Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has named former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker to serve as Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations.
The announcement came ahead of Tillerson’s first official visit to Kyiv Sunday, where he will meet with President Petro Poroshenko to discuss ways to help end the conflict in eastern Ukraine and support the country’s ongoing reform efforts.
“The United States remains fully committed to the objectives of the Minsk agreement,” Tillerson said in a statement Friday, referring to the cease-fire deal that Moscow and Kyiv agreed to in 2015.
Watch: Tillerson Heads to Ukraine Following Trump-Putin Meeting
Volker, who will accompany Tillerson to Ukraine, will also engage regularly with all parties handling the Ukraine negotiations under the so-called Normandy Format — Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine.
In an interview with VOA’s Ukrainian Service recently, Volker laid out his vision on Ukraine.
“We need to have Ukraine, which is a sustainable, resilient, prosperous, strong democracy, so that it would be attractive to the regions in the East, and [be the place] where disinformation and propaganda attacks don’t really have much traction.”
Although Tillerson is seeking to rebuild trust with the Russians, Washington dismissed speculation that it will cut a deal with Moscow over Kyiv.
“There certainly is no intent or desire to work exclusively with Russia,” a senior State Department official said earlier this week. “This is a multiparty issue, resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. would not be backing away from concerns of Russia’s support of rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“We believe that the so-called rebels are Russian-backed, Russian-financed, and are responsible for the deaths of Ukrainians,” Nauert said Thursday in a briefing. “We continue to call upon the Russians and the Ukrainians to come together.”
Make clear support for sovereignty
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told VOA Friday that Tillerson should make it clear of “U.S. strong support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity, U.S. recognition that Russia is conducting a war in Ukraine, and U.S. willingness to provide necessary support.”
Herbst said he expects Poroshenko to bring up the massive Russian cyberattack against Ukraine during Sunday’s meeting with Tillerson, and the U.S. “has a great deal to learn” from what Ukraine has done to counteract these Russia attacks.
“I suspect we will see more cooperation in the future,” Herbst added.
Tillerson had told U.S. lawmakers that the United States should not be “handcuffed” to the 2015 Minsk agreement in case the parties decide to reach their goals through a different deal.
Senior officials later clarified that Washington would “not exclude looking at other options” as the U.S. is still fully supportive of the Minsk agreements.
“The Minsk agreements are the existing framework,” a senior State Department official said. “There is no better option out there.”
In Ukraine, Tillerson will also meet with young reformers from government and civil society, as Washington is encouraging Kyiv to continue implementing “reforms that will strengthen Ukraine’s economic, political and military resilience.”
The government of Ukraine said Washington and Kyiv would soon sign a number of agreements boosting defense cooperation, according to Poroshenko after he met with U.S. President Donald Trump last month. Ukraine’s foreign minister said the deal would involve defensive weapons only.
“We’ve neither ruled out providing such weapons to Ukraine nor have we taken a decision to do so,” a senior State Department official said when asked about a possible defensive weapons deal earlier this week.
The so-called Minsk II agreement is a package of measures to alleviate the ongoing conflicts, including a cease-fire, between Moscow-backed rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine. It was agreed to by Ukraine, Russia and separatists in February 2015.
VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.