3 Years Later, the U.S. Could Finally Send an Ambassador to Ukraine

The nomination of career diplomat Bridget Brink comes as Washington begins sending its diplomats back into Ukraine.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sits for a press conference.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sits for a press conference.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sits for a press conference ahead of a visit with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on April 23. John Moore/Getty Images

President Joe Biden announced his pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, moving to fill an important diplomatic post that has sat vacant for nearly three years as Washington steps up its support of Ukraine against Russia’s military invasion.

Biden intends to nominate as ambassador Bridget Brink, a senior career diplomat, the White House announced on Monday. The announcement coincided with a State Department decision to send U.S. diplomats back into Ukraine beginning this week for the first time since Russia launched its invasion in late February.

If Brink is confirmed by the Senate, she will fill a post that has been empty since May 2019, when former President Donald Trump removed the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, from her post following a smear campaign by his political allies that precipitated Trump’s first impeachment trial. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized Biden for taking so long to fill the ambassador post. Three Senate aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Foreign Policy that they expect little, if any, opposition to Brink’s nomination and anticipate a speedy confirmation process despite a jampacked agenda in the Senate calendar.

President Joe Biden announced his pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, moving to fill an important diplomatic post that has sat vacant for nearly three years as Washington steps up its support of Ukraine against Russia’s military invasion.

Biden intends to nominate as ambassador Bridget Brink, a senior career diplomat, the White House announced on Monday. The announcement coincided with a State Department decision to send U.S. diplomats back into Ukraine beginning this week for the first time since Russia launched its invasion in late February.

If Brink is confirmed by the Senate, she will fill a post that has been empty since May 2019, when former President Donald Trump removed the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, from her post following a smear campaign by his political allies that precipitated Trump’s first impeachment trial. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized Biden for taking so long to fill the ambassador post. Three Senate aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Foreign Policy that they expect little, if any, opposition to Brink’s nomination and anticipate a speedy confirmation process despite a jampacked agenda in the Senate calendar.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine on Sunday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, becoming the most senior U.S. officials to travel to the country since the war broke out.

During the visit, both secretaries reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine in both military aid and humanitarian assistance and rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin for orchestrating an invasion that has taken a devastating toll on Ukraine’s civilian population—as well as Russia’s own military.

On Monday, the State Department announced that it had approved a proposed $165 million sale of ammunition to Ukraine’s military, along with $300 million in foreign military financing to bolster Ukraine’s war effort. The potential sale includes munitions for mortars, automatic grenade launchers, howitzers, and high-explosive rounds for battle tanks.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin told reporters during the trip.

“We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene,” Blinken said.

Brink, a seasoned career diplomat with more than 20 years of experience in the State Department, currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Slovakia. She was supposed to be named as U.S. ambassador to Georgia in 2018, but the Georgian government quietly rebuffed the pick when Washington first proposed her name. U.S. diplomats familiar with the matter at the time described the incident as an unfair political jab by the Georgian government, who accused her of being too favorable toward a pro-Western former Georgian president. The diplomats also criticized the Trump administration for not standing up to Georgia and supporting her nomination.

Another career diplomat, Kristina Kvien, has held the job of acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (known as a chargé d’affaires) in an interim capacity. Several State Department officials lauded Kvien as a skilled diplomat but said acting ambassadors lack the clout and authority of a full-fledged ambassador nominated by a president and confirmed by the Senate.

The United States withdrew its diplomats from Kyiv shortly before Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine in late February, including a massive offensive in northern Ukraine aimed at capturing Kyiv. That offensive failed, and Russia withdrew most of its forces to begin a new assault on eastern Ukraine. With Kyiv escaping the immediate threat of Russian capture, foreign diplomats from Western countries have slowly begun trickling back into the capital to coordinate the diplomatic response to the war with Zelensky’s team.

Since the onset of the war, U.S. diplomats managing relations with Ukraine have been operating out of Rzeszow, Poland, a city near the border with Ukraine. Initially, the State Department will start with dispatching U.S. diplomats for short trips to Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, with a plan to eventually reopen the embassy in Kyiv and reestablish a permanent U.S. diplomatic footprint in Ukraine.

“We are constantly reassessing and evaluating the security situation, and we look forward to resuming embassy operations in Ukraine to facilitate our support to the government and people of Ukraine as they bravely defend their country,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We expect U.S. diplomats will be in Ukraine on a regular basis, but for security reasons, we don’t have any information to offer on our team’s movements.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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