How Ukrainian diplomats are trying to find Trump's understanding

Author : Svyatoslav Bohdanov

Source : 112 Ukraine

In addition to classical diplomatic levers, Ukraine has hired a lobbying company from Washington to put Ukraine on Trump's agenda
16:31, 22 March 2017

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112 Agency

Since July 2015, the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States is headed by former deputy head of the Presidential Administration and Deputy Director General of the Razumkov Center Valeriy Chaly. Despite the lack of sufficient experience in diplomatic work, he is considered a professional international analyst. In addition, Chaly is a trustee of Petro Poroshenko, and according to experts, it became the reason for his appointment as ambassador to the United States.

"As we know, the US has its so-called "political ambassadors." They are appointed personally by the president of America and are not representatives of the diplomatic corps. It is demonstration of a certain political will, which shows to another state that there is a direct channel between the leaders of the countries," explained Gennady Maksak, chairman of the Foreign Policy Council of “Ukrainian Prism.”

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According to him, the ambassadors of the old school, are burdened with diplomatic experience, they do not always work better than modern diplomats, like Dmytro Kuleba in Strasbourg or Andriy Shevchenko in Canada. "The appointment of Chaly was an attempt to update the approach to the work of the diplomatic corps, I think it work good," the expert believes.

Confusion with elections

During the election campaign in the United States, our country was dragged into the political struggle of two presidential candidates. Due to imprudence or some obligations to the Democrats and the previous Administration, Ukraine has took the side of Hillary Clinton, violating the rule on non-interference in the electoral process of another country.

The fact that Trump has been insulted by Ukrainian politicians is bad. The fact that the investigation of the “barnyard book” of the Party of Regions led to the resignation of the chief political technologist Trump. But the peak was the Politico investigation, which revealed that the Ukrainian embassy contributed to the investigative report of the agent of the Democratic Party, Alexandra Lachuga (she has Ukrainian roots), who was trying to find confirmation of the connection between Trump, Manafort and Moscow.

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The Foreign Ministry, of course, officially denied everything, they say, there was no cooperation with the Democratic Party, they did not interfere in the elections. Compromised Manafort had to leave the post. However, all attempts of the Democrats were in vain - Trump unexpectedly won. And Ukraine was in a losing situation.

Then Trump publicly surrendered Manafort, but unofficially the latter remains in the circle of the US president.

Despite all this, Trump's victory became an extremely unpleasant surprise for the Ukrainian authorities. "The failure of Chaly is obvious and lies in the issue of predicting the winner of the presidential race. It cannot be said that he is guilty directly though," says international expert Andriy Buzarov.

Thus, already at the stage of the pre-election race in America, the Ukrainian side made its biggest mistake - indirectly interfered in the electoral process of another country. It is already a gross violation of diplomatic etiquette.

Trump is on the hook, and he is not in hurry

However, when we talk about relations with the US or Russia after 2013, we should remember that there are two communication channels - the Presidential Administration, which prefers to communicate directly with the White House, and the Embassy, which remains bridging with Congress and business. It was during the presidency of Obama, and it has remained until now. However, the realities have changed, and the White House is now busy not by Ukraine.

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Trump is just entering into the course of affairs. Traditionally, this period is considered "stagnant" and is not accompanied by the adoption of important foreign policy decisions (although it was precisely Trump who had already taken several important steps). But for the current US politicians Ukraine is not a priority issue.

In the first place the Trump’s Administration will be engaged in interaction with NATO, the EU, China and the Russian Federation. Ukrainian issue for the US will be considered in conjunction with the Russian one, and until Trump is determined, there is be no clarity in Ukrainian-American relations. "If it is possible to establish relations with Putin, Trump wants to use this chance," Maksak said.

Although Andriy Buzarov doubts that Trump's meetings with Poroshenko and Putin will take place in the next six months. "Most likely, the new US president will delay these meetings. He demonstratively shows that the priority of US foreign policy today is the Middle East, not focusing on the Syrian issue, but on Palestine, Libya, and Iran. On the Syrian issue, he will have to communicate with Putin," said the expert.

Despite this, Maksak is sure that no matter how good the work of domestic diplomats in America is, "it would not be able to resolve the Ukrainian issue for the US until the priority problems for this country are solved, and we do not belong to them."

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As you know, the president of Ukraine was one of the first among the leaders of states who in a telephone mode congratulated the newly elected US president on his victory. Both the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department in their official statements called this conversation warm, hopeful and pragmatic. At the same time, there were no concrete messages, except for the standard concern about the escalation in the ATO zone, the need for a complete cease-fire and the intentions to strengthen the strategic partnership between the countries. Trump allegedly invited Poroshenko to visit the United States, and Klimkin was to immediately go to America to prepare a meeting at the end of February this year. At the same time, the foreign minister arrived in the States only in early March for a conversation with the new head of the State Department, Rex Tillerson. The latter assured Klimkin of Ukraine's support in the fight against Russian aggression. The preparation of the forthcoming meeting of the presidents was not even mentioned.

Poroshenko's conversation with US Vice President Mike Pence, which took place during the Munich security conference in late February, was also deprived of specific messages. The American assured of the support and importance of the implementation of Minsk. That is, all these meetings and conversations had a patterned and non-specific character.

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But, in addition, this meeting is still not needed. Trump has not even ordered internal political issues, let alone the priority vectors of foreign policy. Ukraine for him is not yet in the first place, and a meeting for the sake of meeting is an unnecessary populism. That is why the work of our embassy in Washington is more important now. Diplomats should concentrate on other issues that could potentially bring Ukraine even more benefits than the pursuit of a ghostly meeting with Trump.

