Former U.S. Envoy Warns On Ukrainian Security, Policy With Russia

Kurt Volker  

PRAGUE – The former U.S. special envoy to Ukrainian peace talks warned of lasting damage from recent events in Afghanistan and pointed to challenges from Russian actions and setbacks in Ukraine.

In a wide-ranging interview, Kurt Volker said the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan had incurred "a lot of damage," warned of perils to "de-escalating" and "compartmentalizing" the approach to Russia.

"Our adversaries see weakness, lack of resolve, and a vacuum," Volker said. "And our allies are going to be unwilling to commit and follow the United States in some other operation in the future, given the way we walked away from this one."

"So I think [the withdrawal] has left a lot of damage in its wake," he added.

Volker spent two years as the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine before stepping down in 2019 amid the fallout from President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that July.

The call revealed that Trump had conditioned additional U.S. military aid to Kyiv on Zelenskiy working to dig up dirt on Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son.

The scandal led to Trump’s first impeachment. Volker testified in the impeachment proceedings against Trump.

In the interview, Volker, who also served as U.S. ambassador to NATO, argued that Ukraine’s Western partners have failed to address one of Kyiv’s more pressing issues: the near completion of the Russian-built Baltic Sea pipeline, Nord Stream 2.

The pipeline will bring Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing existing pipeline networks in Ukraine and depriving Kyiv of billions of dollars in transit fees.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden moved to allow the pipeline to be completed– part of a deal reached with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has steadfastly support the pipeline.

"For Ukraine, the issue is security, and I don’t think the U.S. and Germany have really addressed that," Volker told RFE/RL.

Volker criticized U.S. policy toward Russia.

"When Russia pushes to do something, we immediately try to de-escalate, and knowing that, Russia pushes even further," Volker said. "That has been tremendously to the disadvantage of not only the West, but — of course — Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and others."

"And then, the other [mistake] is that by compartmentalizing — saying, ‘Well, we want to work with Russia here and disagree with them there’ — that actually gives a lot of leverage to Russia."

Volker also criticized the government of Georgia, which the United States has backed, but also warned, amid deepening political turmoil there.

"We have seen [the Georgian] 2018 presidential election having significant flaws. We saw disputes over the 2020 [general] election and the failure to constitute the parliament with everybody in it, and the failure to reach some kind of accommodation between the government and the opposition [on] how to get the results of the election understood and accepted and move on," Volker said.

"Georgia looks less mature as a democracy today than it did a few years ago," Volker said.

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