Unusual. That’s certainly a word that can be used to describe 2019 in terms of U.S.-Ukraine relations, as Ukraine unwittingly found itself in the middle of the U.S. impeachment process. At the same time, Ukraine continued to enjoy the support of the United States, especially in the U.S. Congress, where the support was strong and bipartisan.
At the beginning of the year, on January 15, Rep. Mike Quigley (D- Ill.) was appointed to serve as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus, joining fellow Co-Chairs Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Rep. Quigley said on January 15: “Through several visits to Ukraine, my position on the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees, and my representation of a prominent and active Ukrainian American community, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of a strong U.S.-Ukraine relationship. I look forward to working with fellow Co-Chairs Kaptur, Harris and Fitzpatrick in our shared mission to fortify Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy.” Founded in 1997, the mission of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus is to organize an association of members of Congress who share a common concern for building stronger bilateral relations between Ukraine and the United States.
While on a tour of Central Europe in February, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin poses a threat to democracies worldwide. Speaking in Bratislava on February 12, he said Slovakia’s experience under Soviet domination gives it “a special appreciation for the aggressive role Russia continues to play in the region,” adding, “We see this now very clearly in Ukraine, where Russia’s illegal annexation continues and its war in the east is at almost the five-year mark.”
On February 27, Secretary Pompeo issued a statement headlined “Crimea is Ukraine,” which underscored: “The United States reiterates its unwavering position: Crimea is Ukraine and must be returned to Ukraine’s control.” The statement referred to the Crimea Declaration of July 25, 2018, in which the U.S. underscored its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over Crimea. “Russian occupation authorities have engaged in an array of abuses in a campaign to eliminate all opposition to its control over Crimea. As part of this campaign, Russia has arbitrarily detained and wrongfully convicted individuals for peaceful opposition to the occupation, and in some cases has forcibly transferred these individuals from occupied Crimea to Russia,” the secretary of state said. “The United States will maintain respective sanctions against Russia until the Russian government returns control of Crimea to Ukraine and fully implements the Minsk agreements. The United States reiterates its unbending support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters.”
In Vienna, where the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is based, the U.S. delegation made strong statements about Russia’s war on Ukraine throughout the year. For example, on February 7, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Harry Kamian stated: “Colleagues, if we are ever to have a lasting ceasefire in this conflict, which Russia manufactured and continues to stoke, Russia’s forces must start with the agreed-upon steps of ceasing hostilities. They must withdraw weapons and place them in storage sites, as stipulated in the Minsk agreements. Let us not fall into the trap of moral equivalency here. It is not up to Ukraine to withdraw its forces from its own lands. On the contrary, Russia must command the forces it arms, leads, trains and fights alongside to take the initial steps to implement a true and lasting ceasefire, to disengage from the line of contact, and to withdraw their formations and weapon systems from the sovereign territory of Ukraine.”
On February 8, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and its Washington public affairs bureau, the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), sponsored a mini-conference and congressional briefing session to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity and the Heavenly Hundred heroes. The half-day event was in the Cannon House Office Building and was attended by members of Congress, guest speakers, panelists, clergy, congressional staffers and community representatives. The event’s main focus was the keynote addresses delivered by Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States; and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), who spoke about the historical value of the Revolution of Dignity and its significance to the advancement of Ukrainian statehood. There were also panel discussions, as well as remarks by several members of Congress, including Reps. Harris and Fitzpatrick of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus (CUC), and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). George Kent, deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau at the U.S. Department of State, provided a balanced assessment of the Revolution of Dignity and the West’s support of Ukraine since the revolution.
Since 2019 was an election year for Ukraine, the Transatlantic Task Force on Elections and Civil Society in Ukraine held an international videoconference on February 14, featuring speakers in Washington, Kyiv, Brussels and Ottawa, to focus on the issue of much-needed reforms in Ukraine and what was attainable and realistic even during an election year. Among the participants were representatives of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, the Democracy and Civil Society Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network, the Ukraine Support Group of the European Commission, the Reanimation Package of Reforms, Transparency International Ukraine and officials from Canada.
