Impeachment inquiry refocuses attention on the war in Ukraine

On November 13, 2019, the House Intelligence Committee started an inquiry hearing into possible impeachable dealings by US President Donald Trump. The event initiating the process was a telephone call between Trump [or the POTUS] and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, on July 25. During the conversation, Trump pressured Zelensky to open a criminal investigation against Joseph Biden, a former vice-president (2009–17) and possible rival candidate in the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden. President Trump also pushed President Zelensky to admit that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.   

The stakes for Ukraine were very high. Trump’s bargaining token was the military aid already promised to the country to help fight Russia’s agression in the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk regions), which have been under the control of Russian proxies since 2014. The US President put his Ukrainian counterpart in a very uncomfortable position, telling him that US military aid will be on hold until Ukraine delivers on his demands. 

Since that call, Ukraine has been in the news only in the context of the impeachment, with the dire situation in the county being secondary. The impeachment inquiry hearing has brought the war in Ukraine back into focus. The testimonies delivered by two respected career diplomats (under different administrations), George Kent and William Taylor, provided an insightful overview of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. 

George Kent is a US diplomat, currently serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. He was trained as a professional Russian studies specialist and has decades of experience of working in Eastern Europe. From 2015 to 2018, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kyiv. He was also in Ukraine as Deputy Political Consul during the Orange Revolution of 2004.  

At the beginning of his opening statement, Mr. Kent stated: “For the past five years, we have focused our united efforts across the Atlantic to support Ukraine in its fight for the cause of freedom, and the rebirth of a country free from Russian dominion and the warped legacy of Soviet institutions and post-Soviet behavior.” He also stressed the importance of Ukraine for regional security, and also acknowledged “the place of Ukraine in our national and security interests.”

Kent puts Ukraine in the broader context of world diplomacy. In his testimony he referenced the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and the challenges to compete with the rising influences of Russia and China. As he pointed out, Ukraine “has been on the front lines, not just of Russia’s conventional war in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and its broader campaign of malign influence, but of the greater geopolitical challenges now facing the United States.”

William Taylor is the interim US Ambassador to Ukraine, appointed in June 2019, and also served as the US Ambassador to Ukraine in 2006–09. He opened his testimony speech by stressing that “Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, important for the security of our country as well as Europe,” and that “Ukraine is on the front line in the conflict with a newly aggressive Russia.” It is important to note that Amb. Taylor openly recognizes the direct Russian aggression against Ukraine, and places sole responsibility for this on the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. 

Mr. Taylor also testified that once he arrived in Ukraine in June, he found that there have been in place “two channels of US policy-making and implementation” toward Ukraine. One channel was official, and the other was irregular, informal and unaccountable to Congress. In his opinion, this practice of US policy-making is highly irregular. The unofficial channel included the US Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, as well as US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Advisor to the President Rudy Giuliani.

Both witnesses admitted in their testimonies that Ukraine, as a state party in the process of impeachment, is wholly an innocent victim of political games initiated in close circles of President Trump’s office, with the direct personal involvement of former prosecutors general of Ukraine Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko. 

The inquiry witnesses George Kent and William Taylor conveyed their belief that despite its still high levels of corruption and other internal problems, Ukraine has demonstrated its devotion to democratic values and has significantly improved on many fronts since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. Thus, it is crucial to continue to support Ukraine in its fight for independence and territorial integrity by providing all possible assistance, including military weapons for its ground-level defensive war against Russian invasion. They also stressed the importance of Ukraine’s sovereign democracy for preserving global rule of law, which has been in place since WWII. 

Oleksandr Pankieiev 

Research Communication Coordinator  & Forum for Ukrainian Studies Editor

Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies

University of Alberta

Originally written for the Edmonton Journal

Oleksandr Pankieiev

Oleksandr Pankieiev is the Editor-in-Chief of the Forum for Ukrainian Studies, a project of the Contemporary Ukraine Studies Program under the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta.

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