January 15, 2021

2020: U.S.-Ukraine relations: Plenty of ups and downs

Maritime Guard of the State Border Guard Service of Ukrainian with Kristina Kvien

U.S. Embassy Kyiv

On January 24, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien (center) handed over $1 million in equipment from the United States to the Maritime Guard of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

The year 2020 was, what can we say, a follow-up to the unusual year that preceded it as regards U.S.-Ukraine relations. There were plenty of ups and downs, and oftentimes it seemed the Trump administration and Congress were on opposite sides when it came to Ukraine. Sometimes, different positions were articulated by members of the administration and the president himself.

A case in point: While members of Congress and the administration kept up the pressure on Russia for its invasion and occupation of Ukraine, President Donald Trump was willing to ignore Russia’s violations of international law when he suggested on May 30 that he wanted to invite Russia to rejoin the Group of Seven. “I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “It’s a very outdated group of countries.” Readers will no doubt recall that Russia belonged to what was then called the G-8 in 1998-2014, but its membership was suspended after the invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. A joint statement said that the body would meet in the G-7 format “until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion.” Clearly, nothing had changed since 2014 when Russia was kicked out of the exclusive group of world leaders.

The United States hadn’t had an ambassador to Ukraine since May 2019, when Marie Yovanovitch was recalled. Afterwards, a former ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, was tapped to serve as chargé d’affaires, which he did for half a year. On January 2, 2020, Kristina Kvien, deputy chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Ukraine, was appointed as the interim chargé d’affaires at the Embassy in Kyiv. Ms. Kvien stated: “Our Embassy team will continue to partner closely with the Ukrainian government and civil society, and support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and support reforms that will help Ukraine build its prosperous European future.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s new ambassador to the U.S., Volodymyr Yelchenko – who had been appointed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in mid-December 2019 and presented his credentials to President Trump on January 6 – tapped Iryna Mazur as Ukraine’s honorary consul in Philadelphia. The official appointment came on January 11 in a ceremony at Ukraine’s Embassy during which an agreement about the creation of an Honorary Consulate in Philadelphia was signed.

Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.A.

On January 11, Iryna Mazur was appointed Ukraine’s honorary consul in Philadelphia by Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Volodymyr Yelchenko.

At about the same time, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan U.S. Congressional watchdog, said the administration of President Trump violated federal law by withholding security assistance to Ukraine. RFE/RL reported that the GAO said in a January 16 report that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had violated the law in 2019 when it withheld the aid that had been appropriated by Congress. The nine-page report concluded that “the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”

The report was released just before the Senate was sworn in to start the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, who was accused of abusing the power of his office for personal gain and obstruction of Congress, RFE/RL noted. The news service added that the two articles of impeachment specifically related to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. They include holding up $391 million passed by Congress in military aid for Ukraine, a move seen as pressuring Kyiv into investigating Joe Biden, the Republican president’s potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election.

In May, Ukraine was shaken by a scandal involving leaked recordings of alleged phone conversations between former U.S. Vice-President Biden and former President Petro Poroshenko made in 2015-2016 when they were both in office. The recordings were released on May 19 by Ukrainian National Deputy Andriy Derkach, an ally of President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Among other things, Messrs. Biden and Poroshenko were supposedly heard discussing the need to dismiss the Ukrainian prosecutor general at that time, Viktor Shokin, in return for $1 billion in U.S. aid. Mr. Shokin was reportedly investigating Vice-President Biden’s son Hunter for financial impropriety in Ukraine.

Mr. Biden said the leaked recordings were heavily edited, while Mr. Poroshenko dismissed them as “fabricated.” Both men suggested that the recordings could be a Russian provocation. On May 26 it was reported that Ukraine’s State Investigation Bureau had opened a case into a possible illegal wiretap of the phone calls between Messrs. Biden and Poroshenko. It focused on “the illegal use of technical means of obtaining information which could inflict damage to national interests.” Commentators opined that the ultimate purpose of releasing the recordings was to damage the presidential prospects of Mr. Biden. They also generally agreed that in this situation President Zelenskyy had to carefully avoid being dragged into American politics by staying strictly neutral during the U.S. election campaign.