Reiterating U.S. support for Ukraine, Pamela Tremont, the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, said: “We want Ukraine to be strong, we want it to be able to defend its territorial integrity and we want a partner in this part of the world… The U.S. is deeply committed to Ukraine and will remain so, and we are constantly exploring new avenues of pushing back on Russian aggression.” She also noted the many reforms that Kyiv had undertaken: “They’ve passed anti-corruption court legislation, a law on national security, a currency law, a state bank governance law, privatization reform, pension reform, health-care reform, education reform, new justices have been appointed to the Supreme Court, Privat Bank reform, automatic VAT (Value-Added Tax) registry and refund system have been created, business pressure relief law and, of course, decentralization. That’s a lot to accomplish and a lot to implement.”
Back in Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on March 5 delivered a major speech at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center on the topic of fighting corruption. Though she cited progress in that battle, she also pointed out: “It is increasingly clear that Ukraine’s once-in-a-generation opportunity for change, for which such a high price was paid five years ago on the Maidan, has not yet resulted in the anti-corruption or rule of law reforms that Ukrainians expect or deserve. But, you know, the fight is not over, even after the tangible progress since the Revolution of Dignity.” The U.S. envoy went on to state that, “To ensure the integrity of anti-corruption institutions, the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor must be replaced. Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases. Those responsible for corruption should be investigated, prosecuted and, if guilty, go to jail. And in order for that to happen, all of the elements of the anti-corruption architecture must be in place and must be working effectively.”
Ukraine’s presidential election – both the first round on March 31 and the runoff on April 21 – was monitored by such entities as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
After the first round of the election on March 31, NDI said the election was “competitive and credible.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, who co-led the delegation, commented: “For the second time since the Revolution of Dignity, despite ongoing Russian aggression, Ukraine held an election that broadly reflects the will of voters and meets key international standards,” but he added that “many important opportunities to protect the credibility of the electoral process should be addressed ahead of the second round.” The NDI noted, among other things, that “candidates should refrain from conducting negative campaigns and disseminating disinformation”; “technology companies should evaluate the role their platforms played in these elections”; and “government bodies and election management bodies should increase efforts to monitor, prevent and sanction the misuse of administrative resources.”
The IRI noted “a transparent and smooth voting process with Ukraine’s citizens demonstrating a strong commitment to democracy” and said “there were a few instances of minor procedural violations.” It added that “Ukraine was unable to administer elections throughout the country due to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation as well as ongoing hostilities in the eastern regions of the Donbas.” IRI President Dr. Daniel Twining explained: “Kremlin aggression is effectively disenfranchising 16 percent of Ukraine’s electorate – the 12 percent who live in Ukrainian territory forcibly occupied by Russia and the 4 percent who are internally displaced because of the conflict.”
As the presidential election’s runoff in Ukraine drew nearer, the Transatlantic Task Force on Elections and Civil Society in Ukraine on April 9 held an international teleconference devoted to the results of the first round, praising the positive conduct of the election. The major concern was that voters knew precious little about the front-runner’s views. Indeed, it was pointed out that the voting public was unable to obtain details directly from Mr. Zelensky about his specific policy prescriptions and positions on many important domestic, international and security issues. Participants encouraged Mr. Zelenskyy and incumbent Petro Poroshenko to take part in a debate on public TV, as foreseen by Ukrainian legislation. This was another in a series of international teleconferences of the Transatlantic Task Force on Elections and Civil Society in Ukraine, organized by the Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN) Democracy and Civil Society Task Force in Washington, the German Marshall Fund, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, the Reanimation Package of Reforms and the Ukraine Crisis Media Center (the event venue in Kyiv).
