Biden picks ambassador to Kyiv to bolster US-Ukraine ties

Ms Bridget Brink has been a Foreign Service officer for more than two decades, largely focusing on Europe and Eurasia. PHOTO: @BRIDGET BRINK/INSTAGRAM

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Joe Biden's plan to nominate Bridget Brink as the US ambassador to Ukraine on Monday (April 25) would fill a position that has remained empty for more than a year of his presidency despite the critical importance of the American relationship with Ukraine.

The news, briefed to reporters in Poland by a senior State Department official and a senior defence official who were not authorised to speak publicly about coming policy changes, was relayed to the Ukrainians on Sunday as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The delegation also told the Ukrainians that the United States would move to reopen its embassy in Kyiv, according to the officials.

Brink's nomination will end a delay that career diplomats have said would be baffling even in more tranquil times. The Ukraine ambassadorship has lacked a full-time occupant since 2019, when President Donald Trump unceremoniously removed Marie Yovanovitch. Shortly after, William Taylor Jr, a retired veteran diplomat, stepped in on a temporary basis until early 2020.

The post has remained empty during the Biden administration even as dire warnings were issued last year that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine.

Brink has been a Foreign Service officer for more than two decades, largely focusing on Europe and Eurasia. She was appointed to be the US ambassador to Slovakia by Trump in 2019 and has served in two other former Soviet republics: Uzbekistan and Georgia.

Reports that the Biden administration intended to nominate Brink were not disputed by US officials, but the Americans had been awaiting approval of Zelensky's government before announcing her name. The approval is known by the French term agrément and is a customary part of the diplomatic process.

The Ukrainians gave Washington the agrément a few days ago.

"It's a long time coming," said Taylor, who testified to Congress during the first impeachment hearing of Trump. "I'm glad it's finally happening."

The US mission in Ukraine has been managed by the chargé d'affaires, Kristina Kvien, a respected diplomat.

"It will be great to have a Senate-confirmed ambassador out there who clearly has the authority to speak to the president," Taylor said. He added that Brink would likely have bipartisan support in Congress because a large number of Republican senators have backed Biden's efforts on Ukraine.

If confirmed, Brink will assume her role at a pivotal time in US-Ukraine relations. She visited the Ukrainian-Slovak border the day after Russia's invasion and said she had been "closely monitoring" the provision of aid from Slovakia to Ukraine.

The imminent return of US diplomats to the embassy in Kyiv is expected to be embraced by lawmakers from both parties and by Ukrainian leaders as well.

"I know US diplomats are eager to get back," Taylor said. "It's important to be in the capital. It's important to talk to the Ukrainians and listen to the Ukrainians." At the same time, he said, "everybody understands the security concerns".

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