ukrainian organizations that represent many people in different spheres and parts of society – whether they are journalists, service providers or monitoring organizations with the aim of public control over the activities of the government.

It’s not for me to tell you about this, but civil society in Ukraine is very strong, and this is an example for the United States, this is an example for Europe, and this is a demonstration of the power of the people.

Both during the Orange Revolution of 2004 and during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Ukrainian civil society dared to oppose state power, defending its principles, defending democracy, advocating fair elections, speaking out against corruption. Despite the fact that this was associated with a certain risk for themselves. It showed your strength, your commitment and dedication to democratic principles – those very democratic principles that both Americans and Europeans recognize and adhere to.

The example that the Ukrainians set in their elections is an excellent argument. We had some problems with the elections. As you know, American elections have not always gone smoothly. Both earlier and in the recent past, in 2020. And for sure, some are still convinced that the US elections were rigged. Although this was not the case. At all.

But there were and still are people who think that frauds took place. And here, in Washington D.C., on January 6, there was an armed confrontation when people tried to break into the Capitol to stop the elections. So we have our own problems.

Ukraine knows how to hold elections. Free and fair elections have always taken place in Ukraine. Sometimes you choose people like President Zelenskyy. Sometimes you choose people like President Yanukovych, sometimes like President Poroshenko, sometimes Yushchenko. But by and large – not including, of course, the events of 2004 and the Orange Revolution – you have free and fair elections. So Ukraine itself is a great example of how elections should be held.

– Based on the results of two years after the elections in Ukraine, do you see any positive changes, or did you have predictions that did not come true?

– It seems to me that President Zelenskyy, for whom 73% of Ukrainians voted, came with enthusiasm, with good intentions, but without much experience. And it was precisely because of his lack of experience that he quickly ran into problems.

Perhaps at an early stage he made several mistakes. One of his mistakes, for example, that he believed that in order to achieve peace, in order to get the Russians out of Donetsk and Luhansk, he could just sit down and negotiate with President Putin. But it turned out that this is not the case. It turned out that President Putin is not going to negotiate peace or negotiate a withdrawal from Donbas.

Yes, initially President Zelenskyy hoped to be able to negotiate with President Putin, but over time he realized that this would not work. And that the best approach is to involve the international community and involve the Americans to strengthen this process.

If President Zelenskyy has reinforcements in the form of an ally like President Biden, only then negotiations with President Putin can be crowned with success.

Perhaps the same goes for reforms. Probably, at first, Zelenskyy believed that he would be able to cope with the reforms without attacking the oligarchs. But over the past few months, he has clearly shown that the fight against the oligarchs has begun and has started taking concrete steps. He closes TV channels. NSDC imposes sanctions on people involved in interfering with our elections, as well as on those whose actions are detrimental to the economy and the entire Ukrainian society.

So I think he learned a lot and is now in a much stronger position.

The U.S. government appreciates the support

With do you think about the Afghanistan crisis? You worked with this topic for a long time. And now we see that even now, here in D.C. there are people from Afghanistan in airport. We understand that this is a global topic. And the most important topic now. But what administration of Zelenskyy could do to attract some attention of Biden administration which is now deeply involved in solution of this global Afghanistan problem? 

– So, I think, Ukraine and the government of President Zelenskyy is already helping president Biden and the American administration with this problem, with this challenge of bringing Afghan nationals. In particular, Afghan people who worked with America in Afghanistan. We’re trying very hard to bring those Afghans out of Kabul to the United States. Some here, in the Washington area, some – to other countries. And I believe that Ukraine has already offered to accept and welcome some of the Afghans into Ukraine. That’s a contribution that Ukraine can make, that Germany can make, that France can make, the United Kingdom can make. The countries around the world, and particularly those who participated in this fight in Afghanistan for all these years, these countries can help now bring out the Afghans that were with them in that fight, that were working with us. So I think president Zelenskyy and Ukrainian administration, is already helping with that problem. And I believe the US government is very appreciative of that support. 

– We see a lot of criticism of the West regarding the policy on Afghanistan. This is especially true for the Russian media. They compare Ukraine with Afghanistan. How should Ukraine respond to such criticism? What arguments are needed to show that such statements are wrong? Unfortunately, a certain part of our society, who call themselves patriots, support such statements.

– I understand what you are talking about, and this is a very good question. Afghanistan and Ukraine are not a serious comparison. Ukraine is located in Europe. Ukraine shares European values. Ukraine is striving to become part of European organizations. The Ukrainian people share democratic values, market values, basic economic values, financial values. That is, the values ​​shared by both Europeans and Americans. And this is what distinguishes Ukraine from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not part of Europe. They were independent for a very long time. They did not have a centralized government. Trying to help Afghanistan is much more difficult than supporting Ukraine. Because Ukraine wants to become a European country, wants to live by the values ​​that it shares. Therefore, a partnership between Ukraine and the United States is much easier to build than it is to build ties between the United States and Afghanistan. This is easier, since Ukraine has the same values, similar goals, and the course towards Euro-Atlantic integration and Ukraine’s aspiration to become a full-fledged member of the EU and NATO are spelled out in its Constitution.

