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Pompeo visits Zelensky in Kyiv, vows U.S. support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hold a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. “I don’t think these friendly and warm relations have been influenced by the impeachment trial of the president,” Zelensky said. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Reuters)

KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood beside Ukraine's president Friday and promised that the United States would "not waver" in its support for the country as it battles Russian-backed separatists in its eastern region.

“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,” he said. “Our commitment to support it will not waver.”

The message from Pompeo came as the Senate continued its impeachment trial of President Trump on the basis that the president conditioned U.S. military and diplomatic support for Ukraine on an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden.

Pompeo, in his most direct remarks since the allegations emerged last fall, denied that the Trump administration had set such an investigation as a condition for a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But he could not offer a date when the two countries would arrange an Oval Office sit-down between Trump and Zelensky.

“President Zelensky will be welcome to come to Washington when we have the opportunity to do good things for the American people and the Ukrainian people,” Pompeo said. “We’ll find the right time.”

Ukrainian officials have desperately sought a White House meeting with Trump since Zelensky, a former comedian with no political experience, won the presidency in the spring of 2019.

On Friday, Zelensky reiterated that interest. “I would be ready to go tomorrow,” he said.

While the lack of a specific date is likely to disappoint Zelensky, the young leader won a long-sought and high-profile show of support from the top U.S. diplomat, who called Ukraine a “bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe.” He said the United States would continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine, which has received $1 billion in such aid since 2017.

The White House sought to use the visit to dispel criticism from Democrats that it exploited Ukraine for political gain and to affirm that the U.S.-Ukraine relationship remains strong. Zelensky provided a boost for that defense Friday, expressing his gratitude for U.S. support and emphasizing that it remained steady throughout the impeachment process.

“I don’t think these friendly and warm relations have been influenced by the impeachment trial of the president,” said Zelensky, when asked about the highly charged political debate in Washington.

Pompeo also sought to dismiss concerns that have stemmed from a whistleblower’s complaint that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden in a July 25 phone call while withholding about $400 million in security aid to Ukraine.

The White House eventually released the money after the hold came under congressional scrutiny. According to the administration, the ultimate release of the aid undercuts the Democratic effort to remove the president from office.

“It’s less about what is said and more about what is actually done,” Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo continued to dodge questions about whether the United States was still seeking a Ukrainian investigation of Biden, whose son Hunter Biden was paid generously by the Ukrainian energy company Burisma at a time when the then-vice president oversaw U.S. policy on Ukraine.

Pompeo simply said the United States would help Ukraine reduce “corruption.”

“When we were talking about corruption, we talked about every element of corruption inside of Ukraine,” Pompeo told reporters earlier this week. “I don’t want to talk about particular individuals. It’s not worth it. It’s a long list in Ukraine of corrupt individuals and a long history there.”

Despite Trump’s public complaints that Ukraine is a “corrupt” country that Europe should deal with, Zelensky reiterated his gratitude for the Trump administration’s “unflinching stance regarding the war in Donbas,” as the contested region in eastern Ukraine is known.

Zelensky’s defense of the president comes as his country seeks to project solidarity with a U.S. administration that it relies on for military support against pro-Russian separatists.

A top aide to Zelensky who is angling to become his new chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, has urged his boss to embrace a pro-Trump line for the sake of his embattled country, according to diplomats familiar with the deliberations.

Yermak sat in the front row of the news conference Friday as Zelensky underscored the strength of the bilateral relationship.

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