Initially, the new leaks and recycled accusations made more of a splash in Ukraine than in Washington. But the damage that could have been caused by the leaks resulted in an unprecedented pro-Ukrainian response: seven former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine on May 26 issued a statement expressing their concerns and affirming their support for Kyiv.

Ambassadors Roman Popadiuk, Steven Pifer, Carlos Pascual, John Herbst, William Taylor, John Tefft and Marie Yovanovitch stated: “We have worked over the years to build and strengthen the U.S.-Ukrainian strategic partnership established in 1996. We thus are disheartened by efforts to inject Ukraine into America’s domestic politics as the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches. Those efforts advance a false and toxic narrative, one with no basis in the reality of U.S.-Ukraine relations, in order to weaken the relationship between the United States and Ukraine and sow division within our two countries. That serves neither country’s interests. We strongly condemn these efforts to divide our two countries and call on officials in both to avoid steps that will only erode the bilateral relationship and alienate our countries from one another.”

On September 10, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had blacklisted Mr. Derkach, who had been helping Mr. Giuliani find compromising information on Mr. Biden. What’s more, the Treasury Department said Mr. Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament who studied at the KGB school in Moscow, has been “an active Russian agent” for over a decade.

“Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election. Today’s designation of Derkach is focused on exposing Russian malign influence campaigns and protecting our upcoming elections from foreign interference,” the statement said. The Treasury Department also noted that “Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims.” Mr. Derkach responded by accusing Mr. Biden and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing Ukraine, of “revenge” and claiming the sanctions were announced to pre-empt another publication of supposed material on Mr. Biden.

Ukraine continued to be a hot topic as the U.S. presidential campaign continued. On September 23, a report released by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) claimed that work done by Mr. Biden’s son in Ukraine created a “potential conflict of interest” that undermined U.S. policy. The controversial report came just weeks before November’s presidential election and with the elder Biden leading President Trump in most polls.

According to an RFE/RL story, the report also alleged that Hunter Biden had dealings with Ukrainian, Russian, Kazakh and Chinese nationals of “questionable backgrounds,” including the wife of a former Moscow mayor. But it also said it was “unclear” whether former Vice-President Biden altered U.S. policy or took any other actions to assist his son. Democrats said that the Republican exercise was a politically motivated attack on the Democratic candidate.

The Republican senators acknowledged in their 87-page report that it was “not clear” to what extent Hunter Biden’s position on Ukrainian gas company Burisma’s board affected the Obama administration’s policy on Ukraine. However, the report said the millions of dollars the younger Mr. Biden received for his role with Burisma “negatively impacted” U.S. diplomatic efforts to battle corruption in Ukraine at a time when then-Vice President Biden was leading Ukraine policy. The senators described Burisma as having a “longstanding reputation for corruption.”

Coincidentally, September 23 also appeared to be the date that the charges of impropriety levelled against Mr. Biden by Mr. Shokin and a senior judge suspected of corruption were dropped in Ukraine. However, the announcement was not made by the Procurator General’s Office until November 11 – eight days after Election Day in the U.S.

An RFE/RL news analysis noted that, despite the heated political battles, the outcome of the election may have little effect on U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Observers said the next administration – Mr. Trump’s or Mr. Biden’s – was likely to continue to provide Kyiv with military support, including lethal weapons, to help Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russian and Russian-backed forces. The United States is also likely to push the Ukrainian government to implement economic reforms, fight corruption, battle the influence of billionaire tycoons, reduce reliance on Russian energy and continue to reject Russia’s claim to Crimea.

On the sanctions front, in January the United States joined with the European Union and Canada in imposing new sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s “continued aggression toward Ukraine and attempted occupation of Crimea.” A total of eight individuals and a privately owned railroad company face restrictive measures in the form of asset freezes in the United States, according to the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Seven of these individuals, whom the Treasury Department called “illegitimate Russian-backed Crimean officials,” were also designated by the EU on January 28. Canada blacklisted six of the individuals. The imposition of sanctions was made “as part of a coordinated action in a strong demonstration of the international community’s continued condemnation of Russia’s interference in Crimean politics.” As a result, there were now 692 individuals and entities, as well as their subsidiaries, blacklisted by the U.S. government.

