(1) U.S. & NATO Allies Stand Firm in Support of Ukraine 
         U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, NATO-Ukraine Commission Remarks
         NATO  Foreign Ministerial Intervention Remarks, Brussels, Friday, March 31, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to represent the United States at this important meeting on Ukraine.

Three years ago, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shook the very foundations of security and stability in Europe. Today, Russia’s ongoing hostility and occupation is compromising our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

American and NATO support for Ukraine remains steadfast. As we have repeated at every Ministerial and Summit since Russia launched its campaign of aggression against Ukraine, NATO Allies stand firm in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine.

We thank Germany and France for their determination to find a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis in Eastern Ukraine under the Normandy format. We will continue to support their work to accelerate the implementation of the Minsk agreements. NATO solidarity is crucial to finding a political solution to this conflict.

We will continue to hold Russia accountable to its Minsk commitments. The United States sanctions will remain until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered our sanctions.

We note with alarm the escalating violence along the line of contact and the repeated targeting of civilian infrastructure by Russia-led separatist forces, which poses an elevated risk of humanitarian disaster.

We call on Russia to exercise its influence over the separatists to put a stop to the violence, end the campaign of attacks and intimidation against OSCE monitors, and facilitate the access they need to do their job.

The OSCE must be able to fulfill its mandate which included monitoring throughout the conflict zone and to the international border. And Russia must understand there is no basis to move forward on the political aspects of the Minsk agreements until there is visible, verifiable, and irreversible improvement IN the security situation.

Crimea-related sanctions must remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.

Even in the face of Russia’s aggression, Ukraine has accomplished a great deal domestically. We applaud recent reform successes, including anti-corruption efforts and pursuing necessary reforms to meet IMF conditionality.

The United States continues to urge Ukraine to redouble its efforts to implement challenging reforms, including uprooting corruption, increasing transparency in the judicial system, strengthening the banking sector, and pursuing corporate governance reform and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. We must continue to support Ukraine on its reform path.

It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption. Anti-corruption institutions must be supported, resourced, and defended.

Even in the face of ongoing Russian aggression, Ukraine is committed to an ambitious effort to reform and modernize its armed forces according to NATO standards by 2020.

While Russian aggression makes reforms more challenging, it also renders them more urgent.

We applaud the goals set out in the Strategic Defense Bulletin that President Poroshenko presented to Allies in Warsaw, and we look forward to its full implementation.

The United States will continue to support Ukraine in this effort. Since the start of the crisis, the United States has committed over $600 million dollars in security assistance.

In addition to our bilateral contributions, the United States committed $1.3 million to the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and also contributed to the NATO-Ukraine Trust Fund on Countering Improvised Explosive Devises.

Russian aggression in Ukraine has not abated. This meeting is a clear demonstration of NATO’s political support for Ukraine. I encourage you to make that support tangible by maintaining solidarity on sanctions, and by contributing individually to NATO-Ukraine Trust Funds.

Together we will stand by Ukraine as it defends its sovereign territory, strengthens its economy, and continues to implement reforms. As President Trump has said, every country has the right to chart its own future, and we must help the people of Ukraine maintain that sacred right. Thank you.

(2)  OPIC - Why Cut an Agency That Makes Money?  Bloomberg

Caught in the crosswinds of President Donald Trump's aggressive budget-cutting is one program that Democrats and Republicans should both support. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the government's development-finance institution, is one of numerous agencies and programs set to be eliminated if Trump's proposed budget is enacted. But OPIC is a rare example of a profitable and lean federal agency -- one that actually reduces the budget deficit.


“OPIC mobilizes private capital for emerging markets by providing debt financing, political risk insurance and support for investment funds. This boosts revenue and jobs at home, while encouraging development in poorer and potentially unstable countries. It also helps U.S. businesses mitigate risk by providing capital in areas where conventional financial institutions often are reluctant or unable to lend.”

COMMENTARY: Funding OPIC and OPIC including Ukraine in its agenda are critical for Ukraine and American investment in Ukraine.  However Bloomberg, in stating that both Democrats and Republicans should support OPIC without commenting further leaves a significant misimpression. 

A number of Republicans and influential conservative institutions oppose OPIC.  As a result including OPIC in the budget is not simply a matter of defeating a Trump cut.  Among the Republicans with this position are many in the Freedom Caucus which brought down the healthcare legislation. Their arguments are not trivial in that they have considerable support in Congress and obviously within the Trump administration.


