October 4, 2019

Kurt Volker resigns as special envoy to Ukraine


KYIV – U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker resigned on September 27 against the backdrop of the controversy in the United States around the July 25 telephone conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the U.S. leader’s initial decision to withhold military aid to Kyiv.

U.S. media say Ambassador Volker might have been involved in discussing the Biden case with Ukrainian authorities. He is on the list of U.S. State Department personnel whose data was requested by the House of Representatives investigating the “Ukraine case.”

Mr. Volker has agreed to appear before the House of Representatives to answer questions related to the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. RFE/RL reported that Mr. Volker’s name was mentioned in a whistle-blower complaint expressing alarm over Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Mr. Volker was appointed in 2017 as U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations to focus on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Donbas. Previously, Ukraine-related questions were addressed in the State Department by Victoria Nuland, then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

As special envoy, Mr. Volker made numerous visits to Ukraine, met with the country’s former and current presidents, and visited the Donbas. He was seen as having a firm pro-Ukrainian position, constantly reassured Ukraine of U.S. support, maintained a direct dialogue with Russia and often expressed concern about the residents of the Donbas.

The majority of Ukrainian experts characterized Ambassador Volker’s resignation as bad news.

“I cannot recall any other U.S. high-level official who visited Ukraine over 10 times in two years and was not only in Kyiv but also went to Avdiyivka, Mariupol and Kramatorsk. This person knew the situation in Ukraine perfectly well,” said Yevhen Mahda, director of the Institute of World Policy in a comment to Hromadske TV.

Experts also said that Mr. Volker, who served in a volunteer capacity, constantly raised awareness about the situation in Ukraine, and shared his knowledge and understanding of Ukraine with the Department of State and with the U.S. president.

“My biggest concern is that the position itself will be eliminated. The fact that it exists in the U.S. Department of State sends a clear signal to international actors that the U.S. is interested in the situation in Ukraine,” Mr. Mahda told Hromadske TV.

Many Ukrainian politicians reacted to Volker’s resignation on social media. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin called his resignation “a true loss. He wrote on Facebook: “We did matter to him, it happens quite rarely in politics.”

Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, the leader of the European Solidarity party, expressed regret about the “disturbing news” of Mr. Volker’s resignation. “His firmness and strategic vision in countering Russian aggression can hardly be overestimated. Kurt made all of us in Ukraine feel more confident – be it about peaceful settlement, reform progress or the U.S. role,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, expressed concerns about Mr. Volker’s departure in comments to RFE/RL. “Volker was an extraordinarily able diplomat doing essential work,” said Mr. Herbst. “He was pushing for a realistic end to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine on terms that did not cave in to Moscow’s aggression.”

Ambassador Herbst added that he did not think Ambassador Volker’s exit would necessarily lead to a change in U.S. policy, “but he was an energetic voice which we’ll be missing.”