A month later, President Trump extended for one year a series of previously imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, in particular, forcibly annexing the Crimean peninsula and further destabilizing the country. The president’s executive order was signed on February 25 and included a package of sanctions that have expanded in scope over time since March 6, 2014, when they were first introduced by the Obama administration. Mr. Trump’s executive order said Russia’s actions, including its “purported annexation of Crimea and use of force in Ukraine… undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of assets.”

As regards U.S. javelins for Ukraine, the U.S. Defense Department on February 28 signed a new contract for the production of Javelin anti-tank missile systems for partner countries, including Ukraine. RFE/RL reported that the U.S. Army contract worth more than $18 million was awarded to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The State Department in October 2019 had approved the sale of $39.2 million in military equipment to Ukraine, including a second batch of Javelins, the world’s most effective anti-tank missiles, to help Kyiv in its ongoing war against Russian and Russian-backed forces. The deal reportedly included 150 Javelin missiles and 10 launch units, adding to the 210 missiles and 37 launchers that Ukraine bought from the United States in 2018.

Among those who traveled to the United States in 2020 to speak with leading American officials was Ukrainian film director and former Kremlin captive Oleh Sentsov, who told members of the U.S. Congress on January 28 about his prison term in Russia. He also spoke about the confessions of the Russian military involved in seizing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, the Voice of America reported. According to Mr. Sentsov, Russian President Vladimir Putin grabbed Crimea when Ukrainian citizens toppled the regime of “Putin’s direct subordinate” Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian filmmaker added that it was in prison where he met with a Russian military intelligence operative who had been involved in the annexation of Crimea: “In prison I met a convicted GRU officer who told in detail how the Crimea seizure unfolded. He took part in this. Then this officer fought in the Donbas – he said that it was the Russians who were most brutal towards the Ukrainians.”

Mr. Sentsov, who was freed by Russia in a prisoner swap with Ukraine in September 2019, was on a trip to the U.S. to meet with State Department officials and members of Congress, and to attend a meeting of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. At the time of his U.S. visit, Russia still held 96 political prisoners, most of whom were detained in Crimea, including 69 Crimean Tatars, according to Ukrainian NGOs. Anywhere from 101 to 184 were still held in the occupied Donbas, according to NGOs and the Ukrainian government.

While the war in Ukraine’s east continued, so did attempts to reach a peace deal. At the 56th Munich Security Conference that took place on February 14-16, a distinguished group of American, European and Russian former government officials and think tank experts issued a controversial statement recommending 12 steps to bring greater security to Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic region. The Washington-based Atlantic Council pointed out that, “For years, the Kremlin has tried to change the conversation on Ukraine, and they are clearly seeking another opening in Munich.” In response, 23 former U.S. diplomats, government officials and experts pointed out their errors in a statement published by the Atlantic Council.

“Most of the 12 recommendations from the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group – if faithfully implemented by all parties – are constructive and could both serve as confidence-building measures and alleviate the difficulties and suffering endured by the population in or near the occupied Donbas,” the opposing statement began. “Several are problematic; two in particular echo Kremlin negotiating proposals or disinformation themes. More importantly, the document describes the problem to be resolved in Kremlin-friendly terms, perhaps in order to persuade members of the Russian elite to sign. The signers identify the problem in their very first sentence: ‘the conflict in and around Ukraine.’ That description obscures the problem’s origins and makes it impossible to find an appropriate solution. ‘The conflict in and around Ukraine’ began when Russian troops, in Russian uniforms but operating without identifying insignias, seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and Moscow ‘annexed’ it. Moscow then launched its hybrid war in the Donbas and used its massive disinformation apparatus to present this as a Ukrainian civil conflict.”

The statement continued: “Without Kremlin leadership, financing, weapons (including heavy arms), ammunition, and – in some cases – regular units of the Russian Army, there would be no ‘conflict in and around Ukraine.’ In short, the problem to fix is Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine – by restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, starting with the Donbas. More broadly, the problem is to persuade Moscow that it does not have the right to dictate the policies of its neighbors.” The signatories underlined: “The authors are right that the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine requires a political solution. However, that solution requires an honest assessment of the battlefield, and the policies and objectives of the actors. Moscow has not hidden its objectives. Senior Russian officials declare that they must have a sphere of influence, and to achieve it they will use all necessary means, including military force.”

