'U.S. Supports Ukraine' Against Russia, Trump Tells Foreign Minister

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukraine's foreign minister said he received assurances from President Trump and Vice President Pence of support from the United States, as Russia expands its influence in separatist-held eastern Ukraine.


President Trump, right, talks to Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin as Vice President Pence listens at the Oval Office in the White House, May 10, 2017. Trump said the U.S. supports Ukraine, Klimkin told USA TODAY.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Pavlo Klimkin said, "Without U.S. engagement, it's not possible to sort this out, because Russia has respect for the United States."

Klimkin’s visit to the White House Wednesday was overshadowed by Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Trump expressed his desire to work with Ukraine “to peacefully resolve the conflict,” the White House said in a statement.

Pence emphasized that the negotiated cease-fire agreements “remain the most viable path toward peace."

"It was very important to hear," Klimkin said.

Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine are making peace harder to achieve, he added.

For example, Russian rubles must now be used as currency in the Donbass region, instead of Ukrainian hryvnas, for all transactions, including paying employees of Ukrainian companies.

That mandate, in place since March 1, required transferring large amounts of currency from Russia, which Klimkin said could not have happened without Russian approval and involvement.

In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree Feb. 18 recognizing passports and other documents issued by the self-described People’s Republic of Donetsk and People’s Republic of Luhansk.

On March 17, separatist authorities seized private and Ukrainian state-owned factories and mines, he said.

One result is that owners in Ukraine have no legal way to communicate with Ukrainian companies in the Donbass, Klimkin said.

Commodities, such as coal and iron ore produced in the separatist-held areas, are being illegally transferred and sold in Russia, he said.

And, Klimkin said, Russian state-owned media and the separatist-held region also started “talking about ‘the nation of Donbass,’ which never existed.”

“It’s not a random sequence of actions,” he said.

“It’s an intentional sequence to bring the occupied Donbass far, far away from Ukraine.”

The fighting in eastern Ukraine, which started after demonstrators ousted a pro-Russian government in February 2014, has escalated in recent months, despite cease-fire agreements negotiated with Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in Minsk, Belarus.

While Russia denies arming the separatists, Ukrainian, U.S. and other Western authorities have documented Russian military support and direct involvement in the conflict that has resulted in more than 10,000 Ukrainian deaths.

The U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Lavrov on Wednesday that U.S. sanctions won't be lifted until Russia reverses its actions.

The Minsk agreement requires the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the restoration of Ukrainian law in the separatist-held regions.

The deal also calls for Ukraine to establish a "special status" for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that includes self-governance and cross-border cooperation with Russia.

While fighting continues, that special status provision will not be accepted or adopted by Ukraine, according to Oksana Syroid, deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament.

Ukrainians "will not allow it," Syroid said last week in Washington.

"It's against human dignity."

Klimkin said Russia maintains 6,000 military troops, 2,000 tanks and other heavy weapons in the separatist-held area of Ukraine.

Unless the recent changes are reversed, he warned that the situation there will become permanent. 

Source: USA Today

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