Pompeo in Kiev: President Zelensky says Ukraine wants greater US role in settling separatist conflict

US Secretary Says U.S. Backs Ukraine Against Russian Aggression

KIEV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday he wants to see Washington play a greater role in settling the conflict with Russian-backed separatists.

With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting Kiev, Zelensky said he hoped the US becomes “more actively involved in the peace process in eastern Ukraine and in bringing about an end to the occupation of Crimea," suggesting Washington appoint a special pointman.

US top diplomat canceled planned trips to Ukraine twice — once in November and once at the start of January.

President Donald Trump diplomatic relation with Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelensky landed him in an impeachment saga. The US House of Representative impeached Trump principally on allegation of withholding military aids to Ukraine on quo pro quo for an investigation into an alleged corruption charges against Hunter Biden, son of the major Democrat contender for the position of US president in the 2020 US election. The  second allegation was obstruction of congress.

US Senate is expected to acquit President Trump. The impeachment trial in the Senate began this month but appeared as of early Friday to be moving to a swift close.

Pompeo said Friday after a meeting with President of Ukraine that the Trump administration was committed to supporting Ukraine in its defense against aggression by Russia, which invaded and annexed part of the country and is supporting a separatist insurgency.

“Today I’m here with a clear message: The United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is a valiant one,” Mr. Pompeo said at a news conference with Mr. Zelensky. “Our commitment to support it will not waver.”

Ukraine is a “bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe,” he added.

The two met before noon in the president’s office in central Kyiv, and Mr. Zelensky said they had talked about new steps to strengthen the partnership between the two nations.

“I don’t think these friendly and warm relations have been influenced by the impeachment trial of the president,” he said when asked about whether the impeachment of President Trump had affected ties between Kyiv and Washington.

Mr. Zelensky reiterated that he was ready to meet with Mr. Trump in an official White House visit, which would be an important signal of the status of American support for Ukraine. But Mr. Pompeo said no visit had been scheduled yet. “We’ll find the right time,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo was the first official from President Trump’s cabinet to meet with Mr. Zelensky since the impeachment inquiry focused on Mr. Trump and Ukraine began last fall. Mr. Trump had a brief meeting with Mr. Zelensky on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York — the day after the Democrats in the House of Representatives announced their opening of the inquiry.
The move by the Democrats was prompted by a formal complaint filed by a C.I.A. whistle-blower who had said that Mr. Trump had pressed Mr. Zelensky in a July 25 call for political favors at the same time he was withholding from Ukraine $391 million of military aid mandated by Congress.

The military aid from Washington, which was released by the White House on Sept. 11, after Mr. Trump had heard about the formal whistleblower complaint, is aimed at helping Ukrainian soldiers fight a years-long Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Hundreds of Russian soldiers are in the region, the Donbas, American officials say.

Ukraine and other European nations want the Trump administration to get involved in talking with leaders in Kyiv and Moscow to help settle the conflict.

On Friday morning, as snow fell lightly in Kyiv, Mr. Pompeo met with Vadym Prystaiko, foreign minister of Ukraine, and went to the golden-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral downtown to attend a wreath-laying ceremony for the soldiers who have died fighting in the Donbas.

More than 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed since the war began in 2014, the same year Russia invaded and occupied the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. 

According to NYT, the conflict has become grinding trench warfare in open fields with regular shelling.

Analysts say Mr. Trump’s actions on Ukraine — which critics say centered on gaining political advantage for his re-election campaign this year — and his open admiration of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have weakened decades of American support for Ukraine.

Mr. Trump and his aides deny that he withheld the aid for political reasons, and say that they were requesting that Ukraine conduct legitimate investigations into corruption.

Mr. Pompeo said on Friday, “The United States under President Trump has been the world’s fiercest defender of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Ukrainian officials are eager to have Mr. Zelensky visit Mr. Trump in the Oval Office and to have the American president publicly and strongly affirm support for Ukraine. Ukrainian officials are angry that the Americans have granted the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, two visits with Mr. Trump in White House, most recently in December.

In response to a question on Friday, Mr. Pompeo said a White House visit by Mr. Zelensky was not dependent on the kind of investigation Mr. Trump had sought.

The Ukraine trip is a fraught one for Mr. Pompeo, who arrived here on Thursday night after a stop in London, and plans to travel to three more nations that became independent from Moscow afterwards.

Mr. Pompeo has been dogged by sharp questions over his role in the Ukraine affair.

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