Russia’s war on Ukraine was also in the headlines on World Peace Day, September 21, when the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv called on Russia to end the conflict in the Donbas, to withdraw from the Donbas and Crimea, and to release all illegally imprisoned Ukrainians. “On World Peace Day we call on Russia to choose peace. Ukrainians, like all people, want to live their lives in peace, and with full recognition of their human rights. Until Russia ends the conflict it manufactured and sustains in Donbas, and fully withdraws from both Donbas and Crimea, Ukrainians cannot enjoy the peace they deserve,” U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Kvien said in a video address posted on Twitter.

On the diplomatic front, President Trump on May 1 announced his intent to nominate a retired lieutenant general of the U.S. Army as ambassador to Ukraine. The announcement released by the White House noted: “Keith W. Dayton currently serves as the director of the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany, a position he has held since 2010. He also serves concurrently as Senior United States Defense Advisor to Ukraine. His current service follows a four-decade career in the United States Army, retiring in 2010 with the rank of lieutenant general.

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted positively to the nomination of Mr. Dayton by tweeting on May 2: “I welcome the decision to nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and look forward to welcoming him in Kyiv. I have met Gen. Keith W. Dayton in his capacity of Ukraine’s defense reform adviser. Working with him has always been a wonderful experience.” Former Ambassador Herbst, now a political analyst at the Atlantic Council, told RFE/RL that Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dayton is a good choice because he knows the issues facing Kyiv well. Mr. Dayton’s top concerns will be the Russia-backed war in eastern Ukraine as well as Ukrainian reforms, Mr. Herbst said. In a July 13 letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), respectively, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America voiced its support for the nominee.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Lt. Gen. Dayton’s nomination on August 5. Sen. Menendez’s opening statement about U.S. relations noted: “On this committee, you have stalwart champions of Ukraine.” In reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Menendez also mentioned that Ukrainian forces are “constantly challenged” holding back the Russian military. “It is important to speak in one voice on Ukraine.”

In his opening remarks, Lt. Gen. Dayton related his experience and knowledge of Ukraine-related matters, as “Ukraine has been a part of my life for 40 years.” The nominee offered his opinion on the need to “counter Russian malign influence” and advance “our shared goal of Ukraine joining the Euro-Atlantic community as a full and free member.” He also noted: “My military background and current role as Ukraine’s senior defense advisor provide me unique insight that I hope to leverage to assist Ukraine’s armed forces become an increasingly effective fighting force.”

A vote on the ambassador-designate was to take place at a later date. However, close to the end of the year, RFE/RL reported: “The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote and is therefore unlikely to green-light the Trump administration’s choice of a retired Army lieutenant general to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, according to Senate and other sources. A failure to vote would leave the naming of someone for a posting that has been vacant for around 18 months to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.”

Meanwhile, in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Kuleba on November 20 confirmed that he proposed the candidacy of ex-Finance Minister Oksana Markarova for the post of Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States. Writing on his Facebook page, he noted that the procedure for her registration had already been launched, but it takes some time. “If appointed, Ukraine for the first time will have an ambassador to Washington who is well-known both in the U.S. administration, in particular in the Department of State and in the Department of Treasury, and in the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. … The fact that Markarova will be the first ever madame ambassador of Ukraine to the United States is also notable.”

At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the U.S. delegation continued to speak out, loud and clear, about Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. On January 16, Ambassador James S. Gilmore III addressed the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, stating, “We call upon Russia to abide by the Helsinki Final Act principles and the Minsk agreements, and to reciprocate the good faith displayed by President Zelenskyy’s administration. To end this conflict in 2020, both sides must be fully committed to the implementation of a lasting and permanent ceasefire, which is predicated upon the withdrawal of Russian forces and matériel from sovereign Ukrainian territory.” He underscored: “The United States fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters. We do not, nor will we ever, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea. We join our European and other partners in affirming that our Minsk-related sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Russia fully implements its Minsk commitments. The separate, Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.” Subsequent statements throughout the year repeated those assertions and the staunch U.S. position.

