Secretary of State Michael Pompeo travels to Ukraine this week to persuade the country that US support remains undiminished in the wake of the impeachment saga. President Donald Trump’s continued hostility towards Kyiv — and Pompeo’s own recent comments — make that a harder sell.
Pompeo will meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other senior officials during a one-day stop on January 30 “to highlight US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department said. He’ll also go to the UK — where a key decision on using Chinese 5G technology upset the US this week — as well as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The trip began in London on Wednesday, where Pompeo was expected to hear directly about PM Boris Johnson’s decision on technology built by Huawei Technologies. Pompeo and other American officials say the company’s equipment can be used for espionage — a charge it denies.
But it’s the Ukraine visit, which Pompeo earlier cancelled following an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, that will generate the greatest focus.
The visit will be clouded by questions surrounding the US commitment to Ukraine given Trump’s continued insistence that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interferred in the 2016 election.
Pompeo will be the highest-ranking administration official to travel to Ukraine since Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy evolved into the impeachment debacle.
But Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose inquiries and lobbying prompted the US to withdraw former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Ukraine, has been there twice in recent months.
Another Ukraine bombshell dropped recently: in a forthcoming book, former National Security Adviser John Bolton says Trump wanted to freeze $391 million in aid to Ukraine until its government helped with investigations into his political rivals.
That claim comes as senators begin debate on whether to call witnesses such as Bolton to testify in Trump’s impeachment trial.
The strength of US support for Ukraine, caught in a deadly border conflict with Russia, has also been undercut by Pompeo’s own words. In an expletive-filled exchange with a National Public Radio reporter, Pompeo asked derisively if she thought Americans really cared about Ukraine, according to the outlet.
That prompted former Ukraine envoy Bill Taylor — who was handpicked by Pompeo last year but emerged as a key witness for Democrats in the House impeachment hearings — to write an essay in the New York Times outlining the reasons why they should.
At stake in the impeachment trial is whether the president withheld support in an effort to press for a probe into the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential opponent in the 2020 election.
Hundreds of hours of debate and testimony in the impeachment saga haven’t clarified the true nature of current US policy towards Ukraine.
Senior officials in Kyiv may still have reason to question whether the Trump administration sees their nation primarily as a fledgling democracy and bulwark against Russian aggression, or just a pawn in a political effort to attack Democrats before the 2020 elections.
Pompeo and other officials say Ukraine is a national security priority and point to the delivery of almost $400 million in aid as proof.