Russia invades Ukraine, country braces for major Donbas offensive

Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress speaks with other members prior to the start of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1. 
Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress speaks with other members prior to the start of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1.  (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/AP/Getty Images)

Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress, is urging the State Department to send its diplomats back into Ukraine.

Spartz, a Republican from Indiana, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday saying that the US should consider redeploying US diplomats to Lviv in Western Ukraine to provide better coordination with Ukraine. Spartz pointed to the actions of the European Union, which returned its diplomatic corps to Kyiv.

“As the single largest provider of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, it is past time that the United States follow our European allies in kind,” Spartz wrote.

The US and other countries pulled their diplomats and evacuated embassies and consulates from Kyiv in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, shifting them to the western city of Lviv. Those officials were soon moved to Poland, commuting into Lviv, and the State Department suspended all diplomatic services in Lviv just before Russia’s invasion began.

In recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged more countries to restore their diplomatic presence in the country.

“We need your support, even at the level of symbols and diplomatic gestures. Please come back, everybody who is brave, please come back to our capital and continue working,” Zelensky said last week.

But given the ongoing fighting and the concerns about renewed Russian aggressions in Eastern Ukraine the Biden administration is not making moves to open their embassy in Ukraine in the near term despite other countries beginning to do so, according to two US officials familiar with the matter.

What other lawmakers are saying: Spartz’s letter marks a public push for the US to reconsider that position. One Democratic lawmaker who supports re-establishing a diplomatic presence in Ukraine said there have been questions from the region about why the Americans aren’t there as other countries have gone back in.

Another Democrat, however, said the State Department has good reason to be cautious about moving Americans back onto Ukraine soil. While Russia has refocused its war efforts into the east and southern regions of the country, Russia’s air power can still strike Kyiv and Lviv. While any civilian deaths from NATO countries in Ukraine could threaten to escalate the conflict with Russia, there are significantly different implications for the United States, the lawmaker said: “It’s a very different security situation and escalatory posture.”

Ukrainian officials and activists are watching other countries move to reopen their embassies and they are frustrated by the tentative US posture. The European Union announced last week that it would resume its diplomatic presence in the Ukrainian capital.

Daria Kaleniuk, the co-founder and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, are also urging the US to re-open its embassy “urgently.” Kaleniuk believes that the embassy is symbolically significant but it is also important because it enables congressional visits and incoming shipments to occur more easily.

“What I learned that part of the reason why politicians are not coming because there is no embassy. So the embassy cannot provide them support in coming,” Kaleniuk said after spending last week on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers. “The lack of — an American Embassy in Ukraine also has negative impact on the possibility to purchase advanced weapons. Contractors who are building these advanced weapons, they see that there is not even an embassy in Ukraine and they are not able to work on the contracts with Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Congress may need to approve additional funds for military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in its war with Russia, signaling early backing for more aid that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also said will be needed.  

“At the rate we’re shipping them weapons and ammunition, we may need to do another supplemental” spending bill to continue to arm the Ukrainians and “backfill” weapons to other NATO countries that have sent their stockpiles to Ukraine,” McConnell said at an appearance at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Louisville.  

Congress approved about $14 billion in aid to Ukraine just last month. McConnell said the Ukrainians can win the war if properly supported.

“My attitude about this from the very beginning is that our goal ought to be to win. To win. And I think the administration has been reluctant to say the goal is to win,” he said. “I think our definition of winning is whatever Zelensky says it is. In other words, as long as they want to fight, we ought to give them everything we possibly can to win the fight.”

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