With the new administration of President Donald J. Trump coming into office in January, a group of 17 decision-makers and public figures from countries across Central and Eastern Europe sent a letter on January 9 to the president-elect warning him about any potential “new grand bargain with Russia.” According to a news story in The Washington Post, they wrote: “Have no doubt: Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. Both of the presidents who preceded you tried in their own ways to deal with Russia’s leadership in the spirit of trust and friendship. Big mistake: Putin treated their good intentions as opportunities.”
The letter cited the case of Ukraine: “Russia’s continuing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and its illegal annexation of Crimea, threaten the peace, predictability and security that Americans and Europeans created together through our victory in the Cold War.”
Among the signatories were the current president of Bulgaria, Rosen Plevneliev, and several former leaders, among them former President Traian Băsescu of Romania, former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga of Latvia, former Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, and former Foreign Affairs Minister Radosław Sikorski of Poland. The letter was similar to one sent in 2009 to President Barack Obama soon after he took office, which warned against a “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations.
Two days later, on January 11, U.S. Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson said at his confirmation hearing that the United States should have had a more robust military response following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Asked what the U.S. response should have been, Mr. Tillerson said more defensive weapons, intelligence and air surveillance should have been provided. Mr. Tillerson, who had questioned the wisdom of the Ukraine-related sanctions, also criticized the administration of outgoing President Obama for its response to the Crimea land grab, saying it emboldened Russia to back separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and soldiers. He added that Russia’s leadership saw the Obama administration’s response to Crimea as “weak.” Asked whether he believes now is the right time to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, Mr. Tillerson said, “I would leave things in the status quo so we are able to convey this can go either way.” Interestingly, during the hearing, Mr. Tillerson said he had not had a conversation with Mr. Trump about U.S. policy on Russia.
The very next day, January 12, the secretary of defense nominee, retired general James Mattis, was asked at his confirmation hearing about the main threats to U.S. interests. He replied: “I would consider the principal threats to start with Russia.” He cited Russian involvement in hacking and information warfare among the challenges posed by Moscow. Others include treaty violations, using tactics short of open war to destabilize other countries and “alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons.”
The truth of the matter was that no one was quite sure what the Trump administration would bring. Among those were Ukrainian Americans who love both the United States and their ancestral homeland. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, there were serious concerns about whether the country would be abandoned to Russia’s sphere of influence. The succinct lead sentence in a story by David Stern published by Politico summed it up well: “Donald Trump’s victory leaves Ukraine alone and afraid.” There were objective reasons for that fear: candidate Trump had commented that the war in Ukraine is “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us,” and he suggested that he might recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
Meanwhile, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a bipartisan group of senators on January 10 to introduce comprehensive sanctions legislation on Russia for its cyber intrusions, aggression and destabilizing activities in the United States and around the world. The original co-sponsors of the Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 were: Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
“Russia has worked to insidiously interfere with and influence the presidential election in the United States, and Russian military aggression in Ukraine and Syria has violated international commitments and shown a clear disregard for sovereignty and humanitarian norms. Our comprehensive sanctions package being introduced today will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin that he has gone too far, and that there will be consequences for his actions,” said Sen. Cardin.
“Russia must be held accountable for its illegal annexation of Crimea, ongoing aggression inside Ukraine, extensive disinformation and propaganda campaigns against the United States and its allies,” said Sen. Portman. “This bipartisan legislation sends an important message that the United States Senate takes its obligation to act on behalf of American national security interests seriously, and is prepared to take proactive steps to ensure that we live up to our commitments to our allies and uphold longstanding American values and ideals.”
The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America on January 13 called on the incoming 115th U.S. Congress and the Trump administration “to continue our nation’s proud tradition of bipartisan support for Ukraine,” noting that “Any retreat from current sanctions or military, political and economic support of Ukraine, and the United States would signal yet another ‘reset,’ a capitulation with terrifying consequences for Ukraine, the European partners of the U.S. and the global geopolitical security structure.”
