Trump’s victory and the new political reality for Ukraine

Photo: Informburo

Photo: Informburo 


Matthew Kwasiborski presenting TFAS international programs. Photo: private archive

Once the outcome of the US presidential elections was clear, a roundtable regarding the future of Ukrainian-American relations after Donald Trump’s victory took place in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The event was held at the United States Studies Center at Ivan Franko National University and brought together students, scientists, and young leaders.

One of the guests offering projections was US citizen Matthew Kwasiborski, a European Institutes Director of The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) known as a global non-profit educational organization.

Kwasiborski visited Lviv in 2013 for the first time, just in the midst of Euromaidan revolution. Inspired by the demand for change that Ukrainian society showed, he co-founded the annual Lviv Leadership Academy with its first enrollment in August 2016.

Before his speech about the US elections’ influence on Ukraine, Kwasiborski stressed he had never held a political office at any level and expresses his own opinion based on personal and professional experience.

Euromaidan Press visited the discussion and prepared a brief overview of the main issues Ukrainians should think of owing to Trump’s unexpected presidency.

What could Trump mean to Europe?

[Trump’s victory] will inspire the already growing far-right-anti EU politicians

Among them is the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders, who has already congratulated Trump with the victory comparing him with Ronald Reagan – “the greatest American president in our lifetime”; the president of the National Front party Marine Le Pen gaining popularity in France; numerous German anti-Islam and anti-migrant movements like PEGIDA; conservative and radically nationalistic Christian party Jobbik whose purpose is “protection of Hungarian values and interests” and many others.

All these political forces are skeptical about a united Europe and do not mind returning to the “each country for itself” basis. Taking advantage of problems in the EU (refugee, terrorism, Brexit issues) they expect to get a majority of votes in the approaching elections, and Trump’s victory will encourage their promotion of similar ideas (racism, nationalism, etc.)

From this perspective, the upcoming elections in France (April 2017) and Germany (August / September 2017) are the next reasons for the whole world to be worried.

[Trump’s victory] could weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance between US / NATO / EU

Not necessarily, but it’s possible. During the election campaign, Trump showed a restrained attitude towards NATO’s activity in Europe. For instance, he said that if Russia attacked the small Baltic States he would first assess whether those countries “have fulfilled their obligations to NATO” before coming to aid.

According to Kwasiborski, in this case Trump is guided by economic considerations. He is not enthusiastic about US funding NATO much more than other 27 nations of the alliance. So, it is up to Trump and NATO leaders to agree on satisfactory financing conditions. Otherwise “NATO could be put on a slow death march,” Kwasiborski said.

Ukraine’s interest in this situation is obvious. The weaker NATO is in the Eastern European region, the more confidently Russia could behave there. It is not a matter of military protectorate, but the same old balance of forces which provides at least some social and political stability.

Former Georgian President and former governor of Odesa Oblast Mikheil Saakashvili (L) with American businessman Donald Trump (R) at the Presentation of Batumi Trump Tower project. Photo: Saakashvili’s Flickr account

[Because of Trump’s victory] Russian influence will grow significantly stronger

Kwasiborski names Putin as one of the main winners of the US elections. Trump and Russian President indeed exchange compliments rather often. Putin called Trump “a bright person” and “a clear leader of the election race” while Trump claimed Putin was a tough leader respected worldwide.

So, one of Ukraine’s main concerns after the US elections regarded the possibility that economic sanctions imposed on Russia in reaction to the illegal annexation of Crimea be lifted. Experts predict if Trump decides to start relations with Russia on a clean slate and supports canceling economic restrictions against it, European countries might follow suit.

Kwasiborski thinks EU countries are tired of the sanctions policy in the dialogue with Russia. Moreover, Kremlin’s propaganda machine does not admit the economic crisis in Russia and reports that the country is prospering. That is why the efficiency of international sanctions is mistakenly put into question.

At the same time, on 10 November, US Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner declared that Sanctions against Russia would remain until Crimea does not return to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko (L) walks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/via Reuters

What could Trump mean for Ukraine?

After Trump’s inauguration, which is planned for 20 January, a formation of new US Cabinet is expected. President will nominate the heads of 15 executive departments and the Vice President. All but the last positions need Senate approval.

WSJ has already named some of Trump’s candidates, in particular for positions of Secretary of the Interior (Bobby Jindal and Benjamin Carson) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (Mary Fallin).

According to Kwasiborski, the most important positions of the Cabinet for Ukrainian-American relations are Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of Energy. These are officials Ukrainian politicians and media should pay special attention to both before and after the appointment, the expert says.

Another significant detail is that US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will not necessarily leave her post after 20 January, unlike many US ambassadors in the EU who are “merely political appointees.”

Yovanovitch is a career diplomat who was appointed to the position not because of her political allegiance but professional experience needed in Ukraine still going through a period of turbulence. So, in the short term, she is not expected to resign.

