US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed Volker's appointment as US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations on Friday, with the diplomat expected to spearhead US efforts to move forward on the implementation of the Minsk agreements – the ceasefire and peace plan signed by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in early 2015 in the Belarusian capital to try to bring the conflict in eastern Ukraine to an end.
But according to US and Russian observers, Volker's appointment casts doubt on whether Washington is really committed resolving the Ukraine crisis. Speaking to Sputnik, Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity executive director Daniel McAdams recalled that Volker's current position is head of the McCain Institute, a neo-conservative Washington-based think tank founded by fanatically anti-Russian Senator John McCain.
"Again, the solution to the Ukraine problem is for the United States to disengage and allow the countries involved to work out the issues. Ultimately, the people of eastern Ukraine should be able to decide their own fate," McAdams said.
Andrei Rezchikov, international affairs observer for Russia's Vzglyad newspaper, was similarly skeptical.
"Formally, the post of special envoy for Ukraine was created for the first time, but in actuality, Volker is Victoria Nuland's successor," the journalist wrote. "The former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs didn't have a formal position in Ukraine, either, but was remembered in the country, and not only for distributing cookies on Maidan Square" ahead of the 2014 coup.
Russia had been waiting for Washington to fill the role of Ukraine negotiator since January, when Nuland and several other senior State Department officials resigned, but probably didn't expect one prominent neocon to be replaced by another.
Volker, 55, began his career in the Central Intelligence Agency, serving for two years between 1986 and 1988. In 1988, he joined the US State Department as a Foreign Service officer. In the late 1990s, he became First Secretary of the US Mission to NATO. He was appointed Permanent Representative to the alliance in July 2008 by George W. Bush, and served until May 2009.
Two years later, he joined Washington-based lobbying firm BGR Group, the same company which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hired in late 2016 to lobby Kiev's interests in the Trump administration.
In 2012, Volker was tapped for the job of executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a non-profit think tank created on Senator John McCain's initiative that same year. Volker had earlier served as legislative fellow on McCain's senatorial staff between 1997 and 1998.
The McCain Institute, a hub of neoconservative thought well-known for its lobbying of hawkish foreign policy, has been reported to have taken donations from George Soros, the Rothschild family, the National Iranian American Council, and the Saudi Embassy. Last year, Senator McCain tried to distance himself from the Institute, saying he had "nothing to do with it" beyond the namesake, even though it was founded with an $8.7 million donation of unused funds from the senator's 2008 presidential run.
According to Rezchikov, the true implications of Volker's appointment as special envoy can be guessed from the reception he has seen from Kiev. The journalist recalled that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ecstatically welcomed the appointment on Twitter, going so far as to declare that the US decision was made "following our arrangements."
Welcome the decision of the US Administration to appoint Kurt Volker a Special representative for Ukraine, following our arrangements— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) 7 июля 2017 г.
Important & timely move in the interests of ending Russian aggression and restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, including Crimea— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) 7 июля 2017 г.
Speaking to Vzglyad, Mikhail Pogrebinsky, the head of the Kiev Center of Political Studies and Conflictology, lamented that based on a consideration of Volker's background, "a less suitable candidate for the search for compromise would be hard to find."
"The State Department is appointing someone who is officially registered as a lobbyist for Ukraine to search for compromise. It follows that this will mean a strengthening of the Ukrainian position in the negotiations process. All of this is not conducive to substantive negotiations being held with Volker," Pogrebinsky said.
The only chance, Pogrebinsky noted, is if President Donald Trump gives the envoy a specific assignment, with the diplomat "simply forced to carry out this task."
For his part, US politics watcher Viktor Olevich told Vzglyad that Volker's appointment to take Nuland's place in Ukraine suggests that the Trump administration does not plan to "seriously change its approach to the Ukraine issue."