Ex-U.S. Ambassador to NATO Volker Named Envoy for Ukraine Crisis

  • Appointment announced as Trump and Putin meet in Hamburg
  • Volker will push for progress on ending east Ukraine conflict

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appointed Kurt Volker, a former ambassador to NATO and National Security Council director, to be special representative for Ukraine as the U.S. looks for new ways to break a deadlock with Russia over the three-year conflict there.

Volker will “coordinate all State Department efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict created when Russia invaded Crimea and later eastern Ukraine,” Tillerson spokesman R.C. Hammond said in a statement.

The appointment was announced hours before President Donald Trump was set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, with the Ukraine crisis expected to be a topic of discussion. Tillerson will also visit Ukraine for a few hours on July 9 to meet President Petro Poroshenko before traveling to Turkey and then Kuwait.

The U.S. has kept up pressure on Putin’s government over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, even as Trump seeks to fulfill campaign promises for closer ties with Russia. Last month, the Treasury Department imposed new sanctions to punish Russian companies and individuals over the conflict in Ukraine. Russia responded by canceling talks between senior diplomats aimed at addressing some of the numerous disputes between the two sides.

Volker was ambassador to NATO in 2008-2009 after working on European issues at the State Department and the National Security Council. Most recently he worked as a senior international adviser for the lobbying firm BGR Group.

Tillerson has signaled the U.S. could ease off demands that Russia abide by a 2015 peace agreement to end the Ukraine conflict, telling lawmakers last month that the administration doesn’t want to be “handcuffed” if Moscow and Kiev can settle their dispute another way.

“We have continued to call upon the Russians and the Ukrainians to come together,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a briefing July 6. “We have talked a lot about how we believe that the so-called rebels are Russian-backed, Russian-financed, and are responsible for the deaths of Ukrainians. I don’t imagine that we will be backing away from our concerns on that.”

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