REUTERS

Trump administration officials are taking steps to stabilize the U.S. relationship with Ukraine amid an impeachment inquiry that has badly damaged ties between the two countries.

Aides to President Donald Trump are zeroing in on a new U.S. ambassador to Kyiv – a posting that's been empty since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled earlier this year after a smear campaign spearheaded by Trump's personal attorney, Politico reports.

Among those being considered to replace Yovanovitch is retired Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, a 40-year Army veteran who now serves as director of the Pentagon-affiliated George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany, according to several people familiar with the search. The president likes Dayton, a Senate aide said, and the former general is "willing to take on the job."

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Another plausible candidate to replace Yovanovitch is Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. Reeker is a career Foreign Service officer who also testified in late October.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, is expected to visit Ukraine next month in a show of support. The trip, confirmed by a Trump administration official, will be Pompeo's first visit to the country as America's top diplomat, according to a log of his travels.

Officials in Kyiv and Washington are hoping a new ambassador can stabilize a relationship that remains fragile and rife for exploitation by a hostile Kremlin.

"There is such a personnel void now on these issues that I do think the nomination of an ambassador, especially one that is political but acceptable to the foreign policy establishment and bureaucracy at the State Department, would be very helpful," said Daniel Vajdich, a former top Senate aide who specializes in Ukraine.

Ukraine has just selected a new ambassador to the U.S., Volodymyr Yelchenko, who currently serves as Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations.