BBG Watch Commentary

Al Jazeera Tweet on Voice of America Website - While Many Aspects of VP Biden's Visit to Ukraine Go Unreported
Al Jazeera Tweet on Voice of America Website – While Many Aspects of VP Biden’s Visit to Ukraine Go Unreported. Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 3.09PM EDT

While re-posting a tweet from Al Jazeera, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) did not send its own correspondent on Vice President Biden’s trip to Ukraine and failed to report on its main English news website on many aspects of his visit, including his meetings with human rights and civil society activists. VOA English news also had no reports on the simultaneous visit to Kyiv by a U.S. Congressional delegation led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY).

VOA English news report today (reposted at the end) focused largely on the initial part of Biden’s visit and has stayed on the VOA site un-updated for many hours. VOA included at the end of its report many tweets — too many to be meaningful, in our view, and also most of them outdated. VOA even included one Al Jazeera tweet about a pro-Russia group demanding resignation of the government in Kiev. This particular Al Jazeera tweet on the VOA website showed only 16 retweets.

Al Jazeera Tweet on VOA English Website While Visit of U.S. Congressional Delegation to Ukraine Goes Unmentioned

The VOA English News report and the tweets attached to it missed many significant parts of Vice President Biden’s visit.

VOA Russian and Ukrainian Services Also Offer Minimal Online Coverage of Biden’s Visit Due to Lack of Support from Management

It appears that VOA Ukrainian and Russian services, which have not been given sufficient staff and resources by the VOA management, also used on their websites earlier today only what VOA English news managed to post about the visit.

At one point during the visit today Vice President Biden said that he had a message for Ukrainians in the east and spoke directly to them, although he said he doesn’t know if they’d have the access needed to hear it.

“Many people presume to speak on your behalf these days,” he began, often withouit any input from you.

He said the U.S. Understands “that many of you have genuine concerns” and stressed that the United States supports all Ukrainians. He said he encouraged Ukrainian leaders to keep reaching out to eastern Ukrainians.

The VOA Russian Service also had only a short online report about Vice President Biden’s visit to Kyiv that did not include many of the aspects and details, which were also not covered by VOA English News. It appears that the VOA Russian Service has not yet yet reported Vice President’s message for Ukrainians in the east of Ukraine whose language is largely Russian.

What Voice of America Failed to Report Or Provided Only Minimal Coverage

Here are some of the highlights of the visit, most of which were not reported by VOA. We will show some of them in tweets that were posted by others, but not by VOA.

Not reported by VOA English News: Vice President Biden addressed about four dozen Ukrainian civil society leaders.

Vice President Biden was introduced by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, who said he was having dinner last night with one of journalism’s leading columnists.

Mr. Biden spoke for about 10 minutes – any longer and he said he would lose the standing-only crowd.

He told them the ideals for which they have struggled and sacrificed are on the line in the current unrest in Ukraine. “This time maybe democracy can be delivered,” he said, noting it’s been almost 10 years since the Orange Revolution.

He said of all his meetings in Kiev he was most looking forward to speaking with the activists and students in the room.

“You are the lifeblood,” he said.

He said the U.S. is focused on the spread of democracy, rooting out corruption and keeping Ukraine united.

“But as you all know elections are just one step” in establishing a democracy, he said.

“Corruption corrupts everything about a society, he said, calling it a “cancer” and the “root cause” of Ukraine’s problems. He said corruption has held Ukraine back and stifled investment. “No one wants to be engaged, unless you’re Mr. Putin,” in a corrupt country, he said.

The United States is making corruption a key plank of its new $50 million aid package to Ukraine, he said.

He then had a message for Ukrainians in the east and spoke directly to them, although he said he doesn’t know if they’d have the access needed to hear it.

“Many people presume to speak on your behalf these days,” he began, often withouit any input from you.

He said the U.S. Understands “that many of you have genuine concerns” and stressed that the United States supports all Ukrainians. He said he encouraged Ukrainian leaders to keep reaching out to eastern Ukrainians.

He said leaders count on civil society activists to be the voices for rights or freedoms, whether they be demanded in Ukrainian or Russianm

“Democracy is not a destination. It is a road traveled,” Mr. Biden said.

He then began working the room, speaking to attendees individually.

An official from the VP’s office says:

Following his remarks, the Vice President is meeting with a group of civil society activists and students working on a range of issues, including democracy, rule of law, anti-corruption, and media freedom. The Vice President will express support for the vital role these nongovernmental leaders play in strengthening Ukraine’s democratic institutions.

