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Column: Ukraine Diplomat's Job Complicated by Russia

FILE - Ukraine's Ambassador to the U.S. Olexander Motsyk

FILE - Ukraine's Ambassador to the U.S. Olexander Motsyk

Ukrainian Ambassador Olexander Motsyk blasted Russia in an interview for instigating a “hybrid war” against his country, supporting separatists he sees as “terrorists.”

The veteran diplomat said he couldn’t have imagined the turn of events that led to such bold pronouncements and greatly changed his diplomatic life. Motsyk has represented Ukraine in the United States since 2010.

Now, Motsyk is essentially a wartime diplomat, working nearly around the clock. “It would be difficult for any ambassador if your country is under attack,” he observed.

Ukraine’s top diplomat in Washington spends a great deal of time trying to get U.S. military aid, requesting World Bank and International Monetary Fund economic assistance and lobbying the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress for help. He's also seeking support for such diplomatically difficult actions as sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy.

'Most horrible dream'

Motsyk said in the lengthy interview he never imagined being ambassador in the current scenario “even in the most horrible dream.... What happened was the Ukrainian people clearly expressed their will to integrate into the European Union, to be a democratic country, to be a prosperous country. And we are now paying the price for that.”

Russia says its actions in Crimea were designed to protect a Russian-speaking population on its border. The Putin Administration also denies the Russian military is involved in aiding government building and land seizures by armed men in Eastern Ukraine, where areas like Donetsk are becoming internationally-known trouble spots.

But “the total picture is quite clear” in Motsyk’s view. “The Russian Federation under the totally trumped-up pretext invaded Crimea, annexed Crimea. And now we [have] the number two stage of this aggression, namely the cowardly operation in Eastern Ukraine by the terrorists,” he said.

“Half of them are Russian citizens with Russian passports,” he charged, linking them to Russian special forces. Motsyk described the armed separatists as “militants who come to Ukraine from Russia” with “armaments including heavy weapons, tanks and artillery systems….It’s very difficult to imagine somebody else armed them."

Ukraine and Ambassador Motsyk face a number of daunting challenges. They include:

A fragile ceasefire - Diplomats are frantically trying to stop the fighting between Ukraine’s military and separatists. But a major ceasefire fell apart recently after ten troubled days.

“It was ignored by the terrorists,” Motsyk claimed. “Ukrainian armed forces, border guard, national guard were attacked for these ten days more than 100 times. We lost 28 troops killed and more than 70 wounded.”

“If Russia stops supporting terrorists, then we will find a diplomatic solution with this situation in a very short” time. But if fighting continues, “We will win the war,” Motsyk said with battlefield bravado.

Threats from Russia - When the ceasefire broke down, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rebuffed direct efforts by him and Western diplomats to continue the ceasefire. Putin warned ominously that Poroshenko now has “full responsibility” for Ukraine’s new military offensive.

Definitely we are worried about this threat,” Ukraine’s Motsyk admitted. But “we…are ready to defend our country... our sovereignty… our people.”

Motsyk was quite forthcoming about the recent Association Agreement between the Ukraine and the European Union, which further angered Russia and brought barely veiled threats of at least economic boycotts.We clearly understand that the Russians are not happy with the signing of this agreement,” he said. “But Ukraine is definitely happy.

“We are talking about freedom of speech, about human dignity. Ukraine would like to enjoy the same values that the European countries, that the United States enjoy.”

But he pointed out Moscow can also lose historical trade ties with Ukraine, if it retaliates for the EU agreement. “Yes, Russia is much bigger country. In this economic pressure, we can lose more,” Motsyk admitted, “but Russia will lose as well.”

Despite his often fiery rhetoric against Russia, Motsyk was cautious over what Putin has said he fears is Ukraine’s end goal: having a NATO defense alliance member country on its borders. In a seeming effort to prevent further provocation of Russia, he ducked questions about whether NATO membership was Ukraine’s ultimate goal.

Seeking more punitive sanctions against Russia - Russia “has to pay a price,” for violating international law, Motsyk declared. “We believe that sanctions are quite effective instruments in order to [prevent] further escalation of the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine.”

The ambassador revealed a very ambitious wish list for new penalties to follow the second level of relatively modest U.S. and EU sanctions imposed against Russia individuals and companies. “The third level of sanctions presumably should include the banking sector, energy sector and IT sector.”

In Washington, Ukraine has had a great deal of support from the Obama Administration in its struggles with Putin’s more powerful Russia.

“We highly appreciate that the United States is leading on this process,” said Motsyk.

But so far, increasing sanctions to such a level has drew the ire of powerful members of the American business community.

Warnings issued

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers recently took out a full-page ad in major American newspapers, warning against further U.S. sanctions. A headline in red ink warned “America’s Interests Are at Stake in Russia and Ukraine.”

The ad stated, “The only effect of such sanctions is to bar U.S. companies from foreign markets and cede business opportunities to firms from other countries.”

Add to that concern, a cautious Europe, which is worried about a loss of energy supplies and lucrative trade from significant sanctions against Russia.

Ukrainian diplomat Motsyk has dealt with internal turmoil along with external threats in a turbulent year.

When former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych balked at signing the EU agreement in fear of Moscow, there were rallies in the street with protesters getting shot by government snipers. The embassy “strongly protested those killings,” Motsyk said. The government fell soon after the violence.

“We live through… maybe the most difficult period in the modern history of Ukraine,” the ambassador of the troubled country observed. “But I am sure and I believe Ukraine will survive."

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    Lee Michael Katz

    Lee Michael Katz is an award-winning journalist, analyst and author.

    Currently a prominent freelance writer, Katz is the former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent of USA Today and International Editor of UPI News Service.He has reported from more than 60 countries.  Katz’s expertise includes foreign policy and diplomacy, peace talks, national security, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction policy, foundation grants, business and financial topics.

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