The outgoing U.S. president on January 13 extended all U.S. sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine by one year through March 2018. The move appeared designed to make it harder for President-elect Trump, who had said he wants to improve relations with Russia and would take a second look at the sanctions, to roll back the sanctions. President Obama said the Russian government and other people and organizations targeted by the sanctions have “undermined democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine” by their “use of force in Ukraine” and thereby “threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Because of the threat to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said, Russia’s actions “pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Vice-President Joe Biden, who had been designated as President Obama’s point man on Ukraine, traveled on January 16 to Ukraine on what was his sixth visit as VP – and his fifth since the Euro-Maidan Revolution. As pointed out by our Kyiv correspondent, Mr. Obama was the only sitting president since Ukraine re-established its independence in 1991 not to have visited the country during his tenure.
Mr. Biden affirmed U.S. support for Ukraine as long as Kyiv continues fighting corruption and bolstering democratic institutions to instill rule of law and improve governance. He said sanctions against Russia would remain in place as long as the Ukrainian territory of Crimea is occupied and Moscow doesn’t fulfill security commitments regarding a ceasfire in the Donbas that it promised to uphold. “And I hope the next administration will also want to be a supporter and a partner in your continued progress,” Mr. Biden said. “But, as you know, no one else can do the hard work but the Ukrainian people. It’s up to Ukrainian leaders and people to put the needs of the country above narrow personal interest, to place the general good above point scoring and local prejudices.”
Turning to President Petro Poroshenko during their joint news conference, he said: “It’s no secret that Russia does not want you to succeed, Mr. President. It’s not just about Ukraine. It’s about the future we have long sought of a Europe whole, free and at peace – whole, free and at peace – something that is in the vital national interest of both the United States and all Europeans.”
In her last major speech as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington on January 17, said: “Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists.” She cited the illegal seizure by Russia of the Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s intervention in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, support of the Syrian government in that country’s war, and efforts to influence elections in Western democracies through computer hacking and misinformation campaigns.
Her successor as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, offered at her confirmation hearing that she agrees that Russia invaded and seized Ukrainian territory in 2014 and that U.S. and international sanctions were an appropriate response. She said she would consider additional sanctions, which Mr. Trump had said he might oppose. Sen. Cardin said of the new envoy that she spoke “very strongly” about defending Ukrainian sovereignty.
From the capital of Ukraine, our correspondent reported that Kyiv was still “watching and waiting” when it came to President Trump’s policy towards Ukraine and his stance towards the Donbas war that Russia has stoked since April 2014. “Uncertainty is a big factor here because you don’t know what to expect,” said Iryna Bekeshina, director of the Democratic Initiatives think tank. “Historically, as strategic partners, policy was always more or less anticipated. Now it’s unclear. But Russia also doesn’t really know what to expect [from the U.S.].”
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine’s east– which had killed over 10,000 and displaced 1.7 million – continued. In late January, Russian and proxy forces killed eight soldiers and wounded 26. On January 31, the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated: “…the situation is dire in Avdiyivka, where a combined Russian-separatist assault has resulted in large numbers of casualties and a humanitarian emergency that affects 17,000 people. We call on combined Russian-separatist forces to recommit to the ceasefire to allow for repairs to critical infrastructure.” U.S. diplomats at the OSCE Permanent Council continued to sound the alarm about aggression by “Russia-backed separatists” throughout the year.
On January 30, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America came out with a statement urging the new Trump administration to “continue America’s bipartisan record of support for Ukraine.” The UCCA also noted: “While every new administration looks to take a fresh approach to foreign policy, even the mention of possibly lifting the existing sanctions [as was suggested by a senior adviser to President Trump]against Russia while the two largest militaries in Europe are actively engaged in this nearly three-year-old land war sends a dangerous message to our adversaries, and puts to question America’s ability to lead the Euro-Atlantic alliance through this new century untainted by world wars.”