Not reported by VOA English news: Vice President Biden made an unannounced stop at St. Michael’s Square. A pool report was provided by Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal.

There was a pool report was provided by Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal. Some of the other information came from the Vice President’s press office.

From VP office: “Since protests first began on the Maidan, St. Michael’s has played a role in supporting and sheltering protesters and activists. From providing refuge and preparing hot meals to giving treatment to the wounded, St. Michael’s has served as a resource for Ukrainians who have gathered on the Maidan.”

“On November 30, St. Michael’s provided refuge when peaceful student protesters fled from riot police on a night of violence at the Maidan. The church continued to provide sanctuary and gave medical treatment to the wounded in the weeks that followed.

“Church leaders have called for nonviolence and have supported the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. Vice President Biden met with Patriarch Filaret – the Patriarch of Kyiv – in Washington earlier this year.

“The Vice President was joined on today’s tour by Bishop Agapit.”

“Tourguide is Hanna Hopko; civic activist, journalist, ecology advocate and social communications PHD.”

Vice President walked from the building where he met with civil society leaders to the church. He was joined by the U.S. Ambassador and a woman giving him a tour. He passed by a tent encampment outside the church that was like the ones in maidan – flags, rimmed with tires.

Here are some quotes from Vice President Biden, many of which did not make it into the VOA report. The VOA English News report was apparently put together in Washington and London, not in Kyiv, where VOA English News no correspondent covering the visit. VOA Ukrainian and Russian services apparently translated large parts of this incomplete news report.

Much of this material did not made it into the VOA report:

“Ukraine is in a struggle for its very future…”

-Vice President Biden says again he signed the guest book at the Hyatt Hotel this morning: “Ukraine United, Joe Biden…”

“I wish it were that easy – just signing my signature.” But he added that the United States would help make sure Ukraine stays united.

-Vice President Biden said “We do not recognize Russia’s actions in Crimea…”

“There has been a lot of talk about geopolitics, about East and West…But here in Ukraine people know it’s about something much more fundamental.”

-he said its about “unity, independence” and “restoring dignity”

-recalls the bone-chilling winter in the Maidan, and while not all Ukrainians agree with what is happening there, most do agree with principle

“Government exists to serve the people. People do not exist to serve the government…”

“The United States stands with you…”

“The road ahead is difficult….But you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.”

“Ukraine is, and must remain, one country….”

“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation – no nation has that right…And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and neither will the world.”

-calls on Russia to pull back forces on border, “stop supporting men in masks in unmarked uniforms” taking buildings in eastern Ukraine

-praises Yatsenyuk for taking steps since Geneva agreement reached last week, namely putting forward an amnesty bill for those involved in unrest in the east

“It’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting – act on the commitments they made…”

-call on the record for release of all occupied buildings and send representatives to work with OSCE observers in Ukraine’s east

“We need to see these cornet steps and we need to see them without delay. We will not allow this to be an open ended process.”

“This may be the most important election in Ukraine’s history…”

“The public has made clear after an era of staggering public theft they will no longer accept corruption in public officials”

-he praises new procurement rules a first step

-Working with Ukraine on short and long-term energy supply issues “so Russia can no longer use energy as a political weapon against Europe”

-security support now totals $20 million (non-lethal)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk then spoke in Ukrainian:

-grateful for support from the United States

-thanks administration and Congress for the $1 billion in loan guarantees
-values technical assistance from the United States

“One of the key goals and objectives of my government and of the next president who should be elected May 25 is a real fight against corruptions and a victory over corruption…”

-on constitutional reforms, the way to correct balance of power

-powers to regions would include independent budget authority, respect for language and cultural, and the every citizen of Ukraine should be able to affect the local and national governments

-need investment in energy sector, and welcomes help from European and American investors
-says part of Russia’s motivation in the east is to disrupt presidential elections

“We will carry out the presidential elections,” under watch of international observers

-calls on Russia to leave eastern Ukraine and Crimea
“No country should be allowed to behave like an armed bandit…Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations.”

“They should not behave as gangsters in this modern century…”

Another part of the Vice President Biden’s visit to Kyiv, which was not covered by VOA English News, was his meeting with Ukrainian legislators. The VOA English News report does not mention this event.

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release April 22, 2014


Kyiv, Ukraine

10:03 A.M. (Local)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. And I want to thank my colleagues for bringing me back home. For 36 years I sat in our legislature, and I used to actually have this seat in our — I was the chairman of our committee. Thank you for making me feel relevant again, back in a legislative body.