In the case of Ukraine, OPIC is critical to American interests.  It is in the American interest for Ukraine to succeed and for its economy and progress toward the west to continue.  American investment needs to be a major part of our policy interests in Ukraine and given the challenges facing Ukraine, including a Russian inspired and led war and Putin’s aggressive economic destabilization efforts, millions-upon-millions of American investments interested and ready to enter Ukraine need OPIC’s insurance.  OPIC can and should be a critical player in American foreign policy pursuits.

In the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) have encouraged OPIC to prioritize investments in Ukraine.  Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) has supported OPIC activities in the past but with strong pressure from Trump and the Heritage Foundation he might not be firm. 

But it is the Appropriations Committees that will have the greatest say over the funding of the budget for the remainder of 2017 regardless of what is authorized.  And, appropriators will be under tremendous strain to meet demands all across government especially with the Administration’s emphasized priorities.

The chair and ranking on the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate are: Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Ranking Democratic Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) in the House and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate. 

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-03-22/why-cut-an-agency-that-makes-money

(3) The honeymoon is over for Trump and Putin: Washington and Moscow are

trading sharp words over Russia’s weekend political crackdown, civilian deaths

in Iraq and the revival of U.S. sanctions touching Russian interests -- Politico

After months of overtures from President Trump to Russian President Putin, the Trump administration is trading harsh diplomatic words with Moscow, further dimming the prospects for a strategic alliance between the countries.  The White House came out strongly in denouncing the Kremlin’s crackdown on anti-corruption protestors. Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman blasted new Trump administration sanctions against companies doing business with Syria, Iran and North Korea, whose targets included eight Russian companies.

COMMENTARY: As Washington Watch has stated numerous times, until Trump takes specific action it is difficult to predict exactly where U.S. policy will go toward Putin’s Russia.  The statement today by Secretary of State Tillerson was a major move in the right direction. There is no doubt as more time passes the early concern that Trump would blunder into an early and ill-advised deal with Putin lessens.  Nevertheless, nothing is for sure and there should be no letup on efforts to educate the White House about the threat Putin poses and, in Ukraine’s case, the strategic importance of Kyiv to American national interests.  

Link: Politico

(4) Excerpts from the interview of Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, Deputy Chief of Staff of

Ukrainian Presidential Administration, to “Segodnya” newspaper from March 27,

2017: (translated from Russian) – with Washington Watch commentary

Question: About the new American president ... Has the American administration finally formed its position on Ukraine?

- First, we are satisfied with the level and intensity of the dialogue between Ukraine and the new US Administration. As you know, there were two telephone conversations of the President of Ukraine with President Donald Trump. Petro Poroshenko had a long and fruitful meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence in Munich in February (at the Munich Conference on Security - Ed.). In addition, a dialogue began with the newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin visited Washington twice. Active visits to the US of our MPs and visits of members of Congress to Ukraine are continuing.

There is an acquaintance with the new representatives of both the National Security Council of the USA, the White House, the State Department ... I believe that it's time to move from intensity to the new quality and depth in our relations. Today we are working on this. We are trying to ensure the priority of the so-called Ukrainian issue on the foreign policy agenda of the new US Administration. At the same time, we are continuing to work on preparing the visit of the Ukrainian president to the United States in order to consolidate positive trends in our dialogue and to involve Washington in active participation in the issues of restoring peace and security in Europe.

Commentary: In Washington with very rare exceptions the seemingly endless streams of Rada deputies elicits some confusion and negative reactions.  In some recent meetings comments have been made that maybe the reason the Rada doesn’t seem to get things done is because it can’t maintain a quorum because so many deputies are in Washington.  The underlying view is that Ukraine has too many problems to address for so many divergent deputies to spend time out of the country often trying to advance their personal agendas.

And, as for “We are trying to ensure the priority of the so-called Ukrainian issue on the foreign policy agenda of the new US Administration” it is about time Ukraine’s government face reality.  Putin is conducting a war against you!  Hello!  “so-called Ukrainian issue”? It is not a “Ukrainian issue” it is Russia’s war against Ukraine!  If Ukraine’s officials can’t call it a war why should anyone else be expected to bother?

