Friday, October 7, 2022

Ukraine Media Center, Kyiv, Ukraine


MS. LISOVSKA: My first question is about the USAID assistance to Ukraine, and you have a report, or some sums, of how the Agency helped Ukraine all these seven months, and what joint projects between Ukraine and the USAID are in process?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I'll give you some examples. But, I won't be able to cover everything, because I'm pleased to say that we are active, really, in so many sectors here that matter to the Ukrainian people and matter, especially during wartime. For starters, $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance, and that's everything from food and shelter when people are displaced, to what you actually don't see as visibly – which is cash assistance, where through one's phone and one's bank account, one gets access to cash as a displaced person, when you might have left everything and lost everything with Russian aggression. So, that's very important. 

We also are the Agency of the U.S. government that provides the direct budget support to the Ukrainian government. This is very unusual, actually, for USAID, but so far, we have provided about $8.5 billion directly to the government. We ask for receipts because we want to make sure that that's not going to some place it's not supposed to go. But by and large this is, in a sense, an infusion of cash so the government can keep the lights on, so it can keep paying civil servants, hospital workers, teachers. And, I talked to President Zelenskyy today about this. I think it's in all of our interests, of course, for the Ukrainian people to be back in their homes, running their businesses, paying taxes for customs revenue, and other sources of income to come back online. But in this very difficult in-between period this direct budget support, I think, is a lifeline. 

The programs that are more traditional for USAID that we've been doing, for example, here since 2014, are supporting those who are documenting war crimes. So, we have been active doing that in the East and in Crimea, supporting those civil society groups on the ground, those lawyers, but we have dramatically expanded that work. We had some number of nongovernmental organizations, now we have, there's something like 22 centers in the country that are kind of repositories for that evidence. So, that's a big expansion because sadly, now there are war crimes in so many parts of the country. 

We did something really important a few months ago, which is we launched something called AGRI-Ukraine, and that's a $100 million program where we provide loans to farmers who might otherwise have trouble getting credit, because maybe they fell into debt because their farmland was destroyed or their machinery was destroyed, or they couldn't get their crop out of the country initially. We provide to those same farmers fertilizer, pesticides, seeds. Today, I actually visited some Ukrainians who are providing drone technology, which allows the fertilizer and the pesticides to be applied more efficiently, but also means that the farmers don't have to go out into fields where there might be unexploded ordinances left on purpose by the Russians. So, these just give you some kind of hint about the range of programs. 

And one thing that's very dear to my heart as a former journalist, is we also support independent media in fighting misinformation, in documenting all of the lies that people are using to try to distort the picture of what is going on, but then also to ensure that at a time when advertising revenue has gone way down for local media, that Ukrainians still have a source of truth, and that those journalists are still holding officials of all kinds accountable: U.S. officials, UN officials, Ukrainian officials. And that's really important, even in wartime, that there be journalists who are holding all of us to account for the decisions that we make and for the resources that we spend.

MS. LISOVSKA: The next question, so at the end of the summer you said that the full-scale war against Ukraine was fueling the global food crisis. And what is the situation with the food crisis now because we have three of our ports that are now unblocked?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think the UN-Turkish deal that got Putin to lift the blockade on three ports has been really important. Global cereal prices, wheat prices, and things like that are down around one to one point five percent, and that makes a huge difference in the poorest countries, and in the poorest communities in the poorest countries. So, just having those nearly 300 ships leave those ports carrying those grains, it has made a big difference for global food prices. Having said that, fertilizer prices are still high, fuel prices are still high, inflation is still up all over the world, including here in Ukraine and back in the United States, so it's still very difficult. And climate change is still wreaking havoc on many countries, and so the tragedy was the combination of the COVID-19, climate shocks, and then Putin on top of everything, making war on Ukraine, blocking deliberately the grains and the exit of the grains. So, at least some of those grains are moving, and again, that has had some effect. But you know, that mechanism expires at the end of October. So right now, we are all very, very focused on ensuring that those countries around the world that benefit so much from what Ukrainian farmers do every day, sometimes risking their lives, to plant or to harvest what they put in the ground, that developing countries that rely on that food are sending the message to the UN, and to the Russian Federation, that we need this grain deal to stick. In the 21st century, not only should there never be war crimes, but there should never be the weaponization of food in the way that Putin has done in this conflict.

MS. LISOVSKA: And now about farmers. After Russia’s bombing the Odesa port, you said that the U.S. and Ukraine are working together with a plan B on how to export this grain. In what stage is this plan B in now?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, to be clear, when Ukrainian farmers have harvested food that can feed the world, and that can feed those Ukrainian farmers also, by allowing them to make money on all the work that they have done, it's absolutely essential that those ports stay open. So plan A, which is keeping the ports open, remains imperative. 

At the same time, I think that one of the effects of the blockade and the war in general is that Ukrainians have already built up their resilience in a big way, and that's something that USAID has supported. We are now able, I should say Ukrainians, with our support and support of other donors, have been able now to use these Solidarity Lanes, to use river pathways, to use rail pathways, to get about 4.5 million tons of grains out by land or by rail or by river, not relying only on the Black Sea ports. And the reason that matters is that we at USAID, we're in it for the long haul with Ukrainian farmers. 

