QUARANTINE AND BIDEN | Vitaliy Portnykov

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The end of May in Ukraine is the time when the gradual easing of quarantine began. On May 25, after more than two months of closure, the subways were opened in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro. The shutdown of the subways became the most obvious sign of the new rules of life that began in Ukraine in connection with the arrival of coronavirus pandemic. However, just as the closure of the metro became an indicator of a new difficult life, its opening showed that it is not so easy to return to the period before the pandemic.


When the authorities announced the opening of the subway, Kyiv’s Mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko spoke of the need to overcome the transport collapse in the Ukrainian capital. Kyiv is really stuck in traffic jams from morning till late in the evening. However, one could fear another collapse - in the restored transportation. After all, the decision to close ground transportation was made after an attempt to implement quarantine rules. As a result, Kyiv’s residents literally broke into trolleybuses and buses, and even kicked out the controllers from the buses. It was then that the authorities decided to keep only the movement of public transportation based on special passes.


But what was to happen now that the subway and ground transportation are on their way again? How many people will want to use it? What will happen to social distancing? Many people asked these questions with obvious concern, especially since we recently saw reports from Moscow - in the Russian capital, the subway was not stopped, but organized trips for people with special passes. And acquisition of those passes turned into a real collapse, a violation of all the rules - much more serious than the celebration of Easter. What will we have?


But nothing happened. In the first and subsequent days of the subway reopening in Kyiv, there were unusually few people at stations and in carriages. Trolleybuses, buses and trams were also half-empty. And the transportation collapse continued, number of cars did not decrease on the roads.


And this once again confirmed the simple truth. It is one thing to call on the authorities to lift restrictions as soon as possible and to "launch" the economy which stopped during quarantine. And quite another - a personal sense of security, which does not disappear. Of course, I want the economy to work and we can say that the virus is not so dangerous - but at the same time let others take the risks, and I will stay at home or go to the office in my car.


It is clear that after a while the situation will start to change - although it will depend on the statistics of coronavirus in Ukraine and in the world and on trust in the government. But an easy return to the situation before quarantine will not materialize not just because of economic laws, but also because of changes in the minds of people, changes in their very feeling of security, it is clear today.


However, easing of quarantine means also a "return" to politics. And it may turn out that the main event of May will later be considered not a coronavirus event alone, but a scandal surrounding the publication of talks between former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and former US Vice President Joseph Biden. Ukraine, as eight months ago, has again become a factor in American political life. And this time - in the midst of the election campaign in the United States.


In the first scandal, US President Donald Trump was accused of putting pressure on his inexperienced Ukrainian counterpart, in exchange for military assistance, waiting for him to resume the investigation against the son of the former US vice president who participated in one of the Ukrainian companies. Eight months later, Joseph Biden, now a real competitor to Trump, and claims to win, not just run in the election. And the Pechersk justice court in the Ukrainian capital, which has repeatedly complied with the "wishes" of the authorities, now requires the country's Prosecutor General's Office to launch an investigation not against Biden's son, but against Biden himself. For illegal interference in the governing of the Ukrainian state.


The accusation was prompted by the appearance of recordings in which former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko allegedly talked to Biden and then US Secretary of State John Kerry. As with such records, the participants state that the records are assembled. But even in this case, it is difficult to find any traces of personal interests in the conversations. All, Poroshenko, Biden and Kerry discuss state issues - which favorably distinguishes the conversation from the famous transcript of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, during which the US president did not hide what he needed, and the Ukrainian - promised to investigate Biden's son, asked for "additional materials" and boasted about "his" Attorney General. Moreover, there is no news at all about the most scandalous episode of the conversation between Poroshenko and Biden - about the need to vacate the then head of the prosecutor's office, Viktor Shokin, who was considered corrupt in Washington. Biden spoke about the conversation in public and was proud to have forced the Ukrainian leadership to fight corruption.


However, after the recordings were made public by deputy, Andriy Derkach - observers in Kyiv have been talking for years about his Moscow KGB education and consider him a man with ties to Russian security forces - a real propaganda campaign began. Prosecutor General, Iryna Venedyktova, a close associate of Volodymyr Zelensky, immediately launched an investigation against Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky himself stressed at a press conference that his predecessor could be charged with treason. Well, when the Pechersk justice court added Biden to the case, it became clear that the case is not only and not so much about Poroshenko, but also in the desire to help President Trump get re-elected.


And this, of course, is a disservice to both Trump and Ukraine. Trump - because if the Ukrainian investigation is given a go and it is not slowed down, the American president will have to fend off accusations that he is using Ukraine to interfere in the American elections. And this is after the topic of Russian interference in the election remained in the mainstream of American politics for several years in a row. And after many on Trump's team tried to transfer the "arrows" from Russia to Ukraine, he argued that it was Kyiv that interfered in the US election, particularly when former Trump campaign chief and longtime political technologist of Viktor Yanukovych, Paul Manafort, was charged. And then what now? Ukraine again - but on the side of the other team?


For Ukraine, this is a disservice because Kyiv is now seriously at risk of the traditional bipartisan support in the Capitol that Ukraine has always been proud of. Arranging an investigation into the US presidential candidate in connection with his official conversations, possibly - rigged and falsified - makes Zelensky an enemy of the Democrats and is unlikely to leave him a great friend of many Republicans - because no one likes the interfere in their elections. Even if Trump wins, the American president will have to move as far away from Ukraine as possible so that any gestures toward Kyiv are not seen as payment for Biden's compromise. Well, if Biden wins, he'll think a hundred times what to talk about on the phone with Zelensky.


At the same time, it is unclear where the leak came from, where the records of Andriy Derkach came from. From Moscow, whose special services decided to kill not even a wedge, but an aspen peg in American-Ukrainian relations. Or... from Kyiv, whose special services decided to "help" President Zelensky in his desire to do "a disservice" to President Trump.


However, the Ukrainian president turned out to be - now of his own volition - involved in a terrible provocation, the price of which may be too high for Ukraine.


This price is talked about both in Ukraine and in the United States. A number of publications have already appeared in both countries, the authors of which explain the risks that have arisen in the relations between the United States and Ukraine. A group of Ukrainian public figures issued a special appeal calling on "American politicians to distinguish between the position of the new Ukraine, which stands for the unity of the West and acts to unite world democracy, and those forces that seek to turn political processes in our country into a toxic pretext for discord among our partners. " Among those who signed the document were three former Ukrainian ambassadors to the United States. And seven former US ambassadors to Ukraine, from the first ambassador, Roman Popadyuk, to the last head of the diplomatic mission, Marie Jovanovich made their own statement. Experienced diplomats claim that they are “disheartened by efforts to inject Ukraine into America's domestic politics as the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches. Those efforts advance a false and toxic narrative, one with no basis in the reality of U.S.-Ukraine relations, in order to weaken the relationship between the United States and Ukraine and sow division within our two countries. That serves neither country's interests”.


It remains to be seen whether the Ukrainian authorities are able to assess the seriousness of both signals from the United States and public sentiment in their country, to understand the level of risk. So far, unfortunately, there are no signs of common sense in Volodymyr Zelensky's office.

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