Editor’s Note: The following are policy recommendations for U.S. assistance to Ukraine. They were developed by the Democracy and Civil Society Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network. The group is co-chaired by Jonathan Katz, senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Orest Deychakiwsky of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. Its members also include Adrian Karmazyn of the U.S-Ukraine Foundation, Steve Nix of the International Republican Institute, David J. Kramer of Florida International University in Miami, Tania Chomiak-Salvi of the U.S-Ukraine Foundation and Jaroslav Dutkewych, former Peace Corps Ukraine director.
The RPR Coalition reference: in October 2018, the Friends of Ukraine Network, together with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Reanimation Package of Reforms, established the Transatlantic Task Force on Ukraine (TTFU) – a platform to enable the Ukrainian NGO sector to better inform Western supporters of Ukraine about reform progress.
When Ukrainians elected a new president and parliament in 2019, they sent a clear signal about the need to reinvigorate efforts to strengthen democracy and rule of law, combat corruption, bolster and protect civil society and fulfill Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The elections and their outcomes raised hopes among Ukrainians and international partners that President Volodymyr Zelensky, the new government, and the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, would seize the opportunity to carry out reform commitments, advance Ukraine’s democracy and accelerate its integration with the European Union and NATO.
Several significant reforms have been adopted by the Rada since the 2019 elections, including passage of legislation on the creation of an agricultural land market and banking regulations that prevent the return of nationalized banks to previous owners.
However, the dismissal or forced resignations of many reform experts and champions from key government positions, including key cabinet positions, anti-corruption institutions, and the National Bank of Ukraine, and the questionable qualifications of replacements have raised growing concerns.
Ukrainian civil society leaders and international partners warn that reforms that have been achieved since the Euro-Maidan Revolution, which deposed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, are threatened by the inability or unwillingness of the Zelensky government to implement reforms and advance a sustainable and long-term reform agenda.
The bar on reform progress in Ukraine must be higher, sustainable, and systemic and it is no longer enough for the Ukrainian government to simply adopt new laws without a real effort and plan for implementation.
Accelerating the democratic reform process is also essential as the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin continue their longstanding assault on Ukraine seeking to prevent progress and internal and Euro-Atlantic integration — instead stoking conflict and division.
On top of growing concerns, Ukraine’s reform efforts have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and related issues creating far-reaching economic, societal, and political challenges. The pandemic and its immediate and long-term impact threaten to slow down and create new obstacles to the reform process and policymaking that undermine Ukraine’s progress towards democratic governance free of oligarchic and Russian influence and corruption.
The difficult environment facing Ukraine influences the government’s agenda in a manner that diverts from the realization of reforms advocated by Ukrainian citizens, civil society, the United States, transatlantic partners and international financial institutions. A democratic, secure, and prosperous Ukraine continues to be in the security, economic and political interests of the United States, European Union, and international community.
To that end, there remains strong bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington. Ukraine’s democratic and economic reforms, and its Euro-Atlantic integration, which is directly connected to reform progress, are strongly supported by Ukraine’s international partners.
Ukraine’s partners continue to provide assistance and make it a priority to emphasize to the Ukrainian government the importance of carrying out and implementing reforms even as the Zelenskyy government is focused on measures to address the coronavirus.
The recent International Monetary Fund-Ukraine agreement on macroeconomic assistance, supported by the United States and European Union, is directly connected to ongoing Ukrainian reform efforts, with future tranches of funding dependent on “concerted reform efforts aimed at tackling corruption and strengthening governance.”
As Russia continues to wage a war of aggression against Ukraine, it is increasingly important that the United States, European Union, and other partners of Ukraine re-energize efforts to strengthen Ukrainian democratic and economic resilience. This includes reinforcing civil society’s fight for justice and human rights, and against corruption, and disinformation, while partnering with Ukraine to build a vibrant democracy with strong institutions, political parties, and independent media.
Staying on its reform path and fulfilling its commitment to the Ukrainian public, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, in the area of rule of law, will benefit Ukraine’s democracy, economy, security and independence, thwart Russian aggression, and ensure that Ukraine progresses on its Euro-Atlantic path.
Increase and immediately extend, as needed, U.S. assistance and diplomatic engagement with Ukraine to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and to address economic, medical, societal, human rights, and other challenges, protecting Ukraine’s most vulnerable population, including in Crimea and the Donbas.
