Based on the results of meetings of activists in the states of Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, it is highly likely that 78-year-old Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont will become a single candidate from the Democratic Party. In Nevada, 46% of Democrats supported his candidacy. He bypassed the more moderate party members Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Sanders is mainly supported by Hispanic Americans, white students, and poor people.
Sanders does not enjoy authority among big business, the party elite for his overly radical views. He represents the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party and advocates increasing taxes for corporations, introducing free education and medicine, switching to green energy, and increasing spending from the state budget to help vulnerable populations. There is an opinion that Sanders had high chances to stand as a single Democratic candidate for the presidency in the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton was given this privilege.
You can talk for a long time about whether Trump and Sanders will converge in the battle for the presidency, whether the American socialist will be able to defeat the former construction magnate, or, conversely, the participation of an overly radical politician-democrat will only strengthen the position of a more moderate republican. Another thing is obvious: Zelensky’s team should allow various scenarios for the outcome of the US presidential election and think over a strategy of bilateral relations in advance, taking into account Sanders’s specific views on foreign policy issues.
Responsible Foreign Policy
Sanders proposes to change the nature of US foreign policy and, as he believes, to make it "responsible." He positions himself as an ardent pacifist, an opponent of the use of military force against other countries, and he opposes the unilateral actions of the United States in international relations. The senator believes that the States should remain involved in events that take place in different parts of the world, protect democratic rights and freedoms, but do so in conjunction with regional partners, and not on its own, exclusively through diplomatic methods or using economic influence. Sanders has repeatedly emphasized that military force is an extreme measure and should be used only if approved by the US Congress and the UN Security Council, and not as the former president George W. Bush Jr. did in Iraq in 2003. Sanders advocates the lifting of existing sanctions against Cuba, intends to close the military base in Guantanamo, not to interfere in the internal political processes of Latin America.
The presidential candidate defends the idea of curtailing the US military presence in various parts of the world, ending the military operation in Afghanistan, which his supporters called the "eternal war", advocates the universal renunciation of nuclear weapons. Sanders is categorically against US intervention in armed conflicts in other countries. He criticized military operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya. The exception is the invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001. And then, his position radically changed by 2008. In his opinion, the money spent on military operations abroad and assistance to other countries should be spent on social expenses, including use to support veterans. Sanders believes that European countries - NATO members should spend at least 2% of GDP on defense, but, unlike Trump, he highly values the organization's importance in ensuring collective security.
Sanders is positioning himself as a more radical protectionist than Trump. The presidential candidate is opposed to the transfer of American production from the United States to China, Latin America. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sanders voted against the bill to grant China the most-favored nation treatment in 1993, the bill on the constant normalization of trade relations between the United States and China. The politician is sure that due to the influx of Chinese goods, American enterprises go bankrupt, and 3 million Americans have lost their jobs. Sanders opposes the conclusion of agreements on a free trade zone with other countries, and considers it appropriate to terminate the agreement on a free trade zone between the United States, Canada and Mexico in order to protect US producers in the domestic market.
I have nothing to do with it
If Sanders comes to power in the United States, he will adhere to the principle "I have nothing to do with it" in international relations.
The Middle Eastern allies of the United States will not be delighted with Sanders coming to power. Sanders does not consider it appropriate to support Israel and Saudi Arabia in the confrontation with Iran and sponsored Islamic groups. The politician sees the United States as an arbiter in the Middle East and advocates a balance of interests. He recognizes Iran as a regional center of power, which opinion must be reckoned with in order for the Islamic Republic to comply with the terms of the nuclear deal. In 1979, Sanders supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran and strongly opposed the armed conflict with the Ayatollah regime. In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a descendant of Polish Jews Sanders favors the peaceful coexistence of the states of Israel and Palestine. He condemns Trump's recognition of the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Even on the fight against Islamic extremism and international terrorism, Sanders takes a specific approach. He believes that the head of the coalition against the Islamic State should not be the United States, but the Middle Eastern countries which rely on their military resources, and not stand behind Uncle Sam. The democratic socialist advocates a change in the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but exclusively by peaceful means, hopes to convince Russia and Iran, who are helping him.