I’m honored, and I mean this sincerely, I’m honored to be with you all, all members of the Rada representing the whole of Ukraine.

I signed the book in the hotel as I was leaving today. The management asked me to sign their book, and I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” And as I look here, this is Ukraine united — center, south, east, west. And as someone who has held high public office in my country for now 40 years and just because I’ve been around, literally met every major leader in the world in the last 40 years, I don’t — I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under. I do not underestimate the challenge that you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you must feel when someone like me comes along and says this is a great opportunity for you. (Laughter.) As my mother would say, but for the honor, I’d just as soon as pass the opportunity.

But the truth of the matter is your fellow countrymen expect a whole lot of you right now. Their expectations are high. The demands on you are — my guess is are fairly extreme. And in addition to that, we have — there is — John Kennedy, President Kennedy wrote a book that became very famous called “Profiles in Courage,” and it listed those men and women in our country who had taken political positions that were overwhelmingly interest of the United States of America, but not in their personal interests. That’s a profile in courage. I hope none of you have to appear in the first edition of the “Profiles in Courage in Ukraine,” but my expectation is some of you are going to have to make some really difficult, difficult personal decisions.

But you’re facing such unrest and uncertainty, and we can speak a little bit more about that today. But I also think — it’s easy for me to say — there’s an expression in English, it says, an expert is anyone from out of town with a briefcase. Well, I don’t have a briefcase, and I’m not an expert. But I have an opinion, and I speak for the President of the United States, and he shares the same opinion. And that is that this is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution. This is a genuine opportunity to get right what is always difficult to do the first time when coming out from under the oppression or control of another power.

You’re a month away from — I would respectfully suggest, although I will be probably criticized by the press for saying it, what hopefully will be and may be the most important election in Ukrainian history, and that is that you have an opportunity, a chance to bring about an era of reform and democratic renewal that you all hoped for two, five, 10, 15 years ago to lay the groundwork for an even more united and more prosperous Ukraine.

In speaking with your acting President, I was referencing the personal bravery and heroism of Ukrainians is well known. You are a strong, strong, strong people. And I’m not being solicitous. I mean it is real. And you face very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats that are taking place indirectly. And — but the opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp. And we want to be your partner, your friend in the project. And we’re ready to assist.

I have an expression I use as I’ve gone around the world through my career is you never tell another man or woman what’s in their interest. They know their interest better than you know their interest. And so I want you to know that we are not suggesting we have the answers for you, but we’re merely suggesting that we stand ready to stand with you in every endeavor that you undertake to generate the united prosperous and coherent Ukraine you’re all fighting for.

And to the extent that we can be of small assistance in you holding a free election on May the 25th, we want to be part of that. To the extent that we can help in stabilizing and strengthening Ukraine’s economy by helping you withstand the unfair economic pressure being thrust upon you, we stand ready to do that, and I say the American people stand ready — not just Barack Obama and Joe Biden — but the American people.

As you all know well we have a significant Ukrainian-American population. We stand with you. And it is not just a foreign policy judgment, it is a personal — it’s an emotional commitment, as well, by millions of Americans.

And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States. And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today. It’s within our power to alter that. It will take some time, but it’s within our power. Very difficult decisions, but within our power.

Also to be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now. It’s not just the United States. You need a court system that not only you and your people, but the rest of the world assumes can actually adjudicate fairly disputes among people. But you have a chance. You have a chance. The constitutional reforms that you are envisioning now are ones that some of you have fought for in various ways your entire career, a balance of power between the parliament and the President. You’ve tried it two different ways. I think you’ve figured it out for you — not what we think — what you think is the correct balance.

The decentralization and empowering of local communities — we call that devolution of power back home — local communities able to elect their own local officials, control their own budgets, elect their councils. And as I said, maybe if you look around the world at every country that has in the last 30 years come out from under the yoke of another, the hardest thing to put in place is, as I find it around the world, is a court system, is a judicial system. In a sense it maybe is the single most important thing that can occur in any country. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult.

But it’s totally within your power, and sometimes — presumptuous of me to say this — but sometimes it’s — a crisis spawns the commitment, and the desire, the willingness to make some of these bold decisions.

So it is — I don’t want to exaggerate our role or exaggerate what we — how strongly we feel, but the United States supports the rights, the freedoms and the fundamental dignity of the people of Ukraine, all the people of Ukraine.

