5 takeaways from Senate hearing for Biden’s nominee for Ukraine ambassador
President Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said on Tuesday the challenges facing her in Kyiv are “enormous” but committed to bringing the American mission back into the war-battered capital.
Brink testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, overcoming the first major step in moving through a confirmation process in which she has already garnered support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Brink currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Slovakia and, if confirmed, would be the first ambassador in Kyiv in three years.
She is a 25-year veteran of the foreign service and has served in different senior positions focused on Eastern Europe as well as at embassies throughout the region in former Soviet states.
Here are five takeaways from her confirmation hearing:
Lawmakers eager for U.S. mission to resume in Kyiv
U.S. diplomats have made daytrips to Kyiv, but the American mission has yet to become fully operational, despite other countries returning their diplomats to the city.
“We shouldn’t want to be last to the party,” Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the committee, said during the hearing.
The State Department has not committed to a hard deadline of reopening the embassy, but Brink said she hopes “to start my mission in Kyiv.”
“I don’t know how fast we’ll be able to do this process, but I know we’re trying to do it as fast as possible,” she said.
Brink said she saw pictures that showed “some damage to the outside of our embassy” and that Chargé d’Affaires Kristina Kvien conveyed in a message that it was “jarring how close the Russians came to Kyiv.”
“I don’t underestimate the challenge our mission has faced,” she said.
Brink calls for $40 billion Ukraine aid package to ‘move fast’
Brink said during her hearing that “it is incredibly important” that legislation being worked on by Congress to provide nearly $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine “move fast.”
“What we are trying to do as an administration is move security items as fast as possible to Ukraine. … I think most people assess that these next few weeks, and maybe longer, are critical to the ultimate result of this war of choice,” she said.
Justice for war crimes a ‘personal priority’
Brink called U.S. assistance in documenting and collecting evidence of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine a “personal priority” and cited her time serving in the Balkans in the 1990s — at the U.S. mission in Belgrade, Serbia, between 1996 and 1999 — as the first time she witnessed atrocities first hand.
“The world has to know, and those who commit these atrocities have to know, that we won’t stop. We will be relentless in our pursuit,” she said.
Brink said the U.S. is assisting investigations by the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, the United Nations Council for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the International Criminal Court.
“We’re going to use every tool in our disposal. I can tell you that it will be a personal priority of mine as well,” she said.
Sex trafficking in Ukraine ‘an incredibly important issue’
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) called for the ambassador to ensure that women and children who have fled the war in Ukraine “don’t become victims again because of sex trafficking.”
The overwhelming majority of refugees from Russia’s war in Ukraine are women and children who are vulnerable to gender violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking.
Brink called it a “personal priority” to engage on this issue as ambassador, working closely with U.S. officials as well as the Ukrainian government and authorities.
“The challenge with trafficking — it’s a whole-of-government effort. No one agency is able to do it on its own,” Brink said. “I completely agree it’s an incredibly important issue and especially right now, for people who are refugees already, and other compounded things that they have to face.”
U.S. can be helpful to Europe on Russian energy ban
Brink said that the European Union has a “strong willingness” to move quickly on the issue of banning Russian energy imports to the continent and said that providing substitutions for countries largely dependent on Moscow for oil and gas, such as Hungary and Slovakia, is key in helping create consensus on the continent.
“Obviously, they have a challenge of their publics, and rising prices on the energy side, any way where we can help, such as in ways that we are doing, such as increasing our [liquified natural gas] and with regard to oil, I would assume its a similar situation, and we’re also helping on nuclear fuel in Ukraine and other places,” Brink said.
Cutting off Russian oil and gas exports is seen as a key way to bankrupt Russian President Vladimir Putin from being able to wage war in Ukraine in a way that globally coordinated sanctions have yet to fully achieve.
“If there are ways to provide substitution with regard to any of the energy sources for European countries, ways where the U.S. can be helpful, that is an extremely helpful situation for them to be in,” Brink said.
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