The new US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch (fourth from left) meets with a delegation of Ukrainian American leaders. Photo by: UCCA

“America just elected the most unpredictable president ever”

As for now, any forecast regarding the future of US-Ukrainian relations can be based only on Trump’s statements during the election race. Full of contradictions and emotions, they are hardly suitable material for analysis. Nevertheless, here are some key points Kwasiborski suggests for Ukrainians’ information:

1. Trump does not seem to have any specific foreign policy. He has paid very little attention to Ukraine, so it is now up to Ukrainian politicians to engage in a constructive conversation with Washington;

2. According to leaked Surkov emails, Russia may seek to politically destabilize Ukraine between US elections and transition period (the time when all the major Cabinet positions are appointed). This fact may have related to estimated Clinton’s victory but still worth keeping in mind;

3. Kwasiborski argues that the real Trump policy would be less loud and resolute than he promised during the election campaign. Being a true TV-star, Trump must have exaggerated his political ambitious to appear invincible for the media. Suffice it to recall that Obama promised to close Guantanamo prison on the first day of his presidency. In practice, it still functions.

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  • Steve

    The author needs to take a brake from his Trump bashing and take what the speaker said against the more pragmatic approach from an article here on this site.

    • Mephisto

      The problem is that nobody really know what to expect from Trump. I agree with Trump that the NATO should reform – the EU should participate more, give more money to defense, build armies. The US should not finance it alone. I am scared by his intention to “reset relationship with Russia”. There is no negotiating with Putin.
      My impression from Trump is that he is a typical populist, using nationalism, xenophobia, fear of immigrants, homosexuals etc. (essentially fear and hate) to get elected.

      But let us wait and see before we judge Trump. I am willing to give him a chance. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

      • Turtler

        “The problem is that nobody really know what to expect from Trump.”

        Well said.

        We have differed and quarreled in the past, and I doubt we will stop. And I’ve spent months defending Trump here.

        But I’m not cultish or stupid enough to deny the man talks out of both sides of his mouth thus far and has butt-kissed Putin in ways that are completely unjustifiable.

        “I am scared by his intention to “reset relationship
        with Russia”. There is no negotiating with Putin.”

        This is my opinion as well, and what was one of my major hangups with him.

        The caveat is that I think in the end it won’t change all that much. Obama and Clinton came into the White House hoping to “reset” relations with the Kremlin- literally, as the infamous button pushing was. But in the end you can’t reset relations with a Psychotic KGB Fossil.

        So I think Trump will *try* and that is plenty bad, but the damage will be limited by Putin being Putin and making more enemies.

        “My impression from Trump is that he is a typical populist, using
        nationalism, xenophobia, fear of immigrants, homosexuals etc.
        (essentially fear and hate) to get elected.”

        Populist sure, nationalist sure.

        But looking at the electoral maps, it’s worth noting he won the election by basically swinging 2008/2012 Obama voters, including more Hispanic and Black voters.

        While I won’t claim to be a great objective fact finder, the Obama administration as a whole was a tragedy of errors from where I sat in the US. It’s one thing to be burning at the mouth racist and bigoted (and there are plenty that are), but it’s another to basically shrug as hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants – and assorted brigandage, rape, murder, and other crime- pours in, as Europe is seeing now. And another to catastrophically ignore repeated signs of Islamist radicals until they shot, and then sometimes (like in the case of the Pulse Nightclub massacre) blame gun violence.

        That on top of the dishonesty surrounding Benghazi and one of the worst intelligence leaks in history from Clinton was the final straw. I have no doubt that plenty of racists sided behind Trump, but I also know many did behind Clinton (like BLM). Or that most who did both were not racists.

        I doubt Trump is personally racist, though being a mercenary shark who appeased New York City clients by discriminating against African-Americans may not be better.

        “But let us wait and see before we judge Trump. I am willing to give him a chance. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst.”


  • C_Low

    Trump is a american nationalist.

    Very simply the Ukrainian leadership should be calling/messaging/meeting Trump reminding him Ukraine stands with the US as you did in Iraq, Afghanistan etc… how you are a newer younger ally yes, but a strong willing ally. In other words win win two way street ally, we both back eachother mutual ally. Russia will never be a real ally Putin has used the US as a enemy strawman to much to back that drastic of a turn without losing all face. Mutual interest may exist in certain instances but that is an alliance of convenience.

    That is what Trump has basically laid out to NATO no more freeloading they must/should have a military 2% GDP minimum, that is not asking much we spend around 4%. Europe has a gen pop and economy combined just shy the size of the US so 2% would be just less than half the US military strength which would be more than a balance to a Russian threat in itself before the US showed up in its historical role as the balance breaker.

    I would not expect a pres Trump to send Americans to fight for Ukraine but unless you became a NATO member that is just not going to happen under anyone. However Ukraine doesn’t need US troops you guys have heart you have will all you need is the tools maybe some specialized support. That is something unlike O and his “nonleathal aid” would actually have real effect.