After Mr. Zelenskyy won the runoff in the presidential election on April 21, the U.S. offered its congratulations. A press statement by U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on April 22 read: “The United States congratulates President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his victory in the Ukrainian presidential elections. We also congratulate the Ukrainian people on holding elections that reflect Ukraine’s vibrant democracy five years after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity and after five years of unrelenting Russian aggression. The elections were peaceful, competitive, and the outcome represented the will of the people. …We look forward to working with President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy to advance our two nations’ shared goal of a secure, prosperous, democratic and free Ukraine.”
Then, in early May, came unexpected news: Ambassador Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from her post. A State Department spokesperson said on May 6 that this was in accordance with a “three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned” and that “her confirmed departure date in May aligned with the presidential transition in Ukraine.” Others saw something sinister at work. Rep. Eliot l. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House majority leader, issued a statement on May 7 in response to the news of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s departure, alleging a “political hit job.” They claimed that “allies of President Trump had joined foreign actors in lobbying for the ambassador’s dismissal.” The congressmen wrote: “By recalling Ambassador Yovanovitch just mere months before her tenure in Ukraine was set to end, the administration is harming American interests and undermining American diplomacy. We call on the administration to reverse this decision immediately. In this period of transition, Ukraine needs gifted professionals like Ambassador Yovanovitch more than ever.” In private letters to Secretary of State Pompeo, the congressmen urged him to issue a statement of support for Ambassador Yovanovitch. At the same time, the State Department denied an explosive claim by Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko that Ambassador Yovanovitch had given him “a list of people whom we should not prosecute” during their first in-person meeting. “The allegations by the Ukrainian prosecutor general are not true and intended to tarnish the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” the State Department said.
On May 28, while speaking about the prospects for Ukraine’s future under its newly inaugurated president, Ambassador Kurt Volker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, called Russian activity in eastern Ukraine an “occupation” and called for implementation of the Minsk accords of 2015 aimed at ending the war. He said the Russians had made it clear “that they did not see an opportunity for productive discussions during the course of the presidential campaign,” adding, “We will have to see how it stands now, during the course of this parliamentary campaign, and when an appropriate time would be to meet [with Russian officials]and follow up.” He further noted: “We want to make sure that we are putting on the table all of the issues about Minsk implementation, starting with a ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign forces, the disarming of illegal armed groups and creating a situation of security in Donbas so that additional political steps that are also part of Minsk can be taken.”
On June 18, Ambassador Volker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on Ukraine that he had not seen “any indication” from Moscow that it wants to end the conflict. The hearing was held after the Pentagon announced an additional $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. The envoy said Russia isn’t the only threat to the stability of Ukraine, pointing out that oligarchs often pull the strings behind the scenes and stifle economic development. He called on Congress to give President Zelenskyy as much support as possible, saying he had a window of opportunity to break the oligarch hold.
Speakers from Washington, Kyiv and Brussels discussed Ukrainian foreign policy priorities for newly elected President Zelenskyy during a June 20 telecast organized by the German Marshall Fund, and supported by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and the Reanimation Package of Reforms. Brad Freden, director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, stated that the U.S. remains committed to a prosperous, war-free and united Ukraine. He echoed President Donald Trump’s comments about the United States’ unwavering support for the country, citing the statistic that the U.S. has provided $1.5 billion in support for the Ukrainian war effort since 2014. Other speakers represented the Ukrainian government’s Office for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, the Anti-Corruption Action Center (Ukraine) and the European External Action Service (Brussels).
On June 25, the United States and Ukraine signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Conventional Weapons Stockpile Management. The memorandum set out a $4 million U.S. contribution toward construction of six explosive storehouses over the next two years for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. “This project will enhance the safety and security of Ukraine’s munitions stockpiles, as well as advance Ukraine closer to its goal of meeting NATO and international standards for physical security and stockpile management,” noted the MOU.
