Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun to Kyiv in the context of US policy toward Ukraine, Belarus and Russia

On August 24-27,  US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun paid a working visit to Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine. The trip of the American high-ranking official was caused by a wave of mass protests and detentions in Belarus after the presidential election. All three countries to which Stephen Bigen went have been intentionally or involuntarily drawn into the Belarusian crisis. Lithuania has been one of the biggest promoters of sanctions against Belarus and has provided shelter for Lukashenko's opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Russia became the main negotiator with Oleksandr Lukashenko, receiving an unspoken mandate from Western powers. Ukraine, on the other hand, found itself at the center of an ambiguous situation with Russian mercenaries, who were detained in Belarus and then sent back to Moscow.

Thus, the main purpose of the US Deputy Secretary of State's visit to the three capitals was to discuss the Belarusian issue. Despite the rapprochement between Minsk and Washington in recent years, the United States appears to have limited influence over the situation in Belarus. From the beginning, the United States has been slow to respond to mass protests and detentions: the State Department's statement was released a few days later than in European capitals. The same goes for sanctions. In early September, in Washington, it was talked about preparing individual sanctions against Belarusian officials, but it is clear that they will have a very limited impact on the situation. The fact is that neither the United States nor the EU wants the Belarusian crisis to unfold, they are interested in maintaining the status quo. Washington sees the situation in Belarus as an internal crisis, not a confrontation between the West and Russia. Obviously, the United States agrees that Belarus is the patrimony of Russia. This can be confirmed by the statements of Stephen Bigen, quoted by Politico: ‘This is not a contest between the United States and Russia for the loyalties of Belarus. Belarus, in fact, and the Belarusian people, have a long history and a deep inclination toward cooperative relations with the Russian Federation’[1]Obviously, the United States itself is in no hurry to destroy the bridges with Lukashenko and leaves room for further cooperation.

It is noteworthy that on the trip Stephen Bigen was accompanied by diplomat George Kent, who worked in Kyiv for several years as Deputy Head of Mission and is well informed in the situation in Ukraine. So, obviously, the issue of the conflict in Donbas was also the subject of discussion between the Ukrainian and American parties. In particular, during the visit, the US Deputy Secretary of State met with Deputy Prime Minister - Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Oleksiy Reznikov, who is a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the TCG.

Another more sensitive issue, which was apparently the subject of the negotiation between the parties, concerned the US elections. A statement from the Office of the President of Ukraine on the meeting of Volodymyr Zelensky and Stephen Bigen said: ‘Speaking of international politics, Stephen Biegun praised Ukraine's position on non-interference in the US elections’[2]. Apparently, the White House remembers well how in 2016 the publication of the "black accounts of the Party of Regions" played a nasty joke on Donald Trump and led to the resignation of the head of his campaign headquarters, Paul Manafort. This year, Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach, who has close ties to the Russian Federation, has been involved in attempts to interfere in American politics. In an August statement, US intelligence said: 'Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television'[3]. The Ukrainian authorities understand the danger of being involved in the American elections, but they cannot guarantee that Ukrainian accomplices of the Kremlin will not pour a portion of dirt on the eve of the elections.

Currently, the development of political dialogue with the United States is paused. Washington now faces many internal challenges, and most importantly, the active phase of the election race has begun. Whoever becomes President, Ukraine's support will continue. Both President Donald Trump and candidate Joe Biden congratulated the country on Independence Day, assuring their continued support. The election results could mark a new chapter in Ukraine-US relations. Nowadays, the main thing is to prevent a new manipulative leak so as not to start a conversation after the election with finding out unpleasant circumstances.