View Full Version : Biden Reassures Ukraine and Georgia of U.S. Support

07-22-2009, 03:22 PM
July 23, 2009
Biden Reassures Ukraine and Georgia of U.S. Support

KIEV, Ukraine — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday urged Ukrainians to choose the path of democracy and free markets, saying that to do otherwise would betray the promise of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Later Wednesday, he received an enthusiastic reception in Georgia, where strong American support for the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili has inflamed tensions with Russia.

Though his visit in the region was intended mostly to reassure Ukraine and Georgia that American support for them will not diminish, Mr. Biden sounded grander notes in his speeches. In Ukraine, which will probably elect a new president in January, he noted that the country is at a decision point as critical as any in its history.

His trip comes at a time of exhaustion with democratic and economic reforms throughout the post-Soviet space, and as Russia seeks to restore its old regional dominance. Acknowledging the difficulty of the path the country is following, Mr. Biden urged Ukrainians to think “in terms of centuries.”

“Centuries from now, what will Ukrainians say of this time?” he said, in a speech billed as an address to the Ukrainian people. “What will they say of their leaders? Will they say they returned to the past, or will they say the beginning of the 21st century launched a period of prosperity, freedom and independence?”

Mr. Biden encouraged Ukraine to pursue its future through economic means, saying the country’s independence “depends more in this country on your energy freedom than on any single factor.”

Last year, as part of a charter on strategic partnership, the United States promised to look for ways to improve and secure Ukraine’s pipeline network, which could directly challenge Russia’s control over exports of energy to Eastern Europe. Ukraine serves as a transit point for 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe, but it extracts virtually none of the large profit earned from the gas crossing its territory.

Mr. Biden said the strategic partnership commission would begin meeting in Washington this fall.

On Wednesday, as he did on Tuesday, Mr. Biden said that the United States would back Ukraine’s entry into NATO, an initiative under the Bush administration that Russia regards as a direct threat on its borders. But he emphasized that Washington did not seek to force its allies’ hand, seemingly acknowledging that much of the population is not enthusiastic about the move.

“We recognize that they are your decisions,” he said. “They are your choices, not ours. Whether you choose to join the European Union or seek to join NATO, we recognize that how far or how fast to proceed with your choices is your choice, not ours.”

Mr. Biden tempered his speech with sharp criticism of Ukraine’s leading politicians, whose infighting has sunk the government into a state of paralysis.

As the country struggles to negotiate the economic crisis, President Viktor A. Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko — the heroes of the Orange Revolution movement that replaced a pro-Russia government — have squabbled so bitterly that at times they were not on speaking terms. The deadlock has so frustrated voters that they have swung toward the opposition leader, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who has close ties to the Kremlin.

Mr. Biden cast this as a serious disappointment, saying that if the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko were alive today, “I’m sure he would be heralding the openness and pluralism and freedom of the press” of contemporary Ukraine.

“But I think he would also be wondering why the government is not exhibiting the same political maturity as the people,” he said.

In Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, Mr. Biden’s motorcade was greeted by hundreds of people lining the streets, many of them waving flags or holding signs either praising American support for their country or condemning Russia for interfering in the nearby breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr. Biden has been perhaps the most outspoken public supporter of Georgia within the Obama administration and has harshly criticized Russia for its hostility toward Mr. Saakashvili’s government. But in comments as he prepared to go to Georgia, he seemed to be imparting a personal lesson — almost a soft rebuke — to the first generation of post-Soviet leaders like Mr. Saakashvili.

Acknowledging that his prescriptions for economic and political reform, such as ending popular subsidies for energy, are not likely to be popular with voters in the former Soviet sphere, he repeated the advice he said he always gives young people interested in running for public office.

“What is it you care about that is worth losing over?” he said. “If you can’t figure that out, then it’s merely ambition that is driving you. Every country needs politicians who know what is worth losing over.”