Pompeo to reaffirm U.S. support on visit to Ukraine

By Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine this week, the State Department said on Monday, on the highest-level U.S. visit since President Donald Trump’s impeachment over his handling of relations with Ukraine.

Trump’s conduct of Ukraine policy has raised questions about his commitment to the country’s security as it battles Russia-backed rebels and seeks to recover Crimea, seized by Moscow in 2014.

A senior State Department official said Pompeo will stress in talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other top officials that as “Ukraine faces its challenges, the United States is with them.”

Pompeo also will reaffirm U.S. backing of Zelenskiy’s anti-corruption reforms, said the official, who could not be further identified under the rules of a briefing on Pompeo’s Jan. 3-7 trip to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Cyprus.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Dec. 18 impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, stemming from his bid to push Zelenskiy to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to run against Trump in the 2020 election, and a debunked theory on election interference.

The senior State Department official dodged questions about whether Pompeo would raise with Ukrainian leaders the investigations sought by Trump.

“I can’t tell you every topic that’s going to come up in those bilateral meetings,” said the official.

The House inquiry concluded that Trump sought the investigations in return for granting Zelenskiy an Oval Office visit. It also found that Trump held back $391 million in congressionally approved aid that Ukraine needed to defend against Russia-backed separatists.

Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have promoted unsubstantiated allegations that Biden, while vice president, blocked an investigation into the Ukrainian energy firm whose board members included his son, Hunter.

They also have trumpeted a discredited theory that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The U.S. intelligence community and a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia interfered to swing the vote to Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Russia denies the allegation.

The State Department official also evaded questions about whether Pompeo sought the early departure from Kiev of the acting U.S. ambassador, William Taylor, whose testimony was a key factor in the House Democrats’ impeachment case.

Taylor is leaving Kiev before Pompeo’s arrival even though his term does not expire until mid-January.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Mary Milliken and Nick Macfie)