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Senators reaffirm support for Ukraine, Zelenskiy at first meeting since impeachment

Senators seek to assure Zelenskiy that impeachment would not inflict long-term harm on U.S.-Ukraine relationship

Let’s put our recent past behind us and get this relationship back on track.

That’s the essence of what Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy and Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and John Barrasso told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a meeting Friday in Kyiv to reaffirm the two countries’ strategic partnership in Eastern Europe.

The meeting was the first between Zelenskiy and U.S. senators since President Donald Trump was impeached and put on trial for pressuring Zelenskiy to announce anti-corruption investigations into his political rivals, including the Democratic National Committee and Joe Biden.

“We just finished a very difficult moment in American politics,” Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, told reporters after the meeting.

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“The three of us are [members of] different parties,” he said, referring to the co-delegation that visited Kyiv. “We voted differently on the matter of impeachment. 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 said.

The U.S. and NATO provide essential strategic security support for Ukraine, which borders Russia to the east and acts as a buffer against the Kremlin’s influence in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. alone has provided Ukraine more than $1.5 billion in aid since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and began backing militant separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass Region. That war is still raging.

The Trump administration unilaterally put a hold on roughly $400 million of congressionally appropriated aid to Kyiv last summer, at the same time as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some senior officials in his administration sought to pressure Zelenskiy into announcing investigations into the Bidens.

Senate Republicans, with the exception of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, voted earlier this month to acquit Trump of two articles of impeachment alleging that he abused his executive power and subsequently attempted to obstruct justice.

The senators sought to assure Zelenskiy on Friday that the impeachment imbroglio would not inflict long-term harm on the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, telling him that despite lingering divisions over whether Trump abused his office, both U.S. political parties were committed to strengthening Ukraine.

“Our message [to Zelenskiy] 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 said.

Johnson commended Zelenskiy for making considerable “progress” rooting out corruption in his country in just his first eight months in office.

Zelenskiy rose to political prominence in Ukraine as an actor on a popular television series in which he portrayed a history teacher who becomes president of Ukraine after a video of him ranting against political corruption in the country goes viral.

Zelenskiy won nearly three-quarters of the vote in the (actual) 2019 Ukrainian presidential election on a platform based largely on rooting out corruption.

According to Johnson, he has been following through on those promises.

“We leave Ukraine convinced of President Zelensky’s dedication to fulfilling his mandate to defeat corruption and optimistic for the future of Ukraine,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

Zelenskiy and the three senators will hold a public town hall at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday at 5:45 a.m. EST.

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