Ukraine: Troubled, unwitting star of Trump impeachment drama

International

People rally to commemorate victims of clashes with security forces six years ago at the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. People mark the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the protest movement and the subsequent events in late Feb. 2014 which led to the departure of former Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych and the formation of the new government. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine seems destined to be tangled up in other people’s problems.

With four EU countries on one side and Russia on the other, this Texas-sized nation has been trapped in a tug-of-war between the Kremlin and the U.S.-led West ever since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union led to independence.

After historic U.S. impeachment hearings in which Ukraine played a starring role, here are a few reasons why the country is so important to the world, and not just to President Donald Trump and his rivals:

RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA

Ukraine was a breadbasket and an industrial powerhouse for the Soviet Union, with its rich soil, steel plants and coal mines. Russia still sees Ukraine as its geopolitical backyard and natural trade partner, a neighbor with which it shares deep cultural and linguistic ties.

The U.S., meanwhile, sees Ukraine as a bulwark against resurgent Russian imperialism and a key foothold at an important crossroads of energy pipelines and east-west commerce.

Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which lies at the center of the impeachment inquiry, further diminished Russians’ view of its weaker, poorer neighbor and bolstered long-held Russian suspicions that the U.S. is Ukraine’s puppet master.

FEARS ON THE FRONT LINE

That hurts Ukraine’s negotiating position just as Zelenskiy is trying to end a five-year war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people and gutted the country’s industrial heartland.

Ukrainian soldiers on the front line told The Associated Press this week that they fear Zelenskiy will surrender too much in upcoming peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They also praised the night-vision gun scopes, counter-mortar radars and medical equipment provided by the U.S. to Ukraine’s military in recent years. When the Trump administration put $400 million in military aid to Ukraine on hold this summer, that got many Ukrainians worried.

DEMOCRATIC OUTPOST

Some Ukrainian lawmakers and officials fear that the U.S. political furor surrounding the impeachment hearings could threaten aid Ukraine has come to depend on. The United States has poured billions of dollars into Ukraine and has been one of the country’s most steadfast allies since protesters on Kyiv’s Maidan pushed out a Moscow-friendly president and Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Today’s Ukraine is a lively, if troubled, young democracy on Europe’s eastern edge at a time of growing authoritarianism in the region.

And now it’s got a new president in Zelenskiy who’s promising to do just what U.S. and EU leaders have long wanted: fight corruption.

Zelenskiy, a comedian who overwhelmingly won election this year despite zero political experience, remains popular despite his role in the events leading to the U.S. impeachment inquiry, which Ukrainians are largely shrugging off as someone else’s problem.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Impeachment or no, American business people still arrive daily at Kyiv’s Boryspol Airport, pursuing business deals in a strategically located country with 44 million people.

The energy sector holds particular appeal. Ukraine carries Russian gas to European consumers and has natural gas fields of its own.

The son of former U.S. Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden served on the board of Ukraine’s biggest private gas firm, Burisma.

And Trump associates have built their own energy connections.

A group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. And two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government over the summer.

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Follow all the Associated Press coverage of the impeachment proceedings at https://apnews.com/Trumpimpeachmentinquiry

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