Ukraine’s new ambassador to Washington says the United States does indeed care about his country, despite reports that the U.S. secretary of state says otherwise.
Volodymyr Yelchenko spoke to reporters at the Ukrainian Embassy on Monday ahead of his planned meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week. Yelchenko said he intends to discuss the worsening human rights situation and Russia’s increasing militarization of the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula.
He also responded to NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, who reported on Friday that Pompeo abruptly ended an interview and then berated her for asking about Ukraine. Kelly told NPR, “He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, do you think Americans care about Ukraine? He used the F word in that sentence and many others.”
On Monday, Yelchenko said, “Although I am not questioning the opinion of the journalist who was asking questions of Mr. Pompeo, I think we should wait until he, himself, would reply and describe what is the policy of the United States.”
“We know quite well that Ukraine has very strong bipartisan support in this country…from all my initial meetings with the State Department during my first two weeks in Washington, I have drawn the conclusion that there is very strong support within the State Department of the Ukraine policy, the policy of non-recognition of Crimea [as Russian territory]…Military and defense assistance” said Yelchenko, who previously served as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Yelchenko and other representatives from the Ukranian government are to meet with Pompeo in Kyiv at the end of this week.
Human rights watchers say Russia is making a concerted effort to change the demographic makeup of the Crimean peninsula, including by favoring ethnic Russian immigration. “It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it was pointed out by the UN,” said Maria Tomak, Coordinator of Media Initiative for Human Rights, a human rights group located in Ukraine, who was at the meeting. She said that as many as 160,000 Russians had been brought to Crimea in recent years.
The Russian government uses new, strict anti-terrorism laws to punish dissidents, activists, and journalists who attempt to speak out on the situation there. Among them is filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who joined Yelchenko at the Monday press conference.
Yelchenko said he and the other Ukrainian officials will press Pompeo to extend U.S. and international sanctions to Russians who make it difficult to report on the human rights situation on Crimea.
Tomak noted that the State Department has yet to appoint a replacement for Kurt Volker, who monitored the conflict in Ukraine until his departure in September.
“There’s no one there now who is reporting on that. I understand from a political point of view there are some risks about that but we think that it’s a good way to keep this issue on the agenda,” she said.
Yelchenko and the Ukrainians will also bring up Russia’s increasing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula. In July, Defense One published exclusive satellite photos showing the build-up of advanced Russian missiles and other forces systems in the region, a steady growth in conventional forces, plus internal documents showing the location of five sites that the Ukrainians believe Russia may be modernizing to house nuclear weapons.
“Crimea is turning into a huge military base,” Yelchenko said. “We need more proactive U.S. involvement…working with other countries to bring them on board.”