Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Relations between Ukraine and the United States are now in a state of uncertainty

The election of Joe Biden as President of the United States of America was assessed positively by many experts in Ukraine. Unlike his predecessor Trump, Biden is in favor of strengthening Euro-Atlantic ties, harbors no illusions about Russia, and knows Ukraine well. But while the White House is still determining the further strategy in all directions, the American Think Tank «Atlantic Council» published a report entitled «Biden and Ukraine, a strategy for the new administration». The analytical document was authored by Dr. Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, Ambassador Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs at the US Department of State, Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, Ambassador John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, and Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia.

Experts urge Biden to appoint his ambassador to Ukraine as soon as possible. After all, after the recall of Marie Jovanovich in 2019, a new ambassador was never appointed. The document also presents options for US involvement in resolving the conflict in Donbas. The first option proposed - joining the Minsk format. This option would revive the talks and encourage Moscow to fulfill its commitments, but the consent of all participants in the format is required, which is unlikely. Second option considered implies the establishing a «Budapest format» with Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, based on the 1994 «Budapest Memorandum». The third option is the format of bilateral engagement with Russia, in coordination with Ukraine, France and Germany. The fourth alternative proposed, is to appoint a US special envoy or top deputy to negotiate if negotiations begin to make progress. The authors emphasize the proposed formats are not mutually exclusive, so it is possible to combine different approaches at bilateral and multilateral levels. Also, experts believe that Putin may be likely to cut a deal if the process highlights Russia`s great-power status alongside the United States.

Another point proposed is to increase the US Congress military assistance to Ukraine up to $ 500 million. It is worth noting this year the United States has already allocated $ 250 million to Ukraine within the framework of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. To receive the first half of the assistance, Ukraine must confirm the implementation of the «beacons» regarding defense reforms, strategic planning and the fight against corruption by the end of April this year. A possible increase of military assistance can happen if Ukraine is granted major non-NATO ally status.

The Atlantic Council's strategy also proposes granting Ukraine this status, which opens up opportunities for enhanced military cooperation, priority delivery of excess defense articles and increased financial assistance. Although gaining the status of the main ally of the United States outside NATO can be considered as an appropriate short-term strategy that will strengthen the country's defense capabilities, but still it does not provide any security guarantees. That is why the leadership of Ukraine emphasizes that top priority for the state is precisely joining NATO, which will provide security guarantees in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO Charter. The possible Biden`s administration implementation of the of the Atlantic Council experts call to consider additional steps, including ensuring a permanent US military presence in a Ukrainian training center near the occupied territories and developing a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine would be a significant decision in the context of ensuring Ukrainian security. Namely military presence of NATO Member States on the territory of Ukraine can secure the state from the possible expansion of Russian aggression to other Ukrainian territories.

The Atlantic Council's analytical report, in particular, contains provisions emphasizing the importance of a strategic approach in sanctions policy and cooperation with European allies and G7 partners to impose sanctions on Russia if it continues its aggression in Donbas. However, according to experts, US needs to make it clear that sanctions are not forever, and if Russia withdraws its troops and allows Ukraine to restore control over its international border, the Donbas sanctions would be swiftly removed.

In addition, the Atlantic Council recommends the new administration to support the Ukrainian government's efforts to organize the Crimean Platform, as the initiative keeps occupied Crimea on the international agenda and reminds people, including those living in Russia, that Crimea is still Ukraine in the eyes of the international community.

Separately, the report notes the need to continue the fight against corruption in Ukraine and the call to take action against the main corrupt figures, undermining reform in Ukraine. In particular, The US request to Austria to extradite Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash should be pursued until met. The legal processes against Ihor Kolomoyskyy in the United States should also be pursued vigorously. This month, March 5, the United States has already imposed sanctions against Igor Kolomoyskyy and his family members. Now the sanctions do not apply to the oligarch's assets, but only prohibit the entry into the United States. The specific reason of sanctions remain unknown, however, the official report notes that as a Governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk Oblast from 2014 to 2015, Kolomoyskyy was involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes, including using his political influence and official power for his personal benefit. It was during this period that Kolomoyskyy financed Ukrainian volunteer battalions, and made a significant contribution to prevent the «Russian world» from reaching the Dnipropetrovsk region. The sanctions imposed due to helping Ukrainian fighters to defend their country look simply absurd. It seems that Biden administration does not have a sufficient evidence base against Kolomoyskyy yet and thus sent a signal to him and other Ukrainian oligarchs showing their determination to fight the oligarchy if they do not act within certain limits.

At the moment relations between Ukraine and the United States of America are in a state of uncertainty. There is still no American ambassador in Kyiv, and the actions of the new administration towards Ukraine so far look rather inert and unsystematic. Biden is still determining the further strategy of Ukraine, and, of course, the State Department will take into account the recommendations that were developed in the analytical document of the Atlantic Council. Ukraine, in turn, must determine its own strategic priorities and the desired form of interaction with the United States. Cooperation in the field of security is especially important for Ukraine. Obtaining the status of the main ally outside NATO will help to strengthen the country's defense capabilities in the short term. However, this does not completely solve the issue of security for Ukraine. A clear understanding of the states needs by the Ukrainian authorities will contribute to effective cooperation with the United States at the bilateral level, as well as to accelerating the Euro-Atlantic integration of the state.