Rep. Victoria Spartz, the only Ukraine-born House member, has become embroiled in a tense back-and-forth with Ukraine’s top leaders after accusing a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of corruption.
Ms. Spartz, Indiana Republican and one of the first members of Congress to visit post-invasion Ukraine, accused Mr. Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, on Monday of launching a “smear campaign” against her after she laid out a list of concerns over Mr. Yermak’s handling of the war effort last week.
“Many Americans and Europeans have had serious concerns with Mr. Yermak for a while,” Ms. Spartz said in a statement. “If Mr. Yermak was a statesman, as someone with an already questionable reputation, he would have resigned this winter after assuring the Ukrainian leadership that no attack by Russia was going to happen, which reduced Ukraine’s preparedness.”
The escalation came after Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Ms. Spartz over the weekend of issuing baseless accusations against Mr. Yermak and attempting to earn political points while her native country wards off Russian invaders.
“We advise Ms. Spartz to stop trying to earn extra political capital on baseless speculation around the topic of war in our country and the grief of Ukrainians,” Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement on Facebook. “Especially cynical are manipulations about Ukraine and its leadership from congresswomen of Ukrainian origin.”
Late last week, Ms. Spartz called on President Biden to brief Congress on “oversight procedures performed” by the administration concerning Mr. Yermak.
In the open letter to Mr. Biden, Ms. Spartz leveled broad accusations against Mr. Yermak, including “alleged dealings in connection with Russia” and delaying the appointment of an independent anti-corruption prosecutor in Ukraine.
“Considering our material involvement in this conflict, we owe this level of rigor and accountability to the American people as Ukraine urgently needs increased levels and speed of security assistance, which unfortunately have not been prioritized by the Biden Administration,” Ms. Spartz said in a statement accompanying the letter.
Ms. Spartz followed the letter with more detailed claims in a follow-on statement over the weekend in which she accused Mr. Yermak of leaking “information to Belarus and ultimately to Russia on Ukraine’s operation to capture the ‘Wagner Group,’ which led to its failure.” The Wagner Group is a private Russian paramilitary organization founded in 2014 that has been deemed by military analysts to be the Kremlin’s “shadow army.”
She said Mr. Yermak mismanaged “peace negotiations with Russia before the war” and accused him of assuring Ukrainian leadership that “no attack by Russia was going to happen this February, contrary to western intelligence, to prevent Ukraine from properly preparing for the war.”
She also accused the officials of delaying “purchases of urgent military equipment through the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and demanding unreasonable or even illegal terms,” and “sabotaging Kherson and giving it to the Russians to set up the ‘Azov’ battalion tragedy.”
Mr. Yermak has been accused previously of having close links to the Kremlin, though he denies the accusations.
Mr. Nikolenko accused Ms. Spartz of attempting to “bring back into American politics classic narratives of Russian propaganda about Ukraine‘s leadership’s seemingly ties to Russia and to drag our state into U.S. domestic politics.”
Earlier last week, Ms. Spartz entered the fray with a statement in which she accused Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelenskyy of “playing politics with people’s lives” as the war in Ukraine rages with no clear end in sight.
“President Biden has to stop playing politics, have a clear strategy and align security assistance with our strategy,” Ms. Spartz said in her statement in which she listed “urgent action items needed to get the situation under control.”
She said Mr. Zelenskyy “has to stop playing politics and theater, and start governing to better support his military and local governments,” and called on Congress to “establish proper oversight of critical infrastructure and delivery of weapons.”
Ms. Spartz is hardly an isolationist when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
She has introduced several measures in support of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of her homeland in late February including a bill to allow U.S. citizens to fight for Ukraine and legislation to remove red tape from U.S. aid shipments to the country.
She offered a resolution in early March expressing “unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In May, Ms. Spartz voted in favor of the $40 billion supplemental aid package for Ukraine which 57 of her Republican House colleagues voted against.
Her recent criticism, however, suggests that she does not offer her support for Ukraine blindly.
“My understanding of the situation in Ukraine is not from books or theories or surveillance reports and analytics, but from seeing and hearing what’s actually happening with my own eyes,” she said.