By Mark Worth
KIEV – Marie Yovanovitch was surrounded by bodyguards, colleagues and friends as she left the conference room with her head down and wriggled through the crowd in hopes of reaching the elevator without answering the question.
The US Ambassador to Ukraine acknowledged today that last October, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker escorted six corporate executives to high-level meetings in Kiev, including with President Petro Poroshenko and then-Prime Minister Arseniy Petrovych.
A main theme of this week’s Kiev International Economic Forum was improving transparency and reducing government-corporate collusion in Ukraine. So, from amid the standing-room-only audience, I took the microphone and asked Yovanovitch whether Pritzker invited citizens or civil society members to join her in the meetings with Ukrainian dignitaries, whether a full report on the meetings was made public, and who paid the corporate executives’ travel expenses.
Ambassador Yovanovitch didn’t answer the question. Instead, she told the audience that Secretary Pritzker has family members in Ukraine who she wanted to visit. I took the microphone and repeated the question. Again, Ambassador Yovanovitch didn’t answer.
According to a US Commerce Department statement, Pritzker accompanied executives from Cargill, Citibank, DuPont, Honeywell, NCH Capital and Westinghouse on October 26-27, 2015 in order to “support the Ukrainian government and people, and help strengthen the Ukrainian economy.”
One of the actual purposes of the trip became clear a month later, when it was announced that agribusiness multinational Cargill, the largest private company in the US, would help build a grain terminal at the erstwhile oil port of Yuzhne near Odessa. The project is supported by a $37 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
After the Kiev Forum ended and Yovanovitch came down from the dais, I said to her, “Madam Ambassador, you didn’t answer my question.” She didn’t turn her head in my direction, as if I wasn’t there. She continued to talk with the gaggle of people around her. I followed her, asking her the same question several times. Still, there was no response.
As Yovanovitch neared the elevator, a bodyguard wedged himself between her and me and said, “Please do not harass the Ambassador.”
Yovanovitch and her entourage jammed their way into the elevator. Before the door closed I said to her, “Madam Ambassador, I am more important than you are.” Hearing that, she finally looked me in the eye. The door slid closed, and she was gone.