And you may have different traditions. It’s not quite the same, but we understand different traditions in our country — not as deeply as you do, but we are the most heterogeneous democracy in the world. We’re soon going to get the point where over 50 percent of the United States of America is made up of people of non-European stock; the majority of the American people are not of European origin in 2020. We understand. We have millions of Muslims. We have hundreds — but it’s not quite the same. We’re not up against a border. We’re not sitting against a border of another powerful nation.

And so — but, we, in fact — these different traditions, different languages, and sometimes different perspectives, but the one thing I’ve observed, even with what’s going on in the east, is that there is a much greater desire to call oneself a Ukrainian than to call oneself anything else. And that’s a major, major, major unifying power, no matter how different the traditions are.

So I’m confident — presumptuous of me to say this — I’m confident that in your constitutional reforms, you will find a way to guarantee those traditions and at the same time strengthen Ukrainian unity. And to the extent that the United States of America can be of assistance in that effort, we stand ready to do that.

I thank you — and I mean this sincerely — for the honor of being able to speak here in the Rada, or at least a committee room of the Rada.

END 10:15 A.M. (Local)

VOA Ukrainian and Russian Services reported on the visit to of the Congressional delegation led by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel, but offered only brief coverage. The VOA English News website completely ignored the Congressional visit.

VOA English News Report

US Vice President Pledges Support for Ukraine – Voice of America

VOA News
April 22, 2014 4:16 AM

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is calling for Russia to live up to its recent agreement to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, adding that the country is “in the struggle for its very future.” Biden also warned Kyiv it must tackle the “cancer of corruption.”

During a joint appearance Tuesday with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden said it is time for Russia “to stop talking and start acting” on commitments it made last week during international talks in Geneva to withdraw support for pro-Russian separatist forces who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

“We’ve heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days. But now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting,” he said. “We will not allow this to become an open ended process. Time is short in which to make progress.”

The U.S. vice president said Ukraine “is and must remain one country.” He said the United States would not let Ukraine “walk down this road alone… we will walk it with you.”

Biden also said the U.S. would provide an additional $50 million for the Ukrainian government, including $11 million to help fund the May 25 presidential election.

A White House statement Tuesday said the United States will provide Kyiv with $8 million in non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and vehicles.

During his visit in Ukraine’s capital for talks with Yatsenyuk and acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, Biden pledged U.S. assistance in moving Ukraine to become energy independent and not have to rely on Russian natural gas.

Trading accusations

Meanwhile, Ukraine and Russia are blaming each other for a deadly shooting at a checkpoint in the pro-Russian city of Slovyansk, shattering an Easter truce. Three people were killed. The separatists blame gunmen with the Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector group. Kyiv authorities accuse Russian special forces of staging the murders.

The pro-Russians are demanding the right to hold referendums on splitting with Ukraine and joining with Russia. A vote last month in Crimea led to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.

In eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters in the regional capital Donetsk greeted Vice President Biden’s visit to Kyiv with skepticism. Lyudmila was among those at the barricades.

“The American vice president came to help the Kyiv gangsters, the Kyiv government, but not us,” she says.

Washington has called on Moscow to live up to commitments made in Geneva last week to put more pressure on the pro-Russian protesters to vacate state buildings. Russia denies any involvement in the protests.

The White House Monday issued photographs it claims show that a Russian soldier seen in eastern Ukraine this month was also in Georgia during the Russian invasion in 2008. The photographs have not been independently verified. Russia has denied having any soldiers in Ukraine. It says all the pro-Russian separatists are locals.

The allegations are part of a long history of Russian interference in the region, argues Andrew Foxall of policy institute The Henry Jackson Society in London.

“I think what we’ve seen over a number of years in eastern Ukraine is the Kremlin and the Russian government effectively trying to provoke separatist sentiments. And the recent action that we’ve seen in Kharkiv and Donetsk is symptomatic of that and symbolic of this wider project that the Kremlin has been trying to undertake,” said Foxall.

Washington says it is preparing new sanctions should Russia fail to live up to the commitments made in Geneva. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia’s parliament Tuesday his country would withstand any further measures.

“We will show our teeth if it is necessary,” he said, “and, within the law, we will appeal to courts and other institutions.”

NATO also is showing its teeth. Five mine-sweeping ships were deployed to the Baltic Sea Tuesday, designed to boost NATO’s preparedness and reassure eastern allies.

Henry Ridgwell contributed to this report from London.