WASHINGTON — Ukraine's foreign minister said he received assurances from President Trump and Vice President Pence of support from the United States, as Russia expands its influence in separatist-held eastern Ukraine.
In an interview with USA TODAY, Pavlo Klimkin said, "Without U.S. engagement, it's not possible to sort this out, because Russia has respect for the United States."
Klimkin’s visit to the White House Wednesday was overshadowed by Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Trump expressed his desire to work with Ukraine “to peacefully resolve the conflict,” the White House said in a statement. Pence emphasized that the negotiated cease-fire agreements “remain the most viable path toward peace."
"It was very important to hear," Klimkin said. Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine are making peace harder to achieve, he added.
For example, Russian rubles must now be used as currency in the Donbas region, instead of Ukrainian hryvnas, for all transactions, including paying employees of Ukrainian companies. That mandate, in place since March 1, required transferring large amounts of currency from Russia, which Klimkin said could not have happened without Russian approval and involvement.
In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree Feb. 18 recognizing passports and other documents issued by the self-described People’s Republic of Donetsk and People’s Republic of Luhansk.
On March 17, separatist authorities seized private and Ukrainian state-owned factories and mines, he said. One result is that owners in Ukraine have no legal way to communicate with Ukrainian companies in the Donbas, Klimkin said. Commodities, such as coal and iron ore produced in the separatist-held areas, are being illegally transferred and sold in Russia, he said.
And, Klimkin said, Russian state-owned media and the separatist-held region also started “talking about ‘the nation of Donbas,’ which never existed.”
“It’s not a random sequence of actions,” he said. “It’s an intentional sequence to bring the occupied Donbas far, far away from Ukraine.”