ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Apologies for keeping you waiting.  It is terrific to be back in Kyiv on this beautiful spring day, and on the eve of the Orthodox Easter holidays and the May Day holidays, and as the new Ukrainian government begins its work with the Rada under new leadership and a new governing coalition.

We had a very good set of meetings.  I was here with my interagency colleague, the Senior Director for the National Security Council, Charlie Kupchan, and we had the chance over the last couple of days to see President Poroshenko, to see Prime Minister Groysman, to see Speaker Parubiy and his deputies, to see Foreign Minister Klimkin, Minister of Finance Danylyuk.  We had a meeting yesterday with all of the Rada faction leaders.  As usual, I saw some business leaders, I saw Mayor Klitschko, and I had a terrific sit-down with a broad cross-section of civil society leaders under the broad umbrella of the Reanimation Package coalition – a bunch of really energetic young reformers who we work with closely to help with the reform work.

It’s important to remember that Ukraine has already accomplished a great deal.  You have a stable currency, you’ve cleaned up the banking sector, you’ve restored budget discipline, you’re energy independent for the first time in a long time, you have a new police force.  A lot has already been done, even as hard as it’s been.

2016 can and should be the year that Ukraine makes reform irreversible.  There is hard work ahead, that was obviously part of our message over the last couple of days.  Ukraine needs to stay the course with the IMF.  Ukraine needs a new Prosecutor General.  It needs real, deep judicial reform.  Obviously, corruption is still a very deep problem.  It’s time to start locking up people who have ripped off the Ukrainian population for too long, and it’s time to irradiate the cancer of corruption.

I again conveyed the strong U.S. commitment to stand with Ukraine as it stays on the path of a clean, democratic, European future.  We also, as we have in the past, urged unity among all democratic forces and all reformers -- those in the coalition and those outside the coalition -- to keep pushing change and working together.

I’d like to say that, at our meeting yesterday, I was really encouraged by the Prime Minister’s personal commitment that, after so much sacrifice for change, in 2016 the Ukrainian people really now deserve to feel more of the benefits of reform in their quality of life and in the government and judiciary that delivers for them.

We also very much welcomed the unified message that we heard yesterday from the President, from the Prime Minister, from the Speaker of the Rada, that they are eager to hit the accelerator pedal on judicial reform and prosecutorial reform and anti-corruption.  And with regard to peace and security in Ukraine, we reaffirmed for President Poroshenko and Foreign Minister Klimkin President Obama’s unwavering commitment to see the Minsk Agreements fully implemented, restoring full Ukrainian sovereignty over the Donbas.

I had a chance to de-brief the President and the Foreign Minister on President Obama’s meetings in Hannover, his bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel, and his broader meeting with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, and Prime Ministers Cameron and Renzi, including on the issue of Ukraine and our unified commitment to keep sanctions on Russia in place until it meets all of its Minsk obligations.

One of the decisions made at Hannover is that the United States will now accelerate its own diplomacy, in close coordination with the Normandy format leaders -- with Germany and with France -- to see Minsk implemented.  This will require restoring security and OSCE access across the Donbas, the return of hostages, preparations for real, Ukrainian elections in Donbas that meet international standards and that accord with your constitution, and of course, the withdrawal of all weapons and foreign forces, and a return of sovereignty over your border to Ukraine.

And of course, we remain committed to retaining sanctions that apply to the situation in Crimea until Crimea is returned to Ukraine.  In this connection, I want to repeat what was said in Washington over the last couple of days, denouncing the outrageous decision to ban the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, denying this historic community its democratic rights.

More broadly, I want to thank Ukraine’s leaders and civil society for this very intense couple of days of close coordination on the reform agenda, on the peace and security agenda, and on all of the things that we do together.  We had some specific requests for increased U.S. technical assistance which we’ll be responding to, particularly in the areas of judicial reform and anti-corruption, and I go home optimistic that reform is back on track in Ukraine.

I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

QUESTION:  I’m the Agence France Presse correspondent here. I’d like to ask a couple of things about the Minsk process.  Some members of parliament said yesterday after meeting you that the U.S. insisted on having elections in the east already in July, and saying it was a precondition for any financial help to Ukraine and a precondition to keeping sanctions against Russia in place.  Can you please confirm or comment on this information.  And on the other hand, Ukrainians have said previously several times that there can be no elections in the east until an international police force is deployed there. Is there any sort of agreement on this issue?  Thanks a lot.

NULAND:  Your report of our session with the Rada yesterday is completely inaccurate.  We have put no date on when elections need to happen.  We’ve made absolutely clear that Minsk requires that there be sufficient security, and OSCE access, and the ability of candidates to ballot, and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can have an election.  That’s what Minsk says -- it’s logical -- as in any country.

So even as the Ukrainian government works on preparations for an election and works in the Normandy format to prepare for them, the first priority is security, end the killing on the line, and access for the OSCE throughout the Donbas, which is not possible now.  And U.S. financial assistance to Ukraine and technical assistance to Ukraine is tied to Ukraine staying on the reform course, tied to it staying inside the IMF program, pursuing judicial reform, anti-corruption reform, energy reform, not to Minsk.

With regard to an international police force, obviously there are intense discussions about how to ensure enough security for good voting, for citizens of Donbas to feel secure in voting, for candidates to ballot.  We have the OSCE SMM that has not been allowed to fully do its job, and then there are questions of whether we’ll need to augment that, but no decisions have been made.

QUESTION:  (in Ukrainian) Radio Svoboda.  What’s the U.S. position on the proposal put forth by former Prime Minister Yatsenyuk regarding a national referendum in Ukraine on the question of reintegration of Donbas back into Ukraine?

NULAND:  We are focused on implementation of Minsk as it was agreed, which speaks to the people of Donbas having the right to have a real election; not a fake election for a bunch of puppets from Moscow, but a real election for their own leaders so that they can rejoin the democratic community in Ukraine.

QUESTION:  (in Russian) Channel 3S.  As you may know, Savik Shuster, who interviewed you at one point on his show, has had his work permit revoked in Ukraine just a couple of days ago.  Another popular TV host, Yevgeniy Kiselyov, left one of Ukraine’s most popular television channels.  In light of these developments, have you discussed the issue of freedom of speech in Ukraine in your meetings, and what’s your feeling about the state of freedom of speech in Ukraine?

NULAND:  You know, I think President Poroshenko said it best yesterday, when he said that freedom of the press is one of the greatest achievements of the new Ukraine, and it needs to be protected.  As you know, the United States champions press freedom all around the world, notably including in Russia, where it’s been constrained.

QUESTION: (in Ukrainian) Interfax Ukraine.  Recently Ukraine’s Presidential Administration announced an upcoming visit of Secretary Kerry to Ukraine.  Can you confirm that, and can you give us the dates?

NULAND:  Secretary Kerry is very eager to come back to Ukraine.  He hasn’t been here in about a year.  He bothers me every time I come, why am I coming and he’s not coming?  And I remind him that he is working on 400 other problems, but he very much wants to come this spring.

Thanks everybody, happy holidays, and enjoy this spectacular spring weather.  Thanks for coming.