Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President in Kyiv, Ukraine

July 22, 2009

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Jorge, Reverend, clergy. Ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor to be here. I want to thank you for your coming today. And I want to thank the people and the government of Ukraine for their warmth and hospitality they've shown me the last two days.

It's a special honor to be here in Kyiv. I know times are difficult for many today, but I'm inspired, and still inspired, as many Americans are, by what happened here less than five years ago. That sea of orange that flooded Independence Square, the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who poured into Kyiv demanding peacefully that their votes be counted and that their voices be heard, is something that will not be forgotten for a long, long time.

Forty years before that momentous event, the momentous events of 2004, a former President of the United States and general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, stood in the center of Washington, DC, and unveiled a monument to a great Ukrainian poet, Shevchenko. It was 24 feet high, the statue, and it bears these words: "Dedicated to the liberation, freedom, and independence of all captive nations."

Back in 1964, we looked at Shevchenko for hope because he never stopped dreaming of a free Ukraine. And 40 years later, in 2004, we saw what the power of a free people demanding justice could accomplish. Today, Ukrainians should take pride in what they have achieved. Free and fair elections have become the norm, freedom of speech is exercised vigorously, as you're all learning and observing, and freedom of the press, as witnessed by the number of cameras that are here today, is well respected in your country.

Ukraine today is one of the most free and democratic nations in this region.

Near the end of his life, one of the authors of America's freedom, Thomas Jefferson, who is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to his old friend and political foe, John Adams -- Adams had been the second President of the United States and Jefferson the third -- and they were great friends but political competitors. And he wrote a letter to Adams -- there was a long correspondence for decades. He wrote a letter to Adams about 35 years after our revolution. And in the letter, he said, "The generation which commences a revolution rarely completes it. The generation which commences a revolution rarely completes it."

In any true democracy, freedom is the beginning, not the end. Freedom is merely the beginning, not the end. And here in Ukraine, yours is a revolution still in progress whose promise remains to be fulfilled.

More than anything else, I'm here to say this to the Ukrainian people: Ukraine, as it continues on the path to freedom, democracy, and prosperity, the United States will stand by Ukraine. These are your choices, not ours. But rest assured that we stand with you as you make those choices.

The Obama administration will not waver in its support of a strong and independent Ukraine. Charting the future course of Ukraine is, of course, a decision to be made by all of you, not by anyone outside.

Based on my discussions yesterday with the bulk of your political leadership, we want for Ukraine what it appears Ukrainians want for themselves -- a democratic and prosperous European nation.

My visit to Kyiv comes soon after President Obama's visit to Moscow.

As a matter of fact, they were planned simultaneously. And I know there was some speculation that our decision, as I said in a speech in Munich at the front-end of our administration -- to press the reset button with Moscow -- I know it created some speculations that improving relations with Russia would somehow threaten our ties with Ukraine.

Let me say this as clearly as I can. As we reset the relationship with Russia, we reaffirm our commitment to an independent Ukraine.

And we recognize no sphere of influence, or no ability of any other nation to veto the choices an independent nation makes as to with whom and under what conditions they will associate. We also do not believe in zero-sum thinking. We do not believe that a partnership with one nation must come at the expense of another. It has not. It does not, and it will not.

As I said, referencing the Munich Security Conference just weeks after taking office, it holds true again -- I want to reemphasize it. We reject the notion of spheres of influence as 19th century ideas that have no place in the 21st century. And we stand by the principle that sovereign states have a right to make their own decisions, to chart their own foreign policy, to choose their own alliances.

President Obama, in his speech in Moscow two weeks ago, strongly affirmed this principle. He said, and I quote, "State sovereignty must be the cornerstone of international order. Just as all states should have the right to choose their leaders, states must have the right to borders that are secure, and to their own foreign policies. Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy. That is why this principle must apply to all nations, including Ukraine."

We also re-affirmed the security assurances that the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom provided Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

Our commitment to Ukraine is evidenced through our aid program -- $120 million this year to bolster peace and security, strengthen democratic institutions, promote economic growth, modernize your military, secure Chernobyl, fight AIDS and HIV, and improve child health.

We also strongly supported, and continue to support, the IMF's decision to provide $16 billion to help Ukraine make it through what is an incredibly difficult time as a consequence of a worldwide recession.

