Following is the text of the keynote address by President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the forum “Ukraine’s Battle for Freedom Continues” on March 30 in Washington. (The text is published as released by the Presidential Administration of Ukraine)
It is a pleasure for me to be here tonight and see so many friends of Ukraine.
This is especially important for me to be in the Congress building. I had an honor to have a speech in the Congress and Senate on September 18, 2014. That was an event for the whole of my life. And that was a very important symbol of support, which was demonstrated in the U.S. Congress for my country and for the people of Ukraine. Thank you very much indeed for that.
Let me start with words of gratitude.
I am grateful to the United States government for standing by Ukraine’s side over last two years – the hardest two years in the history of my country.
I am grateful to the Ukrainian American community which has been supporting Ukraine so actively in so many ways.
I am grateful to all people of goodwill who stood with Ukraine and extended their financial, in-kind and moral support. This support is vitally important for me and for the people of Ukraine.
Dear friends, since I’ve visited America last time, Ukraine has effectively stopped the Russian offensive.
The price we have paid is striking. Almost 10,000 people have died. Over 2,700 of them are Ukrainian servicemen killed by fire of combined Russian-militant forces. This number exceeds the U.S. military losses in Afghanistan for the last 15 years. 1.75 million IDPs [internally displaced persons]lost their homes in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and moved to other regions of Ukraine.
And I, as president, the Ukrainian government, Ukrainian local authorities should find out shelter, houses, jobs, education for them and their children. Organize everything.
But we are having very strong expectations and hopes that in the very near future 1.75 million Ukrainians will have an opportunity to come back to their native land in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Seven percent of Ukrainian territory is under occupation. Twenty percent of Ukrainian economy and industrial output is seized or destroyed.
Nineteen months after we initiated the Minsk process, I still receive reports about losses and shelling of our positions in the frontline every single day. Every morning I have a report from Chief of the General Staff, General of the Ukrainian Army Muzhenko. Unfortunately, every day we have from 50 to 100 shelling per day.
Russia continues sending troops, heavy weapons and ammunition into Ukraine a few times a week. Only since January 1, 2016, Russian trains and trucks full of supplies have illegally crossed the uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border over 80 times.
Russia’s proxies in Donbas still heavily impede the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to access all areas under their control and verify the ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons. They do not allow them to access the uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border just to check and inform independently the whole world about what is going on in the occupied territory.
This situation is not conducive to holding local elections in militant-controlled areas of Donbas which are of key importance for further progress in the settlement.
Russia keeps using an escalation card whenever it wants to push for a preferred scenario. It keeps supporting militants in Donbas as it wants to have a permanent leverage on Ukraine.
Russia also uses human lives as a trading chip. After months of negotiations, we still cannot get over 120 Ukrainians from captivity in Donbas. ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] is banned to visit them as well as to search [for]about 800 missing persons.
The Kremlin has gone even further. At least 11 Ukrainian citizens have become political prisoners in Russia. Farce trials, unjust verdicts and illegal detention of Hero of Ukraine, member of the Ukrainian Parliament, PACE member Nadiya Savchenko who has stayed there for almost two years for doing nothing but defending the Ukrainian land as a Ukrainian officer. Two years. And Oleh Sentsov, and [Oleksander] Kolchenko, and many others are just appalling.
Some of them, including Nadiya Savchenko, are in a critical health condition. But this factor has no meaning for Moscow, which still does not allow Ukrainian doctors to visit Nadiya for an independent inspection, despite promises of Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Lavrov. It rejects access for German doctors and doctors of the ICRC.
We have approved the sanctions list against individuals who had partaken in the farce trials against Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – so-called “Savchenko-Sentsov” list, very similar to the Magnitsky list. We expect that our U.S. and European partners join this initiative.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ukraine remains committed to the implementation of the Minsk agreements in their entirety. This is the only option for the peaceful settlement on the table now.
We are keen to unlock the political process and hold the local elections in Donbas.
However, these elections are possible only:
• If Russia implements security provisions of the Minsk arrangements and does not manipulate with the phrase “holding local elections in line with the Ukrainian legislation and international standards.” Free and fair elections means that elections should be free and elections should be fair. We cannot accept legitimizing the occupation of Donbas through farce elections or Russian understanding of free and fair elections, which has nothing to do with democratic standards. We have exact criteria of the OSCE that define free and fair elections. And these elections should be accepted by the whole world.
