July 13, 2017

Ukraine on the agenda

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There’s been good news thus far this month as the topic of Ukraine was on the agenda in several world capitals.

Speaking in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square on July 6, President Donald Trump urged Russia “to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere” and, after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, said the U.S. is “working with Poland in response to Russia’s actions and destabilizing behavior.” It is important to point out that those strong remarks about Russia’s aggression came before President Trump’s much-anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on July 7-8 in Hamburg, Germany.

Speaking in Washington on July 7, shortly before the Trump-Putin meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the appointment of Kurt Volker, a highly respected and highly qualified ambassador, an expert in U.S. foreign and national security policy, and executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. His role, according to the State Department, is to “coordinate all State Department efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict created when Russia invaded Crimea and later eastern Ukraine.”

To be sure, the topic of Ukraine was brought up during the meeting between Messrs. Trump and Putin, but we know very little about what was actually said, since press reports focused on election hacking and Syria. A White House briefing on the conversation in Hamburg referred merely to the Volker appointment.

However, it is significant that Mr. Tillerson headed to Ukraine immediately afterwards. In Kyiv on July 9, the secretary of state made it clear that “It is necessary for Russia to take the first step to de-escalate the situation in the east part of Ukraine, in particular by respecting the ceasefire, by pulling back the heavy weapons.” He also underscored that “the U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions.” Furthermore, Mr. Tillerson stated unequivocally that the war in Ukraine was “planned and launched from Moscow.” He noted that when Presidents Trump and Putin met two days earlier, they discussed “what is to be done about the Russian behavior of non-adherence to the Minsk agreements and non-implementation of clear and straightforward steps as to the de-occupation of Ukraine.”

On the very next day, July 10, Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO (membership in which is now a foreign policy priority of Kyiv), was in the Ukrainian capital. He called on Russia to remove its “thousands of soldiers from Ukraine and stop supporting the militants with command-and-control and military equipment,” and he underlined that the Minsk agreements must be implemented. He also made it eminently clear that NATO members do not accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Kremlin continued to deny, deny, deny. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that “Russia has never had and has no servicemen in Ukraine.” But no one believes that anymore…

Back here in the U.S., we remain hopeful that these latest developments will lead to a just resolution of the war in Ukraine and will result in peace for the country’s long-suffering people. And the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which welcomed the appointment of Ambassador Volker – saying “it signifies that the U.S. continues to support its strategic partner in the face of continued Russian aggression” – has requested a meeting with him upon his return to the U.S.

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