Not too many people see and realize the extent of the U.S. sustained influence on the profound reform processes and decision-making by Ukrainian politicians and how critical the U.S. diplomats’ stance regarding our problems is. Mr. Smith is the person acquainted with all top law enforcers. He is not just a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine but the one, who is actually involved in many reform processes and creation of the new government bodies, the one who is on friendly terms with the chiefs of all law enforcement agencies. Sometimes he even plays a role of a psychotherapist helping to resolve conflicts between Ukrainian senior officials, for example, the crisis caused by the conflict of NABU, SAP, PGO, and Interior Ministry. The U.S. diplomats’ stance was vital to foil intentions of the Ukrainian authorities to dismiss director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau Artem Sytnyk. America seeks to push structural reforms in a step-by-step manner to ensure uninterrupted functioning of the state machine. This interview is certainly unable to show even a tiny bit of what Mr. Smith actually sees and feels as a diplomat, but I hope that he will visit us once as a private person to write memoirs and I swear they would be a bestseller. But now it's an interview with a diplomat. By the way, this is actually the first interview Mr. Smith gives in Ukraine.
- Interaction with Ukraine's law enforcement agencies. How deep is the cooperation of the embassy with NABU, SAP, NACP, PGO, the newly-established State Investigation Bureau, Interior Ministry, National Police, National Guard, State Border Guard Service, SBU?
The Embassy has had a wide range of interactions with Ukrainian law enforcement bodies for years, and has expanded cooperation with newly formed anti-corruption institutions. We have several federal law enforcement operational elements as part of the embassy team resident in Ukraine, including the Legal Attaché, representing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and our Regional Security Office, representing Diplomatic Security. Other U.S. Federal Law Enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security routinely send regional representatives to Ukraine to engage Ukrainian partners on cases of bilateral interest.
Our section within the U.S. Embassy –International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs– provides technical assistance to various criminal justice sector partners. Our overarching mission is strengthening the rule of law by combating corruption and facilitating reform efforts. We have long-standing partnerships with a number of law enforcement and justice sector agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and many of its sub-agencies, such as the National Police of Ukraine and the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, as well the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the Specialized Anti-corruption Prosecutors Office (SAP), among others. Our assistance is needs-based, but we have historically supported the selection, vetting, training, and equipping of new units and institutions. Our key criteria for considering any potential projects are potential for sustained institutional impact or reform effect, and host country buy-in. In short: Can this program make a difference for Ukraine and its people?
Another key for us is developing new merit-based hiring procedures and tests, designing selection criteria/programs, and providing uniforms, gear, and other equipment. This is the model we followed for the Patrol Police, the special operations unit (KORD), NABU, and SAP.
We also have joint projects with the State Border Guard Service. We provided them with protective gear in 2014-15, and, now we are working closely with them to modify and improve their recruitment and training procedures, investigate internal corruption, and develop their special operations capacities to respond to new criminal threats on the border.
Reforming the law enforcement sector is a particularly challenging endeavor, especially at a time when security risks have escalated so drastically. Ukrainians have openly called for law enforcement to reform their security systems, but these agencies must be able to respond to security threats. Crime doesn’t stop while they reform their institutions.
- Could you dwell on the results of your work in Ukraine?
The Patrol Police and NABU are probably the best-known examples of successful reform projects that we have supported. Not only are they new, prominent institutions, but they are also a direct result of the Ukrainian people’s demand for a corruption-free government.
The Patrol Police replaced two former militia units: the traffic inspectorate and the old patrol and sentry militia. Both were notoriously corrupt and they contributed to an extremely low public opinion of the former militia. Conversely, the Patrol Police has been very well received by the public and has helped to considerably improve public opinion about law enforcement. The Patrol Police have also become very effective first responders. The incident-response time has significantly shortened, which makes police more effective, and citizens safer. Due to their mobility and responsiveness, patrol officers saved over 400 lives in the last year, according to the National Police.
Assisting with the establishment and development of NABU and SAP has been another highlight of my tenure in Ukraine because of their central role in combatting high-level corruption. We assisted in selection, training and equipping NABU detectives and analysts, and we helped SAP to select and train their prosecutors. Unfortunately, despite their excellent and determined work investigating and building cases against some of the most powerful and corrupt officials, these cases now languish in the courts. The next piece of anti-corruption reform must include a judicial component.
- What can and cannot be changed in Ukraine's law enforcement agencies? What changes in the law enforcement would you prioritize?
The old structures and practices inherited from the Soviet period do not provide solutions to the modern enforcement realities and security threats. The law enforcement sector must modernize in order to be effective in protecting the nation and serving its people.
