U.S. President Donald Trump intends to nominate a retired Army lieutenant general to become the nation’s ambassador to Ukraine, filling a critical position that has been vacant for nearly a year.
Keith Dayton, who currently serves as the senior U.S. defense adviser to Ukraine and as director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany, will need to be approved by the U.S. Senate.
Trump made the announcement late on May 1.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the decision to appoint Dayton, saying in a tweet on May 2 that he had met with the retired lieutenant general in his previous role as defense reform adviser.
The appointment comes amid a tough period for U.S.-Ukraine relations, which were shaken last year following reports that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a political rival -- former Vice President Joe Biden -- during a July 2019 phone call and withheld military assistance to Kyiv.
The reports sparked an impeachment trial of Trump and resulted in the departure of several key U.S. officials handling Ukraine policy. Trump was found not guilty by the Senate.
The United States has not had an ambassador to Ukraine since Trump recalled Marie Yovanovitch in May 2019 after what she said was a targeted campaign to tarnish her image. Former Ukrainian Ambassador Bill Taylor later served six months as charge d' affaires while the Trump administration sought a replacement.
The 71-year old Dayton has worked in the former Soviet region before, serving as U.S. defense attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
John Herbst, a political analyst at the Atlantic Council and a former ambassador to Ukraine, told RFE/RL that Dayton is a good choice because he knows the issues facing Kyiv well.
Dayton’s top concerns will be the Russia-backed war in eastern Ukraine as well as Ukrainian reforms, Herbst said.
Washington has yet to nominate a replacement for Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine who stepped down in September after the House of Representatives announced the start of its impeachment inquiry.
The United States is the largest supporter of Ukraine’s military, having supplied the country with more than $1.6 billion in aid, including lethal weapons, over the past six years as it fights Russia-backed separatists in its eastern regions.