For months the world has watched as the people of Ukraine have bravely strived to define their future. Just as the United States stands with Israel and other democratic partners around the world, we also stand with the people of Ukraine in their quest to realize their own democratic choice and move forward.
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With national elections set for May 25, Ukraine now stands at a crossroads. These elections are an historic opportunity for all citizens of Ukraine, across the country, to come together, exercise their right to vote, and express their commitment to a better future. Elections and national dialogue are the best route to political healing in Ukraine, and an antidote to the mayhem and violence sown by separatists and their supporters in Russia.
The article my colleague, the Russian Ambassador to Israel Sergey Yakovlev, published in Haaretz on April 30 contained many non-credible arguments to justify Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine.
For example, he claimed that, “it’s not the Ukrainians themselves, but the Americans, who are actually running the show in Ukraine”. The United States rejects that characterization. We support the goal of a united, free and democratic Ukraine in which the Ukrainian people choose their own destiny without outside interference. It is Russia that has sown tension and discord in Ukraine through its threatening military buildup along Ukraine’s border and its sponsorship of separatist elements trying to destabilize Eastern Ukraine. Most recently Russia supported the referenda that took place in portions of Eastern Ukraine on May 11. These referenda were illegal under Ukrainian law, were conducted with highly suspect methodology, and were a transparent attempt to create further division in the country ahead of the May 25 elections.
The United States, Europe, and Canada have imposed a variety of sanctions on Russia for its attempted annexation of Crimea and its continued destabilization of Ukraine. The Russian economy is already feeling the effects of this international condemnation: Russia’s credit rating is hovering just above “junk” status; $51 billion in capital has fled Russia since the beginning of this year; and Russian bonds are trading at the lowest yields in Europe.
Our goal is not to weaken Russia, but as President Obama and Chancellor Merkel stated on May 2, “The Russian leadership must know that if it continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine and disrupt this month’s presidential election, we will move quickly to impose greater costs on Russia.”
In contrast, the United States stands with the overwhelming majority of the international community to support the Ukrainian government – directly and through the OSCE – to ensure these elections meet the highest international standards and are a credible, free, and fair expression of the Ukrainian people’s political will. Vast majorities (93%) of Ukraine’s district election commissions are ready for elections and functioning normally, election preparations are on track, and according to recent independent polls, a substantial majority of Ukrainians intend to vote on May 25. Any efforts to disrupt this democratic process will be seen clearly for what they are: The denial of the right of Ukraine’s citizens to express their political will freely.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said during his recent visit to Kyiv that the May 25 election “may be the most important election in the history of Ukraine.” With more than 20 candidates running, representing every viewpoint and many regions of Ukraine, the elections offer a real democratic choice – something to which all Americans and Israelis can relate, and something we should all support.
As Secretary Kerry has said, this election will give “all Ukrainian people a voice in the future of their country.” The world must all now come together to ensure that their voice is allowed to be heard.
Dan Shapiro is the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.