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World

The State Of U.S.-Ukraine Relations

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

On Capitol Hill this week, the impeachment inquiry was brought into public view. Democrats and top U.S. diplomats painted a picture of a president who used taxpayer dollars as leverage for his own political gain. But there was another theme they kept coming back to - that the trust and security of Ukraine, which has relied on the U.S. for support, was also threatened. Here's former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday.

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MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Andrij Dobriansky is with the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. They advocate for stronger U.S.-Ukraine relations, and he joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.

ANDRIJ DOBRIANSKY: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was really struck by the tenor of urgency in the testimony of the diplomats this past week. As Ambassador Bill Taylor put it in his opening statement - and I'm quoting here - "Ukraine is, right at this moment - while we sit in this room - and for the last five years, under armed attack from Russia." While we're seeing this impeachment hearing here in the United States, what's happening in Ukraine?

DOBRIANSKY: In Ukraine, there is live fire going against Ukrainian positions on a daily basis. Going back to 2015, when the first peace process was put into place in Minsk, that cease-fire has not kept longer than a week at best.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How would you describe the state of U.S.-Ukraine relations at the moment?

DOBRIANSKY: We're in a brand-new phase. The previous administration probably was thrown for a loop, as the rest of the world was, with the election of Donald Trump and did everything possible to strengthen that relationship to the extent that the United States started handing over lethal weapons to Ukraine for the first time, as well as Ukraine was able to purchase several Coast Guard cutters to increase its navy. Now, however, we are in a brand-new situation with a brand-new president, a novice president - that being the one in Ukraine, not the novice president in the United States. We're hoping that they, too, can get into a room and maybe start working closer together. But at this point, everything centers around this impeachment investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we've seen reporting that, really, because of this impeachment investigation, we really don't have a lot of high U.S.-level contact with Ukraine.

DOBRIANSKY: That's true in both directions. So currently, there is no appointed and accepted ambassador from the United States to Ukraine; neither do we have a special representative. That position, as far as we are being told by the White House, will not be filled again. And from the other side, Ukraine dismissed most of its ambassadors throughout the world after the election of President Zelenskiy. And they, too, have not appointed an ambassador that's been confirmed to the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does that mean for Ukraine?

DOBRIANSKY: In December, there will be the first peace talks with Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. So right now, there is nobody really from the United States who is saying please let us into this peace process; we can advocate on behalf of Ukraine. Currently, the governments of France and Germany have very strongly indicated that they would like to take the side of Russia in this peace negotiation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there a worry that Ukraine has sort of become toxic in a way here in the United States and there might just be a complete disengagement?

DOBRIANSKY: There's always that worry. Ukraine has had that throughout the entire 20th century where, at times, there was enormous support for freeing Ukraine, all to disappear with a change in attitude by the United States. However, what is still very clear is there is enormous bipartisan support still and currently in the Congress. You should also look at the fact that since 2015, numerous National Guard battalions have visited Ukraine and trained Ukrainian guardsmen on an ongoing basis. And that exchange is going to benefit Ukraine in the long run.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Andrij Dobriansky of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Thank you very much.

DOBRIANSKY: Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.