Three years after taking the helm of the US diplomatic mission in Ukraine, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has been abruptly recalled to Washington two months ahead of schedule after the mercurial diplomat following political attacks by American right-wing media figures and Ukraine’s highly controversial Prosecutor-General, Yuri Lutsenko.
Her early dismissal will leave the US Embassy in Kyiv without a top diplomat during the transition of newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Yovanovitch, a veteran of several diplomatic posts in the former Soviet Union was outspoken proponent of cracking down on the rampant corruption that continues to hinder Ukraine’s growth. She did, however, have a somewhat contentious tenure in Kyiv, both with the Ukrainian government and with the community of Americans and Ukrainians involved in building closer ties between the two countries. In contrast to her predecessor, Geoffrey Pyatt, who is now serving as the US’ ambassador to Greece, Yovanovitch was a relatively media-shy and low-key diplomat who rarely made public appearances.
In March, Lutsenko – a staunch loyalist of outgoing President Petro Poroshenko and who has been dogged by a seemingly infinite number of corruption and abuse of power accusations – claimed, without evidence, that the ambassador had outlined a list of people he should not prosecute when he first met her.
Lutsenko’s allegations about Yovanovitch came two weeks after she issued scathing remarks about Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts and called on the authorities to fire special anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky.
Kholodnytsky later claimed that he opened an investigation into attempts by Ukrainian officials who he alleged were leaking damaging financial ledgers with details of payments made to Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to opposition candidates in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
That accusation appeared to have set off a firestorm in the White House as President Donald J. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, later claimed without evidence that the interference in the 2016 presidential election came not from Russia, but from Ukraine, and was aimed at tipping the results in favour of Hillary Clinton.
Yovanovitch also came under fire following Giuliani’s allegations, with many right-wing Trump loyalists claiming that she actively denigrated the president following the revelations that Manafort had made millions of dollars as a spin-doctor for the disgraced pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.