A chance for Ukraine, the risk for Kolomoiskyi. What to expect from Biden?
On January 20, the era of Donald Trump officially ended: Joe Biden took the oath of office and became the 46th President of the United States. Together with him, an entire team will come to power and carry out American policy in the next four years. For Ukraine, it also means big changes: we know some people from the new American leader’s circle, while others we have to get acquainted with.
Who'll be responsible for US foreign policy under Biden, with whom Kyiv will have to communicate, and which Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs should expect problems from the new American government, read further in the new Rubryka article.
The USA is back in the game. What does it mean for Ukraine?
"We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world," Biden said in his inaugural speech. A very clear signal showing that the times of Donald Trump's isolationist policy are behind us: The United States no longer wants to isolate itself and will try to influence global processes again. That is, they'll return to the politics of the Barack Obama times when Biden was vice president.
The new US president decided not to heave away and launched the procedure for returning the country to WHO and the Paris climate agreement on the very first day, and stopped the construction of the wall on the Mexican border. Obviously, in the coming months, Biden's primary attention will be focused on resolving internal issues, but soon the new Administration will get round to solving problems with Ukraine.
"America has been tested, and we have come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example," Biden added during his speech.
For Ukraine, it's a direct signal that it'll continue to receive support from the Americans in the future, perhaps even more support than before. However, in exchange, Kyiv will be required to set in motion solutions to an entire list of problems. First, it is the fight against corruption and judicial reform.
Rubryka contacted the Head of the Institute of World Politics Yevhen Mahda, who explained what Ukraine should expect from the new American Administration.
"Ukraine needs to rely on institutions, not personalities. To show that we're undergoing changes in the judicial reform, for instance. We cannot expect Biden to come and solve everything. This approach is counterproductive. If we don't understand what to rely on, we simply won't receive the assistance we're counting on.
Even a super-powerful country can't solve everything. We'd like to comfort ourselves with the thought that Biden will actively take care of Ukraine, but now he has domestic politics on his agenda. I think we should consider it. Let's wait for appointments, for officials who'll directly work with Ukraine. But Biden won't come here for the entire presidential term. I think he won't, unfortunately," Mahda predicted.
The president is traditionally considered to be the chief of foreign policy in the United States, but the State Department is the institution that helps him and implements his decisions.
The next head of the State Department should be Anthony Blinken, a descendant of Ukrainian immigrants, who's been working in Biden's team for over 20 years. During the Barack Obama administration, Blinken served as the national security adviser in the Office of Vice President Biden. He later moved to the post of Under Secretary; John Kerry held the vice president post.
The day after Biden's inauguration, a Senate hearing was held to consider Blinken's candidacy. Among other things, he spoke in favor of providing Ukraine with lethal defense weapons and further cooperation in training soldiers to push back against Russia.
"I support providing the defensive assistance to Ukraine with weapons. In fact, I wrote about this in the New York Times about three years ago," he said.
Blinken's future deputy is Victoria Nuland, who's considered one of the harshest critics of Vladimir Putin's policies in the United States. In 2019, she was even denied entry to Russia, by being included on the list of undesirable persons. In 2013-2014, Nuland actively supported the Maidan, being Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. She speaks excellent Russian and personally knows the entire Ukrainian elite.
Supposedly, the United States may soon return the post of special representative for Ukraine, who'll deal with Donbas issues here. Until September 2019, Kurt Volker held this position, but after his resignation, Donald Trump didn't want to appoint a replacement.
"Currently, these are just predictions, but the first proposed appointments look promising for Ukraine. Blinken is an experienced diplomat but known for his assertiveness. He called for an attack on Assad after he used chemical weapons; he was one of those who prepared a response to the annexation of Crimea at the Obama administration and took part in the events of the Georgian war in 2008. Of course, they don't like him in Russia. Victoria Nuland needs no introduction. Both Biden and his team are well acquainted with Ukraine, but there's another side here: they'll wait for specific steps from our government, so no one can mess with them," international expert Mykola Yanchenko says.