The visit of Peter Poroshenko to the States was to take place at the end of February, and on the calendar is the end of March. Some have resorted to conspiracy, they say, the US is not yet up to Ukraine.

- First, as they say, everything that is done is done for the better. Indeed, we proposed the dates of the visit at the end of February. But, as you know, at that time there were certain difficult personnel processes in the new Administration. At that time, unfortunately, key positions in the new US Administration, the State Department, and the National Security Council were not yet filled.

Therefore, there are certain objective reasons for the absence of specific dates. Secondly, of course, we are interested in a meaningful visit, and not a visit for the sake of a visit. Therefore, apart from the date, we would like to formulate a specific agenda in order to reach certain agreements. In the near future we plan to continue contacts at a high level for the coordination of such agreements.

Commentary:  After 26 years of independence one cannot excuse Ukraine’s diplomatic blunders on inexperience.  Why would Ukraine have ever – ever – announced the timing of a Presidential trip before it’s date was locked-in?    As for a “meaningful visit” let us hope. Far too many times Ukrainian officials have come to Washington with no “gets” prearranged.

That is, during the recent visit of Pavel Klimkin to Washington, the ground for future talks between Peter Poroshenko and Donald Trump was being prepared?

- Of course, all opportunities are used to prepare the main and key meeting - the Ukrainian-American summit. Therefore, the recent visit of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brigitte Brink to Ukraine was considered in this context. I want to reiterate: the summit will be held as soon as the two sides agree on the agenda, as well as on the content of the future meeting. Of course, we would like this to happen as soon as possible.

Commentary:  To repeat, all of this should have been worked on and completed before Ukraine announced when the Presidents would meet.  Also, just for the record her name is Bridget Brink.

- After the history of the visa-free regime issue, I do not want to focus on specific dates. But still, can we predict that until the summer the new US Administration will formulate its policy on Ukraine?

- This is the question for the US Administration. As for Ukraine, we are doing everything we can to make this happen, and life will show.

- Can the United States join the "Normandy format"?

- My answer to this question is this: the problem is not in formats. Whichever format we make, if there is no political will on the part of the Russian side to implement the agreements, no format will help. From time to time voices are heard that the "Normandy format" is ineffective, let's make the "Budapest format", "Geneva format", etc. My position is this: it does not matter what format. For us, the main thing is that Russia should be present in this format.

Now in the "Normandy format" there is the Russian Federation, within the framework of which we are working. In my opinion, talking about formats leads the discussion in the wrong direction. I believe that we need to concentrate more on substantive things: how to ensure the implementation of the agreements reached and work on new initiatives that would bring the key - peace and stability in the Donbass, restoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in its internationally recognized borders. We are interested not so much in the format as in the result. Let's just say: we will be happy with any format that will bring the result

 

Commentary: For clarification “Normandy format” means a diplomatic group of senior representatives of four countries (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) to resolve the situation in the East of Ukraine.  Really, that is the definition – “situation in the East of Ukraine.” The “situation” is Putin’s war on Ukraine and Yeliseyev is correct, Russia has to be there and committed to ending the war (which brings to mind the old legal doctrine – the doctrine of the fat chance).  As for the format itself why are the United States and Great Britain left out.  They are two of the principals of the Budapest Memorandum that assured/guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty – they should be involved in any genuine effort to end the war. Each have a genuine responsibility in this regard.

(5)  Worst Places to Live: South Sudan, Haiti, Ukraine Lead World In Suffering – International Business Times:

South Sudan, Haiti and Ukraine were the countries with the highest "suffering" rates in the world in 2016, according to Gallup’s analysis of its own data which was also used by the United Nations to release its annual World Happiness Report on March 20 on the occasion of the annual International Day of Happiness.

The ranking are based on answers to a simple life evaluation question developed decades ago by a social scientist and posed to people around the world between 2014 and 2016 by Gallup. The three countries – South Sudan, Haiti and Ukraine – also score very poorly on the U.N. world happiness rankings. Ukraine was no. 132, Haiti came in at no. 145 and South Sudan was no. 147.