In July, the Congressional Ukraine Caucus yet again voiced its support of Ukraine, this time introducing a resolution in the House of Representatives condemning the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to restore Russia’s voting rights. “The Council of Europe’s decision to restore full voting rights to Russia and its dictator Vladimir Putin is deeply concerning,” the co-chairs said in a joint statement on July 3. “Russia was justifiably expelled from the Council of Europe after its malevolent invasion of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea. Not only have Russian forces remained in Crimea, Russia has continued to wage a deadly war in the Donbas region of Ukraine, as well as carry out destabilizing disinformation campaigns across the globe undermining the world’s democratic institutions. This includes Russia’s dangerous naval assault and illegal seizure of 24 Ukrainian sailors and three vessels in the Kerch Strait, which are still in Russian captivity. Russia must not be rewarded for its repeated anti-democratic behavior.”
The Congressional Ukraine Caucus followed up on July 18 by introducing the SAILORS Act, or the “Stopping Aggressive Incursions on Liberty by Ordering Russian Sanctions Act,” legislation that would apply sanctions to 24 senior members of the Russian Security Service and their close associates until Russia released the 24 Ukrainian seamen and three vessels illegally captured near the Kerch Strait in the Sea of Azov.
The Senate, too, actively supported Ukraine. On July 17, by unanimous consent, it passed Senate Resolution 74, “marking the fifth anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity by honoring the bravery, determination and sacrifice of the people of Ukraine during and since the Revolution, and condemning continued Russian aggression against Ukraine.” Co-sponsored by 20 senators, the resolution affirmed the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to supporting the continuing efforts of the government of Ukraine to implement democratic and free market reforms, restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as well as providing additional lethal and non-lethal security assistance to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities on land, sea and in the air in order to improve deterrence against Russian aggression.
On July 25 there was a telephone conversation between the presidents of Ukraine and the United States whose ramifications would become clear only later. President Trump congratulated his Ukrainian counterpart on his parliamentary victory as the leaders discussed the agenda of their first tête-à-tête. They discussed “ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, including energy and economic cooperation,” the White House said in a statement. Mr. Zelenskyy’s office said in a statement that Mr. Trump voiced confidence that the new Ukrainian government could improve the nation’s image and complete the investigation of corruption cases that have “held back U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation.” No date was set for their first meeting, but it was noted that it was expected to take place in Washington most likely before the end of the summer.
RFE/RL reported that Ukraine and the United States had held high-level talks in preparation for the meeting. Ivan Bakanov, first deputy chief of the Security Service of Ukraine, presidential assistant Andriy Yermak, and potential prime minister Oleksandr Danylyuk had traveled to Washington for meetings. Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, traveled to Kyiv with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. During his trip to Washington, Mr. Zelenskyy was expected to also meet with members of Congress, and the Congressional Ukraine Caucus asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to invite the Ukrainian president to address both chambers.
The following month there was news that Ukraine had requested to purchase more Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S. as Russia’s war on Ukraine continued. Ambassador Taylor, who had been tapped as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, told RFE/RL in an interview that Ukraine would acquire the Javelins from the U.S. Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales program for defensive purposes. The ambassador’s comments were the first confirmation of Ukraine’s desire to add to its stock of 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers that the United States provided in April 2018. RFE/RL noted: “The purchase request is being considered ahead of an expected meeting at the White House between Mr. Zelenskyy and President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly expressed interest in enhancing relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and said less about Washington’s alliance with Ukraine.” And still there was no information about the expected meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelenskyy.
In late August, the news broke that Mr. Trump was considering blocking military aid to Ukraine, raising objections from lawmakers of both U.S. political parties. Citing senior administration officials, Politico and Reuters reported that Mr. Trump had ordered a reassessment of the aid program that Kyiv uses to battle Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The review is “ensure the money is being used in the best interest of the United States,” Politico said on August 28. “The president has made no secret when it comes to foreign assistance that U.S. interests abroad should be prioritized and other foreign countries should also be paying their fair share,” Reuters quoted one official as saying on August 29. RFE/RL shared this news and noted that the White House did not immediately comment on the news media’s reports.
