Pompeo and Zelensky: Why the US cares about Ukraine

“Today I am here with a clear message: The United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is a valiant one. Our commitment to support it will not waver,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday in Kyiv. Pompeo’s meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was the first such high-level meeting between the two countries since the impeachment inquiry began last fall – the US Secretary of State had to reschedule his trip to Ukraine after the American drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January.

During the joint news conference, Pompeo said that the US would continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine, which has received $1 billion in such aid since 2017. Despite the friendship between the two governments – last July President Trump called Zelensky to ask him to investigate Joe Biden and his son – an official invitation to Washington did not arrive from Pompeo. “There is no condition for President Zelensky to come to Washington. We’ll find the right time or find the appropriate opportunity. We want to make sure that it will happen at a time when substantial progress, things that we can deliver between the two of us [are done],” pointed out Pompeo.

On the contrary, Zelensky told journalists he is ready to meet Trump, and that a visit to the American capital would be good for both countries. The Ukrainian leader has expressed himself on the impeachment trial in which President Trump is involved, saying he doesn’t think the investigation has affected relations between the US and the Ukraine.

Another key focus for Zelensky in 2020 will be boosting trade and investment, hoping the Trump administration will cancel Ukraine’s 25% duty on steel imports, considering it a sensitive issue for Ukrainian metallurgical exports.

But what is really important for the US is the hybrid war Russia is fighting against Ukraine, Europe and the US. “Ukraine is a bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism,” commented Pompeo during the midday meeting with Zelensky, supporting the work of the Ukrainian President on its democratic path towards membership of NATO and the EU as well as in its war against Russia.

Pompeo’s visit to Kyiv comes after last week’s post-interview exchange with NPR radio host Mary Louise Kelly, when he asked the journalist: “Do the Americans actually care about Ukraine?” While Pompeo has not denied making the comment, the State Department has declined NPR journalist Michele Kelemen’s permission to fly with the Secretary of State on the official trip that includes Ukraine – Pompeo will also visit Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Before seeing Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House, the US will continue helping Ukraine, including reducing corruption in the country. “When we were talking about corruption, we talked about every element of corruption inside of Ukraine,” Pompeo commented earlier this week, adding he did not want to talk about particular corrupted individuals since it is not worth it and there’s a long list in the country.