As the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee began a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill in the Ukraine-centered impeachment probe of President Donald Trump, a bipartisan group of lawmakers gathered in the same building to express clear support for the beleaguered Eastern European country and its new leader.
A bitter, two-month partisan battle over whether Trump abused his power of office by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has raised questions about the depth of Washington's support for the strategically important country.
During the impeachment hearings, House Republicans often cast Ukraine as an endemically corrupt state, with some suggesting it may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Democrat and Republican members of the Ukrainian Caucus from the House and Senate sought to quash that notion of weakening bipartisan U.S. support during a conference inside the Capitol on December 4. The lawmakers said helping defend Ukraine's independence and sovereignty against Russian aggression was vital to U.S. national security.
"If Ukraine ultimately fails because the United States' positioning changes, it will come at a great cost to our nation's security. Russia is using Ukraine to midwife a lot of propaganda and cyberattack methods that they can then export to the United States," Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said.
Trump held up nearly $400 million in aid to Kyiv earlier this year as he prodded Zelenskiy to investigate a political rival and a theory that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of his opponent.
Ukraine needs U.S. military support as it battles superior Russia-backed forces in its eastern provinces for a fifth year. The war has killed more than 13,000 people, with new casualties every week. Weakening U.S. support for Ukraine could embolden Russia, lawmakers and analysts have said.
"The American people need to know and be reminded why Ukraine is so important. Ukraine, in my opinion, is the scrimmage line for liberty on the European continent," Representative Marcy Kaptur (Democrat-Ohio) said, referring to the line of contact between opposing teams in American football.
Senator Rob Johnson (Republican-Ohio) resorted to military terminology, describing Ukraine as "ground zero" in Washington's standoff with the Kremlin.
Johnson sought a silver lining in the impeachment process that called into question the nearly three-decade relationship with Ukraine.
"We can utilize this to convey to the Ukrainian people first of all congressional support, the administration's support, and hopefully the American people's support," he said.
The lawmakers said U.S. support to Ukraine must go beyond military aid to cover cybersecurity, disinformation, and energy threats.
Murphy said he expected Congress to soon pass a bill that would authorize $1 billion in U.S. funding for energy projects important for global security, including in Eastern Europe. The United States has accused Russia of using its enormous oil and gas resources as a weapon against its energy-deficient neighbors.
Trump is seeking at least an additional $250 million in security aid for Ukraine in his 2020 budget request to Congress, including Javelin anti-tank weapons, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told reporters on December 4 at a roundtable.
Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican-Pennsylvania), who served in Kyiv for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation when Russia attacked Ukraine's electricity grid, called the cyberthreats "very, very significant" and said the country needed U.S. help to combat them.
"We stand unified behind that relationship [with Ukraine]. We will make it grow, we will make it stronger and it's got bipartisan support. And I think it is very, very important that everybody understands that loud and clear," Fitzpatrick said.