The dam­age done to Ukraine

Kyiv needs U.S. sup­port more than ever. It will have to come from Congress.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

ONE EAS­ILY over­looked as­pect of the Ukraine af­fair is the ongoing dam­age it is do­ing to the young gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky, who won a free and fair elec­tion in the spring by promis­ing to tackle en­demic cor­rup­tion and end a grind­ing low-grade war with Rus­sia and its prox­ies. Mr. Ze­len­sky has made progress on both fronts, push­ing anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures through par­lia­ment and ne­go­ti­at­ing sev­eral con­fi­dence-build­ing deals with the Rus­sians, in­clud­ing pris­oner ex­changes and troop pull­backs.

Now, how­ever, Mr. Ze­len­sky faces a cru­cial junc­ture. He is try­ing to com­plete a new agree­ment with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, which will re­quire him to de­ci­sively break with an oli­garch who backed his cam­paign and is try­ing to re­gain con­trol of the coun­try’s largest bank. Mean­while, Mr. Ze­len­sky has a sum­mit meet­ing sched­uled on Dec. 9 with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and the lead­ers of Ger­many and France, with the aim of ad­vanc­ing a long-stalled peace deal.

For years it has been the pol­icy of the United States to stand strongly be­hind Ukraine at such mo­ments — not just to sup­port a strug­gling democ­racy but also to ad­vance U.S. strate­gic in­ter­ests, such as con­tain­ing Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Europe. Yet the chaos Pres­i­dent Trump in­tro­duced into U.S.-Ukraine re­la­tions has cre­ated a de facto diplo­matic vac­uum. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery se­nior of­fi­cial who worked on the re­la­tion­ship in the past two years has re­signed or tes­ti­fied in the im­peach­ment in­quiry and been de­nounced by the pres­i­dent.

Mr. Ze­len­sky still has not been in­vited to the White House for the meet­ing Mr. Trump dan­gled in ex­change for po­lit­i­cal fa­vors. And Mr. Trump is still re­peat­ing false charges about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 elec­tion, even af­ter be­ing told that they are in­ven­tions of Rus­sia’s in­tel­li­gence services. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, who should be try­ing to sal­vage the re­la­tion­ship, in­stead sug­gested that Moscow’s lies are worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

All this sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ens Mr. Ze­len­sky’s po­si­tion, par­tic­u­larly as he con­tem­plates the meet­ing with Mr. Putin, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron. The lat­ter two will likely lean on the Ukrainian to make con­ces­sions to the Rus­sian ruler, be­cause a deal would al­low them to re­pair Euro­pean re­la­tions with Rus­sia. Mr. Putin, for his part, will want Mr. Ze­len­sky to com­pro­mise Ukrainian sovereignt­y over the ter­ri­to­ries of east­ern Ukraine oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia and its prox­ies. That would crip­ple Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia and its hopes to in­te­grate with the West.

There re­mains strong sup­port for Ukraine in Congress, in­clud­ing among Repub­li­cans who have been de­fend­ing Mr. Trump. They should be press­ing the pres­i­dent and Mr. Pom­peo to re­vive U.S. sup­port for Ukraine. The State Depart­ment ought to des­ig­nate a new se­nior of­fi­cial to rep­re­sent the United States on peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Mr. Pom­peo him­self should get en­gaged. It’s vi­tal that the United States shows it is still com­mit­ted to Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence. Oth­er­wise the dam­age done by Mr. Trump will be com­pounded.

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