interview with Ambassador Daniel Baer, U.S Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

If I am not mistaken you are good friends with Chelsea Clinton.

That’s right, but this is not professional qualification.

Who knows, it might come handy in professional issues too … if , say, her mother Hillary wins the presidential election, will you be the Secretary of State?

I would be the most surprised person in the entire United States if that happened. So no, I don’t think there’s any chance for that.

Still, are you rooting for Hillary? Bernie Sanders is performing surprisingly well with the Democrats. Or as Ambassador, you must not be officially interested in what’s happening?

Sure I’m interested! As Ambassador, it is obviously my job to remain neutral on such issues but of course, I’m watching the primaries closely and with excitement. Because there is one thing that all Americans may certainly agree on: that this primary season is anything but a routine run.  One thing that you cannot call it is boring.

Certainly. By the way, what would happen if Bernie Sanders won the election? Or say, the Republican Trump. What would either mean from the perspective of Europe, of Russia – U.S. relations?

It is important who will win the election, but if we consider the past half a century, we see that the direction of U.S. foreign policy is rather consistent, whether we have a Republican or a Democrat President. We have always been on the side of the independent voices, of civil society, wherever they were oppressed.  We have always been for the people to be able to decide about their future…

And do you still consider democracy export a good idea? It does not seem to be a successful project either in the Middle East or in Ukraine…

Ukraine does not fall in the category of democracy export, but rather in the category of corruption export from the Russian side. That’s what the Ukrainians themselves said “no” to. By the way, what happened on Maidan was not inspired by the U.S., but rather by Europe.  It was the European Union that stood up for a clean system of institutions, the rule of law, and the human rights.  The fight for a lasting democracy is a long process everywhere. If it is successful, it will only be because it is backed by the local people, powers who believe in its implementation.

But I wonder if it was worth it for the Ukrainians to let go of the Russians’ hands? Because they are worse off now than they were three years ago.  Aren’t you concerned that the current conditions will give a rise to anti-American and anti-European sentiments?

The greatest danger in Ukraine is not that [there has been reform] but rather that the reforms that have started will not be carried through.  If there is a standstill, it will be not because there are too many changes, but because there are too few of them, as regards corruption, the exclusion of kickbacks from politics. What we, and the French and German foreign ministers too, consider most important is that they continue on the path. This is indeed painful in the short run, but —

It is not just painful. It simply is not working. In Ukraine momentarily there is a government crisis, the coalition is torn apart, ministers or even the Attorney General resign citing corruption, there is no political stability…

If we consider actual events from week to week, we do see worrisome political games, but if we look back a little, say to the past two years, we must also see that something has started in the right direction.


For example, the country [Ukraine] has a new police force, with transport police, whom people trust more than they have trusted police at any time before. There have also been changes in the areas of public finance and taxes, and what’s the most important, of energy subsidies, which were the most intense hotbeds of corruption.  All that is not enough. That’s why it is important that, last week, the Ukrainian Attorney General resigned: the job of the attorney general’s office is to be the watchdog and to protect society from corruption cases, to investigate them; consequently, a person is required to lead it who is capable of reforming the organization to meet that goal. There’s still a lot to do, but Ukraine has started on the road.

How much needs to be still done?  In terms of time, I mean.

It would be silly of me to name a concrete date, but what is certain is that we are not talking about months but years.

Aren’t the reforms rather American and EU expectations from behind which internal support will evaporate in the years to come?

Ukrainians are not criticizing the changes — even today — because they are too fast – on the contrary. They went out to the Maidan two years ago to stand up for a democratic, European Ukraine, and Ukrainians continue to support that.  Ukraine is a European country with a population of 45 million, which expressed its wish as to what kind of a future it prefers at three separate elections over the past few years – at the presidential elections, at the parliamentary elections and at the local [government] elections too.  It happened for the first time that the same candidate won the presidential elections in all parts of the country, the one [candidate] who was committed to the reforms. The same forces did well in the parliamentary elections as well.  So this is about the opinion of tens of millions of people, about the unequivocal desire that the country be of a European type.  And we, Ukraine’s partners, will continue to support them in accomplishing that.