There was some measure of reassurance on February 2 when Ambassador Haley, addressing the U.N. Security Council, said: “…I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia. …We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.” She went on to state: “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention. Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue. Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Two days after that, Presidents Trump and Poroshenko spoke by phone. The White House readout of the call noted that Mr. Trump said: “We will work with Ukraine, Russia and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border.” (Observers were quick to point out that the fighting was taking place not along the border but on Ukraine’s territory.) The Ukrainian Presidential Administration’s account of the phone conversation said: “Particular attention was paid to the settlement of the situation in Donbas and to achieving peace by political and diplomatic means. The two leaders expressed deep concern about the spike in tension and deterioration of humanitarian situation, especially in the area of Avdiyivka. They stressed the need for establishing immediate ceasefire regime. The president of Ukraine expressed gratitude to the head of the White House for firm support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
At a February 14 news conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told the news media that Mr. Trump had “made it very clear” he expects Russia to “return Crimea” and reduce violence in eastern Ukraine. In response to that remark, Russian President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 15 that Moscow will not discuss the return of Crimea to Ukraine. He referred to Crimea as Russian territory, saying that “Russia never discusses issues related to its territories with foreign partners, including the United States.”
In what was likely the first high-level meeting between officials of the Trump and Poroshenko administrations, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin and U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson met in Washington on March 7. Mr. Klimkin told reporters gathered outside the State Department: “He assured me that the United States would consistently continue to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, that Ukraine is a key partner of the U.S. in the region, that the U.S. would also consistently support Ukraine on its path of reforms.” RFE/RL reported that Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement after the meeting that Secretary Tillerson told Minister Klimkin the U.S. sanctions against Russia would remain in place until “aggression is ceased,” until the Minsk peace deal to end fighting between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists is implemented, and until Moscow returns to Kyiv control of Crimea and separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine. State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the ministry’s statement, saying, “With respect to the sanctions remaining in place until Russia complies, both with respect to eastern Ukraine, but also with respect to Crimea, that holds true.”
Also on March 7, Minister Klimkin testified before the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Speaking of the Mr. Putin’s obsession “with restoring the former Russian greatness” and the Kremlin’s “aggressive expansionism in gross violation with the international law,” he said: “The Kremlin has developed the concept of hybrid warfare and launched it with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the invasion in Donbas. It is a highly sophisticated strategy, which mixes conventional aggression with propaganda and misinformation, as well as interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It is waged daily against peaceful countries to undermine, disrupt and sow dissent. It is spearheaded in living rooms across the globe by the insidious television channel RT, which seeks not to promote any particular narrative but to undermine that of the host.”
Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister went on to ask the U.S. for defensive weapons and continued military and technical support; a long-term security arrangement for closer partnership and cooperation in defense and security; support in relaunching negotiations of the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum; and no easing of sanctions “until Russia gets off Ukrainian land.”
On March 27, two Ohio senators, Republican Sen. Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown introduced a resolution condemning illegal Russian aggression in Ukraine and urging the president to maintain sanctions on Russia as long as it continues its military aggression in the country. S. Res. 100 “Condemning illegal Russian aggression in Ukraine on the three-year anniversary of the annexation of Crimea,” called on Russia “to immediately end its support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine, allow Ukraine to regain control of its internationally recognized borders, and withdraw its military presence in eastern Ukraine, including Crimea,” and declared that “the United States government must never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.” It also “urges the president of the United States not to agree to any final settlement of the conflict in Ukraine without the consent of the government of Ukraine.”
Four days later, on March 31, Secretary of State Tillerson addressed the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Brussels and made it clear that the U.S. and NATO “stand firm in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and underscored, “We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine,” including its annexation of Crimea.
