What Does Biden’s Win Mean For Ukraine?

November 9, 2020
What will Joe Biden's election as US President mean for Ukraine? We listened to what experts had to say in a discussion organised by the Kyiv Security Forum.

Kyiv Security Forum hosted an online discussion with three former US ambassadors to Ukraine - John Herbst, William Taylor and Steven Pifer, as well as Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2014-2016 and Chairman of the Kyiv Security Forum; Melinda Haring, Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center; and Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States of America (2015-2019). The discussion was moderated by Danylo Lubkivsky, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine in 2014 and Diplomatic Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2015-2015.

UkraineWorld.org gives a brief recap of the thoughts the speakers shared during the event. You can find a link to the discussion itself at the end of this article.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Former Prime Minister Yatsenyuk stated that Ukraine has always relied on bipartisan American support. "However, under a Biden Administration, Ukraine has a chance to succeed, and the US can help it to do so. Biden knows Ukraine very well, and he has always been one of the most dedicated supporters of Ukraine's independence", Yatsenyuk asserted.

Yatseniuk: "the next administration, alongside the EU, should create a new "Marshall Plan" for Eastern Europe - Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus - to join the EU and NATO."

"It is also essential for Ukraine that the new administration be involved in the Minsk negotiations to continue pressuring Russia. The US should become the standard bearer of a new sanctions regime and pressure Russia into leaving the occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as Crimea", he said.

"Military co-operation is also a priority for Ukraine during the next administration. Lethal and non-lethal military equipment are important for Ukraine, and Kyiv hopes for support in that regard as well. The new economic plan for bilateral relations may also include the financial and industrial sectors, as well as cooperation in anti-corruption measures  and the rule of law sphere. Ukraine understands that the next president will be mostly focused on domestic issues, but we hope America will reassure the world of its global leadership", Yatsenuyk said.

John Herbst

John Herbst, Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine (2003-2006) and Director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, argued that regardless of the winner, America would continue to support Ukraine.

Ambassador Herbst: "Congressional support for Ukraine against the Kremlin's foreign policy remains strong."

"Meanwhile, Biden is a strong trans-Atlanticist, and he understands America's stake in the success of Ukraine. At the same time, under the Trump Administration, America provided the support that Ukraine needed. He decided to give Javelins when Obama refused to do so", Ambassador Herbst pointed out.

According to Ambassador Herbst, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to challenge America all over the world. The US should respond appropriately to his aggressive foreign policy. Trump should take credit for urging Europe to increase security spending. Ambassador Herbst stated that Moscow much more likely wanted to see a Trump victory, but at the same time, they had been disappointed with his first term results.

"American policy towards Russia should aim to fight back against the Kremlin, regardless of who wins the election. Biden's approach may seem more promising in that way for Ukraine, but his win does not mean more pressure on Russia. "Congressional support for Ukraine against the Kremlin's foreign policy among both Democrats and Republicans remains in place", Ambassador Herbst said.

William Taylor

Ambassador Taylor, the Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine (2006-2009), the interim Chargé d'Affaires at the United States Embassy in Ukraine (2019-2020), and Vice President at the United States Institute of Peace, reaffirmed that bipartisan support would remain.

Ambassador Taylor: "It does not matter whether it is the Senate, the House or the State Department. All those bodies will continue to support Ukraine. Kyiv should move forward with its reforms, and this will be an important signal for the new administration."

The Ambassador recalled that Russia is at war with the West, and Ukraine is on the front line. The US will support Ukraine in this war with sanctions, military support, equipment and other possible options. At the same time, Ambassador Taylor stressed that countries should enhance their communication through official channels.

"The current constitutional crisis is an issue for relations between Ukraine and the US, between Ukraine and the EU, as well as the IMF. So reforming the judiciary is especially fundamental," the Ambassador concluded.

Steven Pifer

Ambassador Pifer, the former Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine (1998-2000) and William J. Perry Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, stressed that after Biden's win, he would likely face a Republican-controlled Senate, which could pose a major challenge. At the same time, he is confident that Biden's experience in the Senate and working across partisan lines will help him to get things done. 

Ambassador Pifer: "Biden understands Ukraine; he visited Kyiv six times as vice-president, he supports Ukraine, and he does not hide his attitude towards Russia. Biden's policy focus will first and foremost be coronavirus and the American economy."

"We can assume that the Biden Administration will eventually be involved in Ukraine at the highest levels because, I think, ultimately the settlement of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has to be achieved through direct talks between Biden and Putin," the Ambassador concluded.

Ambassador Piferthinks Biden will be able to hold these talks in a way that Trump, who doesn't have the qualifications or the desire to study the details, wouldn't be able to do.

Melinda Haring

Ms. Haring observed that America may become much more involved in Eastern European issues under a Biden Administration.

Melinda Haring: "If Biden continues the 'Javelins' policy and keeps up the same amount of support that America has been providing, it will be a good thing".

"At the same time, the level of American involvement here does not depend on who wins the election. A Joe Biden win means that he may be constrained by domestic issues. At the same time, if he does not touch NATO, that is good, because doing nothing is better than what has been done under Trump", she argued.

Valeriy Chaly

The former Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States (2015-2019), Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, and Chair of the Board of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center hopes that the two countries will resume their dialogue under their Strategic Partnership Commission.

Ambassador Chaly: "We have a lot to do. We need to complete domestic reforms, get out of the political crisis, but more importantly, put forward a foreign policy agenda, especially toward the United States. It is necessary to restore dynamic relations at the highest level."

Ambassador Chaly believes that providing new lethal weapons should be placed on the list of things to do. "The most important thing for Ukraine to understand is that we need the United States. We need to arrange further meetings between diplomats, parliamentarians and administration officials to face our new challenges. We need more dynamism in US-Ukraine relations", he asserted.

Vladyslav Faraponov
Journalist and analyst at UkraineWorld and Internews Ukraine

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