What Kind of an Ambassador Was the Ambassador of Ukraine in ‘Lessons from the Side’?


The fact that I got to this point in the book with my heart in my throat illustrates how deftly Yovanovitch tells his life story. Born in Montreal, he takes us from a childhood in Kent, Conn., with assignments in Somalia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. He started out as a young, introverted newbie in the Foreign Service, belittled by autocrats and evil bosses. He acknowledges that feelings of insecurity can never be eliminated; they were simply manageable – which probably made his encounters with Trumpworld even more surprising, as the “thinker” in him was trying to turn his mind to nonsense.

His attempts to distort his perception of reality were so relentless that when he returned to Washington from Ukraine he found himself curled up on a psychiatrist’s couch. She says she’s spent decades working under high-pressure conditions, cultivating sensitive relationships with foreign officials who are ready to take “any wrong step.” But it was “the actions of my own government” that brought him to the breaking point.

This is not to say that Yovanovitch was previously an avid supporter of his own government. In this book he talks a lot about “values” in foreign policy, comparing them to “interests”. Ideally, they can work together. But he’s also seen enough firsthand to know that the United States, for all its talk about democracy and freedom, rarely ignores corruption and worse—supporting ruthless dictators who seem to serve American “strategic goals” no matter how defined.

In 1986, Yovanovitch arrived on his first assignment in Somalia and remembers how dealing with daily blackmail and extortion schemes made him “more cynical.” But he still retained his faith in diplomacy – he calls it an “optimistic profession.” He had only been ambassador to Ukraine for a few months when Trump won the election in 2016, and although he had made obscene voices about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he “held firmly to his belief that a Republican foreign policy order would bring Trump. ” and “Long-term bilateral consensus supporting Ukraine” will prevail.

In a way, he did it weakly and perhaps disfigured. Ukraine eventually received military aid that Trump threatened to withhold unless Zelensky launched an investigation into the Biden family, but Yovanovitch was surprised that, no matter how much evidence came to light, Republicans were unwilling to hold an American president to account for trying to “kill himself”. bartering his office for personal favors from foreign governments,” he writes.

In 2019, perhaps all this talk about Ukraine and military aid sounded too far-fetched to American ears to yield much. As ambassador, however, Yovanovitch had regularly traveled to the war zone on Ukraine’s eastern border, where the Russian invasion in 2014 “caused a humanitarian disaster.” Even then, Yovanovitch was keenly aware that he had just seen so much. “I remember looking out of reinforced windows and seeing Ukrainians without our elaborate protection going about their daily business and trying to get their lives together,” he writes. “I was just a visitor and I knew I could go home.”



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