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What to know about Bridget Brink, the nominee for ambassador to Ukraine

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

The Biden administration is gradually reopening the U.S. embassy in Ukraine and hoping the Senate will move swiftly to approve a new ambassador. The nominee, Bridget Brink, was on Capitol Hill for her confirmation hearing this afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIDGET BRINK: If confirmed, I pledge to work with Congress to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. We will ensure that Russia's effort to dominate Ukraine is a strategic failure.

FLORIDO: NPR's Michele Kelemen was following the hearing. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Tell us a little about who Bridget Brink is and why the Biden administration tapped her for this job.

KELEMEN: Well, she's a safe bet for the Biden administration. Bridget Brink is a 25-year veteran of the Foreign Service, originally from Michigan and a Russian speaker. She's really spent much of her career working on Europe and Eurasia, both here in Washington, as well as in some former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Georgia.

Most recently, Brink has been serving as ambassador to Slovakia. She was nominated for that job in the Trump administration. So she really has bipartisan support, a lot of experience, she's a professional diplomat, as is, by the way, her husband. He's a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

FLORIDO: Well, if Brink is confirmed, she'd be the first Senate-approved ambassador to Ukraine since President Trump recalled Marie Yovanovitch in 2019. Why has it taken this long?

KELEMEN: Yeah, it's a good question and one that Republicans and Democrats have been asking. The Biden administration has been slow to fill diplomatic posts. The Senate has also been slow to confirm them. But the pace is starting to pick up now.

Brink's name, by the way, was floated well before the war began, but it wasn't until Secretary of State Antony Blinken made that trip to Kyiv late last month that he informed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the choice. And that's when the White House made it official. At the time, Blinken also promised Zelenskyy that the U.S. is going to move the embassy back to Ukraine. You know, the U.S. withdrew diplomats before Russia invaded.

FLORIDO: While a lot of other countries kept their embassies open, right? Some have already moved back. Is the U.S. behind the curve here?

KELEMEN: Well, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jim Risch, said the U.S. should not be last to the party. Ambassador Brink points out that the deputy chief of mission is there now in Kyiv and reported back that it was jarring just how close the Russians came to the Ukrainian capital. Brink says she saw some photos of what she called superficial damage outside the embassy. And she promised to work with security officials to move back but to do it safely. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRINK: I don't know exactly how fast we will be able to do this process, but I know we are trying to do it as fast as possible. And it is certainly my hope and plan, if confirmed, to be able to start my mission in Kyiv.

FLORIDO: So she sounded hopeful but didn't sound like she was making any promises either.

KELEMEN: Right. I mean, the State Department has been much more risk-averse in recent years, particularly in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But many senators said, in the case of Ukraine, a U.S. diplomatic presence is key. Ukraine is getting a lot of support, billions of dollars in weapons and aid, and lawmakers want an ambassador there on the ground, one that will consult with them. Brink is promising to do that.

FLORIDO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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