Related: Trump expressed support for NATO during meeting with Merkel

Perhaps the accent should be changed?

Valeriy Chaly in his statements constantly emphasizes the positive work of the embassy in this direction. Simultaneously with the presidential elections, there were also elections to the US Congress. According to the ambassador, "all the senators who are part of the Ukrainian caucus have won. So we have a serious bipartisan support both in the upper house - the Senate, and in the House of Representatives."

This support should ensure voting of both Chambers for the important project "Stand for Ukraine Act", which provides for the strengthening of US sanctions against Russia and the enforcement of existing penalties at the legislative level. Also, the document categorically rejects the recognition of the Russian authorities in Crimea.

Andrei Buzarov is convinced that, "according to the Constitution and the political system of the United States, the Congress has a significant influence on the president, therefore, even if his position is not entirely pro-Ukrainian, Congress will use its influence."

In his opinion, Ukrainian diplomats should now focus on the main task - to correctly transport information from Washington to Kyiv and vice versa. Meetings should be held with congressmen and senators, aspirants for senior positions in the new Trump Administration to preserve the attention of the US authorities in the Ukrainian issue. No one has canceled the security guarantees that are appropriate to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum. And this is something that the American establishment must constantly focus on.

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According to the statements of Ambassador Chaly, this is the main focus of his team. Ukrainian diplomats took part in security conferences and held social and cultural events. And, at first glance, there is an impression that active diplomatic work is being conducted, but it is rather difficult to evaluate its result. There are few statements. Only positive voting in the Congress can confirm for Ukraine the successful work of our diplomatic corps.

There is another caution. If Ukrainian diplomats successfully cope with their work in the US, and the conversation between presidents are very successful, then why should Poroshenko spend $ 50,000 monthly to pay for the services of the lobbying company BGR Group, headed by the former chairman of the Republican Party? Why was it necessary to hire expensive lobbyists if there are diplomats?

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"In order to promote Ukraine's interests in the US, attract US investments and inform US government and public institutions about the achievements and results of reforms in Ukraine, the National Reform Council, with the assistance of the Ukrainian Reform Support Fund in Ukraine, has enlisted the US company BGR Group as a consultant," Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, Secretary of the National Reform Council Dmytro Shymkiv claimed. He also assured that the funds for this do not go from the budget of the country, but from donors.

According to American legislation, lobbyists who fulfill the orders for foreigners (including governments of another country) are required to provide detailed information on such orders and the progress of their implementation of the FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act), which is freely available on the US Department of Justice website. Information on the orders of Banking services company "BGR" appeared on the site earlier this year. However, in the future, the press service of the President’s Administration and in particular the responsible for work with BGR Shymkiv reported errors made in FARA, and the lobbyists themselves made changes in the documents, having inscribed in the column "Customer" the National Reform Council.


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In addition, it turned out that Ukraine has been using the services of "BGR Group" for two years in a row. True, fictitious company Ukraine Investment Alliance was the customer; it was registered in the US, whose leaders were all the same lobbyists from the "BGR".

 Political consultant Kateryna Odarchenko assured us that "standard prices for lobbying services in America range from 25 to 100 thousand dollars per campaign." Therefore, the figure of 600 thousand dollars for the year of work "BGR Group" causes the expert frank bewilderment.

All these manipulations give reason to think about the origin of considerable sums, which are allocated by unknown donors.

Related: Trump accused Obama of tapping his phone before elections

It is also interesting that Minister Klimkin in late February told about his skepticism towards American lobbying companies and the effectiveness of their services and added that Ukraine would not use the services of lobbyists to form a systemic structure of public diplomacy. It seems that the Presidential Administration is not so sure of official diplomacy if it hired "BGR" and paid them stunning fees.

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All these factors testify to the lack of a clear strategy of our country in the issue of foreign policy relations with the United States. A consequence is the lack of system of information activities that our Embassy conducts, which, according to the experts, is the main drawback of Ukrainian diplomacy in America. This leads to the fact that Ukrainian issues do not fall into the key media monitoring groups, and, therefore, remain behind the scenes of the American political establishment.

On the whole, the reviews about Ukrainian diplomacy are positive, but often with clarification: it is slightly suspended, as it does not try to influence the agenda.

* * *

Summarizing, it should be noted that Ukrainian diplomacy in the US is at least present, in contrast to the situation in Russia. But the situation with the new American president and his ambiguous moves towards the Russian Federation forces our Embassy to maximize cohesion and active work in the political section. Obviously, Ukraine is not included in the "short-list" of Donald Trump's priorities. But our authorities are constantly trying to squeeze into a clogged car of Trump.

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It would have been worthwhile simply to declare the US its intention and desire to hold a meeting between Poroshenko and Trump and actively work in other directions. For eight years of his presidency, Barack Obama has never visited Ukraine. But ex-Vice-President Biden has visited our country for five times. He even participated in Maidan during the Revolution, and was at the inauguration of President Poroshenko. It was a constant systematic work with a clearly defined level of supervision. And instead of spraying diplomatic forces on the organization of a phantom meeting of presidents for the time being, it would be better to concentrate on consolidating a similar level of cooperation (US Vice President - President of Ukraine). Especially since Mike Pence and his teammates are far more supportive of Ukraine than Trump. This would give us a stable channel of interaction and would become a real result.

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