Can you imagine Ukraine as an EU member?

The association agreement that has been signed is about Ukraine and the EU both benefiting from a closer economic cooperation, but if one talks to young NGO activists, or independent journalists in Ukraine, than one can see that what they all wish for is a European style institutional system, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights in the country.  That’s the most important.

Will there be a Ukraine with the same borders as today in five years’ time?

Absolutely.  Russia violated international law when it occupied Crimea, but these steps have no support.  When the UN General Assembly voted on the issue, they denounced the Russian aggression 100 to 10.  Crimea is still part of Ukraine today and so are the territories where the fighting is going on.

It is nice that the UN voted that way, but in reality what we see is that these international organizations are not solving anything.  Fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine.  What is it that the UN or the OSCE can actually hold up as a result?

It takes a lot of time to enforce international agreements – I simply answered your question as to whether there will be a Ukraine with the present borders in five years’ time.  There will.  And I hope that the conflict will have been resolved five years from now.  The only way for that to happen is for the Russians to understand that the price they are paying for the fighting is higher than the benefits.  In fact, there is no benefit.  There is no benefit for the people living on the Ukrainian side of the border, nor for those living on the Russian side.

But Crimea is of strategic importance to the Russians. 

Territorial occupation is costly; what’s more, it has in fact increased instability on Russia’s borders.  The occupation of Crimea has not made Russia safer at all.  If we look at the map and ask the question, “For whom are international borders really important?”, it is hard to imagine a country that is more affected than Russia.

So the Russians are idiots? Are you telling me that they are not aware of what their own interests are?

The Russian leadership has taken a series of measures that in fact are going against the interests of the Russian people.  The Kremlin is not acting in the interest of Russians, but in the interest of the Kremlin.  So what we must work on is returning to a diplomatic and political solution. We must work towards implementing the Minsk Agreement.

So far, diplomacy has not yielded any results in Ukraine yet.  How about Syria, Iraq? The Russians are there, you [the U.S.] are there, Iran is interested, so are Saudi Arabia, Turkey … Can the third world war break out there?

The United States, Russia, and many others have made serious diplomatic efforts in recent weeks, and the United States has been trying for years to find a diplomatic solution to close the crisis. It was an unfortunate situation that Russia has blocked action many times in the UN Security Council.  Talks are going on between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, and these will obviously continue.  The goal is definitely to find the political path leading to peace.

You do admit, don’t you, your country’s responsibility in the present situation? After all, you were the ones who went with the Brits into Iraq which can be regarded as the point zero of the present conflict. 

The problem with such questions is always that they are asked on the presumption that we know what would have happened in a contrary case.

You can simply say yes, we are responsible or no, we are not responsible.

What we’ve been doing in the past years is work hard to resolve the conflict.  Today we are where we are.  As a diplomat, as a politician, one must begin every day believing that we will be in a better position by the end of the day than were in the morning.  That’s what we do.

Fine, but if you [the U.S.] do not admit that democracy export has not worked, it is to be feared that you will proceed the same way in the future as well.  And we can see where that leads – the repercussions of the Iraqi adventure can be felt in Europe – these days in the form of masses migrants too.  So you consider the democracy export a success in the Middle East?

There are a lot of interpretations as to how we got to where we are in the Middle East.  I would leave it to historians to answer that question.  Of course, we also learn from experience: that’s the job of all responsible persons and policy-makers too.  Once again: the best thing we can do about the future is work with our international partners for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.  And as regards the question on democratic progress: President Obama as well as several members of the Administration have repeatedly said in the past seven years that democracy begins at home.  Oppressive regimes always try to attack the democratic voices, to force them underground, even to kill them, and that we always offer assistance to them — that will continue to be the main direction of American policy, as it has been under both Democrat and Republican governments in the past decades.  Still, the theory of change is that all democratic transformation is lasting only if the local people are its engines.

Well, yes.  Last question: if you do become Secretary of State after all, you will be using e-mail more carefully than Hillary Clinton did, won’t you? 

I cannot even begin to imagine that I become the Secretary of State, so first I would have to get past that, before I start pondering the hypothetical question of how I would meet the requirements of the position.