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Pompeo To Make First Ukraine Visit As Impeachment In U.S. Buffets Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will arrive in the Ukrainian capital on January 3.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will arrive in the Ukrainian capital on January 3.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ukraine this week for the first time as the United States' top diplomat with an acrimonious impeachment process under way in Washington that revolves in part around White House actions toward Kyiv.

Pompeo will arrive in the Ukrainian capital on January 3 to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko, Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk, and business and civil-society leaders, a senior State Department official said on December 30.

He will depart the following day for Belarus as part of a five-day trip to four post-Soviet states in Europe and Central Asia and then Cyprus, a potential gas exporter to Europe.

But Pompeo's visit to Ukraine -- which lost control of Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still fighting a five-year war against Russia-backed separatists -- is likely to attract much of the attention on both sides of the Atlantic.

President Donald Trump and his administration's actions toward Kyiv are at the center of a whistle-blower complaint and historic impeachment votes two weeks ago in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. They were based on indications that Trump pressured Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to do him "a favor" and investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, as well as a widely dismissed theory that Ukraine -- not Russia, as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded -- interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Critics claim crucial aid to Kyiv was withheld as leverage.

Pompeo, who is widely seen as supporting a tough approach toward Russia, has acknowledged listening in on the phone call.

The State Department said Pompeo will express firm U.S. support for Kyiv amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and discuss key reforms, including judicial and anti-corruption measures, with Zelenskiy and other officials during his trip.

"The secretary's visit to Ukraine will seek to highlight our unshakable commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and reaffirms the importance of our strategic partnership with Ukraine," the senior State Department official said in a phone call on December 30.

The official declined to say whether Pompeo would raise the question of an investigation into Biden, who was vice president while his son sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Republican congressional leaders have sought to protect Trump's decision to withhold the military aid by describing Ukraine as an endemically corrupt state, while some of its members have said Ukraine could have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

The administration and the State Department have lost high-ranking officials overseeing Ukraine policy this year first as Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for the investigations and then as their efforts became public, leading to the impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo will arrive one day after charge d'affaires to Ukraine William Taylor leaves his post, the second top U.S. diplomat to Kyiv to depart within a year following the abrupt recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May amid public criticism from Trump allies about her performance.

Both Taylor and Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings and were critical of Trump's Ukraine policy.

U.S. and other Western sanctions and recent contracts to supply American military equipment, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, are key to Kyiv's efforts to repel the Russia-backed separatists who control swaths of eastern Ukraine.

Pompeo's visit is unlikely to result in any deals, said John Herbst, a former ambassador to Ukraine who is now an analyst at the Atlantic Council. Rather, he told RFE/RL, the secretary of state will likely seek to demonstrate that "everything is OK" between Washington and Kyiv.

U.S. policy toward Ukraine is "in large measure" back to normal, Herbst said. Congress earlier this month approved on a bipartisan basis giving $300 million in military support to Kyiv next year -- up from $250 million this year -- and passed sanctions that are already delaying work on a new Russian gas pipeline aimed at reducing transit through Ukraine.

However, the impeachment fight in the United States will continue to weight on the relationship, he said. The Senate could start its impeachment hearings next month.

Zelenskiy has said Ukraine's future lies in integrating into Euro-Atlantic organizations. But the European Union's members are divided on further enlargement and Ukraine likely needs to carry out significant reforms before it might be invited into that bloc or NATO.

The senior State Department official praised Zelenskiy for the steps the novice president has taken since coming to power in May to shake up Ukraine's government, improve the economy, and rein in oligarchs.

Zelenskiy has "undertaken a tremendous number of reform efforts" and has shown "real leadership," the senior official said. "There is an energy there [in Kyiv]; there is a dynamism."

Pompeo could raise the topic of the possible sale of Motor Sich, a highly respected Ukrainian manufacturer of aviation engines for the defense industry, to the Chinese, said Herbst.

U.S. officials have said they are concerned about Beijing getting its hands on that company's leading military technology.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

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