Former US Vice President (VP) and 2024 presidential hopeful Mike Pence made an unexpected visit to Kyiv on June 29. His trip comes four months after US President Joe Biden’s earlier visit.
Pence formally launched his 2024 presidential campaign on June 5 and has been working hard to differentiate himself from other leading Republican presidential candidates. This includes former President Donald Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis who are, at best, ambivalent towards US military support for Ukraine.
The trip was organized by Samaritan’s Purse, a US disaster relief charity run by pastor Franklin Graham, the son of world-famous evangelical preacher Billy Graham. Pence was accompanied by an NBC news crew.
Pence insisted he had come as a private citizen to see “what the people of Ukraine have endured” and the “progress that they’ve made in pushing back” the Russian army.
Pence and his party toured Kyiv, Moshcun, Bucha and Irpin, surveying damage from the war and met face to face with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as families and children impacted by the violence.
“I hope you see the heart and generosity of the American people,” he told Ukrainians in Irpin.
This wasn’t the first time Pence had visited the country since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In March 2022, long before he announced his candidacy, he visited the Ukrainian border where he met with a number of internally displaced refugees accompanied by his wife, Karen, and Edward Graham, Franklin Graham’s son, who is a former US special operations soldier and the Chief Operating Officer of Samaritan’s Purse.
Later, following his meeting with Pence, the Ukrainian president said that he had told the former VP:
“It is support not only with weapons, which is the main priority today. The USA provides us with financial aid, humanitarian and political support. We appreciate that both main parties of the USA … remain united in their support for Ukraine. And, of course, we feel the strong support of the people of the United States.”
Zelensky thanked Pence for his continued support for Ukraine both with the American people and particularly within the US Republican Party.
The President briefed him on the progress of the summer offensive and shared Ukraine's assessment of recent events in Russia and how they will affect security in the region. Once again Zelensky emphasized the need for the continuing and strengthening military support from Ukraine’s partners, including artillery, long-range weapons and highlighted the need to train Ukraine’s pilots and provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter aircraft.
The President shared his hopes that the partners should demonstrate determination and give Ukraine certainty about its future membership of NATO during the forthcoming Vilnius summit. He said: “This is what will motivate our people. And this is also a weapon, but a political one. Perhaps it is even more powerful than missiles.
“For this, we must see our future in NATO,” Zelensky emphasized.
Pence has been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a full-throated supporter of Ukraine. A divide in support for Ukraine emerged early in the Republican field with both Trump and DeSantis taking isolationist positions, with the latter calling Ukraine’s war “a territorial dispute.”
Speaking to students at the University of Texas on Feb. 24, at an event to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine, Pence said: “Make no mistake: This is not America’s war, but if we falter in our commitment to providing the support to the people of Ukraine to defend their freedom, our sons and daughters may soon be called upon to defend ours.”
In March, and in rebutting DeSantis’ assertion, the former VP told ABC News that: “The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It's a Russian invasion. It's just the latest instance of Russia attempting to redraw international lines by force, and the United States of America must continue at a quickened pace to provide the Ukrainian military the support that they need to repel the Russian invasion, the stakes are that high.”
Pence has repeatedly criticized Biden for being “slow” in providing military aid to Ukraine and has slated the Republican frontrunners in the race for president for opposing the level of financial and military support the US has provided. Since making his bid for the presidency official this month, Pence has taken every opportunity to distance himself from Trump, who he served alongside as VP.
Screenshot of Mike Pence speaking to NBC journalist Abby Brooks.
During his visit he told the embedded NBC News team:
“I believe America’s the leader of the free world, coming here just as a private citizen, being able to really see first-hand the heroism of the Ukrainian soldiers holding the line in those woods, see the heroism of those people in Irpin that held back the Russian army, to see families whose homes were literally shelled in the midst of an unconscionable and unprovoked Russian invasion, just steels my resolve to do my part, to continue to call for strong American support for our Ukrainian friends and allies.”
Pence currently trails Trump by over 30 points in most polls among Republican primary voters who will choose next year’s candidate. He may be hoping that being the first Republican to visit Kyiv he may gain ground, being conscious of a recent Reuters/IPSOS survey. The poll said that a large majority of Americans – 67 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats – are more likely to support a candidate in next year’s US presidential election who will continue military aid to Ukraine and who backs the NATO alliance.
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