British Ambassador: Ukraine’s security is European security

Exclusive blitz interview with British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough for the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency

Question: Do you think we might expect any changes in the British foreign policy concerning our bilateral relations after Brexit?

Answer: I don't think that Brexit so far has had any impact on relations between our two countries, or, indeed, it would have an impact. We may be leaving the European Union, but that does not mean that we are leaving the European continent. And Ukraine’s security is European security, so Ukraine will remain a foreign policy priority for us, and the evidence is there and plain to see.

Since the referendum last summer, we have had the Foreign Secretary visit twice and the Defence Secretary visit. And we have remained committed to our bilateral assistance, which this year is over GBR 40 million. That includes technical assistance for reform, humanitarian assistance and our military training operation, which supports Ukraine's Armed Forces. So, I don't see a change, and it's not just about the European Union. Foreign policy is also defined in other fora. We will continue to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council - we play an active role there. We're the second largest contributor to NATO, the second largest contributor to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. And we will continue to be a supporter and partner going forward.

Question: If we speak about Association Agreement, what would be the economic relation between our countries after Brexit? Will we have to sign a new agreement?

Answer: It is still too early to tell what will happen regarding a third country agreement that we have through our membership in the European Union, and those details will be worked out, as we progress through the negotiations. But what I can say is that the United Kingdom wants to continue trading with Ukraine - we want to build that trade and investment relationship. And the best thing that we can do right now to support that is to build strong institutions, particularly the judiciary, and tackle corruption, because the biggest obstacle to British investors coming to or trading with Ukraine is concerns that they will not be able to have a fair hearing in the judicial process, as the judiciary is not strong. And that corruption will be a problem. So we need to do two things: one is to look at the negotiations and how they will pan out, but also there are things that Ukraine can do to attract more investment in commerce that I would like to see between our two countries.

Question: Are they interested in privatization in our country? Which branches of our economy are the most interesting?

Answer: I think there will be an interest in privatization in Ukraine, but people will only invest here if they believe that privatization will be fair, transparent and that they will be able to have recourse to an independent judicial system. That will be really important. We went through a series of privatizations, going back 20 or 30 years, and we have great experience in this area. But faith in the process is really important. I think we will only see investors coming in if they believe that it is transparent and fair, and everybody is equal before the law.

Question: How would you estimate the progress of the reforms in Ukraine?

Answer: Well, that's a really big question. But the key thing is this country has made more progress in the past three years than it has made at any point since independence. So, that's a really positive sign. And I think we should give real credit and praise to Ukraine for having made that journey. But it's really important that momentum is sustained and that this reform method continues. There is a sense that, if we are not careful, progress can slip back. And it's really important if Ukraine is to be that European country that it's supposed to be, sharing our values, standing by our principles - continuing with reform and tackling corruption is vitally important. Not just in terms of maintaining international support, but also in answering the demands of the people who took to the Maidan three years ago, demanding change in this country. We want to see Ukraine prosper. We want to see Ukraine stable. Reform is a really important part of delivering that.

Question: Where do we have problems and where has Ukraine been successful?

Answer: I think the challenge is that there is so much to do. We have been encouraged that there have been anti-corruption institutions set up, that the banking sector has been restructured, and the economy has begun to show signs of growth, which is, of course, very important. And things like the ProZorro procurement system, e-declarations all were steps in the right direction. But where we really need to prioritise our efforts is on judicial reform and tackling corruption.

Question: During his last visit to Ukraine in September 2016, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced British support to our tax & customs systems reforms as well as improvement transparency of our parliament. Have the Ukrainian authorities presented to you a road map for these reforms?

Answer: We are still very much working on this. I can't reveal any further details at this point in time, but it's really important to reform these areas. And we're looking at how we might do that. We have stepped up our work with Parliament. We have a lot of exchanges between our Parliament and your Parliament. That's really important because public trust in your Parliament is low, for democracy that is not a helpful thing. So, there is a lot of support from our Parliament, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and John Smith Trust, as well.

Question: What are the levels of financial assistance to Ukraine this year and next year?

Answer: So, we operate on annual funding cycles and the financial year goes between years. What I can tell you that from 2017 through 2018, which goes through to the end of March, our commitment is around GBR 40 million this year.

Question: The Minsk agreements haven't been implemented during the last three years. What steps should be taken by Ukraine to ensure that the Minsk accords are being implemented in full?

Answer: The first thing to look at is the first clause of the Minsk agreements. That is security. I think the most important thing is to deliver that ceasefire, the withdrawal of weapons. And of course as Russia is an aggressor in Ukraine, it is also really important that Russia shows political will on the Minsk agreements by delivering security in eastern Ukraine.

Question: Do you find it necessary to create a new format for the talks about de-occupation of Crimea?

Answer: For the moment we are focused on supporting the Minsk process as it is. We have not forgotten Crimea. That's really important. We don't recognize and we won't recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. That's why we have just rolled over sanctions again within the European Union for another 12 months, because we do not recognize that annexation.

Question: During the joint visit of the British and Polish foreign ministers to Ukraine, they have suggested a new format for the talks about Donbas. What could it be like?

Answer: Let me be very clear on this. During the press conference, [Polish] Foreign Minister [Witold] Waszczykowski suggested that the international community might want to look at an alternative format that involved other countries. That was not a joint position. It wasn’t something that we announced. That was something that the Polish minister suggested. We are not at this point in time proposing an alternative format. The key thing is that we have a process that has Ukraine and Russia at the table, this is really important, although I understand people in Ukraine are frustrated with that process, I think there is good evidence that it has managed to draw down the violence - it has not drawn down the violence enough although. Ukrainians being killed is not acceptable - that's not what we want to see. But I think we have to keep supporting the process and a diplomatic solution to the crisis and the current situation in the east of Ukraine, the conflict rather.