Why didn't Biden (or Trump) nominate an ambassador to Ukraine?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

During all of the ongoing tension between Ukraine, Russia, and the European/NATO nations these days, we’ve seen any number of statements released by the American embassy in Ukraine. But the one person we haven’t heard from directly is our Ambassador to that nation. Sadly, the reason for that is fairly obvious. We don’t have an ambassador to Ukraine. And we haven’t had one since May of 2019. One might think that having someone in that position with an intimate knowledge of the country, its history, and the various power players in the region might have been quite helpful during these chaotic times. We do have a Chargé d’Affaires ad interim ( acting ambassador Kristina Kvien) who has the right credentials and experience for such a position, but the lack of a formal ambassador projects the image that Ukraine really hasn’t been a priority for our government until recently. (Free Beacon)

President Joe Biden’s failure to nominate an ambassador to Ukraine more than a year into his presidency is raising concerns among U.S. officials and regional experts as Russia moves closer to launching a full-scale invasion.

“President Biden has undermined the U.S.-Ukraine relationship by failing to even nominate an ambassador to Ukraine—it is a dereliction of duty and contributes to the instability we’re seeing unfold today,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Currently, the United States only has a deputy chief of mission in Kyiv, career foreign service officer Alan Purcell, who was appointed in May 2021.

As noted in the linked article, in addition to Kristina Kvien, we do have a Deputy Chief of Mission in Kyiv in the person of Alan Purcell. Both of them have extensive foreign policy experience and Kvien even served for a time in the United States embassy to Russia in Moscow, so she knows some of the major players involved.

But as Mike Rogers points out, the failure to even nominate a new ambassador makes the United States look as if the affairs of Ukraine have been more of an afterthought in Washington rather than a prominent concern. It also means that most of our formal foreign policy decisions regarding the situation in Ukraine are being made in Washington by Biden administration insiders, not by people with an extensive history in the region and boots on the ground.

Unfortunately, the position of being the US Ambassador to Ukraine has gotten a bit messy in recent years, to say the least. The last fully credentialed ambassador we had there was Marie Yovanovitch. She was an Obama appointee who was kept on by Donald Trump after he took office. But in May of 2019, Trump recalled her amid claims that she was undermining his efforts to investigate the activities of Hunter Biden (and potentially his father) in that country. Yovanovitch would later go on to testify in Washington about her experiences during that period.

Since that time, we’ve had several people serving as interim, acting ambassadors, including William B. Taylor. Taylor was well suited for the job, having been the actual ambassador to Ukraine for several years under George W. Bush. But his was only a temporary assignment and he left the post when his term expired in January of 2020.

Having Biden appoint someone new and get them confirmed at this point would probably give the appearance of closing the barn door after the horses were already gone. But it should still probably be done. That’s particularly true if Russia does wind up invading and a serious shooting war breaks out. We will need someone to deal with both the Ukrainians and the Russians on equal footing.