Kurt Volker is the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. He abruptly stepped down from the State Department position on September 27, 2019.
Volker’s submitted his resignation to current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo one day after the whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine was declassified and released to the public. The complaint detailed a phone call President Trump had with the leader of Ukraine, in which he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. It has since been revealed that Secretary Pompeo was also on the phone call.
The complaint mentioned Volker by name. The whistleblower states that Volker met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the day after the phone call and “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelensky.” U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was also reportedly involved in this meeting.
The Daily Beast, citing current and former State Department officials who allegedly requested anonymity, reported on October 2 that Secretary Pompeo may have forced Volker to resign in an attempt to use Volker as a “scapegoat” amid the scandal. Rudy Giuliani also named Volker as the person who had reportedly told him to speak with officials in Ukraine about an investigation into Joe Biden.
Volker testified before lawmakers on October 3 as part of the formal impeachment inquiry. He provided texts that allegedly showed that State Department officials were urging Ukranian officials to open an investigation into Joe Biden.
Here’s what you need to know about Kurt Volker.
1. Kurt Volker Was Not Paid For His Work as Special Envoy to Ukraine & Allies Have Pushed Back Against Speculation of a Conflict of Interest
Kurt Volker’s job as a special envoy to Ukraine was on a volunteer basis. He did not receive a paycheck for his efforts in the region, which included trying to establish a lasting peace between Ukraine and Russia. Volker was appointed to the position by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in July of 2017.
Volker was likely to face questions from lawmakers about any possible conflicts of interest during his time as the special envoy, specifically financial conflicts. Volker is also the director of the McCain Institute and previously served as a Managing Director for a lobbying firm called the BGR Group. Both of those organizations have financial ties to the defense contractor company Raytheon, which is providing anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Volker supported the sale of the weapons and, as reported by Politico, the two organizations he’s affiliated with would have benefited from the deal. BGR told Politico that Volker “had recused himself from any issues related to the firm’s work for the Ukrainian government.”
Allies of Volker have come to his defense in the wake of his resignation. Retired Air Force general Phil Breedlove described Volker to Defense One as someone who would have accepted the job as envoy to Ukraine out of a desire to help. “He tries to work in places where he can reach left and right and pull people into solving a problem and work in a bi-lateral sense. I think it’s sad to see a magnificent human being like this, working to mainly benefit Ukraine, dragged into something with political overtones.” The former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Russia and Ukraine, Evelyn Farkas, added that Volker is a “consummate professional. He cares deeply about democracy in America, democracy in Ukraine.”
2. Volker Is a Career Diplomat & Previously Served as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Kurt Volker has a long history working with representatives from European nations. From 1999 until 2001, he served as the Deputy Director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary-General, George Robertson, who was a British politician. Volker’s next move was to the National Security Council, where he was the Acting Senior Director for European and Eurasian Affairs for four years.
From 2005 through 2008, Volker was promoted to become the second-most important official responsible for European Affairs within the State Department. Volker’s title was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Volker was asked by President George Bush to serve as the Ambassador to NATO in July of 2008. He remained in that position for about a year. As explained in his bio on the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, Volker’s tenure as Ambassador included dealing with “Russia’s invasion of Georgia, the ramp-up of military efforts in Afghanistan, the return of France to NATO’s military structure, the enlargement of NATO to 28 members, and NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit in Strasbourg, France.”
3. Kurt Volker Began His Career Working For the CIA
Kurt Volker began his professional career in public service working for the Central Intelligence Agency. After earning his master’s degree in international affairs in 1987 from George Washington University, Volker became an analyst.
According to his bio on the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University website, where he is a non-resident senior fellow, Volker served as an intelligence analyst focused on Northern Europe.
Volker’s next move was to the State Department. He became a U.S. Foreign Service officer and spent time working in European cities including Brussels, Budapest, and London. On his LinkedIn profile, Volker adds that he has also lived in Sweden and France, and is fluent in Hungarian, Swedish and French.
Volker’s bio on the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs describes him as a “career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, with over 23 years of experience working on European policy under five U.S. Administrations.”
4. Volker Worked On Foreign Policy Issues For Senator John McCain In the Late 1990s & Now Runs the McCain Institute for International Leadership
Kurt Volker worked on Capitol Hill for about a year in the late 1990s. He was a State Department Legislative Fellow in the Senate. According to his bio on the BGR Group website, where he previously served as a Senior International Advisor, Volker worked for Senator John McCain on foreign policy issues from 1997 to 1998.
Volker’s connection to the McCain family lasted far longer than the fellowship did. He has been serving as the Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership since it was founded in 2012. The center is located in Washington, D.C. and is part of Arizona State University.
Volker describes the Institute on his LinkedIn page, “Focused on building the next generation of character-driven global leaders, and designing better decisions in the areas of humanitarian work, human rights, and national security.” Volker explained to the Arizona Republic after Senator McCain’s death that the Institute was committed to promoting the importance of service to society. “He particularly believed you needed to do it for those who couldn’t do it for themselves — you needed to serve others that needed it most. And that is an ethos that we try to reflect in the institute every day.”
In 2012, former editor-at-large of The Atlantic Steve Clemons praised the choice of Volker to lead the McCain Institute. He described Volker as “a brilliant and steady national security hand who is well-liked and well-respected not just by Republicans, Dems, and Independents — but by a range of foreign policy types from neocons to liberal internationalists to realists.”
5. Kurt Volker Is Married to Georgian Journalist Ia Meurmishvili
Kurt Volker’s wife is Ia Meurmishvili, a journalist originally from Georgia. They tied the knot on October 6 at the Washington National Cathedral.
She is a senior editor and TV host for Voice of America, which is an international broadcasting organization funded by the U.S. government. Volker and Ia Meurmishvili reportedly met in 2015 during an interview, according to the Forum Daily, when Volker was a guest on her show.
According to her social media pages, Meurmishvili began working for the network in 2009. She explained on her LinkedIn profile that she hosts a “weekly analytical TV program “Washington Today,” which is broadcast nationwide in Georgia and available online worldwide.”