Amy Klobuchar quipped that she was replaced by Melania Trump as the most famous Slovenian woman in Washington. The senior US Senator from Minnesota was explaining to a full house at the Ukrainian American Community Center in Northeast, her affinity for borscht and pierogis.
“I will get to the serious part,” she said, Skyping with the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was spending her Sunday evening with a Minneapolis panel gathered at noon-thirty. The point of the day: An update and encouragement about what needs to be done in and for Ukraine, under threat by the Russians, and trying to eliminate internal corruption.
Klobuchar recently went, with U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, to Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic States, spending New Year’s Eve with the snow gently falling, on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s porch.
Klobuchar made the point that caring about Ukraine isn’t just the human thing to do, but it’s smart trade, with $50 million exported there from the U.S. in 2015-16 and Ukraine wanting to increase their agricultural trade.
Nikolay Megits of the Minnesota Trade Office in the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, told the Northeaster most Ukrainian trade with Minnesota is in machinery and agricultural commodities, for example, a major investment in cranes for the port at Odessa so that Ukrainian grain could be shipped.
In her speech, first Klobuchar addressed Russian hacking and Russian TV fake news, which she said have been “a modus operandi for decades,” long before the 2016 American election. In 2007 when Estonians did something to offend them, Russia cut off their internet completely.
Russia so wanted to undermine Norway’s economy, they ran fake news on Russian TV saying Norway had tanked so bad there was no fruit. Visitors to Norway brought bags of fruits and vegetables to a bewildered public doing just fine.
“The task will be to educate our own citizenry,” Klobuchar said.
She’s pushing for an independent commission to look into what happened in the election related cyber attacks that “17 US intelligence agencies know is real” so that we know the truth, and countries like Germany and France, whose elections are coming up, may learn from our experiences.
On the subject of corruption in Ukraine, Klobuchar said the US is putting millions into helping with security, retraining and re-hiring police forces, and for example, nationalizing a bank that was corrupt. This past week the International Monetary Fund (in which the U.S. is a large contributor) awarded $1 billion to Ukraine for economic reforms. Until 2000, the majority of businesses were government-run, and now entrepreneurship is improving.
Ambassador Yovanovitch agreed that internal reform is needed to push back hard in “the existential struggle for Ukraine.” She said the traffic police had been cleaned up and are now really there to help the people. And, at the third anniversary Feb. 27, of Russian annexation of Crimea, reforms have stabilized the economy and the country has seen one-percent growth, she said.
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, served in Ukraine once before in 2001 to 2004. She said people are more hopeful now. “The people are fundamentally different, they are now demanding accountability and transparency.” People are willingly leaving good jobs to work in government. And poll data…they were asked “do you expect the future to be better for your children? Overwhelmingly, yes,” she said.
From the panel, Ophelia Karamushko, Chair and President of Maidan MN, detailed some of the humanitarian and other aid the organization is providing, and their efforts to bring awareness of Russian aggression.
Thomas Hanson, Diplomat in Residence, University of Minnesota Duluth, told of his days as a diplomat to Russia and the “delicate balance” brought about by the Clinton administration expanding NATO to include the Baltics. “Solidarity will be the key,” Hanson said. Mention was made of the “mixed signals” coming as the Trump administration settles in.
“Russia is one-sixteenth the size of us, they are punching way above their weight, they are vulnerable. Some think it will just push Russia and China together, but we need to stay solid and keep the sanctions.” (U.S. sanctions against Russia include refusals to trade with a long list of politicians and businesses, a closing of accounts. Sanctions weaken an economy even though both nations would benefit from trade; in theory the weakest nation would eventually do what the other nation wanted, in order to have those benefits.)
Luda Anastazievsky, Co-Chair of the Ukrainian Advocacy Committee, thanked Klobuchar for her work and said she had heard from soldiers defending Mariupol that they were quite impressed that the senators visited on New Year’s Eve. (Mariupol is a key city in Ukraine pro-Russian separatists would need to take over in order to gain access to Crimea)
The event ended with a series of gifts and plaques for the senator, including a pysanka (decorated egg) by Luba Perchyshyn and a celebratory mug from Kramarczuk’s.
The Minnesota Trade Office is preparing for a U.S.-Ukraine Trade and Investment Forum May 15-16-17, 2017 which will help additional companies learn about trading with Ukraine. Megits, whose office helped coordinate Klobuchar’s visit, also noted the recent birth of a Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce in Minneapolis.
Below: US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, participated via Skype in a Ukrainian Center panel on what is going on in Ukraine. US Senator Amy Klobuchar received a sausage-handled beer mug from Nick Kramarczuk as Walter Anastazievsky looked on. Klobuchar’s father Jim, a StarTribune writer, held his retirement party at Kramarczuk’s, and in her youth, Amy was a frequent companion on Jim’s trips to the iconic local deli. (Photos by Margo Ashmore)