Welcome to the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council


By Yuliya Melnik, Special to Kyiv Post, Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine
Thursday, October 2, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. - American business leaders are disappointed that Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko has not made more progress in his promise to curb corruption.

The disenchantment surfaced during Yushchenko’s breakfast meeting with the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council on Sept. 29, just hours before his White House meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Bush and Yushchenko discussed Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, the Georgian war, energy security and Kyiv’s domestic political crisis during their afternoon Oval Office meeting, but in public remarks gave little indication about the substance of those talks.

“We also discussed the domestic political situation in Ukraine, which in my opinion is far away from being tragic, and not dramatic,” Yushchenko said. “Ukraine has enough democratic resource and tools to give sufficient response to any crisis that may occur in the Ukrainian parliament. And this is probably where the Ukrainian strength and optimism is.”

Both presidents are deeply unpopular in their own nations, some say politically impotent. Their meeting took place as both are facing domestic crises – Bush over the growing financial credit crunch and sagging economy, and Yushchenko over his political split with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

During the earlier breakfast meeting with roughly 100 representatives and guests of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Yushchenko urged U.S. companies to invest in Ukraine. But he simultaneously suggested that Ukraine’s political crisis could be part of a Russian plot to weaken his country and make it the Kremlin’s next target after Georgia.

Few in attendance were willing to share their sharpest criticisms of Yushchenko on the record. And none openly confronted Yushchenko during a brief question-and-answer session that followed the president’s long-winded speech.

But Peter Chykaliuk, managing director of Raelin Enterprises, summed up the prevailing sentiment. “There is big disappointment with the corruption issue in Ukraine,” Chykaliuk said. “We used to have more hopes connected with Yushchenko.” He added that, without political stability, Ukraine “will not get the necessary investments.”

The disappointment puts these American business representatives in the same company as many Ukrainians: in search of fresh political leadership for Ukraine due to a dissatisfaction with the eternally-feuding troika of Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Party of Regions leader Victor Yanukovych.

Members of the business group arrived with a list of grievances and hoped in vain that Yushchenko would provide some concrete answers.

One such case, cited by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv in a Sept. 26 press release, involves a bitter shareholder conflict at Kyiv’s Borshchahivskiy Chemical-Pharmaceutical Plant. One of the sides in the conflict is a U.S. company. The American Embassy has urged “an equitable resolution” of the case.

Other examples cited by Americans doing business in Ukraine included Houston-based Vanco Energy, the company which along with Ukrainian and unnamed partners aims to explore the Black Sea for oil and gas. Yushchenko supported the project and clashed over it with Tymoshenko. She opposes the project and claims it yields too much of Ukraine’s hydrocarbon reserves into the hands of Russian interests.

Another case cited is Maxwell Biocorporation, the pharmaceutical giant which opened a 150,000-square-foot facility in the town of Boryspil this year.
The audience consisted of the US giants, who patiently waited for the leader of the Orange Revolution to give them an overview of the current situation in Ukraine and the destiny of their money.

But instead of receiving clear answers to their worries, those gathered at The Metropolitan Club in Washington sat patiently through a long speech from Yushchenko about Ukraine’s strong “democratic resource” and how the “political situation in Ukraine is far from being tragic, and not dramatic.”

He also obliquely accused Russia of meddling to create a domestic crisis. He called recent events in the Ukrainian parliament “Georgia II,” the aim of which is to destabilize the nation. Russia’s five-day war with Georgia, Yushchenko said, is further proof that Ukraine needs to protect its security by joining the NATO military alliance.

Concerning domestic politics, Yushchenko cast doubts on the ability of Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, Yanukovych’s Regions party and the Communists to form a ruling coalition. If a ruling coalition is not formed by an October deadline, the president could dissolve parliament and call snap elections that might further weaken his own Our Ukraine bloc.

Yushchenko described his political break-up with Tymoshenko in the bitter humor of a jilted lover, blaming it on “the infidelity of the partner.”
But clear impatience surfaced with Ukraine’s political sideshows.

Jack Heller, attorney of the company Heller & Rosenblatt from Washington, D.C., warned that American foreign policymakers “may finally require from the Ukrainian leaders better performance in terms of struggling against corruption.”

Otherwise, Heller said, U.S. interests may lean toward better relationships with Russia, finding better anti-terrorism or space cooperation preferable to the eternal discussion of Ukraine’s “strong democratic resource.”

For the most part, however, people in attendance masked their disappointment with polite praise for Yushchenko. He is still revered after surviving a near-fatal – and still unexplained – dioxin poisoning from his 2004 campaign and going on to lead the democratic Orange Revolution with Tymoshenko, vaulting him to power in 2005 and overturning a presidential election rigged for Yanukovych.

In addition to the business leaders, the Washington meeting was also attended by current U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, as well as three of his predecessors – William Green Miller, Steven Pifer and John Herbst.

“We will always respect Victor Yushchenko as a brave man who did a lot to promote democratic values in Ukraine,” Miller said.

The president was introduced by Morgan Williams of SigmaBleyzer, the president of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, who said: “Mr. President, the businesses in attendance today have billions of dollars invested in Ukraine, have created thousands of jobs and are totally committed to an independent, strong, democratic, prosperous Ukraine, driven by a private, market-driven economic system under the rule of law.”

Companies represented include: 3M, AES Corporation, Aitken Berlin, American Continental Group, American Councils on International Education, Baker & McKenzie, BBC World Service/Ukrainian Service, Boeing, Bracewell & Giuliani, Bunge, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, ContourGlobal, Crumpton Group, DHL Express, DRS-Technical Services, Edelman, First International Resources, and Global Trade Development.

LINK: http://www.kyivpost.com/nation/30053