Biden appoints Bridget Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bridget Brink, a former foreign service officer who spent most of her career in the shadows of the former Soviet Union, has been named by President Joe Biden as the states ambassador United in Ukraine as the country fends off a Russian invasion that has entered its third month.
The appointment comes as US officials say US diplomats will soon return to kyiv, which they evacuated when the war started. Ukrainian forces have since successfully defended the town, and most of the fighting has moved to the east of the country.
Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland who has known Brink for years, described her as “not reckless, but fearless”, and expected her to be eager to get to Kyiv.
“She’s going to want to be there,” Fried said. “And if you tell her it’s dangerous, she’ll be like, ‘Yeah, so? “”
A hockey fan and mother of two boys, Brink is currently an ambassador to Slovakia. She is married to another foreign service officer, Nicholas Higgins, who has worked around the world.
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Biden’s choice of Brink comes after a long delay. Although the president moved to take on other diplomatic posts around the world, he waited more than a year after taking office before settling on Brink, then almost three more months for the announcement of Monday.
Although former US officials with European expertise were intrigued by the shift, they were heartened by Biden’s decision.
“People respect her,” Fried said. “They like it.”
Brink’s first posting was in Belgrade, Serbia, where she served during the Balkan War that lasted from 1998 to 1999. She also worked in Tbilisi, Georgia, before the Russian invasion in 2008.
While based in Washington, she worked on European issues at the National Security Council and the State Department.
Brink was appointed by then-President Donald Trump as Ambassador to Slovakia. During her 2019 swearing-in ceremony, she shared a piece of ‘family lore’ about her grandfather, who served as a US Army doctor and helped assess General Dwight Eisenhower when he was vying for promotion during World War II. As Brink recounts, Eisenhower’s blood pressure “was a little high” and his grandfather encouraged him to “lay down for a few minutes and think happy thoughts.”
Eisenhower passed his medical, earned his fourth star, and led the Normandy invasion that helped end the war.
Ukraine and Slovakia share a border of around 60 miles, and Slovakia has played a significant role in the ongoing conflict. The country supplied an S-300 air defense system to Ukraine and accepted refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.
Brink met people at the border when the invasion began.
“Amid the heartbreaking scene of Ukrainian women and children crossing the border with Slovakia on foot, the Slovaks are doing an incredible and professional job of welcoming people fleeing hostilities,” she said in a statement to the time.
The relationship between the United States and Ukraine has broadened and become more complex since the start of the war. Biden is in regular contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and billions of dollars in military and economic aid are flowing from Washington to Kyiv. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have also just visited the Ukrainian capital.
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Fried said there remains a vital role for Brink to play. Since she will be based in the country, she will be able to establish links with the whole of the Ukrainian government. And it doesn’t hurt that kyiv is seven hours ahead of Washington, Fried said, meaning Brink can help set the tone for the administration.
“She will be able to do what any ambassador does with the advantage of time,” he said. “When Washington wakes up, you tell them what to do and how to do it.”
William Courtney, former US ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan, said Brink will have to start planning for post-war reconstruction even if fighting continues.
Part of that work will involve researching new policies in Ukraine, which has a long history of entrenched corruption that could make wealthy countries reluctant to open their wallets.
“You want to have the institutions in place that can make the rebuilding more effective,” said Courtney, deputy principal investigator at RAND Corporation. “And that builds donor confidence.”
The last Senate-approved ambassador to Ukraine was Marie Yovanovitch, who was expelled by then-President Trump in 2019.
She then testified that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney and unofficial adviser, urged Ukrainian officials to investigate unproven corruption allegations against then-Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden’s son, Hunter, had worked for an energy company in Ukraine named Burisma.
Trump withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as he pushed for investigations, conduct for which he was later impeached by the House of Representatives. He was not convicted in the Senate.