But, soon thereafter, the secretary of state made a comment that Bloomberg news described as an offhand remark that left European foreign affairs ministers meeting in Italy “befuddled.” On April 11, Mr. Tillerson asked: “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” The Congressional Ukrainian Caucus expressed concern about the question: “It is abundantly clear that the U.S. has a major security interest in a free and democratic Ukraine, one not subject to Russian aggression,” the co-chairs of the Caucus, Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Sander Levin (D-Mich.) wrote. State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond downplayed the comments, telling Bloomberg that the secretary was simply using a “rhetorical device.” The comment succeeded only in adding uncertainly regarding the policies of the new administration. In Washington, The Hill observed that Mr. Tillerson’s comments about Ukraine came at a time when President Trump “has been under fire for his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
The Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, it should be noted, marked its 20th anniversary in 2017. A June 14 reception at the Capitol Visitor Center celebrated that milestone. The director of the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), Michael Sawkiw Jr., spoke, underlining: “…the Ukrainian American community is thanking our members of Congress who understood 20 years ago the need for the formation of a group of members of Congress on a bipartisan basis to act on behalf of the improvement of relations between Ukraine and the United States.” He introduced Rep. Levin, an organizer of that caucus, and presented him with the Friend of UNIS Award for his “leadership and staunch support of Ukraine’s independence.”
While visiting the U.S. capital on May 8-10 for meetings with representatives of the Munich Security Conference, Minister Klimkin participated in the celebration of another anniversary – the 25th of U.S.-Ukraine diplomatic relations. During the May 8 reception at the Embassy of Ukraine, Ukraine’s Order of Princess Olha was presented to Melanne Verveer, the executive director of the Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security. The day was also marked by the first-day-of-issue signing ceremony of a Ukrainian postage stamp marking the anniversary of U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Also on May 8, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to President Trump encouraging him to prioritize meeting with President Poroshenko of Ukraine before meeting with Russian President Putin at the G-20 conference in July. The letter was sent by Sens. Portman, Menendez, McCain, Shaheen, Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “Meeting with democratically elected representatives from Ukraine would send a strong signal that the United States continues to prioritize our relationship with longstanding allies, and will continue our commitments to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing aggression,” they underscored.
Two days later, President Trump received Minister Klimkin at the White House. That meeting was preceded by talks between Minister Klimkin and Vice-President Michael Pence. The interlocutors discussed in detail the situation in the Donbas. Mr. Klimkin expressed thanks for the unwavering position of the U.S. administration in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and in countering Russian aggression. Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly also participated in the meetings. It was significant that the meeting with Mr. Klimkin took place the same day that Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak met at the White House with Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump.
The Senate once again weighed in on June 14 when it overwhelmingly passed – by a vote of 97 to 2 – new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and its attempt to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. The measure, which was an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill (the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act), also allowed Congress to block the administration from unilaterally lifting or scaling back sanctions imposed against Moscow. (For the record, three different bills increasing sanctions on Russia had been filed in the Senate in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.) Present in the Senate when the bill was passed was Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy, who attended as a guest of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, which is co-chaired by Sens. Portman and Durbin.
Meanwhile, the movement to arm Ukraine was picking up steam. On June 21, a bipartisan task force made up of former U.S. defense officials, ambassadors and security experts renewed calls for the United States to give lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, reported Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council. The National Security Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network (an initiative of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation) urged the United States to provide a range of weapons, intelligence and training. “The purpose of providing defensive weapons is to help Ukraine deter the Russians from carrying out further attacks, and to increase the pressure on Russia to negotiate seriously on implementing the Minsk agreements,” said Alexander Vershbow, a member of the task force and the former deputy secretary general of NATO. “The aim is not to encourage Ukraine to seek a military victory, which Kyiv knows isn’t possible,” he said at the launch event in Washington.
Ms. Haring explained that previous attempts to press the United States to arm Ukraine in 2015 didn’t get far. The Obama administration resisted, although it did provide $20 million for long-range counter-battery radars. John E. Herbst, a task force member and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, commented: “The odds for this tough, but pragmatic policy are greater now because the Trump administration recognizes that at times the use of hard power is necessary to secure American interests.”
