There are only six months before millions of U.S. citizens choose their next president. Lately, Barack Obama has increasingly appeared as a leader conducting a mere seat warming exercise ahead of the November ballot. After his departure from the White House, there will no doubt be countless 'experts' and officials lining up to scrutinize his administration’s foreign policy achievements towards Ukraine and Europe in general. Debates about America’s response to Russia’s military aggression in Donbas could rumble on for years.
However, with a face-off between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the world’s top job looking more and more likely by the day, it’s important to examine how their stance towards Russia under Putin could affect the future of Ukraine.
In the past, Trump has pledged to lead the U.S. rapprochement with Russia, while decreasing Washington’s ‘disproportionate’ contribution to NATO. This would counteract Obama’s decision to increase U.S military spending in Europe by four-fold. (Officially, this was done to reassure Washington’s allies fearing Russia’s new unconventional warfare tactics).
However, Ivan Medynskiy, a research fellow at the Kyiv-based Institute of World Policy wrote in an article published in February that the New York billionaire’s favorable statements towards Moscow are inconsistent a nd confusing.
“While it seems clear whom Moscow favors in the U.S. Presidential race, Trump’s statements that sanctions on Russia will be lifted only if it behaves and that he is impartial regarding the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO are likely to leave leaders in Kremlin puzzled. Indeed, Donald Trump’s strategy on Ukraine lacks consistency and is ambiguous, to say the least.” Medynskiy writes.
Until recently, Kremlin-controlled Russian state TV left little doubt who Moscow supports for U.S president. In March, prominent propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov claimed that the Republican Party elite had struck a secret deal with the Democrats to derail Trump, in part because of his sympathy for Russia, according to the Reuters news agency. That vocal support was made despite Trump claim the U.S. should start shooting at Russian aircraft that barrel roll over U.S. warplanes ‘at a certain point’ (and a day before he posted this Instagram video mocking the Kremlin leader).
Trump also boasted in May that Putin had called him 'a genius’. This, in fact, was mistranslated by the Republican as the Russian word‘ ‘yarkii’ (яркий), can, in fact, mean ‘bright, brilliant, colorful, vivid or flamboyant’ but not in the sense of intelligent, according to the U.S.-based website Fact Check.
The former U.S Secretary of State is a far more vocal critic of Vladimir Putin than her party rival Bernie Sanders. She has argued that Ukraine deserves more military equipment and training and financial aid (the latter dependent on the government’s ability to carry out the necessary reforms). The U.S. Democrat’s frontrunner for the White House has also urged other E.U. states to be more committed to sanctions and has supported the strengthening of ties between NATO and Ukraine (unlike Bernie Sanders who sees NATO expansion as a provocation against Russia).
“(Clinton) undeniably has more practical experience in foreign policy domain than other candidates and was very vocal about it during the debates...At the same time, (she) unequivocally stressed that she is ready to stand up to Putin through decreasing dependence on oil in Europe and deterring Russian aggression”, Medynskiy writes.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face many external hurdles in their foreign policy drives, including those directed towards Ukrainian and European security.
“Political gridlock in Congress that haunted Obama’s administration throughout his tenure is unlikely to wither away in near future. Another dimension that has to be taken into account is the American public opinion that according to Pew Research Center supports sending economic aid to Ukraine (62%) and its membership in the Alliance (62%).” Medynskiy writes.
He outlines the best and worst case scenarios Ukraine can expect from a new president.
- Boosting of US-Ukraine trade relations in a broad range of spheres
- Diversification of energy sources
- Intensification of Ukraine-NATO ties
- Continues sanctions pressure on Russia
- Other measures until all occupied territory (including Crimea) is returned to Ukraine
- Decrease in military assistance (although economic aid continues)
- Gradual lifting of sanctions on Russia
- Rapprochement of U.S.-Russia ties at the expense of Crimea and eastern Ukraine
This week, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said,
"The policy of the United States for 25 years, which will not change, regardless of what happens in our elections, is to support the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. And that goal cannot be achieved until and unless Ukraine is whole, free and at peace,"
Whether that statement is true will remain to be seen some time after the U.S. presidential elections in November.