Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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How will the US election affect Ukraine?

One of the main political events this year was the United States presidential election. On November 7, 2020, after the victory in the state of Pennsylvania, the Democratic candidate Joe Biden declared his victory, receiving 273 electoral votes, surpassing the 270-majority needed to win the White House.

The United States is a strategic partner of Ukraine and a country playing an important role in a stability of the Baltic-Black Sea region, so the question arises: how will relations between Ukraine and the United States change under the new administration and what can expect the Ukrainian government? According to the BBC, no previous US president has ever been so intimately familiar with Ukrainian affairs as Biden. As a Vice President, Joe Biden has visited Ukraine several times.

He expressed his position on Ukraine, if elected, in August 2019 in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘‘I would make Ukraine a U.S. foreign policy priority. On the military side, I would provide more U.S. security assistance — including weapons — to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself’’, he said. The second point was to support Ukraine's energy independence and to attract Western investments. Biden stated as well that “all U.S. assistance to Ukraine is strictly conditioned on anti-corruption reforms, including the appointment of truly independent anti-corruption prosecutors and judges’’, Biden said. He also prioritized US involvement in negotiations to put pressure on Russia in order to deoccupy Ukrainian territories.[1]

Biden understands the situation inside Ukraine well, so the attitude of the United States will be more demanding, and the new administration will expect more effective transformations from Ukraine. It is also planned to convene a Global Summit on Democracy under the auspices of the United States. Participating countries will be expected to make clear commitments to fight corruption, to oppose authoritarianism and to promote human rights. Respectively, a presidential directive will be issued, which will establish combating corruption as a core national security interest and democratic responsibility." Therefore, undoubtedly, as a president, J. Biden will continue the "crusade" against endemic corruption in Ukraine, including using the capabilities of the US legal system and continuing to investigate suspicions of corruption of Ukrainian individuals, including the high-profile case of oligarch Kolomoisky, says former Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States Oleh Shamshur.

An important priority of Biden's foreign policy will be the restoration of the system of alliances and coalitions of the United States. During Trump's tenure, there were many misunderstandings between the United States and European allies on key issues, from trade and security to the fight against climate change. Shortly after announcing the results and receiving congratulations, Joe Biden had series of telephone conversations with the leaders of the allied states: France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Among the shared priorities they discussed were containing COVID-19 and promoting global health security; pursuing a sustainable economic recovery; combating climate change. The new President of the United States also expressed his readiness to work on Ukrainian issue. Particular attention was paid to the intensification of bilateral and transatlantic ties, including through NATO and the European Union.[2]

Biden's rhetoric reaffirms expectations about the new president's intentions to strengthen the unity of NATO members and to reaffirm NATO's role as a stabilizing element in the regional security system. In the context of Ukraine, the security of the Black Sea region is an extremely important issue. This year NATO, including the United States Armed Forces, took part in the joint military exercise Joint Efforts - 2020, which were held in conjunction with Russia's Caucasus 2020 military exercise. In addition, American warships, along with ships of other Member States, are on a rotational basis in the Black Sea. We can expect continued trends of increasing NATO's military presence in the Black Sea, in order to deter Russia, as it was during Trump administration.

Biden administration, for its part, will pay a special attention to relations with Russia. Biden's rhetoric towards Russia will be tougher, but on a specific issues Washington will become more open to a dialogue with Moscow. Biden has already noted in case of victory in presidential election, he will agree to Russia's proposal to extend Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, «START-3» [3]. Bruno Lethe, an analyst from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and John Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasian Center, are confident that Biden will continue Trump's tough policy on Nord Stream 2, which could potentially increase the EU's dependence on Russian gas and threatens Ukraine. "Biden doesn't like Nord Stream 2, and he'll be happy to see this project dies," - notes Herbst. At the same time, both experts expect Washington's tone in their discussion with Berlin will change to a «politer» one, while Trump did not listen to Germany's position on Nord Stream-2 at all.

President Biden's victory is a relief for most of the European countries. European allies and partners will seek a fast return to a state of "normality." The possibility of organizing a NATO summit at the beginning of Biden's presidency is already being discussed [4]. At the same time, a return to the ambitious schemes of deepening transatlantic ties as it was during Barack Obama's presidency seems highly unlikely. Europe has recently begun to lean toward economic nationalism and greater independence, as Trump's policies destabilized allied relations, «ZN» states, citing the Washington Post [5]. This state of affairs is unfavorable for Ukraine, taking into account the partnership relations of the leading European countries with the Russian Federation. The consensus and the common position of the Western countries towards Russia would strengthen the position of the Ukrainian side in the fight against the aggression of the Russian Federation.

During Trump's rule, the United States changed its approach to relations with other nations. It was a consistent policy, with clearly defined goals that sometimes did not meet the interests of the European allies. Restoring mutual trust will undoubtedly require time, effort and appropriate actions, first and foremost on the part of the United States. It is necessary to understand that Biden's victory in the election does not mean a complete change in US foreign policy, and on some issues the interests of the EU and the US will remain opposite. Therefore, it is now premature to make predictions about the return of relations between European states and the United States to the previous level. As for Ukraine, the United States will certainly continue their support. We can expect an increasing pressure on Russian Federation, since Joe Biden, unlike his predecessor, Trump, who tried to establish a personal relationship with the Russian leader, has no illusions about the Russian leadership. The level of support for Ukraine will depend on readiness of Zelensky's team to make effective changes and reforms, particularly regarding tackling corruption in the country.