• If the international community brokers deploys an enhanced OSCE police mission in Donbas to ensure security before, during and after the elections. Can you imagine anybody making election campaign when we have thousands of Russian troops on the street? And nobody has access to independent media because it simply doesn’t exist on this territory, just as independent elections commission. And 1.75 million Ukrainians living there have no right to vote. We will never accept this Russian standard of democracy.
• If we start working towards eventual restoration of Ukraine’s control over the uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border. Russia has delivered more than 750 tanks, more than 1,500 artillery systems, echelons of ammunition to a very small territory. What for? Everyone understands that. Of course, this doesn’t increase security of the region.
The recipe for the settlement is rather simple as that. What is not simple is changing Russia’s attitude and making it leave Ukraine alone.
Dear friends, there are systemic and large-scale violations of human rights in Crimea. International organizations signal these facts in their reports.
The occupation regime targets everyone who shows dissent, especially Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who support sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The Russian occupation regime has launched over 130 criminal cases against Crimean Tatars, including a case to ban their main organization – Mejlis.
Twenty-one Crimean Tatars have been kidnapped, three found dead, nine are still missing. Over 20,000 Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars were forced to leave the peninsula.
Russia heavily militarizes Crimea. It seeks to deploy nuclear weapons there, too. This is Russia’s understanding of security in the region.
I speak about this for a very clear reason. I came here to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. I have an honor to be president of the state which made a unique contribution to the nuclear security in the world. In 1994, Ukraine abandoned the third largest nuclear weapons arsenal.
At the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 under the leadership of President Obama, we refused from a stockpile of highly enriched uranium and have implemented our pledge so far. As of today, Ukraine remains among the key contributors to success of the Obama Nuclear Security initiative. And I am proud of that.
What did we get in response?
We got security assurances under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum about sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of my country. Very clear. Give up nuclear weapons and receive security guarantee. Sounds good. But what has it turned [out]to be in reality?
Russia simply defied its assurances to Ukraine and committed a direct armed aggression against my state.
The Ukrainian patriots are losing their lives defending the same values that are dear to America and Europe.
We are of one blood, one mind and one values – democratic values.
We, Ukrainians, are entitled to call upon the Western guarantors under the memorandum to take all possible efforts to restore international justice and order, to help us in our battle for survival and independent, democratic and European future.
I believe that there is a real chance for President Obama to mark his presidential term with settlement of the conflict in Donbas.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are difficult times. Not only for Ukraine but for all nations. The mankind faces many problems – terrorism, growing radicalism and xenophobia, migration, climate change. The world is tempted to choose pragmatism over values, self-isolationism over courage, and appeasement over peace.
Many think that it is just a matter of time that the dust settles in Ukraine and things will get back to old normal life in Europe. I don’t think it’s going to happen. The “old normal” is over.
Recognize it or not, but the West has a problem – a large nuclear state with inferiority complex, with hateful attitude and with total disregard for the common values, agreed principles and norms.
And this problem will not go away by itself.
Russia is not just rejecting Europe. It is trying to build an alternative Europe based on alternative values. Tyranny instead of democracy. Intolerance instead of respect. A zero-sum game instead of win-win.
As Russia tears Ukraine apart physically, it tears Europe apart politically. It does its best to promote Euroscepticism and nurture anti-EU parties throughout the continent in every single European member-state just to make Europe weaker, disintegrated and bring crisis to Europe. Russia-inspired isolationism becomes a factor in the world – without the world noticing it.
It is not about Russia and the West being unclear about their intentions in Europe. It is about Russia and the West having opposite intentions for Europe. The West wants a circle of trust. Russia wants a circle of domination.
It was not a humiliation from the West that allegedly put Russia on defense lines. It was the lack of fear in the West that was Russia’s biggest humiliation. And Moscow is trying to get a compensation for it.
Yesterday – in Transnistria and Georgia. Today – in Ukraine and Syria. Whose turn will be next? Where can Russian troops appear?
Development of the situation demonstrates a complete crisis of the post-war security system. It also demonstrates that there are no red lines for Russia. Let us be prepared for that. Let us be effective in the defense of our countries, our values and our world. It is time to face this reality and find proper responses to this situation.
