Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Talks Support for Ukraine at RCLA's Town Hall

The former ambassador to Ukraine warns that Russia is watching to see what the United States does as the war goes on.

By Kay Kipling February 5, 2024

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch at Monday morning's RCLA Town Hall. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch took the Van Wezel stage in Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall series Monday morning to assess the current state of the war between Ukraine and Russia and to stress that American aid for Ukraine is “not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do for our national security.”

Yovanovitch, who served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 to 2019, is the second in the speaker series lineup this season. Prior to serving as ambassador to Ukraine, she had also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Armenia.

In a media roundtable just before the talk, Yovanovitch said that Russian president Vladimir Putin has “made it clear that ‘historically Russian lands’ that have now been independent for decades or even centuries” are always potential targets for invasions similar to the one he launched in February two years ago into Ukraine. She says Putin and his ambitions are a “threat to the international order.”

But during her speech, Yovanovitch often sounded surprisingly optimistic, despite the war that has now been dragging on for two years with no end in sight. “I put my faith in the Ukrainian people,” she said. “They have shown they want to live differently.” With reference to government corruption that had long plagued the country before current President Volodymyr Zelensky took office, she says she believes him to be clean, although not everyone around him can be guaranteed to be the same. Still, she adds, the people of Ukraine “are not fighting to make oligarchs rich again. They want to make a better future for themselves and their children.”

To that end, in addition to seeking some $60 billion in aid from the United States, Ukraine also hopes to become part of the European Union, and, eventually, NATO. Acknowledging that $60 billion sounds like a great deal of money, Yovanovitch warned that if Russia wins the war, it will move on to further land claims and eventually the costs of American involvement could be much higher. “For $60 billion, and no American boots on the ground,” she said, “it’s the deal of the century, and we need to take it.”

The audience at the Van Wezel seemed to agree, applauding her support for the Ukraine aid being debated in Congress. They also responded with audible gasps when Yovanovitch remarked on what she finds, amidst other atrocities, “the most unforgivable” since the Russian invasion: the kidnapping of 700,000 children who have been sent to Russia—many so young they could forget they are Ukrainian, under Russian indoctrination.

Yovanovitch showed the audience her socks--one blue, one yellow--the colors of the Ukraine flag.

In a Q&A session after her speech, Yovanovitch showed the crowd her socks—one blue, one yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, adorned with the words “Be Brave Like Ukraine.” And she also addressed briefly a subject handled in her 2022 memoir, Lessons from the Edge—how her time as ambassador came to an end.

Yovanovitch said she was the target of a public relations smear campaign, led by allies of former President Donald Trump, including Rudy Giuliani, among others, because, in her words, she was not “supportive of digging up dirt on Joe Biden and his family.” Ultimately, she was encouraged to produce a video clip in which “I would say I was loyal to Trump.” She declined.

In the Foreign Service, “We take an oath to the Constitution, not to an individual,” she said. “We dispensed with that with the Revolutionary War.” She was removed from her post, and later testified in several House committee depositions related to the 2019 impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.

Now retired from the Foreign Service, Yovanovitch is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a non-Resident Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

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