The reaction in Congress was unequivocal. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that this will put “Ukraine’s long-term stability at risk.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted: “This is unacceptable. It was wrong when [President Barack] Obama failed to stand up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in Ukraine, and it’s wrong now.” On August 29, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “Get this: In the same week that @realDonaldTrump absurdly proposed inviting Ukraine-invader Putin back into the G-7, Trump is slow walking security assistance to Ukraine. The U.S. must stand should to shoulder with Ukraine & strong against Putin.” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) issued a statement in which he underscored: “Enough is enough. President Trump should stop worrying about disappointing Vladimir Putin and stand up for U.S. national security priorities. We have a responsibility to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and deter Russia from further aggression. The administration should stop playing games and immediately release these funds approved by Congress, which are supported by the State Department and Pentagon.”
On September 2, the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus – comprising Democrats Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin and Richard Blumenthal, and Republicans Rob Portman and Ron Johnson – said the aid was “vital to the long-term viability of the Ukrainian military” and pointed out that the funding “has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory.” In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, they wrote: “We strongly urge you to direct the Department of Defense to obligate these funds immediately.”
Our September 8 editorial said this: “At last report, the funds were still on hold. Furthermore, if the funds are not released by September 30, they will no longer be available. Thus, we are left wondering: What is the true intent of this move by the Trump administration, which, admittedly had provided lethal weapons to Ukraine? What is behind the president’s decision to single out Ukraine in this review of funding? In the meantime, the Ukrainian National Information Service has issued an Action Item encouraging friends of Ukraine to contact the White House to express disapproval of this slow-down of military assistance to Ukraine and to urge its immediate resumption.”
While this controversy was raging, Vice-President Mike Pence on September 1 delivered a message starkly different from that of the president, assuring Kyiv that the U.S. supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as it has done since Russia seized the Crimean peninsula. He stated: “We will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine on your security, on territorial integrity, including the Ukraine’s rightful claim to Crimea.” He did not, however, mention anything about the U.S. military aid package.
On September 18, the White House announced that President Zelenskyy would meet the following week with President Trump in New York during the opening of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The announcement also raised questions and alluded to residual difficulties behind the scenes. Attempts were initially made in some quarters in Washington to depict the new Ukrainian president as being in league with “enemies” of Mr. Trump. Plus, there were questions about what would be on the meeting’s agenda given that it was coming so soon after Mr. Trump made it clear that he wanted Russia to be allowed to rejoin the G-7 and the U.S. leader’s seeming reluctance to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
On September 24, Mr. Trump said his administration would release the “complete, fully declassified and unredacted” transcript of the July 25 phone call in which he allegedly asked President Zelenskyy to investigate former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who previously had business dealings in Ukraine. He also confirmed that he had told staff to freeze $391 million in aid to Ukraine just before that phone call, but then added that “those funds were paid” and said allegations he had pressured Mr. Zelenskyy were “ridiculous.” RFE/RL reported that Mr. Trump said he told Mr. Zelenskyy that “we don’t want our people, like Vice-President Biden and his son,” contributing to corruption already happening in Ukraine.
President Zelenskyy finally met with Mr. Trump on September 25, the same day he addressed the U.N. – which happened to be the day after Democrats launched impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. The meeting took place two months after the now infamous telephone conversation in which Mr. Trump seemed to be pressuring Mr. Zelenskyy to investigate the Bidens. At a press briefing with Mr. Trump that took place at the U.N., Mr. Zelenskyy treaded carefully. He called that phone conversation “good” and “normal,” said “nobody pushed me” and underscored – most appropriately – “I don’t want to be involved in democratic elections of U.S.A.” Mr. Zelenskyy also attempted to steer the briefing toward the current situation in Ukraine, saying: “We have two wars. The first is against corruption, but I am sure that we will certainly win in this war. However, my priority is to stop the war in Donbas and regain our territories – Crimea, Donbas.” However, Mr. Trump’s statement at the press briefing – to the effect that he hoped that Presidents Zelenskyy and Putin would soon be able to work out their differences – was not particularly helpful as it appeared to distance him from peacemaking efforts.
