January 6, 2017

The incoming administration


In less than two weeks from the date of this issue, the U.S. will inaugurate its new president. No one is quite sure what the administration of Donald J. Trump will bring. Among those are Ukrainian Americans who love both the United States and their ancestral homeland. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, there are serious concerns about whether the country will be abandoned to Russia’s sphere of influence. The succinct lead sentence in a story by David Stern published by Politico summed it up well: “Donald Trump’s victory leaves Ukraine alone and afraid.” There are objective reasons for that fear: readers surely recall candidate Trump’s comment that the war in Ukraine is “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us,” as well as his suggestion that he might recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

Adding to the fears are statements by various political observers who have said Vladimir Putin expects that his agenda will be adopted by the incoming president, who has expressed admiration for the Russian president and has repeatedly indicated that U.S. policy toward Russia will change under his administration. Mr. Trump has even questioned U.S. intelligence reports on Russia’s cyberattacks. (N.B.: The president-elect is to receive a full briefing from the intelligence community on Friday, January 6, so we will be eagerly awaiting his reaction.) And then there is the issue of the nominee for U.S. secretary of state, ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, who has no experience in the public sector, has business ties to Russia and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Mr. Putin himself. Thus, the potential Trump-Tillerson tandem is yet more cause for alarm. Who knows what deals could be made in pursuit of better relations with Russia?

Already there is disturbing talk of the Trump administration deploying Henry Kissinger to reset U.S. relations with Russia. The Times (based in the United Kingdom) reported: “Mr. Kissinger is already said to have advised Mr. Trump to roll out a plan to end sanctions on Moscow that would ‘recognize Russia’s dominance’ in the former Soviet states of Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan.” What’s more, there are reports that Mr. Kissinger’s strategy might include accepting the annexation of Crimea in exchange for Moscow withdrawing from eastern Ukraine.

The foregoing, we must note, runs counter to the bilateral support for Ukraine that has been repeatedly expressed in the U.S. Congress, and the policies of the administration of President Barack Obama, which – though they may not have been as strong as we’d have liked – were at least pro-Ukrainian. Indeed, that stance was reiterated on December 15 by Vice-President Joe Biden, the administration’s point man on Ukraine, in yet another of his phone conversations with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. It was underscored that a full ceasefire in the Donbas and full access for monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are key to implementing the Minsk agreement, and that sanctions on Russia should remain in place until Russia has fully implemented its Minsk commitments. In addition, as The Washington Post reported on January 5, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, writing in an exit memo, “argued for an aggressive stance against Russia, citing cyberattacks and its military intervention in Syria and Ukraine.”

For its part, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America on December 13 called on the incoming 115th U.S. Congress and the Trump administration “to continue our nation’s proud tradition of bipartisan support for Ukraine,” noting that “Any retreat from current sanctions or military, political and economic support of Ukraine, and the United States would signal yet another ‘reset,’ a capitulation with terrifying consequences for Ukraine, the European partners of the U.S. and the global geopolitical security structure.”

And there you have it. As we begin the new year, we face the incongruity that, while Ukraine celebrates the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the U.S. – its declared strategic partner since 1996 – may well decide against its partner’s interests.