Dear friends, we should realize that the world will not be the same again.
What it will be like depends on a number of factors. The most important one is success of Ukraine. We cannot give any chance to Russia that we lose this battle. Not only in the east of my country, not only in Crimea.
What shall we do to secure this success? First, we shall establish peace in Ukraine.
Ukraine wants it because that is its chance to survive. The West wants it because it cannot feel comfortable while a neighbor that shares the same values is bleeding for choosing them. This is only one reason – choice of Ukrainian people, European choice.
And Russia can be forced into it. By what mechanism?
We are not waiting NATO troops in Ukraine. My army defends my country very effectively.
We have an effective mechanism to motivate Russia to sit at the table of negotiations. And the name of this mechanism is sanctions. It is working despite negative predictions of sceptics. And Russia pays huge price for not sitting at the table of negotiations.
The Kremlin thinks that it is reaching its goals in Ukraine, at Ukraine’s cost. Dearly for Ukraine, cheaply for the West.
If the West lifts sanctions, the Kremlin’s wish will come true: Ukrainian blood will cost nothing. Killing Ukrainians will go without any punishment. That is the question of values.
Can anyone in the West accept this? I am an optimist. I am absolutely sure, this is not possible. Sanctions are the only line in the sand that the West drew after 2014. It is the only line between good and evil drawn in the context of this war.
And if there is no line anymore – then what’s the difference between good and evil? Do we really want a world devoid of political boundaries? Do we want a world where one can grab other nation’s land, kill thousands – and stay unpunished?
Therefore, without sustainable peace in Donbas – sanctions must stay in place. Without restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea – sanctions must stay in place. Without a new Russian attitude – sanctions must stay in place.
Anything less would be a compromise at the cost of values and justice.
The right signal is that if you pursue an aggressive policy, no one will deal with you.
And if the perpetrator keeps killing and stirring instability – it does not mean the sanctions do not work and must be lifted. It means they must be strengthened.
We should not repeat the mistake of 2008 when the West decided that Russia had got what it wanted and would become quiet now.
The thing about today’s Russia is: it seeks domination, not compromise. They don’t believe in win-win. They want Ukraine down and the West out. This is the only way how they think they go up. Your worst fears are their plan A.
Second, we shall ensure sustainable transformation of Ukraine. That’s primarily Ukraine’s responsibility. No question about that. As we have been defending our country last two years – we have been also implementing a broad reform package. A lot has been done so far.
First of all, as President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief, I can assure you that we have built an absolutely new and effective Ukrainian army in the last 19 months.
I can tell you a very important story. When I was elected president and had a contact with our partners asking about military support for my armed forces, the answer was “no.” Because your army is corruptive and is filled with FSB agents. In such a short period of time, we demonstrated that a new, transparent, effective, very strong and patriotic army can stop Russian aggression and release two-thirds of the occupied Donbas territories.
Earlier, Ukrainian army had a 7 percent level of support from the Ukrainian people. Today, it has almost 80 percent. This is a symbol of changes in my country.
And Russian propaganda distributes completely different messages throughout the world, which is a part of hybrid war against Ukraine.
We have made the first but critical blow against corruption. The capital renovation of the anti-corruption institutional system has been finalized. From now on our priority goal is to make it functional and operational. I believe that appointment of new highly professional, responsible, well-trusted prosecutor general will trigger a new page in anticorruption policy of Ukraine.
We have completely rebuilt the system. The Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor who was appointed in an absolutely transparent competition has a full level of trust in the Ukrainian society. His team has power to fight against corruption, and he is completely independent.
We launched several criminal cases against ministers, governors, MPs. Nobody has an umbrella against investigation on corruption charges.
We created the Special Anti-Corruption Electronic Declaration. Every chief of the police, governor, minister, MP should explain publicly and transparently how did he get his villa, plane, expensive cars. We never had it before, and we launched it two weeks ago. And I am sure it will work.
Last week, the chief of the Special Agency for Preventing Corruption was elected.
We have managed to stabilize economic and financial situation.
Exactly one year ago, our golden currency reserve was zero. Today, after the most critical year in our history, when we spent 5 percent GDP for national security and defense, when we had a disastrous situation with prices on the main products of Ukrainian exports, we now have 13 billion in the golden currency reserve.
