Three senior U.S. senators arrived in Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and reaffirm bipartisan support for continued strong relations between the two countries, despite an impeachment process that put Kyiv in the middle of a sensitive political situation.
“We just finished a very difficult moment in American politics,” Democrat Chris Murphy told reporters on February 14 following the meeting.
“The three of us are [from] different parties. We voted differently on the matter of impeachment,” he said, referring to the fellow members of the U.S. contingent, Republicans Ron Johnson and John Barrasso.
“But we are here together because there is no difference between us or between Republicans and Democrats in Congress in our support for Ukraine, for our support for continued funding for Ukraine to defend itself, and our continued support for reform,” he added.
Democrats in the House of Representatives on January 18 charged that President Donald Trump “used his official powers to pressure” Ukraine’s government to “interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”
They accused him of pressuring Kyiv to investigate his political rivals by withholding aid approved by Congress and a desired White House visit until the Ukraine government made a public announcement of a probe.
Trump denied he did anything wrong in his dealings with Ukraine and called the impeachment process a “sham” and an “attempted coup.” He was acquitted following a trial in the Senate in a vote mainly on party lines.
Ukrainian leaders attempted to remain neutral in the U.S. political standoff, given that Washington and its NATO allies have provided billions of dollars in aid to Kyiv since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and began supporting separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.
The visiting U.S. senators sought to reassure the Ukrainian leader that the divisive impeachment case would not damage U.S.-Ukraine relations.
“Our message is we want to put this impeachment question behind us and we want to be moving together, Republicans and Democrats, in supporting Ukraine,” Murphy said.
“We all are confident that President Zelenskiy does not want to be involved in U.S. politics, and we hope that any pressure [that] existed in the past to do so is over,” he added.
Johnson praised Zelenskiy, who assumed the presidency in May 2018, for making gains in rooting out corruption during the initial months following his election.
Trump and his supporters have said that aid was held up to Kyiv because of concerns about corruption and not as part of demands that the country announce an investigation into a political rival.
“We leave Ukraine convinced of President Zelenskiy’s dedication to fulfilling his mandate to defeat corruption and are optimistic for the future of Ukraine,” the Republican said.
Zelenskiy said he wants to change Ukraine’s global image so that his country is no longer associated with graft.
“We want people who speak of Ukraine to think not about corruption — but about our wonderful country with good people and an attractive investment climate,” he said.
“We are fighting against monopolies and privatization is now being carried out through open competition. That will all aid us in the fight against corruption in our country,” he said.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, CQ-Roll Call, Reuters, AP, and Interfax