U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaves this week for Ukraine — the country at the center of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
Pompeo will be in Kyiv on Friday, the first stop of a five-nation European and Central Asian tour that will also take him to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Cyprus.
Pompeo will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine and hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The two senior State Department officials who briefed reporters Monday on Pompeo’s trip dodged all questions surrounding the impeachment, sparked by Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Zelenskiy when Trump asked the Ukrainian leader for a “favor” and to investigate 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s job with a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump is also accused of holding up military aid to Ukraine until Zelenskiy publicly committed to the probe.
No evidence against the Bidens has surfaced, and Trump’s belief that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Democrats is based on a debunked conspiracy theory spread by Russia.
One of the officials called Pompeo’s visit to Ukraine this week “much more than symbolic.”
“The secretary’s visit to Ukraine highlights our unshakable commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the official said. “Crimea is part of Ukraine, and the United States will never recognize Russia’s attempt to annex it. This important visit also reinforces our support to Ukraine as it counters Russian aggression and disinformation, and advances reform efforts to stamp out corruption.”
The official said the United States has given Ukraine about $3 billion since 2014 earmarked for law reforms and battling corruption.
Ambassador William Taylor
The two officials also avoided answering why Ambassador William Taylor will be leaving Kyiv before Pompeo’s arrival Friday.
Taylor was appointed acting ambassador to replace Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly fired in May allegedly because of her objections to Trump’s push for an investigation into the Bidens.
Taylor’s appointment was supposed to have lasted until mid-January. It is unclear why he is leaving early.
Both Taylor and Yovanovitch appeared as witnesses in the Democratic-led House impeachment hearings.
Another witness — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — said Pompeo was “in the loop” about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for an investigation. Democrats also say Pompeo tolerated the so-called shadow foreign policy carried out in Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Pompeo has only said the State Department will “continue to comply with all the legal requirements” in the impeachment process.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump in mid-December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It is still unclear when he will be put on trial in the Senate.
During his European trip, Pompeo will meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for talks on normalizing relations between the U.S. and Belarus. Lukashenko has long been considered an authoritarian ruler, but the State Department said Belarus is continuing to make progress in human rights and democratization.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are two nations the State Department said have also made improvements in human rights, and are close economic and security partners with the U.S.
Pompeo’s final stop will be in Cyprus, where the U.S. backs United Nations efforts to reunify the island split between a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north since 1974.