During the war, we reduced the budget deficit from 12 percent to 3 percent.
We had energy monopolist NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine with 130 billion deficit subsidized from the state. This year, after energy reform, we have a zero deficit. In one year! For the first time in 25 years of our history.
We have improved public spending. We have cleaned up our bank system to make it more resilient. We have made a good progress in deregulation that significantly eased the registration of business. We have streamlined the tax system.
We have taken hard but important decisions in the energy sector which lead to Ukraine’s energy independence. After decades of keeping Ukraine on the gas needle – now Russia is knocking on our door asking to buy some gas. That is what we are looking for. Because gas and energy corruption were feeding the previous government. Not anymore. And we do it in very difficult conditions.
We have launched a new police, which is deemed to become a pillar of trust for the Ukrainian society. Our inspiration was drawn from the U.S. police. And I am proud that policemen from California became instructors of our new policemen.
Earlier, social trust in old militia was less than 5 percent. Today, it has risen up to 70 percent in less than a year.
Earlier, people avoided the contact and now they find protection and transparency. This is a very important symbol of the new country.
By the way, we have an extremely successful cooperation with the armed forces. Several times a year, I visit the Yavoriv training center, which conducts joint exercises with American, Canadian, British, European soldiers. We didn’t have it before. This is a demonstration of trust between our countries.
We have stepped up onto the public service reform and introduced e-government.
A lot is still to be done. And I will do my utmost. The drive for reforms is there.
One may consider the latest governmental crisis a challenge. But I consider it a chance. We have to come out of it more resilient to internal and external shocks.
I expect that in several hours a new coalition in the Ukrainian Parliament will appear and propose a new candidate for prime minister. I am absolutely sure that the solution to the parliamentary crisis is already very close. Most probably, it will be achieved this week.
That’s why I insist on clear principles for the formation of a new government and a coalition in the Parliament. No less important is a clear program for the government based on IMF commitments, Association Agreement with the EU, anti-corruption fight and the Minsk agreements implementation.
So, we don’t give up, despite the pressure we face every single day, on external and internal fronts. Because this is exactly Putin’s scenario. Understanding that nobody supports him, he doesn’t have any opportunity for the offensive operation in the east of Ukraine. He opens a new front, internal front in an attempt to destabilize Ukraine. And I insist that we must give him no chances.
At the same time, it is critical that the West does not give up on Ukraine, either. This is third. Russia’s war against Ukraine has proven that weakness provokes the aggression while a strong country can deter a bully. It is therefore vital that our partners help us become strong in all terms – politically, economically and militarily.
As I said before, we have been able to stop the Russian offensive on the ground. We got a lot of support from our partners.
Yet, I could never explain one thing to myself and to my compatriots – reluctance of the international community to supply weapons to the legitimate Ukrainian government and regular Ukrainian Army which holds the line against the attack on the international order.
I think it is time to revise this attitude. Every effort applied to protect Ukraine is an investment into long-term security of the West and sustainability of democratic values.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the times of global weakness, there is a thing that counts more than anything else – leadership. It is a privilege and a heavy burden. Not everyone wants it. Not everyone deserves it.
There are so many reasons not to carry it: indifference, fatigue, self-doubt… And there is only one reason to carry it: you have it in your blood.
In these times of doubt, I urge America to be strong and believe in itself – just like people of goodwill worldwide keep believing in America. Don’t let pragmatism make you forget about values, with freedom being at the top of them. Don’t let America become small-minded.
Ukraine highly appreciates a bond with the United States. The American leadership has been very important for progressive reforms in Ukraine. The U.S. support has been critical for successful resistance to the Russian aggression.
It is high time to boost Ukraine-U.S. bilateral dialogue in form and content. It is also time to upgrade our strategic alliance and to channel our intense cooperation in defense and security into a comprehensive bilateral security agreement. I believe that this would be to benefit of all.
Dear friends, Ukraine’s fight is a fight for freedom. And this fight continues. People die – so that freedom doesn’t.
I know that Ukraine has a timing problem. In a disillusioned world, she chose not the best time to become free. But, as the Bible says, “The Spirit breathes where he will”.
In today’s world the spirit of freedom breathes in Ukraine. Please support it! Thank you.