An Uncertain Future for US-Ukrainian Diplomacy?
18 November, 2019

Ukraine is finally on the lips of everyone in Washington – though perhaps not in the way it could hope for. The “parallel tracks” of diplomacy practiced by U.S. President Donald Trump, as revealed through dozens of hours of testimony by top U.S. diplomatic officials who served in Ukraine, are at the core of an impeachment inquiry in Congress.

But what this means for relations between the two countries is not yet clear. As the testimonies by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, and current acting U.S. ambassador William Taylor show, the U.S. official diplomatic policy of anti-corruption reform, democracy promotion, and security assistance were at odds with the unofficial policies pursued by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and other Trump administration allies.

And with the scheme revealed, the United States – a “key patron” of Ukraine, as noted by U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff during the first day of public impeachment hearings – no longer has a permanent ambassador in its embassy in Kyiv. And conversely, a key diplomatic post for the Ukrainians – an ambassador to Washington – also remains empty. 

The future of William Taylor, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomatic official in Kyiv, also remains in question. He’s been the source of key revelations during the impeachment inquiry, such as an overheard phone call by Sondland to Trump at a Kyiv restaurant. 

“One thing I wanna know is how long Trump is going to let Ambassador Taylor stay in,” commented Kyiv Post editor-in-chief Brian Bonner on a recent broadcast of the Sunday Show. And Trump quoted conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh in a tweet, who called the dismissals of Kent, Taylor, and Yovanovitch a core part of Trump’s strategy to “drain the swamp”.

But Kari Hiepko-Odermann, a political scientist, thinks that Trump may not “be able to afford to do that,” though she adds that “...we’ve been continually surprised, over and over again.” She puts down the resignation of Kurt Volker, the former Special Envoy to Ukraine, as “He knew that what he was doing was wrong,” referring to Volker’s involvement in a scheme to persuade Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into making a public statement about an investigation into Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.

Zelenskyy’s silence on the current impeachment proceedings has also muddied Ukraine’s reputation abroad, argued Michael Bociurkiw, a global affairs analyst. “It’s high time that the Zelenskyy administration lifted this cone of silence … and started fighting for Ukraine, for the things Ukraine believes in, because … every time Donald Trump and his circle open their mouths about Ukraine, the word corruption comes out,” says Borciurkiw, adding that these allegations are damaging the work of pro-Ukrainian agencies and lobbying groups, especially for foreign investors.

“Ukraine is an important ally of the United States of America, and it’s fighting for democracy, for itself but also for Europe and for America. That’s our policy. And they’re not carrying out that policy,”  notes Bonner. But whether or not the official policy on Ukraine has changed, and what policy the U.S. will pursue with respect to Ukraine in the future – only time will tell.

/By Romeo Kokriatski