Among some U.S. commentators, it was a question seen as a diplomatic faux pas: Ahead of an official trip to Kyiv, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly asked National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly rhetorically whether she thinks Americans care about Ukraine. And, according to NPR, used “the F-word” to do so.
But for former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who spent over five years advancing Ukraine's U.S. ties, Pompeo’s reported words only amount to “an emotional outburst.” He hoped that when “Mike” arrives in Kyiv on January 30, “we will talk about positive things, about support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, about support for reform.”
The U.S. Secretary of State has not denied what Kelly reported him asking about Ukraine, but maintains that their conversation was off the record.
Whether on or off the record, however, the alleged question does not diminish Klimkin’s optimism about Pompeo’s visit.
“What he’ll say here, in Kyiv, is what Ukrainians want to hear,” Klimkin commented to Current Time in a January 29 interview.
Pompeo will arrive in Kyiv on January 30 on a visit meant “to highlight U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the U.S. State Department. Aside from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, and Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk, he will attend a wreath-laying ceremony for those killed in the Donbas conflict and meet with “religious, civil society, and business community leaders.”
During this time, Ukrainians, most likely, “will pretend that they didn’t hear anything” about the Pompeo-NPR dispute, Alyona Hetmanchuk, director of the New Europe Center think tank, commented to RFE/RL’s Christopher Miller.
Kyiv appears to see such diplomatic deafness as increasingly important. The country already features at the center of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.
Like President Zelenskiy, Klimkin, who left office in August 2019, emphasized that Ukraine should avoid any further associations with U.S. politics.
“Ukraine was always a priority for the States in foreign policy,” he said. “We’re basically leaving American foreign policy and becoming part of American domestic politics. That’s a catastrophe for us, in reality. And we need to work on this catastrophe.”
He did not elaborate about potential ways to do so.