We have worked with Ukraine to transform your military, so that you can protect your homeland and contribute to global security. Young Ukrainian officers have studied in our military academies. American officers have come here to take part in education, training, planning, and organization and exercises. And we're grateful to Ukraine for its contributions to international security. Ukraine's armed forces have been committed peacekeepers from the Balkans to Iraq, even as far afield as Liberia.

And we mourn -- we mourn along with you -- the six Ukrainians who perished in last week's helicopter crash in Afghanistan. We have, unfortunately, significant experience in mourning.

Ukraine has also been a leader in what President Obama and I believe is our greatest security challenge -- the greatest security challenge that is facing the world -- and that is reducing the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons, renewing the non-proliferation system, and securing vulnerable nuclear fissile material.

Last December, the United States and Ukraine agreed to a center on strategic -- excuse me, a Charter on Strategic Partnership. And today, your president and I agreed that the U.S. and Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission would begin meeting this fall in Washington to deepen our cooperation in areas of security, economy, trade, energy, and the rule of law.

The United States also supports Ukraine's deepening ties to NATO and to the European Union. But again, we recognize they are your decisions, your choices, not ours whether you choose the EU or seek to, or NATO. We recognize that how far and how fast to proceed on your choices is, again, a uniquely Ukrainian choice -- it is not ours.

The United States does not seek a sphere of influence. We are trying to build a multi-polar [sic*] world, in which like-minded nations make common cause of our common challenges -- the stronger our partners, the more effective our partnerships.

And in that spirit of partnership, I'm also here to offer my honest opinion. Friendship requires honesty. And the honest truth is that the great promise of the 2004 -- of 2004, has yet to be fully realized. Again, if the poet Shevchenko were here today, what would he be writing? What would he write about this moment? I'm sure he would be heralding the openness and pluralism, the freedom of the press –- a model for your neighbors. I'm sure he would take pride in Ukraine's vibrant civil society and marvel at your competitive elections.

And to those cynics who have asserted for centuries that this part of the world could never practice democracy because its culture and values are different, Ukraine today stands as resolute rebuttal to that centuries old assertion.

But I think he would also be wondering why the government was not exhibiting the same political maturity as the people, why communications among leaders has broken down to such an extent that political posturing appears to prevent progress.

Especially now, especially in difficult economic times, Ukraine, in my humble opinion, must heed the lessons of history -- effective, accountable government is the only way to provide stable, predictable, and a transparent environment that attracts investment, which is the economic engine of development. That's why this Chamber of Commerce, I suspect, exists.

Functioning democracies are more capable of committing to and implementing economic reforms, sometimes even painful reforms that are necessary to stimulate economic recovery and economic growth. And I would note parenthetically, can you name me a place where democracy has flourished where the economic system has failed? Mature democracies survive because they develop institutions such as a free press, a truly independent court system, an effective legislature -- all of which serve as a check on the corruption that fuels the cynicism and limits growth in any country, including yours. And in a democracy, compromise is not a sign of weakness; it is evidence of strength.

In my meetings yesterday, there was a clear recognition that much work remains to be done to make Ukraine more competitive and attractive to investors, from reforming your tax code to acting against corruption.

The path to renewed prosperity runs through the International Monetary Fund, which is offering now a way out of the current crisis. But as you might guess, there are strings attached. My mother says, out of every crisis comes an opportunity. This may be your opportunity.

The Fund requires that your government, and your government agreed to critical reforms to cut the budget deficit, revive a striving [sic*] banking system, and phase out energy subsidies, which I know from experience is a very difficult thing to do. Carrying out this agreement requires very hard choices and tough action, but it will help put you on the road to growth and competitiveness.

And as a politician, I understand how difficult these decisions are.

But sometimes one has to ask why one is involved in politics in the first place. Whenever a young man or woman asks me about what they should be thinking about if they wish to enter public life, I say, ask yourself the first and most important question: What is it you care about that is worth losing over? What is it that you care about that is worth losing over? If you can't figure that out, then it's merely ambition that's driving you. Every country needs politicians who know what is worth losing over.

