Thursday, July 27, 2023


WILLIE GEIST: Let's turn to Russia. In recent days, that country has intensified attacks on Ukraine's port cities. The city of Odesa has been struck by missiles or drones nearly every day since Russia left a key multi-nation grain deal last week. USAID Administrator Samantha Power is just back from a visit to Odesa and Kyiv, now announcing additional American funding to support Ukraine. And Administrator Power joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us. First of all, if you could tell us what you saw on the ground, here now almost a year and a half into this war, how are the Ukrainian people holding up?

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Well, maybe I'll start in Odesa, that I arrived in the port city, first senior U.S. official to get down there. And the port, which had been buzzing with life, just a couple of days before, was just dead. Insofar as Russia pulling out of the deal the day before I arrived meant that none of the ships, none of the workers, none of the economic life that is so central to Odesa's economic survival, alongside its physical survival, all of that had gone quiet. So that was something that of course, everybody was lamenting. They had expected it. 

Russia wants to destroy Ukraine's economy as a way of forcing it to surrender, since it's not going very well for Russia on the battlefield itself. I'd say writ large, they're digging in for a long, long winter ahead. I think there had been hope that the war would end sooner. But now they're thinking about “how do we protect our energy infrastructure, because now we know going into the winter that Putin is going to weaponize the cold as he weaponizes food.” So there's really just a pragmatic mindset. I wouldn't say morale is thrilled that the war is, you know, dragging in halfway through its second year but you sense no diminishment of support for President Zelenskyy and such a dedication to the so-called patriots or heroes who are going and fighting this really tough counteroffensive, which of course is grueling because of the Russian defenses that have been set up, including minefields, booby traps, and the like. 

MIKE BARNICLE: So Samantha, to that point that you just raise, we showed a clip of you meeting with President Zelenskyy, just a couple of seconds ago, you've been to Odesa, you've met with the Ukrainian people, you've met with many veterans of the Ukrainian war, people who are still fighting the war each day. President Zelenskyy came under some controversy a couple of weeks ago, implying that he wasn't grateful enough to the United States and to NATO for their equipment and ordinance that have been shipped into Ukraine. But what if we take a pause here and think about the fact that perhaps it is us, the United States and the free NATO countries, who ought to thank the Ukrainian people for what they're doing fighting Russia?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, I mean, I have to tell you, every meeting you have when you're over there is – the first five minutes is this diffusive thanks. In the case of USAID, we have the privilege of providing direct budget support, which keeps the government going, allows teachers, health care workers, firefighters – who are very needed, of course in a war – allows them to continue to be paid, allows pensioners not to go cold in winter. And so they thank you, and you just feel super awkward. It's "what, no, no, thank you." Thank you, President Zelenskyy. Thank you, mental healthcare workers, those who are counseling people who have suffered gender based violence, thank you who are documenting war crimes to try to bring the perpetrators to justice ultimately. So I very much feel the same way you do. And I can just assure you that in my meetings, there was no shortage of gratitude. There's also always a list, because this war is not easy. And Russia is bringing everything at the Ukrainian people, not just on the military battlefield but you know, by attacking civilians. 

You know, Zelenskyy is very eager to do everything he can to protect civilian infrastructure, to protect civilian population centers like Odesa, which is now a target really, for the first time in more than a year. So we talked about that. But the other thing I would say is Zelenskyy is very focused on resuscitating the Ukrainian economy. So apart from security asks, his number one non-security ask was support for small and medium sized enterprises, which I think might surprise an American audience. But you know, he wants business to boom and the tech sector has grown six or seven percent over the course of the last year, actually, since the war started. 

So, that's something USAID is looking at is how do we attract Ukrainian refugees back from Europe, which mainly female refugees, women, refugees, as the men stay on the front, and part of doing that is supporting agriculture, supporting SMEs, and really backing the entrepreneurship that we see on the battlefield but that actually they're bringing as well to business into the private sector.

JONATHAN LEMIRE: Administrator Power. Jonathan Lamire. I wanted to go a little further with what you just brought up there. Obviously the focus is on the military fight, the military funding. Ukraine's counter offensive has really ramped up in recent days. But of course, there's also the need to rebuild the country – an effort that can't wait until the fighting stops. Could you just put into perspective for those watching today, just the sheer enormity of the reconstruction project that lies ahead for such a war-battered nation?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I mean, the estimates go up every day, right, of the wartime damage that Putin has inflicted. We – USAID – you know, in support of the Ukrainians, we operate in the here and now and think about the long term reconstruction. In the here and now every time Putin hits a grain silo, the Ukrainians want to patch it up and make sure that it's ready for the next harvested crop to come and store that crop. 

So, you might have seen earlier in the week, that grain infrastructure was hit not only in Odesa, but actually for the first time in the Danube river ports, which USAID has helped expand the use of so that the Ukrainians are not only reliant on the Black Sea. And of course, it's Putin knowing that they're using these ports more and more, hit those. It looked like that was going to be very damaging, but within 24 hours those ports were up and running as if nothing had happened. So I want to stress that reconstruction is happening now. USAID invested $400 million in the winter on energy infrastructure repair. 

But we just met – in London, Secretary Blinken attended for the United States – with the donors who are already thinking about what the scale of that mammoth enterprise when the war is concluded. But again, we're trying to attract the private sector now. There are large parts of the country that are peaceful, and there are business sectors that are growing, or that we just need to sustain like the agricultural sector. So we have to do repairs in the moment and then bring in the multilateral development banks, the private sector and other donors in the long term for that much, much more substantial enterprise.

GEIST: All important work. USAID Administrator Samantha Power thank you so much for being here this morning. We appreciate it. 


USAID Response in Ukraine
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