Likely due to the ongoing events in Kabul and the arrival of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, the meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskiy will take place on September 1, rather than on August 31. On September 2nd, President Zelenskiy will also be giving an address at Stanford University.
The Biden-Zelenskiy meeting is much anticipated, at least from the Ukrainian side. What will be the results?
From the Ukrainian perspective, Zelenskiy’s meeting with President Biden takes place against a backdrop of Ukrainian concern about the US as a reliable partner, arising from the chaotic American withdrawal from Kabul, the American relaxation of sanctions against the operating company managing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and the agreement between Germany and the United States on the future operation of Nord Stream 2, a deal with few safeguards for Ukraine, nor the possibility of future sanctions directed toward Russia or Gazprom. Ukraine will be looking for specific commitments from the US, beyond the usual statements such as “the United States is committed to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
US commitments to Ukraine can include the following: reducing Ukraine’s exposure to the effects of a completed Nord Stream 2 Pipeline; defence assistance; infrastructure, complementary to and eventually replacing Chinese investments in Ukrainian infrastructure projects. The US can also contribute to the final disposition of the ownership of Motor Sich, Ukraine’s manufacturer of aircraft engines and gas turbines, that Ukraine recently nationalised under US pressure.
Nord Stream 2
Joining Nato is not a necessary condition for Ukraine to defend itself against continued Russian aggression. Ukraine has proved that it can counter Russian aggression on its own. However, Ukraine needs more weapons and other resources to continue to defend itself successfully.
Ukraine has already purchased Turkish drones, identical to the drones used to destroy Armenia’s Army in the recent conflict with Azerbaijan. These drones were on display last August 24, at the military parade marking Ukraine’s Independence Day (47 minute). According to an expert with knowledge of the Russian Armed Forces with whom I recently spoke, the Russians are busy reinforcing their tanks and mobile radar installations to guard against attacks by missiles launched by drones, and from Javelin missiles that are now forwardly deployed near the Line of Contact.
Additional defence assistance can include the following:
The US should look to complement increasing Chinese investment in Ukraine’s infrastructure with its own. The US has created a new agency, called the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a successor to the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (“OPIC”), giving DFC more funding and additional means to making investments not necessarily tied to the use of US equipment. DFC should be a vehicle for investments in Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads, more rolling stock not connected to Ukraine’s State Railway System, port upgrades, and upgrading and modernising Ukraine’s nuclear reactors.
At the behest of the United States, Motor Sich was nationalised to nullify a takeover by Chinese interests. The United States should now be looking at ways to help Ukraine put Motor Sich into private hands, but in a way that does not damage Zaporizhzhia, the city in Eastern Ukraine not far from the Line of Contact where Motor Sich is headquartered. Motor Sich currently has over 20,000 employees, many more than is necessary for Motor Sich to operate profitably. However, laying off thousands of employees would damage the economy of Zaporizhzhia, possibly causing domestic disturbances in an important Ukrainian city near the Line of Contact. The US should help Ukraine in devising a plan that would result in making Motor Sich a more attractive investment candidate while at the same time working with Zaporizhzhia on ways to mitigate the effects of lower employment at Motor Sich.
What Ukraine Needs to Do
Although Ukraine may be in a stronger position to obtain considerations from the US, as a means for Washington to show its strong support for Kyiv, Ukraine must avoid concluding that they can relax its previous commitments on addressing corruption, specifically:
While considering Ukraine’s requirements in improving its ability to defend itself, the United States should ask for commitments Ukraine has previously made that, if enacted, can contribute to establishing an economy based on Free Enterprise and the Rule of Law, the ultimate defence against Russia.
A Bit of History – BBC recently produced a short retrospective on Ukraine’s independence, consisting of news clips from 30 years ago. Some of you may recognise the narrator, who also chose the clips from BBC’s archives and did all the arranging and video editing. One thing sticks out:
It is reasonable to assume that Putin’s successor will make the same statements as his or her two predecessors, concerning protecting ethnic Russians and border adjustments.
Independence Day Parade – the Independence Day parade took place on Independence Square in Kyiv, the 2013/2014 Euromaidan Protests site that led to the removal of former President Yanukovich. Much of the hardware in the parade is of traditional Russian design. However, Russia and previously the Soviet Union tended to modernise old designs rather than introduce new ones, as is usually the case in the US. For example, Soviet fire control radars used during the Vietnam War by North Vietnam were from old Soviet designs continually upgraded. They proved difficult for Americans to jam. Ukraine, given its expertise in military technology and electronics, is likely doing the same.
The video of the Independence Day parade includes significant landmarks from Euromaidan. The road going up the hill behind the reviewing stand is Institutska Street. On February 20, 2014, over 100 protestors advancing on Institutska Street were shot down by snipers acting under orders of members of Yanukovich’s administration. The snipers were firing from the top of the tall building behind the reviewing stand, the hill to the left of Institutska Street, and the tops of other tall buildings with unobstructed views down Institutska Street. Head-on views show the Post Office where, on the night of February 18/19, 2014, protesters were digging bricks from the sidewalk, cutting them in half, and passing them up the line to be thrown or launched at Interior Ministry Policy trying to breach barriers set up by the protesters.
Ukraine has come a long way since the days of February 2014, when the same streets on which the Independence Day Parade took place were covered with soot from the smoke from burning tires, bullet holes in the October Palace along Institutska Street, and bottles filled with gasoline at the ready. Those who claim to support Ukraine, but are quick to criticise its shortcomings, should keep this fact in mind every time they accuse Ukraine of not doing enough to eradicate corruption.
Those who criticise Ukraine should also remember the extraordinary efforts Ukrainians made to get people out of harm’s way during the evacuation of Kabul. One example is the rescue of reporters from Canada’s Globe & Mail Newspaper, along with their Afghan translators, where Ukrainian servicemen had to go into central Kabul to escort the buses containing the individuals to the airport, and out of Kabul on a Ukrainian military aircraft.
Robert Homans is an international financial sector consultant based in Washington DC, and tweets at @rhomansjr