HOMANS: Presidents Zelenskiy and Biden to meet

HOMANS: Presidents Zelenskiy and Biden to meet
The meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskiy will take place on September 1 and Ukraine has a long shopping list, while US has a long "to do" list.
By Robert Homans in Washington August 31, 2021

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

  • Ukraine can ask for a commitment from the US to re-impose sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 Operating Company if Russia/Gazprom doesn’t comply with the EU Third Energy Package, requiring unbundling of the ownership and access to the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline.
  • Ukraine can ask the US and Germany, jointly and severally, to guarantee the payment by Gazprom of transit fees up until the end of 2024 and hopefully beyond if Gazprom, for any reason, curtails payments.

Defence

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:

  • Ammunition: As a result of several “accidents” at ammunition storage facilities, Ukraine is short on ammo. The ammunition may come from former Eastern Bloc countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, capable of supplying ammunition complementary to Soviet weapons that are still in Ukraine’s inventory. The US can provide Ukraine with financing facilitating Ukraine’s purchase of ammo from one or more of these countries.
  • Target acquisition technology: When I last spoke with someone familiar with this subject in 2015, it took the Ukraine Army approximately 20 minutes to acquire a target, such as an artillery battery, and compute a firing solution. At the same time, it took Russian forces and their proxies approximately 40 seconds to do the same. Ukraine must have target acquisition technology at least as efficient as that deployed by Russia and its proxies. The counter-battery radars that the US initially provided to Ukraine contained software modifications that prevented Ukraine from acquiring targeting solutions for batteries firing from Russian territory. Future counter-battery radar should come with no software modifications.
  • Border Security: Technology to enhance border security with Belarus, a potential Russian invasion corridor only 80 miles (129 km) from Kyiv.
  • Blackhawk Helicopters: From watching the Independence Day Parade, it appears that Ukraine may already have Blackhawk helicopters. If not, the US should supply Ukraine with Blackhawks. From speaking to Americans who served in responsible positions in Slovakia, the US has provided Slovakia with Blackhawks. Why not Ukraine?
  • Continued Emphasis on Seaward Defences: Ukraine is vulnerable to attack from the south, not just from Crimea but across the Sea of Azov. The US should consider all requests from Ukraine concerning upgrading their seaward defences.

Infrastructure  

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.

Motor Sich  

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:

  • At long last, Ukraine should commit to making the Judiciary independent, and relax the ongoing control of the General Prosecutor by the Office of the President. It is possible to dust off numerous reports from bi-lateral assistance projects from the US, Europe and Canada addressing judicial independence, and use those reports as a roadmap to finally attain an independent and efficient judiciary.
  • The Government of Ukraine must stop diluting the accomplishments it made in shutting off the means of how graft is paid, including strengthening ProZorro, improving customs enforcement, and ending the status of gas distribution companies that allow oligarchs like Kolomoisky and Firtash to continue to enrich themselves.
  • In September, Ukraine’s Parliament is considering “De-oligarchisation” legislation designed to reduce the outsize influence of oligarchs in Ukraine’s economy. More importantly, Ukraine must also reduce the relative power of oligarchs by improving the tax and regulatory environment for independent Ukrainian businesses. One example would be improving the climate for capital spending.

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:

  • In 1991 Boris Yeltsin made identical statements about Russia’s right to intervene to protect ethnic Russians and its right to make border “adjustments” with former Soviet republics, as Putin is making today.

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

 

 

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