U.S. relations with Ukraine saw a major development on July 9 when Secretary of State Tillerson visited Kyiv, where he re-affirmed America’s consistent policy toward helping Ukraine preserve sovereignty amid a prolonged war with Russia that has killed more than 10,100 people and severed 7 percent of the country’s territory. He stated that Washington’s goal is to “restore Ukraine’s territorial… integrity” and he revealed that he had been “clear in my discussions with [the]Russian leadership on more than one occasion that it is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalate the situation in the east part of Ukraine, in particular by respecting the ceasefire, by pulling back the heavy weapons.”
During his trip Mr. Tillerson announced the appointment of a new American envoy to find peace in the Donbas war that Russia started: Kurt Volker, a former ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (2008-2009). “This is indicative of the appointment of – again, of Ambassador Volker for a more direct engagement… We are going to be exploring ways to change the status quo, because continuing to leave things the way they are is simply not acceptable,” Mr. Tillerson explained.
Ambassador Volker, whose somewhat unwieldy title is “U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations,” visited the frontline in the Donbas, including Avdiyivka, on July 23. RFE/RL reported that he told a news conference in Kramatorsk, the headquarters of Kyiv’s military operation against the Russia-backed militants, that Ukraine is locked in a “hot war” whose origins he blamed on Moscow. “This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war, and it’s an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible.”
Two days later he was in Paris, where he told Current Time TV that providing lethal defensive weapons would allow Kyiv to “defend itself if Russia were to take further steps against Ukrainian territory.” Ambassador Volker added, “Russia says it won’t do that and isn’t doing that, so then there should be no risk to anybody, if that’s the case.”
Next, the House of Representatives took action, on July 25 overwhelmingly passing – by a vote of 419-3 – the Russia sanctions that had been approved by the Senate. Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), told The Washington Post: “This is critical at a moment when our allies are uncertain about where this administration stands with respect to Russian aggression.” Rep. Hoyer pointed out that that Congress could pursue additional sanctions targeting the Russian energy industry if President Putin and allies “fail to heed the message of this bill that their business as usual cannot and must not continue.” Because the House version of the bill had an additional North Korea component, it had to go back to the Senate, which voted 98-2 to approve it. In a statement on July 29, Secretary of State Tillerson said the near unanimous votes “represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.”
The question then became whether President Trump would sign the bill into law. On August 2, he did so, but called the bill “significantly flawed” and signaled that he might not fully implement the sanctions. “My administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our significant work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends and our allies,” he said, according to RFE/RL. Mr. Trump later explained his reasoning for signing the bill, saying he was doing it “for the sake of national unity.” He said, “It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.” On October 27, the U.S. released a new list of more than three dozen Russian entities targeted by sanctions.
Russia was not pleased. “The passage of the new law on sanctions shows with all obviousness that relations with Russia have become hostage to the domestic political battle within the United States,” Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, adding that “the latest events show that in well-known circles in the United States, Russophobia and a course toward open confrontation with our country have taken hold.”
On August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was in the Ukrainian capital, where he reiterated the U.S. stand that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea will not be accepted, underscored that “the United States stands with Ukraine” and noted that Washington is “actively reviewing” supplying Ukraine with lethal defensive weaponry. “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening,” he commented. He was the first U.S. defense chief to visit Ukraine in a decade. Ambassador Volker was also in Kyiv at the time, and the U.S. officials attended the Independence Day parade. Notably, a contingent of the U.S. military was among the units marching in the parade. Also participating were defense ministers and troops from Britain, Georgia, Estonia, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland and Romania. The Presidential Administration of Ukraine tweeted: “It’s highly symbolic that defense leaders and troops of our allies take part in Ukraine independence parade.”
In Washington, the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence and the upcoming 26th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with the U.S. were celebrated on September 12 at a reception at the U.S. Institute of Peace hosted by the Embassy of Ukraine. On the following day, a much smaller group of prominent people actively involved in the positive development of that bilateral relationship met at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center under the auspices of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus and the Friends of Ukraine Network of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. As our Washington correspondent Yaro Bihun reported, attendees at both gatherings heard the Ukrainian government’s assessment of Ukraine’s development, its conflict with Russia and what assistance it is seeking in the West directly from Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.
