June 23, 2017

The Poroshenko-Trump meeting


It was another good week for Ukraine in Washington.

President Petro Poroshenko met with President Donald Trump and other key officials in the U.S. administration to press his case that Ukraine is a success story and that it is fighting for its freedom and democracy. “There never was such a powerful visit,” Mr. Poroshenko was quoted as saying before his meetings. “And precisely in order to have the opportunity to talk about our cooperation in the security, political and economic spheres.” Afterwards, he said, “There was a full, detailed meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. We received strong support from the U.S. side, support in terms of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the independence of our state.”

It is significant that the meeting took place before Mr. Trump is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany on July 7-8. RFE/RL commented that Mr. Poroshenko “may have pulled off a small coup” with regard to the timing.

At first, it seemed the White House was trying to downplay the meeting, saying the president would be meeting with his national security adviser “with a drop-in by Vice-President Mike Pence and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.” And the subsequent readout of the meeting issued by the White House was, well, not much to speak of. Here it is in full: “President Donald J. Trump met today with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine to discuss support for the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and President Poroshenko’s reform agenda and anti-corruption efforts.” The official readout of the Poroshenko-Pence meeting was more informative: “The Vice-President met today with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to reaffirm the United States’ support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and for President Petro Poroshenko’s implementation of the reforms necessary to transform Ukraine into a peaceful, prosperous and secure European country. The Vice-President highlighted continuing U.S. support for the Normandy Format negotiations to implement the Minsk agreements and stressed the importance of continued reforms to fight corruption, improve the business climate and keep Ukraine’s International Monetary Fund program on track.”

More interesting was what was said during the photo-op in the Oval Office. President Trump: “It’s a great honor to be with President Poroshenko of the [sic] Ukraine – a place that we’ve all been very much involved in. And you’ve been seeing it and everybody has been reading about it. And we’ve had some very, very good discussions. It’s going to continue throughout the day. And I think a lot of progress has been made. And it’s a great honor to have you, Mr. President. Thank you. Thank you very much.” He then asked if Mr. Poroshenko would like to say something. And he did: “That’s a great honor and a great pleasure to be together with you, Mr. President – one of the most reliable supporters and partners – strategic partners for Ukraine. We’re really fighting to bring freedom and democracy with your very strong support in security and defense – support of our defense, support of my 45 million nation, of the country who is the biggest in the European continent. And I’m absolutely confident that Ukraine is a story of success. I’m proud to have you, Mr. President, and United States as a co-sponsor to this story of success. And we very much admire of your leadership, of your very effective steps, because today includes two historic days – five months of your presidency and – when we launched the first peace plan – peace plan of Ukraine. And I’m absolutely confident that our effective coordination will bring the peace to our nation, to our land, and can support our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Significantly, on the very day of the White House meetings, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued an announcement of
“reinforced existing sanctions on Russia.” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said: “This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements.”

And there was more good news. After his meetings, President Poroshenko praised the greater involvement of the U.S. in resolving the Donbas conflict, reported that several key members of the U.S. administration will soon visit Ukraine and said agreements will be signed on defense cooperation, including defense procurement and military-technical cooperation.

To be sure, there are those who said the way the Poroshenko visit was handled by the administration was a bit of stagecraft at a time when the Trump campaign is under fire for dealings with Russia and when investigations are continuing into possible collusion of Trump associates with Russia in its effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. (President Trump on June 22 once again dismissed U.S. intelligence reports that Russia had meddled in the election.) Some commentators suggested that the actions of the administration on the day of the Poroshenko visit were intended to send a message to Congress that the administration is doing something vis-à-vis Russia and that the new sanctions and limits on the president’s ability to lessen or lift them suggested in a bill passed by the Senate are not needed.

We would strongly disagree with the latter sentiment, however. We urge the House of Representatives to act quickly in passing the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act that includes strengthened sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and mandates a congressional review if sanctions are to be rolled back or abandoned. Now is not the time for the U.S. to lower its guard.