❖ Increase support for Ukraine’s civil society and independent media to safeguard and strengthen Ukraine’s democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights, citizen trust, mitigation of corruption and ensure a more transparent, effective and accountable response to the coronavirus pandemic.
❖ Increase support for Ukraine’s civil society and media to effectively address disinformation campaigns.
❖ Increase U.S. bipartisan, political, and diplomatic engagement with the Ukrainian government and civil society, private sector, and international partners to support adoption and implementation of reforms in Ukraine that focus on democracy, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts and law enforcement.
❖ Support and coordinate with the IMF and other international partners the implementation of the IMF-Ukraine new standby-arrangement, its stringent conditionality, benchmarks, and policy priorities, including mitigating the severe economic impact of COVID-19 and maintaining and moving forward key governance and anti-corruption measures.
❖ Urge Zelensky and the Ukrainian government to ensure the independence of the National Bank of Ukraine critical to Ukraine’s macroeconomic and fiscal stability and engagement with international financial institutions.
❖ Support and urge Zelensky and the government to fully implement and carry out critical anti-corruption, law enforcement, judicial, banking and democratic reforms.
❖ Support enhanced dialogue and collaboration between Ukrainian civil society organizations and government to advance key reforms, including fulfilling good governance and democratic principles envisioned in the 2019 Toronto Principles (to be reinforced at the Ukraine Reform Conference 2020).
❖ Urge the Ukrainian government to demonstrate its continued commitment to due process and the rule of law, ensure public confidence in democratic institutions and the constitutional reform process, and avoid selective justice, including in the persecution of political opponents. Discourage improper use of investigatory and prosecutorial functions against political opponents and former officials.
❖ Deepen political, development and economic cooperation among the U.S., European Union, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom and international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, and other partners of Ukraine to strengthen Ukrainian democracy, resiliency, fight against corruption and continued Russian aggression.
❖ Urge the U.S. Congress to continue to provide political support for Ukraine and engage — including through hearings, resolutions and statements, and through direct dialogue with Ukrainian lawmakers — on Ukraine’s democratic reform efforts and play a role in determining, as necessary, conditionality on U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
❖ The U.S. should re-energize and utilize in 2020-2021 the three bilateral working groups (on Security and Countering Russian Aggression, Rule of Law and Humanitarian Issues, and Economy and Energy) created in November 2018 in the framework of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission to strengthen the U.S.-Ukraine strategic partnership, advance Ukraine’s democratic and economic reforms and deepen its Euro-Atlantic integration.
❖ Maintain, and, as necessary, increase, U.S. government funding to strengthen Ukraine’s election processes, including local elections in October 2020, to ensure that elections meet international democratic standards and are free, fair, open and transparent.
❖ Consider providing additional funding, as needed, to help Ukraine defend its election infrastructure against cyberattacks from Russia and other malign actors.
❖ Intensify diplomatic and political support for Ukraine’s civil society to strengthen their efforts to combat corruption, monitor government and hold it accountable, as well as ensure that authorities cease any attempts to curtail activists’ lawful activities or attacks and pressure on them.
❖ Urge the Ukrainian government, including the Ukrainian National Police and other law enforcement agencies, to ensure the safety and security of NGOs and investigate and hold accountable individuals responsible for attacks on human rights defenders, civic activists, and journalists.
❖ Maintain, and increase, where appropriate, current levels of U.S. government funding and technical assistance to further develop and strengthen civil society organizations, with a focus on their institutional development and capacity building.
❖ Maintain, and increase, where appropriate, U.S. training for reform-oriented national political parties.
❖ Where appropriate, the U.S. should apply targeted conditionality to development and macroeconomic assistance support focused on the passage and implementation of key democratic and rule of law reforms, including independent and impartial courts, law enforcement agencies, and comprehensive reform of the Security Service of Ukraine, including curtailing investigations of business activity.
❖ Increase or maintain current levels of U.S. government funding for academic, professional, and people-to-people exchanges through existing – and new – exchange programs with Ukraine.
❖ Increase or maintain current levels of U.S. government funding for the development of independent and investigative media in Ukraine.
❖ Continue to fund the Ukrainian Services of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty at levels that enable them to vigorously respond to Russian disinformation as well as the informational shortcomings and biases of oligarch-controlled media in Ukraine.
