UK am­bas­sador’s part­ing mes­sage in Kyiv: Tackle cor­rup­tion or risk los­ing sup­port

Kyiv Post - - News - BY BRIAN BON­NER [email protected] Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bon­ner can be reached at [email protected]

Si­mon Smith, the United King­dom’s am­bas­sador to Ukraine, is wrap­ping up a three-year tour of duty this month with a clear part­ing mes­sage to Ukraine’s lead­ers: Fight cor­rup­tion or risk los­ing in­ter­na­tional sup­port.

“Right now, in my coun­try, in a lot of coun­tries around the world, there is a re­ally sub­stan­tial de­gree of com­mit­ment to Ukraine,” Smith said in an Aug. 27 in­ter­view in the am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in Kyiv. “You will put that in­vest­ment at risk if you don’t show re­sults on mod­ern­iza­tion, re­form, re­newal agenda and you will run the risk of en­gen­der­ing Ukraine fa­tigue if you are not show­ing these peo­ple that what you’re work­ing on is some­thing that is fun­da­men­tally new.”

Smith’s warn­ing comes as those who run Ukraine’s post-Euro­Maidan Revo­lu­tion in­sti­tu­tions − in­clud­ing politi­cians, judges, pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice − have lit­tle to show in their promised fight against oli­garchs and cor­rup­tion since Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych fled power on Feb. 22, 2014.

Many also fear that the same “un­trans­par­ent, un­ac­count­able in­ter­ests,” as Smith de­scribed them, will re­turn to po­lit­i­cal power. Some ar­gue that they never re­ally left.

“One of your big­gest en­e­mies at the mo­ment could be a gath­er­ing as­sump­tion amongst these coun­tries who have sup­ported you that what is hap­pen­ing is just the re­ver­sion to the same old, same old Ukraine,” Smith said, re­count­ing his part­ing ad­vice.

Smith said he gets a re­cep­tive re­sponse to the warn­ing from Ukrainian de­ci­sion-mak­ers. “I get heads nod­ding and I feel my mes­sage is be­ing un­der­stood,” he said.

Af­ter a va­ca­tion, Smith will watch Ukraine events mainly from Lon­don. He re­turns to a new as­sign­ment with the U.K.’s For­eign & Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, where he’s served for nearly 30 years.

His suc­ces­sor, Ju­dith Gough, starts Sept. 7. She is a vet­eran of the re­gion, hav­ing served most re­cently as the di­rec­tor of Eastern Europe and Cen­tral Asia for the For­eign & Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, which she joined in 2001. She was the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Ge­or­gia in 2010-2012. Be­fore join­ing the for­eign of­fice, she worked as a con­sul­tant at EY in emerg­ing mar­kets and fi­nan­cial ser­vices. She de­scribed her­self as hon­ored to be go­ing to Ukraine “at this crit­i­cal time” af­ter her ap­point­ment in March.

While the United King­dom has vig­or­ously crit­i­cized Rus­sia for its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea last year and its war in the Don­bas, some U.K. crit­ics think the na­tion is too much on the side­lines. France and Ger­many have taken the lead in peace talks. Many are also skep­ti­cal about the will­ing­ness of Lon­don to dis­pel its rep­u­ta­tion as a money laun­der­ing cap­i­tal for Rus­sian and Ukrainian oli­garchs. Smith an­swered both crit­i­cisms. “I find it hard to rec­on­cile the propo­si­tion that Bri­tain has been on the side­lines with the role that we’ve taken, first and fore­most with the Euro­pean Union in ad­vo­cat­ing the case for sanc­tions against Rus­sia right from the start,” Smith said. “We have been ab­so­lutely a con­sis­tent and pow­er­ful voice for sanc­tions.”

As for Lon­don’s rep­u­ta­tion as a haven for dirty money from Rus­sia, Smith’s re­sponse was that the U.K. will have to take a hard look at the ac­cu­sa­tions.

“I don’t take um­brage,” Smith said. “We have to op­er­ate on the ba­sis of con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment in the ef­fi­cacy of laws, of reg­u­la­tions in this field. If peo­ple are say­ing we’re not do­ing enough, the wrong re­sponse is to take um­brage − how dare you ac­cuse us? The right re­sponse is let’s look at what you’ve got − cer­tainly if you have ev­i­dence that is not ap­par­ent to law en­forcers, let’s see it, let’s work on it.”

