Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

— Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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Diplomat Drops “Fuck the EU” in Private Chat — Cover Your Ears, It Might Ruin You Forever!

— Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland was caught on tape with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine working the diplomatic sausage over the Ukraine crisis.  The private conversation was recorded and uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous user/s who made an effort to include a photo collage of the individuals referred to in the conversation. The leaked recording is available here and has been viewed 485,122.

The State Department spokeswoman was asked if this call is “an authentic recording of an authentic conversation between Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt?”  As can be expected, Ms. Psaki replied:

“Well, I’m not going to confirm or outline details. I understand there are a lot of reports out there and there’s a recording out there, but I’m not going to confirm private diplomatic conversations.”

Hilarious exchange followed:

QUESTION: As related to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s comments about the European Union, do – are the United States and the EU on the same page on what to deal – how to deal with the situation in Ukraine and how best to resolve the crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, we work incredibly closely with the EU and with representatives of the EU, and Assistant Secretary Nuland certainly does as it relates to Ukraine. And she’s been in close contact with EU High Representative Ashton. Also, let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologized. But —
QUESTION: What did she apologize for?
MS. PSAKI: For these reported comments, of course.
QUESTION: So you’re not confirming that the comments are accurate? She’s —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to a private diplomatic conversation, Arshad, but I’m obviously speaking to the content of the reports.

Ukraine’s Security Service has reportedly declined to comment on a leaked recording of this telephone conversation.

The Guardian says that Germany condemns the comments made by Assistant Secretary Nuland:

The German spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said Merkel appreciated the work of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who had tried to mediate between the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and protesters who have taken to the streets. “The chancellor finds these remarks totally unacceptable and wants to emphasise that Mrs Ashton is doing an outstanding job,” Wirtz said.

Meanwhile, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski tweeted his support:

@sikorskiradek  Critics of @VictoriaNuland worldwide: let him who has never used strong language in private cast the first stone.

In Kiev, Assistant Secretary Nuland also refused to comment “on a private diplomatic conversation” except to say “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.” And so here we are:

GIF_prettyimpressivetradecraft

Check out Bloomberg View’s James Gibney (@jamesgibney) with count your blessing, that’s not one of our bumbling hacks — but:

And as to those who are shocked, just shocked, by the U.S. attempt to manipulate Ukraine’s opposition, this is exactly what diplomats at higher levels try to do: All the foreign ambassadors in Washington worth their pensions have salty, Machiavellian conversations with their superiors and colleagues about how to shape votes of the U.S. Congress. If you’re an American, be glad that pros such as Nuland are on the job, and hope that your other diplomats aren’t sitting around munching cucumber sandwiches in between demarches.

That said, here is one scandal that this intercepted call does point to, however: Were Nuland and Pyatt speaking, as they should have been, on the kind of encrypted phone designed for such discussions? If not, that’s a major diplo-no-no. If they were, and some foreign power still managed to crack the code, then Uncle Sam needs to invest in some new phones ASAP.

Continue reading Sometimes Diplomacy Needs the F-Word.

This is a congressional hearing just waiting to happen.  Where did you learn such language?  Who did what, where, when with these phones and how come you did not know that you were bugged?  Congress is always curious about those things.

Now, please do us a favor and stop sending us hate mail for Ms. Nuland.

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US Embassy Ukraine Gets High Marks and Yay! State/OIG Now Discloses Names of Inspectors

— By Domani Spero

Back in September, we blog-hoped that the arrival of the new Senate-confirmed Inspector General at the State Department would also bring some changes on how the office does its business.  One of the items in our wish list has to do with the redaction of the inspectors’ names from the publicly available reports.

We are pleased to note that the first embassy inspection report released publicly since new OIG Steve Linick took office no longer redacts the names of the inspectors.  State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty confirmed that this is, in fact, a decision made by Mr. Linick.

So to State/OIG leaning on the side of disclosure —

bravissimo!

If you want to know why we have been bugging about this subject forever, read our post here.  Now about the OIG report on US Embassy Ukraine:

Brief background: The US Embassy in Kyiv is the largest embassy in eastern Europe, after Moscow. It has 672 employees, including 165 U.S. direct hires, representing nine U.S. Government agencies. In 2012, all elements of the mission, with the exception of Peace Corps and the Office of Defense Cooperation, moved into a new embassy compound. The mission operating budget in FY 2012 was $160.6 million.

According to the IG report, this inspection took place in Washington, DC, between March 25 and April 12, 2013, and in Kyiv, Ukraine, between April 13 and May 7, 2013. Here are the names of the inspectors:  Ambassador Robert M. Beecroft (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Richard Behrend, David Davison, Dolores Hylander, Patricia Murphy, Shawn O’Reilly, Donna Roginski, Paul Smith, Alexandra Vega, and Tim Wildy.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26

At the time of the inspection, the embassy was headed by Ambassador John Tefft and DCM Eric Schultz. Ambassador Tefft had since left and was succeeded by Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who was confirmed the new ambassador to the Ukraine in June this year.