Another major topic of concern to the U.S. delegation was that Russia and its proxies were denying access to and placing restrictions on the movement of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). “This is part of Moscow’s broader campaign against Ukraine, including in both the Donbas and Russia-occupied Crimea. On a weekly basis, the SMM’s work is inhibited by Russia and its proxy forces – which Russia arms, trains, funds, leads and fights alongside – limiting the SMM’s ability to fulfill its mandate and to provide OSCE participating states with the most accurate view of the situation on the ground,” Ambassador Gilmore noted in his statement on March 26.

On January 31, when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kyiv, the Russian-Ukrainian war in the Donbas was among the topics of his discussions with President Zelenskyy, Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko and Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk. During this major visit to Ukraine by a senior Trump administration official, Secretary Pompeo also underscored the strong U.S. support for Ukraine and its Euro-Atlantic integration. In addition, the secretary of state met with Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, civil society activists and business leaders, and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor those who were killed in the Donbas while defending their homeland. On Twitter, Secretary Pompeo wrote: “The U.S. welcomes Ukraine’s efforts to bring peace to the Donbas. Russia must reciprocate. Our sanctions will remain in place until Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is restored.”

Presidential Office of Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a joint briefing in Kyiv on January 31.

Clearly, the visit was meant to allay fears that the Trump administration, with President Trump in the midst of impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, was not turning away from Ukraine. It would also counter the negative impression created when Mr. Pompeo, apparently in a fit of anger, had said to an NPR anchor: “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?”

During their joint press availability, President Zelenskyy stated: “This is a hallmark visit that clearly demonstrates the consistent and across-the-board support of our country by the United States of America. The United States have been and will remain our key ally in defending sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We dearly appreciate the efforts of President Trump and his administration on this track. We are grateful for your personal, unflinching and unwavering stance regarding the war in Donbas and the illegal annexation of Crimea.”

In a similar vein, Secretary Pompeo emphasized that “The Ukrainian people should know the United States understands that Ukraine is an important country. It’s not just the geographic heart of Europe; it’s a bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. …The United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is a valiant one. Our commitment to support it will not waver.” In addition, he cited the historic Crimea Declaration of July 2018 in which the U.S. made it clear that Crimea is Ukraine and the U.S. “will never recognize Russia’s attempts to annex it.”

The Ukrainian Weekly’s editorial commented on the Pompeo visit, noting that “…the question that needs to be asked is: What’s next in the U.S. relationship with this strategic ally? First on the agenda should be the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, where the Embassy is currently led by a chargé d’affaires. Second, the U.S. should finally grant President Zelenskyy what he’d been seeking since he was elected in April 2019: a White House meeting with President Trump. And third, it would be a wise move to name a special envoy to help achieve peace in Ukraine, where Russia’s war will soon enter its seventh year.”

On February 26, Secretary of State Pompeo released a statement on the sixth anniversary of Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in order to state, yet again, that, “As underscored in our July 2018 Crimea Declaration, the United States does not and will not ever recognize Russia’s claims of sovereignty over the peninsula. We call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its increasing militarization of the peninsula is a threat to our common security. Russian occupation authorities continue their assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms, brutally silencing critics in civil society and the media, and curtailing religious freedom. …Six years on, Russia continues to rely on lies and disinformation in its failed attempt to legitimize the illegitimate. Its efforts are doomed to failure. The world will never forget Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

Mr. Pompeo continued his contacts with Ukraine. For example, on April 6 it was reported that he spoke with President Zelenskyy to discuss ongoing U.S. assistance to Ukraine during the COVID-19 crisis, including the planned delivery of much-needed medical lab equipment. He also thanked the president for Ukraine’s support in repatriating U.S. citizens and residents, including more than 200 Peace Corps volunteers. On May 7, he spoke with Foreign Affairs Minister Kuleba. According to the U.S. State Department, “Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Kuleba discussed Ukraine’s efforts to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-instigated conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region and the results of the April 30 Normandy Format virtual Foreign Ministerial. The secretary commended Ukraine’s conflict diplomacy in the face of Russia’s intransigence and continued aggressive behavior.”

