The Future of US-Ukraine Relations

Not only millions of Americans who chose the Democratic candidate are rejoicing over Joe Biden’ victory in the US election – many Ukrainian citizens are also happy about the results.

“Ukraine is blessed to have a US President with so profound and personal knowledge of our country,” Petro Poroshenko tweeted on November 7, shortly after the news of US President Donald Trump’s defeat.

Although the pandemic has been at the center of the debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, US foreign policy is still one of the most important issues that will characterize the upcoming Biden-Harris presidency. So why not dust off an old friendship that’s also part of America’s national interest in eastern Europe?

Joe Biden and Ukraine

Biden made six trips to Kyiv as vice-president, five of them from 2014 onward – after Russia annexed the Republic of Crimea in a controversial referendum called by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Barack Obama’s former point man on Ukraine is a familiar face in Kyiv, and in turn, may be more familiar with Ukraine than any previous US president.

“First, I would make Ukraine a US foreign policy priority. On the military side, I would provide more US security assistance – including weapons – to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. I would also expand the successful training mission for the Ukrainian Armed Forces that was initiated by the Obama-Biden administration,” Biden told the press in the summer of 2019 about what, if any, steps would take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine as president.

Washington’s Approach to Ukraine Under Obama

During Obama’s presidencies, Washington has in fact provided higher levels of annual assistance to Ukraine. The United States also provided military assistance to Ukraine: more than $1.6 billion since Russia’s 2014 invasion. The sanctions against Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent beginning of the war in the Donbass Region may somehow lay the groundwork for the future of relations between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The senator from Delaware did not hesitate to express his priorities during his first conversations with European leaders, from French leader Emmanuel Macron to the UK’s Boris Johnson. With the French President, Biden “expressed his desire to strengthen relations between the United States and France, its oldest ally,” and “also expressed his readiness to work together on global challenges, including security and development in Africa, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program.” With Johnson, he discussed strengthening democracy, and working together on issues such as the Western Balkans and Ukraine.

Hunter Biden’s Interests and the Impeachment Inquiry

But why so much interest? In addition to the will to increase Western direct investment and support for Ukraine’s energy independence from Russia, particularly once Nord Stream II pipeline will be completed, it is unclear whether Biden’s son Hunter is also involved.

In the midst of the Ukrainian political crisis of 2014, the son of the then-vice president served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, based in Kyiv and registered in Cyprus. Nothing illegal under American law that does not prohibit politicians’ family members from being hired by foreign companies or governments; what has aroused curiosity, however, was the substantial monthly salary of $ 50,000 received by Hunter Biden until April 2019 without ever clarifying his role within the Ukrainian company.

What has been also significant in the defeat of Donald Trump, was a July 25, 2019, call between Trump and Zelensky.

According to the whistleblower complaint, Trump allegedly pressured the Ukrainian president to “initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.” Among Trump’s suspicions on Biden’s son, that of having illegally taken advantage of his name to secure his position on the board of directors of the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma. The House Intelligence Committee concluded that President Trump tried to “use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election,” to such an extent he has become the third president in US history to be impeached.

Although the official election results are currently being contested in some states, it seems that the clues point towards the newly elected Democratic leader as the victor.

Biden’s Upcoming Choices on Ukraine

Amid the future choices Biden will have to make is that of the permanent ambassador to Ukraine who has been missing since May 2019, when Trump fired Marie Yovanovitch. The American diplomat was labeled “bad news” by Trump, who referred to her in a negative context simply as “the woman” in his July phone call with Zelensky.

Obama named her ambassador to Ukraine in 2016, and during her time in Kyiv, Yovanovitch had a reputation for championing anti-corruption interests in Ukraine.

In the public hearings of the impeachment trial against Trump, Yovanovitch stated that she had never met and talked with Hunter Biden. We will have to wait to see who Biden will send to Kyiv to understand the next steps of the new presidency.