The following are the report’s key judgments:

  • Embassy Kyiv has been processing Ukrainian diversity visas since March 2012. Indications of widespread fraud have emerged. The program requires urgent attention and corrective action from Washington.(see separate post)
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations and Embassy Kyiv are considering reconverting the former Marine House into a new residence for the deputy chief of mission. The project will cost approximately $2.5 million, not counting the cost of reconversion of the current deputy chief of mission residence to separate quarters for several other families. A cost-benefit analysis is urgently needed to determine whether the former Marine House should be converted into multiple apartment units instead, a move that could yield cost savings of $200,000 to $300,000 annually.
  • Eighty percent of Embassy Kyiv’s grant recipients live outside the capital, making oversight difficult. A travel cap imposed by the Department of State in December 2012 does not include grants monitoring in the list of mission-essential travel. The guidelines defining travel to monitor grantee performance should be redefined as mission essential, and thus exempt from the travel cap.
  • The OIG team identified two innovative practices. First, Embassy Kyiv sponsored a contest among university students to promote intellectual property protection. Second, Embassy Kyiv management officers realized that newly-hired local staff members receive an orientation briefing but no further briefings as their careers progress. To address this gap, Embassy Kyiv conducts a regular weekly program designed to inform locally employed staff about policy changes

From the looks of it, the embassy appears well-functioning (with one program exception).  The inspectors have good things to say about Ambassador Tefft and his deputy, as well as the entire mission:

  • Under the leadership of a widely admired Ambassador, Embassy Kyiv has benefited from 4 years of clear policy objectives, effective diplomacy, active public outreach, and skilled management. The country team operates with transparency, confidence, and mutual respect. The recent move into a new embassy compound has reinforced teamwork and operational coordination.
  • The Ambassador is vigorous and articulate in his advocacy of U.S. policies and defense of U.S. interests. Embassy operations run smoothly, with a high level of policy and operational unity. The inspectors noted high morale across all agencies and sections. The deputy chief of mission’s (DCM) businesslike, no-nonsense approach effectively complements the Ambassador’s more informal style.
  • Morale among the American staff in Kyiv is good. The new embassy, and the colocation of personnel from six buildings around the city, enhances camaraderie. The post language program, the embassy employee association, schools, and the embassy dining area and snack bar scored high on the OIG quality of life questionnaires. The medical unit and the community liaison office received average scores.
Potential changes to come:

Local Staff Overtime: Excessive

The LE staff worked more than 23,000 hours of overtime between April 2012 and March 2013. ICASS overtime alone accounted for over 15,000 hours, or $162,000. The inspectors consider this amount excessive.

Tour of Duty: Moving Kyiv to a 3-year tour?

Department employees serving in Kyiv are assigned for a 2-year tour. Embassy Kyiv is a 20 percent hardship differential post. The Department and the embassy would be better served by 3-year assignments. Seven embassies with 20 percent hardship differential have 3-year tours, including Manila, New Delhi, Accra, Dakar, and Santo Domingo. The IG report points out that “cost savings would accrue to the Department if Embassy Kyiv moved to a 3-year tour.”  While it did not directly recommend recommend the move to a 3-year tour, it recommends that the embassy with DGHR and State/EUR “evaluate whether to assign Department of State employees to 3-year tours in Kyiv.”

American Spaces Network – the largest in the world is coming!

The Space represents a key public diplomacy platform in U.S. efforts to reach the more than 90 percent of Ukrainians who live outside the capital city. When PAS establishes its 30th American Space later this year in Zaporizhzhya, it will have the largest American Space network in the world.In FY 2012, PAS committed more than $286,000 to its Space operations. Its FY 2013 funding increased to nearly $500,000.

More nails and hammers!

There is a funded $3.4 million OBO project to convert the decommissioned old consular building into an American Center. There is also a $2.3 million OBO project to convert the former Marine House into a DCM residence. And there is the potential conversion of the current DCM residence into separate multiple apartment units for mission staffers. Construction has not started on the first two projects with estimated completion in  2014.

The report includes 19 recommendations, and  21 informal recommendations.  Ambassador Tefft,who had been appointed ambassador three times recently retired from the Foreign Service. In September this year, he  was awarded the 2012 Diplomacy in Human Rights Award for “For his sustained and effective leadership of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv in providing well-coordinated inter-agency support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to enjoy strengthened democratic institutions and practices, the fair administration of justice, and respect for the fundamental freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

We will have a separate post on the massive fraud on the “green card” lottery program in the Ukraine to follow.

xxx