Long after this war is over, we're still going to be doing agricultural programming and we think the capacity of this incredible breadbasket to feed even more people, to reach even more markets than they reached before this round of Putin's war, we think that the potential is almost infinite. And so, actually, in building out plan B to guard against a scenario where Putin reimposes a blockade in a devastating way, Ukrainians are now in a stronger position to integrate into other markets, and to be able to get more grain out, more quickly, in a more resilient system than they were before the war started. And this is what we, at USAID, and we in the U.S. government, are thinking about constantly, and listening to our Ukrainian friends. Which is to say, not only, how do we build back or how do we respond to this emergency? But how do we ensure that Ukraine is left stronger in the wake of something as horrible as this than they were before? Because that is really going to strengthen Ukraine and mean for more prosperity and economic opportunity after this war is over. And we have to be looking and thinking about that day even, as of course, Ukrainians are focused, first and foremost, on winning the war in the first place.

MS. LISOVSKA: And now about one big international tour for our Minister. You visit African countries from time to time, and you know that half of these countries, they have a pro-Russian position. But now our Foreign Minister has his big trip to African countries. How necessary do you think this trip is? And can our Minister change the attitude of these African countries towards Ukraine?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me first say that I think that even though it's true that a number of African countries stayed on the sidelines of some very important UN votes, and maybe a declared kind of neutrality, and we say how could you be neutral in the face of atrocities and aggression? And I think there's great frustration there among Ukrainians, and certainly in my government as well. But notwithstanding those votes, people do know what's going on here. And that is what I have found in my travels. I was in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Somalia over the summer, indeed, I was there at the same time Foreign Minister Lavrov was visiting to spread more lies about what Russia was doing. And really, when you talk to African officials privately, they know. They know what's happening and they know that it is in their interest for this war to end, for Putin's aggression not to ever be rewarded, and for there to be accountability. Everybody knows that because every country benefits from rules where a neighbor cannot invade another neighbor, or a neighbor cannot commit war crimes against a neighbor, we all benefit from those rules. But you are absolutely right, there is massive Russian disinformation. There's also a lot of Russian coercion and intimidation, a lot of bullying behind the scenes as well, that has caused some countries to pull back. 

I think what Foreign Minister Kuleba is doing now is incredibly important. I also think President Zelenskyy's outreach, which has really intensified, I think, in recent weeks and months, building personal relationships with African heads of state. I mean, some of the countries are countries that Ukraine may not even have a big embassy presence or a big diplomatic presence, but building those relationships, and putting the truth on record, being out there in the way the President Zelenskyy is as well in the global media, I think, is very important in telling the story of Ukraine's people. 

So again, over time, Russian lies are not going to prevail. They're not convincing anybody. Indeed, because of the mobilization, the truth of how poorly the war is going for Russia, and the unjustness of the war, is even making its way back to Russia now than it was a few weeks ago. But everything that we, as the United States, can do using our big diplomatic presence abroad, to get the truth out there to make sure that African governments and publics know the facts, and particularly the voices of the Ukrainian people themselves, reach the homes of people not only in Africa, but in all parts of the world, that is going to help establish that record. But, notwithstanding the fact that we would like to see every country taking the kind of strong stand that the United States has taken, people really do know what is a lie and what is the truth when they see mass graves being uncovered. And they know where the Ukrainian border is. And they know that Russian troops are on the other side of the Ukrainian border. So, I do think that the facts, even up to this point, are quite clear to people. But we, as people, get tired, and as the food crisis continues, and people look to maybe divert responsibility or to blame something other than what's happening in their own country, that is the time we really want Ukrainian voices to be loud out in the world.

MS. LISOVSKA: And my last question for you is not as USAID Administrator, but also as a former United States Ambassador to the UN. Can you explain the role of the UN now in this war and what conclusions we can do in this situation?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, maybe just if I can take this occasion to say how privileged I feel, as an American to have been America's representative in the UN when Putin launched the first phase of his unjust invasion in Crimea first and then eastern Ukraine, and to be in a position to stand up for Ukraine and to stand up for the rights of the people of this country to choose their own path. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that role back when the first phase of this horrific war began, to try to debunk these lies that are part of the Russian playbook. 

Now I find myself even more fortunate to be USAID Administrator, and to be able to be in a position to help get the hot water turned back on in places where the pipes have been destroyed by Russian forces, to get farm equipment to farmers where Russian forces have come in and just deliberately destroyed tractors, and bulldozers and silos, and to support, again, the media, who are going to be such a critical part of Ukraine's democratic journey as we go forward. Just being in a position to do more than just argue with the Russians at the UN, but to actually tangibly support the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. I know President Biden feels the same way. I think we feel that this is our privilege. And so, it's been incredible to be back here after seven years away, and to see just how much stronger the Ukrainian nation is today, even than it was the last time I visited in 2015. It's completely inspiring. 

With regard to your question about the UN, look, the fact that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and has a veto means, by definition, they are going to be covering up for their aggression within the part of the UN that is tasked with enforcing international peace and security. So that means that a critical part of the UN's machinery since 2014, has been blocked, and is failing to hold Russia accountable and that is the UN Security Council. That said, we have found ways at the United Nations, nonetheless, to show that the overwhelming weight of global opinion sees what Russia is doing, condemns what Russia is doing, and is horrified by what Russia is doing. We have found ways to provide support, for example, to the International Criminal Court, which is gathering evidence for a potential investigation here. The Human Rights Council now is a repository for some of the evidence that Ukrainian civil society and lawyers and others are gathering. So, looking at the Security Council, it should be doing its job. Russia prevents it from doing its job. And that's a flaw in the system where an aggressor has a veto, no question. But Russia can't veto the truth. Russia can't veto accountability in the long run. And that is what we are showing by building coalitions of countries from all around the world to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

MS. LISOVSKA: Thank you for your time with me. Thank you.


Samantha Power 2022 Global Food Crisis USAID Response in Ukraine Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Ukraine
Share This Page