ZELENSKY BETWEEN TRUMP AND BIDEN | Vitaliy Portnykov

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After the presidential election in the United States, we can talk about how relations between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the new owner of the White House will develop. And here the most interesting thing is that the Ukrainian leader is unlikely to have good relations with both competitors – the current president, Republican Donald Trump, and Democratic candidate Joseph Biden, who now receives congratulations on the victory from the heads of leading countries. And Volodymyr Zelensky, by the way, was one of the first.


Donald Trump is unlikely to have positive memories of Ukraine. Thus, during the election campaign, Trump reminded that it was he who helped Ukraine with lethal weapons – he did what the democratic administration of Barack Obama did not dare. However, Trump's presidency began with his desire to find common ground with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainian factor was one of the decisive, which prevented the American president from realizing this intention. More than that, for repeatedly trying to find common ground with Putin without resolving Ukraine's problems, Trump has been repeatedly criticized in both the Democratic and the Republican camps. In addition, the reputation of the presidential team was highlighted by the scandal with former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, who was imprisoned precisely because of his work for Ukrainian oligarchic clans – and information about this was made public by Ukrainian anti-corruption structures. It is Manafort who is considered to be involved in the fact that the Ukrainian issue disappeared from Trump's election program at that time. And it is obvious that the sympathies of the then Ukrainian government were connected with Trump's rival Hillary Clinton - it could not have been otherwise, when the Republican candidate refused to clearly define his position on Ukraine and showed obvious sympathy for its main enemy. So, it was naive to hope for Trump’s good relations with then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. And that is why both Kyiv and Washington expected changes after the 2019 presidential election.


But these changes turned into a huge scandal that could not have been foreseen. A telephone conversation between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine, during which they talked about the investigation into the case of the son of the former vice president of the United States, was eventually made public and led to the impeachment of the President of the United States. Volodymyr Zelensky, whose main political goal was a visit to the United States and a meeting with the American president, arrived in the United States just when the White House decided to publish a transcript of the presidents' conversation, and journalists asked the Ukrainian president during such an important meeting between Trump and Zelensky. whether he feels pressure from his American counterpart. Now put yourself in Trump's shoes and tell me, is it nice to remember all this, is it nice to deal with a country whose history has been one of the reasons for your political defeat and daily criticism on all television screens around the world? All the more, the need to negotiate with Moscow has not disappeared. And China remains, in Trump's view, a major challenge for the United States.


Maybe that's why Volodymyr Zelensky now could exhale with relief and hope for better relations when Joseph Biden becomes President of the United States. After all, Biden is not associated with a huge political scandal in recent years. After all, Zelensky did not have such telephone contacts with Biden as with Trump. After all, the Democratic candidate in his election campaign constantly stressed the need to help Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia. And it is Russia, not China, the main threat for the United States.


However, I would not be so optimistic. Yes, Zelensky had no telephone contact with Biden. However, his predecessor Petro Poroshenko had telephone contacts with Biden. Some of these talks were made public by Verkhovna Rada Deputy Andrii Derkach - the United States imposed sanctions on this influential Ukrainian politician and accused him of collaborating with Russian intelligence, after which there was no reaction from the Ukrainian president's office. However, the President of Ukraine himself, for whom the confrontation with Poroshenko seems to be an important part of state activity, did not hesitate to quote the talks stolen by Derkach during one of his press conferences against Joseph Biden, who was one of the participants in these talks. Ukraine has even opened a criminal case, which was hastily closed after the politician won the presidential election in the United States. No need to say, that the new administration did not notice this and will turn a blind eye to this story. In addition, Biden himself could not help but notice that during a telephone conversation with Trump, Zelensky, as expected from the head of state, did not flatly refuse to participate in cases concerning the reputation of a possible rival of the US president in the upcoming US presidential election. Such things are always noticed and never forgotten. So do not count on a good personal attitude of Joseph Biden toward Volodymyr Zelensky. This is something from political fiction. It does not happen.


But does this really mean that in any case we cannot count on friendly American-Ukrainian relations, on helping Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion? Exactly not. The United States is a country strong in its institutions, not its personalities. All these years, Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support from leading political forces in the United States. It was during the Obama administration and during the Trump administration. So, it will be during the Biden’s administration. The main Ukrainian task is precisely not to personalize Ukrainian policy in the relation with the United States, not to turn state interests into hostages of one or another head of state and his idea of his own role in this policy. After all, the United States does not help Zelensky, as it did not help Poroshenko before. They help Ukraine to succeed as a civilized state and defend its sovereignty. And yes, Donald Trump needed to be convinced of the importance of this priority – but such lobbyists of Ukrainian interests were among both Democrats and Republicans, remember John McCain. Joseph Biden will not need to be persuaded. But he will need to be persuaded that Ukrainian policy will be effective, that Ukraine itself wants to carry out reforms and oppose the occupier, that Volodymyr Zelensky will not look too actively into Vladimir Putin's eyes and seek in the eyes of the aggressor a desire to end the war. But it is clear that both leading Democratic and leading Republican politicians in the presidential administration and in the United States Congress will recognize the importance of preserving Ukrainian sovereignty and the consequences of Ukraine's loss of it for Ukraine itself, for Europe, and for the United States. The results of the US presidential election and the relationship that the Ukrainian president is unlikely to be able to build with his American counterpart do not change anything in this sense.

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