As you take action, you will not stand alone. The United States wants to work with you to improve the investment climate, expand trade and investment between our two countries, and help in any effective way we can, knowing full well we do not have the answers. We are struggling economically, as well; a different struggle, but a real struggle.

Ultimately, democracy and free markets will flourish when they deliver on what people want most -– honesty, the elimination of corruption, a decent job, the ability to care for their parents and educate their children, physical security and economic opportunity, a chance to build a better life. No one wants anything more than a chance.

When democracy and free markets deliver on these basic desires, then those promoting alternative forms of government, whether from within or without, are never able to gain a foot hold.

Nowhere is the relationship between democracy, development and security clearer than when it comes to energy. Right now, in the United States, we're making significant efforts at some political expense, I might add, to diversify our energy supply, to invest in efficiency, and to make some very difficult decisions about how to deal with the carbon footprint we're leaving our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. None are without cost.

Just as it is in our interest to diversify our sources of energy and reduce the influence of those we depend on for our energy, I might add so too it -- so too is it in your overwhelming interest. Your economic freedom depends more, I suspect, in this country on your energy freedom than on any other single factor. Ukraine has abundant reserves of energy, and reform of your energy sector should reduce your dependence on foreign suppliers. Moving toward market pricing for energy is brave, but also absolutely necessary pre-condition.

Promoting energy efficiency and conservation also will go a long way toward increasing your independence.

Ukraine uses energy about three times less efficiently than the EU average, including your next-door neighbor, Poland. If you lift Ukraine to European standards, your need for energy imports will dramatically decline, dramatically decline -- just that one single action, none other. That would be a boon to your economy and an immeasurable benefit, I respectfully suggest, to your national security.

The time for inertia and neglect is long past. It's time for action, as I know you know better than I.

I'm pleased that Ukraine and the United States have agreed to hold our first meeting of our working group on energy security, so that we can look together for solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

The leaders of this country come together -- came together once, in 2004, because they knew that a free and prosperous Ukraine was more important than any one political -- any one politician, or any one political party. I have no doubt the Ukrainians can, and will, come together again.

When Shevchenko imagined freedom, he looked to the United States and its young revolution. In the words of a poem he wrote in 1858, he said, "When will we greet our own George Washington at last with the new law of righteousness? Today's American revolution is not so young. And when the Shevchenkos of today imagine freedom, they don't have to look to the United States, they can rightfully look to Ukraine.

The idea and promise of Ukraine's peaceful resolution -- revolution, remains an inspiration for the world and for this region. Just as your Orange Revolution did not end in 2005, it did not stop at Ukraine's borders. We hear its echoes wherever people peacefully stand and demand their voices to be heard, a cacophony of voices, and they refer back to your Orange Revolution.

I have never met a Ukrainian -- my very good friend, John Hynansky, a very prominent businessman from Delaware is here. I had breakfast with him the other day. And I come from a city -- where I was born, Scranton, Pennsylvania, has a large Ukrainian-American population.

I've never met a Ukrainian who doesn't think in terms of centuries.

Centuries from now, what will Ukrainians say of this time? Will they say that their leaders? Will they say they returned to the past?

Will they say that the beginning of the 21st century launched a new era of prosperity, freedom and independence, and hope for all Ukrainians?

I hope you choose the progress -- the path of progress, for the people of Ukraine, for your children, and for a watching world -- for literally, you are standing at a moment in history that you have never stood at before -- literally. It sounds like hyperbole to suggest this, and we politicians have a tendency to hyperbole, but the God's truth is you have never been at this place before, the chance for your people to establish a truly independent, free and prosperous country with defined borders for the 21st century.

When your children look back, what will they say of us? What will they say of what the United States did to help or not help? And what will they say of all of you. My sincere prayer is they will say that it was the beginning, the beginning of a dream we have dreamt for over 400 years. I pray to God that happens, because quite frankly, your success will bear on the success or failure of many peoples in this part of the world.

I thank you for giving me the honor of being here, for listening. And I sincerely hope that you understand I know we don't have all the answers, but I know your answer lies in freedom. And freedom lies in the development of genuine democratic institutions. I wish you the best, and we stand ready to walk that path with you.

Thank you very, very much.

* Multi-partner
* Struggling

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President in Kyiv, Ukraine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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