Tuesday October 13, 2020
During last year’s impeachment process directed against President Donald Trump, Congress obtained testimony from a parade of witnesses to or participants in what was inevitably being referred to as UkraineGate. It centered around an investigation into whether Trump inappropriately sought a political quid pro quo from Ukrainian leaders in exchange for a military assistance package.
The prepared opening statement by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, described as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC), provided some insights into how decision making at the NSC actually works. Vindman was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine but emigrated to the United States at age three. He was commissioned as an army infantry officer in 1998 and served in some capacity in Iraq from 2004-5, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb and received a purple heart. Vindman, who speaks both Ukrainian and Russian fluently, has filled a number of diplomatic and military positions in government dealing with Eastern Europe, to include a key role in Pentagon planning on how to deal with Russia.
Vindman, Ukrainian both by birth and culturally, clearly was a major player in articulating and managing US policy towards that country, but at that time it was sometimes noted that he did not really understand what his role on the NSC should have been. As more than likely the US government’s sole genuine Ukrainian expert, he should have become a good source for consideration of viable options that the United States might exercise vis-à-vis its relationship with Ukraine, and, by extension, regarding Moscow’s involvement with Kiev. But that is not how his statement before congress, which advocated for a specific policy, read. Rather than providing expert advice, Vindman was concerned chiefly because arming Ukraine was not proceeding quickly enough to suit him, an extremely risky policy which had already created serious problems with a much more important Russia.