Writing about Mike Pompeo's recent visit to Kiev is not easy. On the one hand, the scale of the event requires a response, especially since the US Secretary of State has not visited Ukraine since 2017. But shortly before the visit, there was an earth-shattering face-off between the Secretary of State and National Public Radio (NPR) journalist Mary Louise Kelly, when Pompeo allegedly asked her a rhetorical question as to whether she thought Americans cared about Ukraine? And this is the key issue.
Yes, we can assume that the process of Donald Trump's impeachment, caused by his contacts with the President of Ukraine, is linked to the fact that issues of reviving US-Ukrainian relations are put on hold. But this role should not be considered of topmost importance. It is clear that there are no votes in the Senate to remove the President from office.
As for the Ukrainian factor in the impeachment case and the Ukrainian trace of Trump's main likely opponent in the election, Joe Biden, this issue quickened interest in American journalists, but Pompeo was invariably evading answers. There are no hints that this issue was pointedly discussed at his talks in Kiev. The Secretary of State is far from being Trump's most trusted person. Zelensky wants to disassociate himself from this situation as much as possible, and given the unpredictability of future elections' outcome, he wants to demonstrate equidistance from both sides. Thus, his words on the bipartisan consensus in support of Ukraine in the Congress at a briefing in the Congress are indicative.
At the same time, it is not conceivable that the US Secretary of State could do without platitude formulas in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity and its pro-Western course. And Pompeo did certainly talk about this. He even called Ukraine "bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe."
However, Pompeo appeared rather moderate in his criticism of Moscow contrasted with ABC journalist Kyra Phillips, who wound up her interview with the Secretary of State with the following question: "What did you tell President Zelensky today about what the U.S. is prepared to do to get the Russians out of their country?"The Secretary of State answered this question euphemistically, without using the words "Russia" and "the Russians".
Of course, these niceties are easily associated with the post of American diplomacy chief, but the interesting point is that in all the statements related to Ukraine during the current tour, Pompeo avoided the words "aggression" and "occupation" to characterize Russia's actions in the Donbass region. Yes, the word "aggression" does appear in the press releases on the visit prepared by Secretary of State's speaker Morgan Ortagus. But it's quite another thing when we talk about Pompeo personally, who mentioned Zelensky's efforts "to get peace and reconciliation in the southeast" in a positive way in his conversation with Kyra Phillips. But if the conflict is regarded as an "aggression", who can one reconcile with? This is a term for internal conflicts.
By the way, Zelensky himself did not show belligerence at the joint briefing and did not use the word "Russia" at all. This probably reflects the entire atmosphere of negotiations.
The Secretary of State spoke about America's aid more than once, stressing that the Javelins were sent under Trump, not Obama. Without specifying the new support, Pompeo repeatedly noted that US allies should help Ukraine as well. Behind all of this, there is a message that Kiev's aid cut-off is not expected, but Washington will scale it up only if Europe does the same.
As for economic relations, Zelensky voiced all the specific proposals in this regard at the briefing, without getting a response from Pompeo, except for some general phrases that transparency and predictability of the business climate and compliance with the IMF conditions are a precondition for the arrival of investors. In such a context, both the Europeans and other American politicians, such as Biden, liked to talk about "corruption" (more precisely, the fight against it) and "reforms". These two words were literally on their lips.
At the latest briefing the Secretary of State managed to avoid the word "corruption". In the course of major interviews, he did touch upon this issue but as a mere response to questions from interlocutors. As for "reforms", Pompeo only pronounced the word twice in the three mentioned speeches, with one of the cases being about "defense sector reforms."
These Secretary of State's omissions point to at least fixing the trend: the Ukrainian policy of the United States does not change, but loses focus and energy. At the outside it implies that from Pompeo's point of view, Ukraine may become uninteresting either to the American people or to the American President.
This is not about the Secretary of State's personal geopolitical likes and dislikes. During this visit, they were highlighted by a meeting with head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epiphanius and the mentioned recognition of this denomination by the Greek and Alexandrine Orthodox Churches. In general, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is probably a project of his. It is worth reminding that Poroshenko revived the idea of an autocephalous church in April 2018, shortly after Pompeo's nomination for Secretary of State. The President of Ukraine wouldn't have taken such a step without a signal from Washington that this time there will be no refusal from Phanar.
However, the past is one thing, even the recent past, but the here and now is quite another. At present, Pompeo decided to link himself with the current President, abandoning his intentions to run for the Senate. He does not know what Trump's policy will be after he defends his position and starts fighting for re-election. Without any signals from the White House, the Secretary of State does not want to bind America with any promises to Kiev. It seems that to Washington, Ukraine is really hiding in a fog. And this fog will only melt away not after the impeachment case is over, but after Trump clarifies his priorities after having managed to stay afloat. Meanwhile, Pompeo's words and omissions in Kiev show that a correction of the current policy is within the realm of possibility.