U.S. Embassy Kyiv

During his visit to Kyiv on August 27, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (right) expressed solidarity with the brave Ukrainians who lost their lives and suffered injuries defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He is seen here while visiting a memorial to those heroes with Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Later in the year, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, during an August 27 meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv, assured that the United States supports the Ukrainian government’s efforts to implement reforms. The U.S. Embassy reported on its Facebook page that the United States is deeply committed to reinforcing Ukraine’s continued progress on reforms to further integrate into Europe, including via cooperation with international partners to strengthen its judicial, regulatory and financial institutions. During Mr. Biegun’s meeting with Minister Kuleba, the topics of discussion included development of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States, as well as the situation in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, where protests had broken out in the aftermath of the tainted presidential election.

Among the strongest supporters of Ukraine in the U.S. were the members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus (CUC), who spoke out on a number of issues. On January 16, they introduced a resolution expressing bipartisan support for Ukraine and its people, and commending the Ukrainian people’s resilience and accomplishments in the face of Russian aggression.” The CUC added that “Ukraine’s success will only boost U.S. national security interests in the region and globally.”

On June 8, the Congressional Ukraine Caucus sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo expressing concern regarding Russia’s efforts to circumvent congressional sanctions on Nord Stream 2, and urging Mr. Pompeo to urgently apply sanctions on Russian entities STIF and MRTS and any other firms should they engage in pipelaying or provide technical support, as mandated under section 7503 of the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019. A copy of the letter was also sent to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. The letter read, in part: “Russian authorities seek to complete Nord Stream 2 as a political and economic weapon to cut off critical gas transit through Ukraine, a nation fighting for its survival against Russian aggression and occupation of its regions, as well as to increase its leverage over Europe. That is why several Eastern European, Nordic and Baltic countries have joined the United States in expressing their concerns with the project.”

A month later, Secretary Pompeo threatened to sanction any individual or company helping Russia build the controversial natural gas pipeline to Germany as the Kremlin moved to complete the last kilometers of the nearly $11 billion project. “Get out now – or risk the consequences,” Mr. Pompeo said on July 15 during a press conference in Washington announcing the new sanctions guidelines.

Still, in late October, the Congressional Ukraine Caucus expressed fear that a U.S. bill to expand sanctions on a Russian natural-gas pipeline to Europe could be dropped from the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PEESCA) would widen the scope of sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “We strongly urge you to include PEESCA in the final conferenced FY21 NDAA bill. This will not only strengthen European energy security and U.S. national security, but also demonstrate the U.S. resolute commitment to Ukraine’s democratic future, free from malign Russian influence,” said the October 27 letter to congressional leaders signed by the CUC’s four co-chairs, Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.).

On August 26, the Congressional Ukraine Caucus applauded the inclusion in several appropriations bills of funding for vital programs that support key efforts to strengthen democracy in Ukraine. The funding included: $255 million for development and anti-corruption assistance; $115 million for foreign military financing; $2.9 million for international military education and training; $15 million for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining and related programs; $30 million for international narcotics control and law enforcement; and $275 million for Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Also notable, the CUC said, was the inclusion of key language to boost care for Ukrainian veterans, enhance Ukraine’s cyberdefenses and energy security, strengthen women’s agricultural microfinancing initiatives and support creation of the Ukrainian Rada Research Service to boost Ukraine’s reform efforts, as well as language to ensure that Ukraine further adopts and implements defense reforms and reduces corruption in the security services.

In the latest news on U.S.-Ukraine relations in 2020, President Zelenskyy told The New York Times in an interview published on December 20 that he was looking forward to putting relations with the U.S. on a sound footing. Speaking of President-elect Biden, he said, “Before his presidency, he had close ties to Ukraine, and he understands the Russians well, he understands the difference between Ukraine and Russia, and, it seems to me, he understands the Ukrainian mentality.” He added: “It will really help strengthen relations, help settle the war in [the] Donbas and end the occupation of our territory. The United States can help.”

At the same time, the Ukrainian president said, “I should thank the United States in the period of Donald Trump,” expressing thanks for sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s takeover of Crimea and its actions in opposing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The New York Times reported that in the interview, conducted via video link from Kyiv, Mr. Zelenskyy said he resented efforts to draw Ukraine into American politics, which could only harm Kyiv’s interests. “I don’t want Ukraine to become the subject” of a fight between Democrats and Republicans, he said. “We are beautiful partners. But partners in what? Let’s be partners in geopolitics, in the economy between our countries. But certainly not between personalities, and moreover with two candidates for the presidency of the United States.”