In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with newsmakers, we talk to Roman Popadiuk, who served as the first U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 1992-1993, just as the old Soviet Union was breaking apart and the Cold War was nearing its end.
Popadiuk was born in Austria to displaced Ukrainian parents who then immigrated to the U.S. A retired member of the career Senior Foreign Service, Papadiuk served on the National Security Councils of presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. He also served 13 years as executive director for the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M University. He is currently president of the Diplomacy Center Foundation, an organization working to build the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.
Fort Worth Report business editor Bob Francis spoke with Popadiuk following the event.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Bob Francis: Please tell us about your background.
Roman Popadiuk: My name’s Roman Popadiuk. I serve as the president of the Diplomacy Center Foundation. We are a private 501c (3) nonprofit. We’re in a public private partnership with the United States Department of State to build a museum of American Diplomacy at the State Department.
I was ambassador to Ukraine, first U.S. ambassador to Ukraine years 1992-93, appointed by President George H. W. Bush. I continue to maintain ties to the country, and I’m working on humanitarian relief efforts now.
Francis: Were you surprised by the fact that Ukraine fought back so effectively?
Popadiuk: No, I was surprised by the Russians, but not surprised by Ukraine. Surprised by the Russians because I bought into the notion that experts were telling us that the Russians are a very strong military machine, and that’s proven false. I wasn’t surprised by the Ukrainians because I’ve spoken to the troops, our troops, that have been training them. I saw the training that was taking place, the amount of training they were getting and I realized that they had reorganized their whole structure since 2014.
So it never surprised me. I also know the history of the situation and the relationship. The Ukrainians were fighting for their survival, and they’re fighting for their land. When you’re on the defense, like this, it’s a lot easier to fight than when you’re on the offense. And so I wasn’t surprised at all by the Ukrainian response or the Ukrainian abilities, vis a vis the Russian.
Francis: Can you see an end point in time to this, to this conflict?
Popadiuk: It’s very difficult to give a timeframe, but two to three months possibly. Will be a situation where the conflict would have to reach some kind of resolution, in terms of a stalemate or standoff and some kind of a diplomatic discussion. But I think, within two to three months we may see some kind of standoff and kind of moving toward a frozen conflict. And diplomacy’s not going to be able to resolve those issues because once the Russians have the territory, they’re going to want to hold onto it. And, of course, the Ukrainians aren’t going to want to give in on anything unless they get some territory back.
Francis: I think one of the things that surprised some people was how much this conflict impacted the economy in a lot of different ways, not only the Russian oil, but also the things that Ukraine provides. I wonder if you might talk a little bit about that.
Popadiuk: People don’t realize that it’s not a cliche that it’s a global economy or that we are tied to the international arena. You see that in gas prices, not only in our country, but overseas, with the blockade or the embargo against Russian oil. That’s affecting not only the price of gasoline, but also products that use gasoline, et cetera. That has an impact. Then you have the example of gasoline prices rising, therefore delivery prices rise. If delivery prices rise, your product prices rise. There’s a whole daisy chain of effects on this.
Then there are, of course, the issues of individual products like the necessary baby formula ingredients or the wheat, the export of grain products from Ukraine to feed the hungry of the world where a lot of impoverished countries are going to be facing famine because the grain can’t get to them. So, there’s a whole daisy chain here that has an impact. Then, of course, the failure to export wheat will eventually have a price impact in terms of food products, everything from bread to anything that uses wheat or to make flour, et cetera, et cetera.
Francis: Are you impressed with the leader of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
Popadiuk: I saw him deliver a speech. He’s articulate. He’s very comfortable in his own skin and his own role. He has a sense of humor and he’s able to address an audience in a very comfortable and confident manner. And that’s what you want in a president. He seems and appears very confident and is very confident. I see him in all the broadcasts and given his acting background – he’s a comedian by training – he is able to utilize that training to be able to portray himself to the outside world to the Ukrainian people.
He knows how to use the media, whether it’s Facebook or videos, et cetera. And you see this by the countless videos that he’s done to world leaders and to our Congress, for example, in terms of delivering the message. So, he understands the importance of the message and he understands how to deliver that message, and that’s key to a very successful leader and he’s proven this.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.