Pompeo Heads To Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan — Trailed By U.S. Turmoil

In Belarus, there are growing questions about how drastic a shift Alyaksandr Lukashenka is making away from Russia and toward the West.

In Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoev is struggling to persuade the outside world that his reforms are a genuine turn away from the corrupt authoritarian system that his country has long been shackled to.

In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy is trying to shed his country's reputation for corruption and mismanagement, while struggling with a six-year war against separatist fighters backed by Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to the region on January 30, visiting those three countries, plus Kazakhstan, on a trip aimed at cultivating political and economic ties with the former Soviet republics.

Many of them are looking to the United States for support: financial, moral, and military.

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But the United States is gripped by the political turmoil surrounding the impeachment of President Donald Trump, raising questions about how stalwart its support for the countries is. And Pompeo himself is traveling under a cloud, due to an angry interview with a U.S. reporter, and what was widely seen as retaliation against the reporter's employer.

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Kyiv is Pompeo's second scheduled stop. His first was London, arriving on January 29 for meetings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other officials. Washington's relationship with Britain has been buffeted by the debates leading up to Britain's departure from the European Union on January 31, but on the whole, the relationship remains solid.

Less so with Ukraine.

Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment proceedings in Washington, something that has befuddled many Ukrainians and left President Zelenskiy's administration struggling to manage.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this month.

Zelenskiy continues to have high opinion-poll ratings nine months after winning last year's presidential election by a landslide, but there's growing impatience within Ukraine over whether he'll be able to root out endemic corruption or bring the country's oligarchs to heel.

He has made notable steps toward trying to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than 1 million. There have been two big prisoner swaps. But a major meeting in December, which included his first face-to-face encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin, yielded no breakthroughs.

Though European nations have provided more overall financial aid, Washington has been the largest provider of military aid, sending Ukraine night-vision goggles, flak jackets, counterbattery radars, and, more recently, sophisticated anti-tank missiles known as Javelins.

Last year, Trump's White House held up a congressionally authorized military aid package to Ukraine for months. The aid was released only after lawmakers complained. House lawmakers impeached Trump in December, accusing him of trying force Zelenskiy to investigate one of Trump's challengers for the presidency. The Senate is deciding whether to remove him from office.

Trump also forced out the U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats, and many U.S. diplomats, have criticized Pompeo for not doing more to defend her.

That issue came up during an interview with National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly last week, prompting Pompeo to abruptly end the interview and then berate the reporter in a private session, according to the broadcaster. The State Department then barred another NPR reporter from traveling with Pompeo on his trip.

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