Why did Trump suspend aid to Ukraine

Pompeo's delicate mission in Kiev

For the second attempt, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (article picture) will travel to Ukraine on Thursday. The visit was originally scheduled for early January but has been postponed due to tensions in Iraq. The capital, Kiev, will be the first stop on Pompeo’s mini tour of former Soviet republics. Trips to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are planned, with Ukraine being the most difficult and most important stop.

Pompeo is not only the first Trump administration minister to visit Ukraine following the election of former actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi as president. It is also the first trip by a high-ranking US politician to Ukraine after the scandal over the phone call between Trump and Zelensky in July 2019, which led to the impeachment proceedings against Trump. The visit takes place against the background of the crucial impeachment phase in the US Senate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj (l) and his counterpart Donald Trump

The Democrats accuse Trump of extorting Zelenskyi. Trump allegedly withheld military aid for Ukraine and demanded investigations against his domestic political opponent in the 2020 presidential election - former Vice President Joe Biden and his son who used to do business in Ukraine. US President Trump denies the allegations.

Selenskyj fears disadvantages

In addition to the ongoing positional war against pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, Ukraine is for the first time in its history in the midst of a domestic political scandal in the USA. For almost six months, Zelenskyi has been repeating that he has nothing to blame Trump for.

The Ukrainian president is trying to limit the damage, but the negative consequences are already being felt for Kiev. Experts from Kiev say that Ukraine has become "toxic" for the USA, that contacts on various levels have become more difficult and more cautious.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that, in addition to official representatives, third parties are also involved on both sides, such as two former prosecutors general of Ukraine, Viktor Schokin and Yuri Lutsenko. Both spoke about the Biden case with Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani, who recently collected exculpatory material for Trump in Ukraine.

Diplomatic faults

After the resignation of the US special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, in September 2019, the post is vacant. As a result of the scandal, Volker had to go to the Trump phone call. The diplomat had played an important role for Ukraine, especially in negotiations with Russia on peace in Eastern Ukraine.

The post of US ambassador to Kiev has also been vacant since Trump dismissed the previous ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in May 2019. Since the beginning of January, Christina Queen has been the new Chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy in Kiev, who succeeded William Taylor. This rank is lower in diplomacy than that of an ambassador.

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch

Trump criticized Yovanovitch in his phone call with Selenskyj. According to US media, Giuliani is said to have initiated the early recall. The reason he gave was that the diplomat would block investigations against Biden in Ukraine and talk badly about Trump. Yovanovitch denied this and later testified as a witness in the impeachment case against the US president.

Pompeo himself was involved in a Yovanovitch scandal shortly before the Ukraine visit. The US public radio station NPR reported that after an interview the US Secretary of State sharply criticized his correspondent for asking a question about Yovanovitch by saying, "Do you think the Americans care about Ukraine?" He is said to have used swear words. Pompeo accused the journalist of violating confidential rules. Kiev left the incident uncommented.

Finally, in mid-January, sources in the US House of Representatives revealed that Yovanovitch, as an ambassador, may have been spied on. Kiev authorities have started an investigation. All of this makes Ukraine a diplomatic minefield for Pompeo.

US support for Ukrainian army

The US Secretary of State is flying to Kiev to support Ukrainian "sovereignty and territorial integrity," the State Department said. Despite scandals, this support has recently increased. The state-owned Ukrainian company "Naftogaz" expressed its thanks for US sanctions against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. The sanctions helped negotiate a new gas transit agreement with Moscow for deliveries to Europe via Ukraine in December.

There is movement again with the military supplies that Trump allegedly suspended in the summer of 2019 due to corruption. Kiev is hoping for more than one billion US dollars in financial support from the US this year, said the new Ukrainian ambassador to the US, Volodymyr Yeltschenko.

Around a third of this amount is to flow into military aid. Most recently, Ukraine agreed on a second delivery of US Javelin anti-tank systems. However, the focus of the military support from the USA is on strengthening the Ukrainian navy, said Yeltschenko. So Kiev gets missile systems and fast boats for its coast guard.

"Surrender" to Russia?

One of the central themes when Pompeo visits Kiev is likely to be the so-called Minsk agreements. At the summit in Paris in December 2019, Washington praised Zelenskyi's efforts to restart the faltering peace process.

In the coming weeks, Ukraine will implement political agreements that affect the special status of the separatist areas around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the local elections that will take place there in the autumn. There used to be street protests against these agreements. Many viewed the agreement as a "surrender" to Russia.