This opinion article by Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin was originally published in The New York Times.
In the two years since the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine has made more progress as a country than it had since declaring independence in 1991. We are finally tackling corruption in a meaningful way, and we have introduced a raft of reforms that will help the state to function better. After our economy contracted for two consecutive years, we now expect to see it grow again. And we have achieved all of this under the most challenging of circumstances: while fighting a Russian-led war that has cost thousands of lives, and with a Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula and the Donbas region crippling our economy.
Yet Ukraine continues its journey to becoming a democratic, fair and prosperous country at the gates of Europe, a vision that so many of my fellow citizens died for during the Maidan Revolution in the beginning of 2014 and continue to die for defending our country against Russia.
What we have achieved in the last two years we could not have done without the hard work and sacrifice of our people at home and, critically, the staunch support of our partners abroad. The partnership and support of the European Union has been very important. But nowhere has Ukraine found a better friend and more committed ally than the United States. Without the huge support America continues to give us, we would not be making the progress that we are today. That continued support is more important now than ever.
On the campaign trail, Donald J. Trump made a number of references to Ukraine and said many things relevant to my country. He also suggested, memorably, that he would like the United States to “get on better with Russia,” which he suggested would be a “good thing.”
I agree with Mr. Trump. For the future of our world and our children, a better relationship between the United States and Russia is something we should all wish for. But that relationship must not come at the expense of Ukraine, the rest of Europe or the interests of the United States.
I grew up in a Soviet Union dominated by Russia. I still understand the Russian mind-set and the thinking of the leaders in the Kremlin. There is an oft-quoted line by politicians and diplomats who understand these things: “Russia only respects power.”
Similarly, the 2016 Republican Party platform promises “peace through strength.” This is critically important in today’s dangerous world. When dealing with the Kremlin there can be a peaceful outcome only if we negotiate from a position of strength.
The Minsk agreements, negotiated in 2014 and 2015 with international partners, were supposed to put an end to the fighting in the Donbas, the region in eastern Ukraine where Russia continues to carry out a hybrid war with thousands of Russian troops and proxies, tanks and other military equipment. Yet Russia and its proxies have continually disregarded the Minsk Agreements. Since they were signed, almost 10,000 Ukrainians, soldiers and civilians alike, have lost their lives. The war in the Donbas would end tomorrow if Russia were to comply with Minsk and allow free local elections, monitored by international observers, to re-establish democratic procedures in the region. Certainly, Mr. Trump understands the importance of a free electoral system.
While fomenting war against Ukraine, Russia has illegally annexed Crimea on the unfounded pretext that it was part of Russia in the first place. It is not. It is the sovereign territory of a country that voted by over 90 percent for independence 25 years ago. The sham elections that Moscow subsequently held in Crimea to justify its actions are seen as having been rigged and have never been accepted by the international community.
Until Russia ends this rogue behavior in my country, the international community must not lift sanctions. They hurt Russia more than the Kremlin cares to admit; they are probably the only action that is currently keeping Russia at least partly in check. Mr. Trump’s administration and the American Congress must recognize this and even support tightening of sanctions until Russia leaves Crimea and the Donbas.
Mr. Trump is assuming the position of the leader of the free world at a critical time. Following on from the Brexit referendum in Britain, Mr. Trump’s election is a watershed moment, not just for the United States but also for the world. An old order in which “elites” can expect to govern as a sort of birthright is breaking down. Citizens are increasingly calling, and voting, for change. How to respond in the best interests of our people is a challenge to all of us who wish to hold positions of leadership today.
Mr. Trump has said that the United States cannot do all the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting countries like Ukraine. I agree, and our government is working with our European partners to ensure they remain steadfast. But Ukraine does not ask for charity. My compatriots are dying every day. They die defending not only Ukraine but the universal democratic values and freedoms that are as precious to Ukrainians as they are to Americans.
I hope that under President Trump, not only the United States but the world will get strong leadership. I also hope that Ukraine will keep the steadfast friend and ally that we have been so grateful for during the difficult adolescence of our democracy.
Pavlo Klimkin, The New York Times
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