In September, President Poroshenko arrived in the U.S. on a working visit, during which he spoke at the opening of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. On September 19 he visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where had a chance to interact with the academy’s leaders as well as students. In his speech to West Point cadets, the president gave examples of successful military cooperation between Ukraine and the U.S., and said that battalions prepared by American instructors have showed the best tactics and the lowest level of casualties during hostilities.
On October 30, Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 criminal charges, among them conspiracy against the United States, failure to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and money laundering. Both men have pleaded not guilty. What makes this case most interesting to readers of this newspaper was that the FARA charges are related to Mr. Manafort’s work when he represented the interests of the odious Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies. Mr. Manafort is suspected of concealing millions of dollars he made while working for the pro-Russian, pro-Putin Party of Regions in Ukraine. And Mr. Manafort did more than work on the domestic image of the Party of Regions and Mr. Yanukovych, who was elected president in 2010. He also lobbied on Mr. Yanukovych’s behalf in Washington, promoting him as a “pro-Western democrat,” as The Washington Post observed. Ukraine reacted by saying it also wants to question Mr. Manafort. RFE/RL reported that Ukrainian prosecutors planned to ask the U.S. Justice Department for permission to interview Mr. Manafort in connection with a corruption case they’re pursuing. Furthermore, Ukrainian officials said they want to cooperate with the Justice Department and the FBI.
Congressional Ukrainian Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Levin, Harris, Kaptur and Fitzpatrick, on November 7 introduced a resolution commemorating the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor. The resolution not only honored the estimated 7 million to 10 million Ukrainian people killed in the Famine-Genocide on the orders of the Stalin regime, but supported “the continuing efforts of the people of Ukraine to work toward ensuring democratic principles, a free-market economy and full respect for human rights, in order to enable Ukraine to achieve its potential as an important strategic partner of the United States in that region of the world, and to reflect the will of its people.”
Ten days later the U.S. Department of State issued a press statement on the anniversary of the Holodomor. It read, in part: “…The barbaric seizure of Ukrainian land and crops leading to the Holodomor, or ‘death by hunger,’ was one of the most atrocious acts of the 20th century and turned Europe’s breadbasket into a land of immense human suffering. … The United States stands with the people of Ukraine as we commemorate this Soviet-manufactured tragedy and condemn efforts to deny it as a historical fact. We also reaffirm our commitment to a secure and prosperous Ukraine, free from external aggression and occupation, and able to choose its own future.”
At the end of 2017, there was good news for Ukraine from Washington as the defense budget for 2018 was passed, providing $350 million to promote security in Ukraine and authorizing the provision of lethal weapons. Sen. Portman said his amendment, introduced with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), boosting security assistance for Ukraine was part of the law signed by President Trump on December 12. The National Defense Authorization Act also contains provisions allowing the use of U.S. defense budget funds for the rehabilitation of wounded Ukrainian military personnel in medical institutions of the United States, education and training of Ukrainian medical specialists in this field, as well as strengthening the capabilities of the air and naval forces of Ukraine – something that Ukrainian American Veterans and the UCCA had strongly advocated.
Finally, on December 20, the State Department announced it had approved an export license for Ukraine to buy certain types of light weapons and small arms from U.S. manufacturers. Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Congress had been notified of the decision a week earlier. The decision came several months after the State Department and the Pentagon had proposed to the White House that the U.S. help Ukraine defend itself by providing lethal weapons. On December 22 came updated news that the Trump administration had approved a plan to provide lethal defensive weapons, including the Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine had long sought. “U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself,” Ms. Nauert underscored.
A longtime supporter of Ukraine, Sen. McCain reacted: “President Trump’s reported decision to provide Javelin anti-tank munitions to Ukraine marks another significant step in the right direction and sends a strong signal that the United States will stand by its allies and partners as they fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. This decision is years overdue. …providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine is not opposed to a peace in Ukraine – it is essential to achieving it.”