Will Biden’s presidency be a ‘blessing’ for war-torn Ukraine?

Although Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support from the US, analysts predict an improvement of ties under Biden.

In this file image from 2017, then-Vice President Joe Biden attends a meeting with then-Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman in Kyiv [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine is “blessed” with Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 presidential election.

That is what Petro Poroshenko, the former leader of war-ravaged Ukraine, the birthplace of the political maelstrom that nearly swallowed President Donald Trump and his presidency, tweeted on Sunday.

“Ukraine is blessed to have a US President with [such a] profound and personal knowledge of our country,” Poroshenko, who led Ukraine in 2014-2018, when Moscow annexed Crimea and backed separatists in two southeastern regions, tweeted in English.

Biden’s knowledge of Ukraine is indeed profound – and apparently surpasses that of any other US leader in history.

While serving as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden was his Ukraine point man. He came to Kyiv six times, last time in January 2017, just days before Trump took office.

Biden joked he spent more time on the phone with Poroshenko than with his own wife. Since 2014, Biden helped oversee Washington’s military aid for Kyiv, and prodded Poroshenko, once Ukraine’s mightiest oligarch, to weed out corruption.

And yes, Biden’s knowledge of Ukraine is somewhat personal.

He threatened to withhold a hefty loan to Poroshenko’s cash-strapped government if the president refused to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin for alleged corruption.

“’I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b****, he got fired,” Biden said in 2018 during a discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington, DC.

But Shokin also investigated Burisma, a natural gas company that gave Biden’s son Hunter an apparently sinecure and well-paid job on its board of directors in 2014.

“I think [Biden] went against the interests of the [American] state, against the interests of Ukraine, as he pursued only his and his family’s greedy interests,” the 68-year-old ex-prosecutor told this reporter in May 2019.

Trump and his administration echoed the claim saying the dismissal was supposed to protect Hunter Biden. His push to investigate Biden dates back to the now-historic phone call on July 25, 2018, to Poroshenko’s successor and political nemesis Volodymyr, Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy, a former comedian with zero political interests who came to power after denouncing Poroshenko’s nationalism and failed war on corruption, tried to avoid addressing the Biden-Burisma affair and chose not to take sides in the political battle on Capitol Hill.

Zelenskyy understandably seemed relieved at Biden’s victory.

“Ukraine is optimistic about the future of the strategic partnership with the United States,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Departing from Trump’s inconsistent stance

Even in comparison with the 45th president’s chaotic, impulsive and scandal-ridden foreign policy steps and missteps, Trump’s stance towards Ukraine was especially inconsistent.

“Trump had very ambiguous conceptions about Ukraine, and his emotions were also very ambiguous,” Vladimir Fesenko, head of the Penta think-tank in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.

Following his conversation with Zelenskyy, he froze almost $400m in military aid necessary for Kyiv’s efforts to fight pro-Russian separatists in Europe’s hottest armed conflict since the Yugoslavian wars.

But in 2018, Trump allowed the sale of lethal Javelin missiles that were crucial in repelling rebel tank attacks.

During his 2016 election campaign, Trump hinted he may recognise annexed Crimea as part of Russia – and claimed the Russian-speaking population of the Black Sea peninsula “would rather be with” Moscow.

However, later in his term, he boasted he was “tougher” on Russian President Vladimir Putin than Obama.

In 2017, Trump cold-shouldered Poroshenko in the White House, and never invited Zelenskyy to visit Washington.

And Ukraine nearly buried his presidency. In February, the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives impeached Trump for “using his official powers to pressure” Zelenskyy’s government, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him.

More sanity?

Although Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support from the US, analysts expect an improvement of ties under Biden.

“There will be changes for the better, but only because there will be no Trump’s impulsiveness and unpredictability,” analyst Fesenko said.

Biden’s view on Ukraine was much more straightforward and steadier.

During his election campaign, Biden lambasted Crimea’s annexation, promised to boost help to Ukraine. He called Moscow Washington’s biggest foreign “threat”.

However, some observers are sure he will be cautious in restraining Russia’s resurgent projects abroad and ending the separatist conflict in southeast Ukraine.

“The military support to Ukraine in this current form will go on, and the US will hardly hog the covers from Germany and France trying to increase its role in the endless peace settlement that doesn’t promise a fast and big success,” Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based defence analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera.

A bigger picture

Biden is determined to end Trump’s trade wars with China and the European Union and pursue a higher budget deficit accompanied by a steady growth of the Federal Reserve rates.

This could prove fatal to Ukraine’s fragile economy hobbled by military expenses, a double exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Donbass region, and millions of labour migrants to the EU – and, its own trade war with Russia.

Ukraine’s key exports are grain and steel, and the possible strengthening of the US dollar under Biden may undermine the Ukrainian hryvnia.

Biden’s economic plans “could lead to the weakening of currencies in developing nations, including the hryvnia, and reduced opportunities for Ukraine and Ukrainian companies to access global capital markets for new loans”, Aleksey Kushch, an analyst based in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, many average Ukrainians remain indifferent by the changing of the guards in the White House.

“The old president was unpredictable, the new one is, they say, senile,” Viktoria Poleshchuk, a 49-year-old bookkeeper in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera. “We don’t care. We’re too busy with our survival here.”

Source: Al Jazeera