Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Visit of the US Secretary of State to Ukraine: Blinken’s demands turned out to be different from what Ukrainian authorities anticipated

Amid a military threat from the Russian Federation, the United States has spoken out in support of Ukraine, condemning the Kremlin's aggressive actions. During April, a telephone conversation took place between the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the President of the United States Joseph Biden. The heads of foreign affairs departments also held regular consultations on the current situation around Ukraine's borders. According to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba, such dynamics of relations between Ukraine and the United States never existed throughout 30 years of independence. In early May, the head of the State Department, Anthony Blinken, arrived in Kyiv. This was the first visit by an official of this level of the Joe Biden administration to Kyiv. Anthony Blinken arrived in Ukraine accompanied by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who is well acquainted with the internal situation in Ukraine, having previously served as Deputy Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in 2013-2017. Her sphere of responsibility included Ukraine.

Ukraine became the first European country visited by Anthony Blinken in a framework of bilateral cooperation after his appointment, so the Secretary of State's visit was a strong signal from the United States. The visit itself was scheduled down to the very minute. Blinken met with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Metropolitan Epiphanius, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmygal and took part in a video conference with Ukrainian activists. The parties discussed a wide range of issues of bilateral strategic partnership. During his visit, the Head of the State Department reaffirmed the strong partnership between the two countries, as well as the support for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Emphasis was made on the need to promote reforms in Ukraine and build a democracy based on the rule of law.

«Ukraine faces two challenges: one from outside, from Russia. In addition, there is a threat from within - it is corruption, oligarchs and others who put their interests above the interests of the Ukrainian people. These two elements are interconnected, because Russia also uses corruption and individuals to help it advance its interests against the interests of the Ukrainian people. Laws are very important, but their implementation is no less important. What we have heard is that the Ukrainian people want to see not only the adoption of laws, but also their implementation, which includes the fight against corruption» - Antony Blinken emphasized.

The United States has consistently continued the line announced by Joe Biden back in August 2019 in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, commenting on a possible policy toward Ukraine in the event of his election. Such policy will encourage Ukraine's leadership to reform more effectively. In particular, this applies to issues of public administration reform, including the security and defense sector in the direction of manageability, accountability, transparency; comprehensive reform of the judiciary and law enforcement; adoption of modern antitrust and anti-oligarchic legislation and ensuring its practical application; support and development of existing anti-corruption institutions.[1] However, in the face of the threat of a direct invasion of the Russian Federation, the question of strengthening Ukraine's defense capabilities arises here and now. During Blinken's meeting with President Zelenskyy, the issue of withdrawing Russian troops from Ukrainian borders was discussed. In fact, Russia has left the vast majority of its group near Ukraine. Only 3,500 troops and 210 units of equipment were withdrawn from the Crimea alone. The forces stationed along the borders allow the Russian side to launch a military operation against Ukraine at any time.[2]

Therefore, the Ukrainian government expects the rise of relations with the United States of America in the practical security dimension to a higher level. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba transmitted to the American partners a list of the most necessary types of weapons to effectively strengthen the country's defense capability. The priority on the list is the supply of air defense systems and anti-sniper technology. The Ukrainian side seeks to receive these weapons not only as assistance, but also to purchase them independently. To date, Ukraine has not received a clear answer from the United States of America, however, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba looks at the prospects for further military cooperation with the United States with optimism, hinting that work in this direction continues.

The question remains in which format will US-Ukrainian military cooperation continue? Recently, the US Senate supported a «Ukraine Security Partnership Act» bill, which provides for increased military support for Ukraine. The bill is expected to increase annual US military aid to Ukraine to $ 300 million, including lethal weapons. However, it has not yet been approved. There has been a lot of talks lately about the prospects of Ukraine to gain a Major Non-NATO Ally Status (MNNA). In particular, the importance of this step was noted in an analytical document of «Atlantic Council» entitled «Biden and Ukraine, a strategy for the new administration». Authoritative experts Anders Oslund, Daniel Fried, Melinda Herring, and former US ambassadors John Herbst, William Taylor, and Alexander Vershbow worked on this analytical paper, and it is clear that it has not gone unnoticed in the US Department of State. The status of a Major Non-NATO Ally opens up opportunities for enhanced military cooperation, priority procurement of surplus American weapons, and increased financial assistance in general. Therefore, in the short term, obtaining this status should be a priority for Ukraine. During Blinken's visit to Kyiv, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine began collecting signatures to appeal to the US Congress to grant MNNA status to Ukraine, so in the near future we can expect the strengthening of the work of Ukrainian diplomacy on this issue. It is worth noting that this status is not an alternative to a full membership in the North Atlantic Alliance, but can be an effective tool for strengthening Ukraine's defense capabilities at the present stage.

Blinken's visit was a signal of support for Ukraine by the United States. The White House has made it clear that it rejects the idea of ??dividing the world into spheres of influence, condemning an approach «that should have been retired after World War II» and supporting Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. At the same time, the level of US support will strongly depend on the effectiveness of domestic reforms in Ukraine. It is worth noting that the expectations that were in Kyiv after the election of Joe Biden have not yet been realized, because in fact the level of military assistance has not been increased. In the short term, the status of a Major Non-Nato Ally could be an instrument for strengthening practical military assistance to Ukraine from the United States. Although Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed the participation of the United States delegation in the Crimean Platform, which undoubtedly strengthens the weight of this initiative, the prospects for Washington's entry into the Normandy format to speed up the settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in the East are rather illusory. The further development of events will be largely determined by the results of the NATO summit and the meeting of the presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation, which will take place in mid-June.