Our editorial, written after the September 25 meeting, underscored: “Ukraine needs U.S. support, but it cannot and should not become involved in the presidential campaign in the U.S. And the U.S. must treat Ukraine as the strategic ally that it is, and not as a tool to be used by politicians for personal gain.”
On September 27, Ambassador Volker, who had served since 2017 as special representative for Ukraine negotiations, resigned against the backdrop of the controversial July 25 telephone conversation between Presidents Trump and Zelenskyy, and the U.S. leader’s initial decision to withhold military aid to Kyiv. RFE/RL reported that Mr. Volker’s name was mentioned in a whistleblower complaint expressing alarm over Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
RFE/RL reported that the majority of Ukrainian experts characterized Ambassador Volker’s resignation as bad news. “I cannot recall any other U.S. high-level official who visited Ukraine over 10 times in two years and was not only in Kyiv but also went to Avdiyivka, Mariupol and Kramatorsk. This person knew the situation in Ukraine perfectly well,” Yevhen Mahda, director of the Institute of World Policy, commented to Hromadske TV. “My biggest concern is that the position itself will be eliminated. The fact that it exists in the U.S. Department of State sends a clear signal to international actors that the U.S. is interested in the situation in Ukraine,” Mr. Mahda said. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Klimkin called Mr. Volker’s resignation “a true loss” and wrote on Facebook: “We did matter to him, it happens quite rarely in politics.”
During the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, testimony was provided by both Ambassador Yovanovitch and Ambassador Taylor.
Ms. Yovanovitch testified on October 11 that she felt unsupported by the State Department prior to her departure from Kyiv and threatened by President Trump afterward, and that she was the victim of a shadowy smear campaign, conducted by allies of Mr. Trump, when she was prematurely recalled from her post in May. Ms. Yovanovitch also said she was told by Ukrainian officials that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was in touch with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko “and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.”
Mr. Taylor testified in a 10-hour closed door session on October 22. In his opening statement, he said: “By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskyy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.” He was asked if aid to Kyiv was contingent upon the Ukrainians holding investigations demanded by Mr. Trump. “That was my clear understanding, security-assistance money would not come until the president [of Ukraine]committed to pursue the investigation,” the transcript read. Mr. Taylor also said the demand for an investigation was being “driven” by Mr. Giuliani, who had pushed an unfounded theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
On October 29, the impeachment inquiry heard from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a U.S. Army officer at the National Security Council who was among those tasked with listening in on the July 25 call. He said: “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications to the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine… I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.” Lt. Col. Vindman’s family had fled the Soviet Union when he was 3 1/2 years old. Some media outlets attacked the Army officer, who was born in Ukraine, accusing him of dual loyalties and even calling him a spy.
As the date for the Normandy Four meeting approached, the State Department on November 27 issued a press statement which read in part: “The United States reaffirms our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the lead-up to the December 9 Normandy Format Summit among Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia – the first since 2016. The United States is committed to working with our allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreements and to begin the process of peacefully restoring Ukraine’s full sovereignty over the Donbas. This would be a first step in the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters.”
Also speaking in advance of the Normandy meeting, U.S. Ambassador James S. Gilmore III told the OSCE Permanent Council on November 28: “The onus is on Russia to match the commitment to peace shown by the Zelenskyy administration. Moscow must demonstrate the political will needed to bring about a peaceful and permanent solution to the conflict it ignited when Russia violated Ukraine’s borders and entered the Donbas in April 2014. Russia must honor its Minsk commitments to withdraw troops and implement a real and lasting ceasefire. The United States encourages Russia to work with Ukraine, France and Germany to identify a concrete path toward peace in eastern Ukraine in accordance with the Minsk agreements.”
Soon thereafter, Mr. Trump warned Russia against any attempts at interfering in U.S. elections and urged Moscow “to resolve the conflict with Ukraine,” the White House said in an account of the December 10 meeting between the U.S. president and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov in Washington. That same day, Secretary of State Pompeo told Mr. Lavrov that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and that Russia must fulfill its obligations to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.