Western na­tions, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, are also ac­cused of stingi­ness in eco­nomic aid to Ukraine.

The U.K.’s di­rect bi­lat­eral as­sis­tance to Ukraine might add up to only $50 mil­lion yearly. But Smith said that much of the U.K.’s aid comes as part of a larger Euro­pean Union as­sis­tance pack­age. More­over, he said, the U.K. is a sup­porter of Ukraine in other forms such as the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

The U.K. is also help­ing bol­ster Ukraine’s de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The na­tion has had an ad­viser in Ukraine’s De­fense Min­istry to re­vamp bud­get pro­ce­dures with the aim of spend­ing more ef­fec­tively on sol­diers and equip­ment at the war front. Bri­tish troops have also been train­ing their Ukrainian coun­ter­parts in “deal­ing with ca­su­al­ties in the field, lo­gis­tics, in all of these ar­eas. It is de­signed to en­hance the ca­pac­ity of the Ukrainian armed forces and de­fend against ag­gres­sion and to de­ter fu­ture ag­gres­sion,” Smith said.

Ukraine is still get­ting high-level at­ten­tion from Bri­tain’s lead­ers, with Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron meet­ing with his coun­ter­part, Arseniy Yat­senyuk, in Lon­don in July and Bri­tish De­fense Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon com­ing to Ukraine in Au­gust.

Some of the U.K.’s words about rule of law and Euro­pean val­ues seem to be un­der­cut by its ac­tions on two fronts.

Rus­sian fugi­tive Alexan­der Litvi­nenko, a for­mer Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice agent whose book “Blow­ing Up Rus­sia” ac­cused Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of many crimes, was killed by polo­nium poi­son­ing in 2006. But only this year has a public in­quiry started, giv­ing rise to crit­i­cism that the Bri­tish are guilty of the same kind of po­lit­i­cal med­dling in their crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that they ac­cuse Ukraini­ans of do­ing. In this case, crit­ics think that the U.K. wanted to down­play the Krem­lin’s links to Litvi­nenko’s mur­der to ap­pease Putin. When bi­lat­eral re­la­tions wors­ened be­cause of events in Ukraine and other is­sues, the U.K. crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Litvi­nenko’s death be­came more ac­tive.

“I think that it may look that way to you and any num­ber of mem­bers of the public,” Smith said, but, in re­al­ity, the U.K.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous strains over many is­sues, be­fore and af­ter Litvi­nenko’s death, in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s will­ing­ness to grant po­lit­i­cal asy­lum to Putin’s en­e­mies.

A sec­ond is­sue that raises ques­tions about the U.K.’s ad­vice to Ukraine to adopt Euro­pean val­ues is the strong op­po­si­tion within Bri­tain to re­main­ing in the EU. The is­sue will go to vot­ers in a ref­er­en­dum next year at the ear- li­est. But Smith sees no con­tra­dic­tion, say­ing that Bri­tain wants the EU to be­come more demo­cratic, re­spon­sive and trans­par­ent. “We want the sort of EU that coun­tries like Ukraine will want to join in the fu­ture,” Smith said.

As he leaves, Smith does not see a quick end to Rus­sia’s war.

“I would have liked to have seen quicker progress by key de­ci­sion-mak­ers in Rus­sia wak­ing up to the dead­end na­ture of the strat­egy they have em­barked on,” Smith said. “The fact there has not been quick progress is not a rea­son to stand down. We have to be in this for a rel­a­tively long haul. We should be con­fi­dent in our con­vic­tions that we are do­ing the right thing to in­vest in a suc­cess­ful fu­ture in Ukraine. I think we are in­vest­ing in the right sort of vi­sion for Europe as a whole. If Rus­sia wants to buy into that vi­sion and look to ways to col­lab­o­rate suc­cess­fully with Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions rather than need­lessly con­fronting them, that will be real progress.”

Out­go­ing United King­dom Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Si­mon Smith. (Anas­ta­sia Vlasova)

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