As the turbulence of the socio-political situation in Ukraine becomes “normal,” the drive for reform naturally diminishes. This is a natural trend for any system as it becomes more stable. However, much remains to be done. When we look at police, for example, I would say that, while reforming the old public safety militia in large cities by setting up the new Patrol Police was a great success, the police in small towns and districts remain largely unreformed and hardly provide effective safety to residents. The criminal investigations police are also struggling with immense challenges, from the huge amount of uncontrolled weapons that have flooded the country due to the conflict in the East to the growing number of organized criminal groups which operate bluntly and impudently. The existing structure of criminal police, largely based on the Soviet militia prototype, is unable to address this threat effectively.
Some critics argue that the old militia was by far more effective in curbing crime in their time, and the existing police needs to follow the old Soviet policing practices. This is not quite so. The Soviet militia was a specific instrument of its time. It matched the then existing government system, Soviet mentality, specific criminal structures, the old legal framework, etc. Protection of the state and its interests, not serving the citizenry, was the priority. Today, the situation is drastically different. Everything has changed: the government system; human mentality; the ways how criminals think and behave, the criminal procedure and laws, etc. The criminal police, however, are largely relying on the old institutional structures and investigation methods. The sooner they restructure to match the new reality, the better they will handle their responsibilities today.
- Which of Ukraine's law enforcement leaders are professionals in their field?
All of our partners are professionals, whether they have been officers/leaders for a decade or a month. Skills and experience are part of what makes an officer a professional, but just as important is the desire to work free from corruption and follow the law.
Ukraine needs smart, driven professionals at all levels within the government, including in the law enforcement sector. This sector has many professionals and many effective leaders. A good leader, in my opinion, is a person who, besides being a skilled professional, is also highly ethical, trusted, and respected by colleagues and the public, and who can articulate his or her vision for the future. Knowing how to handle routine operations is not enough today. Thinking strategically in this context is important. A true leader should be able to anticipate public expectations and lead its organization through institutional changes to achieve a new status in the eyes of the public. One of our greatest successes has been the projects we have launched that have brought tens of thousands of new people into the police, NABU, and other law enforcement structures through competitive, inclusive, and fair processes. These rising leaders are the future of Ukraine. I have very high hopes for the sustained, transformative impact they will have on the public sector and the nation.
- Could you name successful operations and decisions of Ukraine's law enforcement agencies?
I won’t comment on specific operations other than to say that NABU, KORD, SBGS, and the National Police conduct hundreds of successful operations every year. But what will truly benefit Ukraine and Ukrainians in the long-run, is embracing comprehensive reform and modern Western practices. For example: the creation of the Patrol Police and ensuring that all future police start through Patrol, and maintaining NABU and SAP as independent agencies in order to enable them to go after the most corrupt public officials, will be key to sustained operational performance in the long-term.
- How much time and what conditions are needed to speed up the reforms in Ukraine?
As I said before, reforms are critical for Ukraine. It is important to continue driving them forward. Ukrainians want to see concrete results. Additionally, while individual efforts, such as the creation of NABU or Patrol Police, may be successful, reform must occur across the entire government and criminal justice sector in order for reform to succeed in the long-run. NABU cannot be fully effective without judicial reform – such as the establishment of an independent anti-corruption court – and support of other criminal justice authorities. The Patrol Police is also just part of a much larger police system that requires further reforms. And all together, a better operation of law enforcement depends on much better funding by the government, which is only possible through serious economic reforms which can open the door for significant investment and generate sufficient public revenues. So, everything is interrelated, as you can see, and the progress in law enforcement reforms is closely connected to the progress in other areas.
- Can corruption be defeated in Ukraine?
Yes, it can, and I believe it will be defeated. That said, it will be a prolonged fight to curb corruption practices which are deeply rooted within many government institutions. We always want to see change happen quickly, but the fight against corruption in Ukraine has correctly been labeled a war. Wars take time, battles are won and lost, and there are victims and many sacrifices. Ultimately, the winner in any war is the side that outlasts its opponent. This is true in the fight against corruption – so stay the course, keep fighting, and never give up!
- Which side do you support in the conflict between the new anti-corruption bodies (NABU, SAP, NACP)? What is your opinion about Sytnyk, Kholodnytskyi, Korchak?
We cooperate with those who genuinely oppose, investigate, and prosecute corrupt acts and corrupt figures. Endemic public sector corruption has held Ukraine back for too long, slowed its integration with Europe, and made the country and its citizens vulnerable to external aggression. We support all the agencies and individuals fighting for a new, corruption-free Ukraine.
- Is it true that you are leaving for another country in the near future?
Yes, officers in my position rotate every few years, and so we get used to moving on. But leaving Ukraine will be very hard. I will never forget my partners here and everything we have accomplished together. I am deeply awed and inspired by my Ukrainian friends who refuse to back down in the face of so many threats and challenges – both external and internal. I have learned a lot from them about the heroic sacrifice of doing the right thing. A heroic American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stood for -- and made the ultimate sacrifice for -- what is right once said, “Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.” That is the situation we find ourselves in today: Ukraine needs to make the right choice! And when it does, the U.S. will be there as a partner and friend.