Jake Sullivan is another important member of the part of Biden's team that will influence foreign policy. He'll become the president's national security adviser. The person in this position largely influences the policy of the head of state in security and defense.
They say that Sullivan is definitely not among the fans of Russia, however, when deciding, he tries to look for a "middle ground." He's also a great NATO supporter.
"There are many people in Biden's team who worked with Obama, but it's not a unique case. It's only natural that there are supporters of this party in the Democrat Administration, as with the Republicans. But I'm sure that Biden's policy won't be a copy of Obama. First, the world has transformed. Second, Biden has become the oldest American president. Is he planning two cadences for himself? I'm not sure. And the Trump factor will still affect the new American Administration," Yevhen Mahda says.
So far, Biden's candidacies haven't received Senate approval, but there's no doubt that they'll allow the American president to assemble a team to his liking. It means it's time for Ukraine to think about how to build a dialogue with new partners, even if they treat our problems with sympathy.
Which Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs are now tall in the saddle, and who's at risk of falling out of favor?
The Ukrainian elite is trying in every way to show friendliness towards Biden and the United States. Suffice it to say that both Zelenskyi and the Head of his Office, Andrii Yermak, watched his inauguration in the company of Chargé d'affaires of the United States Kristina Kvien.
Zelenskyi thoughtfully tried not to get involved in the showdown between Biden and Trump, although there was a risk that the Derkach tapes being published would ruin everything; nothing happened. However, Washington probably didn't forget that Andrii Yermak once flew to meetings with Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, where he bargained over the investigation of the corruption case with the oil and gas company Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden, the son of an American President, could've been implicated. So a certain bad feeling may still be present in the relationship.
A person who stands to benefit from Biden's triumph is the former Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk, who has a really close relationship with a new president. In 2014, it was Biden who helped him take the post of head of government, and two years later he asked Petro Poroshenko to protect Yatseniuk from criminal prosecution after he retired. They met even after he resigned, which means that friendship hasn't been forgotten.
A mighty overseas ruler helping Yatseniuk return to big politics is far from a given, but now his candidacy will most likely appear even more often on the list of candidates for positions that matter to the White House.
Another beneficiary is the oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who has long been considered the main friend of the "democrats" in Ukraine. He has long been friends with the Hillary Clinton family, whose protégé, Kamala Harris, became the US vice president. Through the Pinchuk Foundation, grants and internships overseas are allocated for education, and he himself is considered the main "promoter" for Ukrainian politicians in Washington. He helps to organize meetings, strike up the right people in the Senate, knows all the ins and outs in American politics. It's logical to assume that now his influence will become even greater.
Not all Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs have made the surer bet. Thus, the People's Deputy from the "Servant of the People" party Oleksandr Dubinskyi has already entered the US sanctions lists. The official reason is interference in the American elections through involvement in publishing the Derkach tapes. However, there are rumors that the real reason is the people's deputy's tightfistedness to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi.
In the United States, one of the richest people in Ukraine is suspected of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars. Besides, there's information that it is Kolomoiskyi who may be behind the attack of the Constitutional Court on the anti-corruption bodies fostered by the democrats.
The famous interview of the oligarch in The New York Times is also fresh in the memory. Then the billionaire said that Zelenskyi should be ordered to investigate the case against Biden's son, and if the Democrats put pressure on him, then "Russian tanks will be stationed near Krakow and Warsaw. Your NATO will be soiling its pants and buying Pampers."
Another oligarch who may be in the red is Dmytro Firtash. The United States has long sought his extradition, but because of enormous efforts and money, he's so far been able to slow down the extradition from Austria. The Democrats initiated the investigation against him and now they have every chance of getting the oligarch to move from Vienna to less comfortable conditions.
A new era begins right now; the former curator becoming a president is a good chance for Ukraine to strengthen its position in the international arena and also move forward in solving the Donbas issue. However, the United States won't help a state mired in corruption and squabbles. Therefore, that's on Kyiv now.