Although Sanders has a tougher stance on China than Trump. While Trump limited himself to raising import duties in order to obtain concessions from China on trade disputes, Sanders expressed his intention to support the centrifugal region of Tibet, which China forcibly joined in the middle of the last century. Sanders probably intends to support protesters in Hong Kong in the fight for wide autonomy, as he advocates respect for political and religious freedoms in the Middle Kingdom.
If Sanders becomes the next owner of the Oval Office, the United States will finally lose its role as a global center of power and world gendarme and become a state of neutrality and isolationism in international relations, such as Sweden, Mexico, Switzerland. Involvement in global processes will be limited only to lengthy statements about the importance of democracy and world peace. Sanders’ pacifism will be used by Russia, Turkey, China, Iran, which reinforce the words with military force in the struggle for resources outside their borders. US global influence and authority will melt not in a day, but in an hour.
Conclusions for Ukraine
There is no unequivocal opinion regarding Sanders’s position regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign policy and defense at the American Institute of Enterprises, in 2014 Sanders said that the United States does not care about Crimea, and Russia took a lot of Russians with it. This was the reason for talking that Sanders is "Putin's friend", a favorite of Russia in the US presidential election. Not everything is so simple. Sanders is “pro-Russian” for his opponents. In his election program, Sanders proposes to counter Russia's aggression through interaction with the EU and the UN.
In 2016, Sanders expressed concern about Putin’s adventures in Ukraine and supported an increase in spending on strengthening the defense capabilities of European countries and cooperation within NATO to deter Russian aggression. In 2017, he supported the Republican bill on tightening anti-Russian sanctions, but did not vote for it just because it also contained restrictive measures against Iran. In 2019, Sanders voted in favor of a bill on sanctions against companies of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Sanders is convinced that Russia intervened in the US election in 2016 and influenced the defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. This year, he demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin stay away from the US presidential election.
However, in the event of coming to power in the United States, Sanders will not follow a tougher line towards Russia than Trump or Obama. He will not abolish the existing sanctions, but will not initiate new restrictive measures without the participation of the EU, where this idea is not popular among some member states, including France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The politician will not provide funding to strengthen the defense of the Ukrainian army, will not intervene in the settlement of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Sanders will be neutral in conflicts that do not pose a direct threat to US national security.
The American Hudson Institute has an alternative perspective. Sanders' reforms in the United States can undermine the foundations on which the authoritarian regime in Russia rests: energy supplies, corruption, propaganda. Sanders plans to reform the US energy sector and completely abandon the use of hydrocarbon resources, transfer the country to alternative energy sources. An example of Americans can be followed by Europe, which is the main market for the sale of natural gas from the Russian Federation. Now in the EU, the idea of climate protection is trending due to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and the transition to environmentally friendly energy sources. The presidential candidate intends to tighten regulation of the banking system, checks offshore companies that are used by Russian oligarchs to withdraw funds from Russia, and thus cause them economic damage.
Nevertheless, all these measures, especially the rejection of the use of oil and natural gas, may drag on for more than one year. Russian is and will be a cheaper alternative to green energy. The abandonment of oil and gas on a global scale will require significant investment, will lead to a change in the nature of production and the global economy. As long as democratic socialists engage in domestic politics and curtail their military presence in the world, Russia will continue to expand its area of influence in Eurasia. Putin acts by primitive methods: he resumed the Cold War-style nuclear arms race, carried out armed aggression in eastern Ukraine to keep our country in the orbit of his influence, and is ready to continue to play, as the recent attacks in the Luhansk region indicate.
Sanders is not going to confront in relations with Russia, although he perceives it as an authoritarian country where human rights are violated and no one is involved in protecting the climate. The politician opposes the expansion of NATO to the east, believing that this could lead to confrontation with Russia. The senator condemned the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty on the elimination of intermediate and shorter-range missiles in 2019, despite the fact that Russia was the first to violate the provisions of the document by adopting prohibited weapons. The maximum that Kyiv can count on is the diplomatic support of Sanders. It is high time for Ukraine to stop having illusions that America or Europe will help to return the lands occupied by Russia, since they do not see a significant threat to their security in Putin’s regime.