This commitment to common values ​​on the part of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government makes the ties between the United States and Ukraine much stronger than the ties between the United States and Afghanistan.

We could have made a mistake

– In the context of the recent changes in the Nord Stream 2 negotiations, we see the reaction of the US administration, we see the reaction of Germany, and there is the reaction of Ukraine. How can Ukraine protect at least part of its national interests in this situation? Because we are well aware that, unfortunately, the forces of the stakeholders are clearly unequal.

– Over the years, decisions on Nord Stream 2 have never been easy. I believe that the last decision of my government – the government of the United States – was wrong. And that the people who made this decision were much more concerned about the state of relations between the United States and Germany than about the result of such a decision on Nord Stream 2 for Russia.

Nord Stream 2, if completed, will bring such huge benefits to Russia and strengthen its position in Europe so much that, looking back after some time, we realize that we have made a mistake. A very big mistake.

We ourselves have given Russia the lever with which it will be able to push around not only Ukraine through transit prices, but also gain influence over Germany. And in general, over the whole of Western Europe, since the gas pipeline runs from Russia to Germany and further to Europe. I think we made a mistake.

What can be done? Many do not give up and continue fighting against the launch of this gas pipeline. This is not an easy fight, but it can be successful.

What can absolutely be done – that is to try to take advantage of what Germany has offered and try to get the maximum benefit.

The Germans knew very well that it would be difficult for Ukraine, that such a decision would be painful and damaging for Ukraine. And the Germans understood that they had to repay Ukraine with something and do something for it. And therefore, their obligations to help Ukraine develop energy independence, laid down in those agreements, were a good decision – insufficient, but still quite useful. And the United States must ensure that Germany delivers on all of its promises to support Ukraine’s energy security.

It’s a signal for Russia

– Today the media published information that Ukraine will get support from the United States, 60 million dollars. What you think? Is it some sign of support? Or is this a kind of a routine, some everyday work, or normal situation? 

– I think it’s more than normal situation. I think it is a new amount of money, some additional money, some new money in security assistance that can that can go beyond what the United States has already given. The United States has already provided 250 million in this year for security assistance for Ukraine. And as I understand it, this would be in addition to that. So this is not just the normal one. The normal one is pretty significant.

I mean, 250 million dollars is a lot of assistance, but that is what the United States has been doing for a couple of years now in response to the Russian invasion in 2014. So, that has been significant, solid, helpful, useful to Ukraine, and help buy weapons and help training, buy other equipment. That’s been very good.

But this new amount of money would be in addition to that and would be a method signal both in Ukraine and to the Russians, frankly, that the United States supports Ukraine. So I think this is this is beyond the normal. This is something in addition to the normal.

Strengthening of ties

– What do you think about the new ambassador of the U.S. to Ukraine? Who could be this man or woman? What qualities this person has to possess? 

– So it has been more than two years since the United States has had a full Senate confirmed ambassador in Kyiv. And then more than two years, I was there for a period of time, my deputy. Now, that charge, Kristina Kvien, has been doing that job for more than a year and a half. She’s been doing a great job. It is important to have a US ambassador. Full, confirmed US ambassador in Kyiv. And so your questions are very good.

What I do know is that the administration, the Biden administration, has chosen someone to be that ambassador. What I don’t know is what his or her name is yet. I know that there’s been a decision and I know that they’re working on all of the paperwork and background checks and the administrative steps that have to be taken before they can even announce the name.

Once they announce the name, of course, then that name goes to Senate and the Senate has to have a hearing and that takes some time.

Who will that one be? Who will that person be. I am very sure that the person that they have selected – and they have selected a person – will be very well qualified, will have the confidence of the president and will have the confidence of the Secretary of State, will have the full backing of the US government and all that he or she does while he or she is Kyiv.

And what task he or she has to do, to solve?

That person has the important task of making the connection between the U.S. government and the Ukrainian government closer and closer. He or she has to take the messages from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, make it understandable for Washington, send that message back to Washington, and then he or she takes the message from Washington, and sit down and work with the government in Kyiv.

So having the confidence of the president here is important for that task. And I am sure that that will be the top priority for that person.

To remind, meeting of the U.S. President Joe Biden and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be held on September 1.

Read also: Meeting of the presidents of Ukraine and the United States was postponed due to evacuation from Afghanistan – OP