COMMENTARY: Did you think Ukraine suffered from a branding problem?  South Sudan, Haiti!!!!  And this ranking is based on interviews with the people of Ukraine! Sure Ukraine’s own missteps combined with Putin’s massive propaganda machine have tarnished Ukraine’s reputation but in Washington one would suspect Ukraine’s reputation is more positive than this report says Ukraine’s reputation is inside Ukraine.  The Government of Ukraine must do a better job of educating the people of Ukraine to what is happening, the efforts being made, the consequences of the war and be transparent about what remains to be done.

Link: http://www.ibtimes.com/worst-places-live-south-sudan-haiti-ukraine-lead-world-suffering-report-says-2513821

(6)The Rise of the Victim-State – Alexander Markovsky - American Thinker:

Impervious to political reality, the Trump administration refuses to recognize that Crimea has turned its clocks to Moscow time, both literally and figuratively. It has joined Russia, and regardless of Western sanctions and condemnations, there is no turning back of this historic clock; Crimea is irreversible and non-negotiable. But the Eastern Ukraine is open to negotiations and an amicable resolution.

This is one of many ethnic conflicts that have become increasingly common in the Post-Cold War period. For many countries arbitrarily created after the Second Word War the unifying principle was the power of the state that forced citizens to tolerate a plethora of incompatibilities. Proliferations of democratic principles resulted in weakening or overturn of the authoritarian regimes and absence of enforcement gave rise to nationalistic aspirations that challenge the cohesiveness of the established order, in some instances, to the point of no order at all.  

In Ukraine, which prior to the disintegration of the Soviet Union had never set up an independent government, resentments and grievances suppressed by the power of the Soviet state broke out into a civil war.   Usually in conflicts, each side is pursuing an outcome incompatible with the strategic ambition of its adversary, but the Ukrainian saga has an interesting twist to it.

President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, totally ignorant of how this Eastern European game is played, were deceived by both their “sworn friend” Petro Poroshenko and their professed adversary Vladimir Putin. Despite their differences, Poroshenko and Putin converge on one important aspect: neither of them wants Eastern Ukraine.

COMMENTARY: Alexander Markovsky, popular in some conservative circles for his dissecting of Obama’s governance as the take-over of socialistic doctrine, nevertheless proves he was successfully indoctrinated into the Russian world view at the University of Marxism-Leninism.

His piece declares several primary points: (a) Crimea is Russian, now and forever.  (b) Poroshenko (his dangerously personalizes this ignoring the people of Ukraine – surely as he was taught in Russia) does not want Donbass but rather for Ukraine to be a “victim” state (he says like Palestine) so that he (Poroshenko) can continue to benefit from billions of dollars in aid.  (c) Putin doesn’t want Donbass either because he can’t afford to support it. And, therefore (d) the United States should forget about Crimea, go along with the “independence” of Eastern Ukraine, so that the U.S. can have good and productive relations with Russia.

If it were not for the fact that, as a Russian, Markovsky has been genetically seduced by the Kremlin’s rewrite of history and Putin’s contemporary narrative, one would have to wonder what drugs he takes. Clearly he is a Russian “believer” as his nonsense is based on an education devoid of having heard that Ukraine existed with independent governance before Russia came into being (not to mention Ukraine’s brief but democratic and inclusive government in the early 20th century).  And, of course, Markovsky demonstrates his engrained Russian comfort zone for dismissing and/or ignoring international treaties, one’s word meaning absolutely nothing.

Since Trump’s inauguration we have seen a number of Kremlin-inspired suggestions for a “grand bargain” to settle things between Washington and Moscow.  Markovsky’s really is only different in that he (a) makes his arguments based on a historical reality familiar only to those who accepted the social science teachings of their Soviet education, (b) makes strange assumptions about what Poroshenko might want while dangerously ignoring the people of Ukraine, and (c) apparently actually thinks there could be a genuinely good bond between the United States and the government of Russia – a totally unprecedented concept..

Link: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2017/03/the_rise_of_the_victimstate.html#ixzz4cYHgHmdi

(7) ‘Russia Is a Threat … to All of Europe’ - Lithuania’s president talks
to Foreign Policy about Vladimir Putin's "little green men" and whether
Donald Trump really believes in NATO – Foreign Policy:.

Interview: Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, is on the front line of a “non-conventional war” against an expansionist Moscow. In an interview in Vilnius, she spells out the reasons that U.S. troops should be stationed on Lithuanian soil to prevent a Russian attack.

Link: Foreign Policy

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