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2 February, 2020

Pompeo pledges US support for Ukraine amid impeachment trial

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the highest-ranking US official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored Washington's support for Ukraine on Friday during a visit to Kyiv, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for the US to play a greater role in settling the conflict with Russian-backed separatists.

Pompeo's visit to the Ukrainian capital on Friday came as both countries sought to smooth over relations buffeted by the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

"Today, I'm 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 waiver," Pompeo said at a news conference after he met Zelenskyy. 

"The US understands that Ukraine is an important country," Pompeo said, in a clear reference to reports that he had told a US journalist that Americans did not care about the country.

Ukraine was thrust centre stage in a domestic battle in Washington, DC, last year as Trump faced allegations of withholding military aid to push Kyiv into investigating his Democratic rival Joe Biden. The US president has denied any wrongdoing. 

Trump temporarily froze nearly $400m in US security assistance shortly before speaking to Zelenskyy in a July phone call, prompting accusations from Democrats he had misused US foreign policy for personal gain.

On the call, Trump asked Ukraine to announce investigations into Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma. The aid was eventually released. 

'Very significant' visit 

Pompeo is the highest-ranking US official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began. His visit comes as Trump's impeachment trial was set for a climactic vote on Friday or Saturday that is likely to lead to Trump's acquittal. 

Ukraine counts on Washington for diplomatic support and military aid to buy Javelin anti-tank missiles and other hardware as it battles Russian-backed fighters in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Zelenskyy, who has taken a series of steps aimed at resolving the conflict since coming to power last year, said he wanted Washington to be more involved. 

"I expressed the hope that the United States will be more actively involved in the peace process in eastern Ukraine," he said, calling for the US to appoint a special representative on the conflict.

Pompeo said the US had provided more than one billion dollars in security assistance to Kyiv since the start of 2017, adding: "We will maintain financial support for Ukraine's security".

Analysts say Pompeo's visit is "very significant" for Ukraine. 

"President Zelenskyy is using an old rhetoric of the previous president which is aggressively anti-Russian, while at the same time he tries to make moves towards finding a compromise with Russia in resolving the international conflict in the east of Ukraine," Valentin Yakushik, professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, told Al Jazeera.

"Ukraine needs peace and America can provide for a new efficient effort for a peaceful solution ... and Ukraine can do a lot for American democracy," Yakushik added. 

Al Jazeera

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