How U.S. Support For Ukraine Keeps Russia At Bay In Eastern Europe

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukraine is in danger and continued U.S. support is essential to protecting the former Soviet republic’s independence and keeping Russia’s aggression in check. U.S. national security depends on it.

That warning came from diplomats who testified before House impeachment investigators last week.

They spoke of a young democracy struggling to ally itself with Europe and the United States, while locked in a five-year territorial war with Russia that has claimed thousands of lives.

“Now is not the time to retreat from our relationship with Ukraine, but rather to double down on it,” David Holmes, a career Foreign Service officer stationed in Kyiv, Ukraine said on the last day of public testimony.

“We are now at an inflection point in Ukraine, and it is critical to our national security that we stand in strong support of our Ukrainian partners. Ukrainians and freedom-loving people everywhere are watching the example we set of democracy and the rule of law.”

Other diplomats and foreign policy experts echoed similar views to the House Intelligence Committee as the impeachment process featured testimony of a White House allegedly leveraging its support for Ukraine for political gain, while GOP supporters of President Trump denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, a new transcript of a closed-door deposition revealed two White House budget officials resigned over an unexplained hold on $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine is still seeking western support — including a White House meeting for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — in its war with Russia and pro-Russian separatists.

Experts say the messages sent from Washington could influence the outcome of a Dec. 9 summit in Paris between Zelenskiy and Russia President Vladimir Putin to negotiate an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 14,000 dead and reportedly displaced millions.

Instead, Ukrainians have watched their nation’s reputation as a hotbed of corruption become further tarnished as Democrats and Republicans argued about the president’s actions toward the nation.

“The demonstrated weakness of U.S. support for Ukraine fundamentally weakens Zelenskiy and strengthens Putin,” which puts U.S. national security at risk, as well, said Majorie Castle, a political scientist at the University of Utah specializing in post-Soviet eastern Europe.

“Russia wants more influence and that creates a problem for the peaceful order in the world that has served U.S. interests for quite a long time now.”

Revolution of Dignity 

Many of the diplomats who’ve testified in the impeachment inquiry pointed to Ukraine’s precarious situation and its need for support from the West, particularly the United States.

But Holmes’ timing put a fine point on what is known in foreign policy circles as the “Ukrainian crisis.”

He noted that the day he testified, Nov. 21, marked the six-year anniversary of the “Revolution of Dignity,” a spontaneous protest in Kyiv’s Independence Square that grew into a movement against corruption in a government sustained by Russian influence.

Holmes explained that Russia seeks to restore the power it has lost since the breakup of the Soviet Union and Ukraine is the logical first place to achieve that goal since it serves as “a bridge” to Europe.

The revolution, fueled by anti-Russian sentiment, toppled a president who was backed by Russia.

Putin responded by occupying Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and invading Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

But, Holmes said the conflict hasn’t deterred Ukraine from rebuilding its “shattered economy,” embark on a peace process and move socially and economically closer to the West.

Zelenskiy was elected earlier this year on a platform of rooting out corruption rampant in the country’s public and private sectors and finding peace with Russia.

Testimony during the impeachment hearings indicated Zelenskiy can’t succeed without strong support from the United States.

Congress had shown its support in approving $400 million in military aid earlier this year, and Ukrainian officials were pressing U.S. officials for a meeting between Zelenskiy and Trump as a powerful symbolic gesture to Russia that the West had Ukraine’s back.

But that support was stalled by a reluctant Trump, who contends Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 presidential election to hurt him.

Testimony from the impeachment inquiry indicates that in a call to Zelenskiy July 25, Trump conditioned the military aid and Oval Office meeting on Ukraine investigating the 2016 election and Joe Biden, a political rival whose son held a lucrative board position with a Ukrainian energy company while Biden was vice president.

Military aid was eventually released.

A whistleblower’s complaint about the July 25 call launched the impeachment inquiry.

News reports this week revealed Trump was briefed on the complaint before he released the military aid on Sept. 11.

The president claims there was no link between withholding the aid and the investigations he requested.

And Republicans argued in public hearings that since the aid was released without the investigations, there is no impeachable quid pro quo.

‘Soft Power’ 

Diplomats who testified and experts following the impeachment say regardless of how the proceedings in Washington play out for the president, the impact has been felt in Ukraine and noticed worldwide as national leaders gauge the U.S. government’s handling of Ukraine, Russia and domestic politics.

For Ukraine, Zelenskiy is still waiting for an invitation to the White House, which likely won’t come before he meets with Putin in Paris.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron of France will join the two leaders in the sixth such summit.

But Castle said nothing substitutes for an Oval Office meeting for a new leader of a struggling democracy. “It is undeniable that Ukraine would be in a stronger position if Zelenskiy had been able to make his first foreign trip to the U.S. and had been received by the U.S. president. That would have been a symbolic move that would have demonstrated to the world the strength of U.S support for Ukraine,” she said.

“The U.S. is by far the strongest military power in the world. There’s no equivalent.”

America’s military might isn’t the only issue being watched, however, by foreign powers.

Castle explained that the U.S. also exercises a “soft power” to achieve its foreign policy goals by championing the rule of law and other democratic practices through example.

‘We are better off in a world with rules,” she said.

“We’re better off in a world where a larger nation cannot bully a smaller neighbor because all of these things contribute to peace and predictability.”

Source: Deseret News