In mid-December, it was reported that the top U.S. diplomat Ukraine would be leaving his post the following month. In an e-mail to The New York Times on December 17, Ambassador Taylor said he would step down in early January because his temporary appointment to Ukraine in June is set to expire. The Trump administration “will nominate a permanent ambassador soon,” he wrote, without elaborating. He was replaced on an interim basis by his current deputy, Kristina Kvien.
At year’s end we learned that Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, had been appointed as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, replacing Ambassador Chaly. The decree was issued by President Zelenskyy on December 18. Ambassador Yelchenko is a veteran diplomat who had served as Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. in 1997-2000 and again since December 2015, and was the ambassador to Austria in 2005-2006 and to Russia in 2010-2015.
More developments of 2019
- President Poroshenko of Ukraine was honored with the International Statesman Award by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The award ceremony, VIP reception and dinner took place on February 20 at the historic Union League of Philadelphia. Mr. Poroshenko was accompanied by Ambassadors Chaly and Yelchenko, Consul General Oleksii Holubov of New York and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin. In presenting the award, the president of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Craig Snyder, stated: “President Poroshenko has led and is leading his country as it seeks to defend itself and to defend ideals America has long declared to be universal truths, against subversion and outright invasion.” He continued: “He is fighting a fight in a direct line of descent from the fight of America’s founders, here in Philadelphia, for national independence and popular sovereignty.” President Poroshenko highlighted the threat from the Kremlin, saying “the hand that manipulated the previous regime keeps on stretching its claws to our throats,” and he thanked the United States for standing “shoulder to shoulder with us.” He concluded his remarks by stating, “It is absolutely true that peace and freedom are twin goals… It is our noble mission to achieve lasting peace through the support of freedom.”
- During the last week of May, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) visited Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy; the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksandr Danylyuk; and the deputy head of the Presidential Office, Vadym Prystaiko; as well as other officials and civil society leaders. Joining Sen. Portman at several meetings was his constituent, Andriy Futey, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Sen. Portman, a co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, has visited Ukraine on several occasions and continued to be engaged with ongoing political, economic and military developments in Ukraine.
- In July, The Ukrainian Weekly reported on a group of 10 sailors from Ukraine who were in the U.S. for 10 weeks of training in Baltimore, where they were learning how to operate the two Coast Guard cutters that the U.S. had donated to Ukraine’s Navy for patrolling Odesa’s coastal zone. The two Ukrainian Coast Guard crews were selected because of their experience and availability. Zenon V. Stakhiv wrote: “All the crew members were required to take a three-month immersion course in English before their assignment to Baltimore. All the instrumentation and machinery on the cutters are in English, as is their instruction. This is a very rigorous training course, as each must take a series of proficiency exams in English before they can be certified in their respective areas of expertise. The group is led by Lt. Commander Ihor Trukhan. The two commanders of the cutters are training with their crews. Lt. JG Pavlo Hladchenko is from Zytomyr, and Lt. JG Damyr Aulin is from Kirovohrad.” The cutters were delivered to Ukraine in October.
- On August 9 in Kyiv, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires William Taylor welcomed and swore in nine new Peace Corps volunteers who would be serving across Ukraine. Addressing the new group of volunteers, Mr. Taylor said, “I think that the Peace Corps in Ukraine is one of the best things that Americans do here.” Noting that this is the largest Peace Corps program anywhere in the world, he underscored: “…this program allows Americans to live with Ukrainians, and it allows Ukrainians to understand the United States better. It also will allow – and this is a charge to Peace Corps Volunteers when they go home, back to the United States – to explain Ukraine to Americans.”
- On September 5, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), both members of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, met in Kyiv with President Zelenskyy. According to information on the presidential website, the parties discussed the United States’ “consistent policy of sanctions against Russia,” as well as cooperation in energy security, including the diversification of energy supplies and their delivery from the United States. RFE/RL reported that Sen. Murphy said on social media that he “left [Kyiv] more optimistic about Ukraine’s future than ever before” and praised its “new young reformers,” including President Zelenskyy, as “for real.”