❖ Increase or maintain current levels of U.S. government funding for civil society organizations engaged in human rights monitoring, defense, and advocacy throughout Ukraine, including Crimea and the Russia-occupied territories of the Donbas.
❖ Continue U.S. assistance in support of decentralization in Ukraine, empowering local governments and communities as purveyors and implementers of reforms and more responsive governance.
❖ Target U.S. assistance for programs to improve trust and confidence and reconciliation between citizens and government in eastern Ukraine.
❖ Focus U.S. assistance on strengthening the capacity of all branches of the Ukrainian government to fulfill implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and further Euro-Atlantic integration.
❖ Continue to condemn diplomatically and hold accountable the Russian Federation and proxies for its illegal invasion, occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and for ongoing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Crimea and the Donbas.
❖ Retain and strengthen U.S. sanctions against Russia and its proxies for their egregious human rights violations in Crimea and the Donbas.
❖ Fully implement the IMF-Ukraine new standby arrangement, and its conditionality, benchmarks, and policy priorities, including mitigating the severe economic impact of COVID-19 and maintaining and moving forward on key governance and anti-corruption measures.
❖ Continue to make concrete and demonstrable progress in 2020-2021 implementing reforms, strengthening the rule of law, protecting human rights, promoting further reform of the judicial system and of law enforcement structures, and more resolutely combat corruption.
❖ Commit to ensuring that democratic and reform progress and anti-corruption measures will move forward and be a priority even as the government addresses and seeks to mitigate the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19.
❖ Immediately cease using the judiciary system for the purposes of politically-motivated prosecutions targeting political opponents and former officials. The manipulation of the judicial system and selective justice raise serious questions regarding Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law and democracy.
❖ Reform the Security Service of Ukraine, including adopting new legislation to strengthen the protection of human rights and eliminate interference in business activities.
❖ Reform law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Interior, to ensure respect for individual rights, greater accountability, and the end to impunity.
❖ Resume reform of the Prosecutor General’s Office to ensure its transparency, professionalism and political independence.
❖ Closely cooperate with civil society organizations to improve upon the new electoral code for national and local elections, including addressing the issue of combatting corruption in elections.
❖ Integral to democratic reforms, ensure the transparent appointment of officials in strategic government positions and refrain from dismissing or unduly pressuring reform-minded ones without legal grounds.
❖ Zelensky and the Ukrainian government must ensure the independence of the National Bank of Ukraine.
❖ Strengthen the rule of law by reshuffling tainted judicial self-governance bodies, ensure a transparent and competitive selection process for the court apparatus and take other measures recommended by civil society and international experts to improve judicial independence, integrity, professionalism and accountability.
❖ Promote further judicial reform to ensure impartiality, credibility, and professionalism of the High Council of Justice and minimization of its influence on the High Qualifications Commission of Judges.
❖ Shore up efforts to safeguard the effectiveness of anti-corruption legal tools and institutions.
❖ Encourage Ukraine’s pro-reform forces, civil society and judiciary system to undertake and implement reforms that would better hold corrupt officials to account.
❖ Support and refrain from further undermining the work of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU); safeguard existing anti-corruption legislation from being watered down.
❖ Support efforts aimed at further institutional strengthening of the High Anti-Corruption Court and its provision with all the necessary resources for uninterrupted operation; help ensure anti-corruption institutions work together in fostering rule of law and transparent, accountable government.
❖ Ensure transparency, efficiency, and political independence of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) and other anti-corruption agencies.
❖ Remove or amend legislation that unduly and unfairly hampers the work of civil society and refrain from further attempts to limit the space for its operation. Prevent any expressions of legislative, media, physical, and other types of pressure on civil society as one of Ukraine’s major reform drivers.
❖ Thoroughly and impartially investigate and bring to justice all instances of killings and other attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and members of minority groups, including Roma.
❖ Cooperate with civil society organizations engaged in efforts to promote and protect human rights.
❖ Secure media reform, enable uninterrupted and safe operation of independent media, and ensure freedom of speech, including securing sufficient and stable funding for Ukraine’s public broadcaster (UA:PBC).
❖ Work with civil society and media to counter increased internal and external disinformation efforts, by Russia, directed at undermining Ukraine’s democracy, its COVID-19 response and EU and NATO integration.
❖ Ensure health reform implementation in accordance with the previously developed model, particularly in secondary care, as well as guarantee institutional independence of the National Health Service.