Biden’s inauguration opens up a new chapter in Ukraine-U.S. relations

U.S. President Joe Biden Photo: Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has welcomed Joe Biden’s inauguration as President of the United States, tweeting “I’m sure our relations will be enhanced”. He has also invited Biden to visit Ukraine.

Biden, it should be noted, is no stranger to Ukraine. As Vice President, he visited Ukraine six times, including on his final overseas trip only four days before the change of administration. He spoke dozens of times with Ukrainian officials, providing advice and encouraging them to keep Ukraine on its reform path. Biden was also the point-person for Ukraine policy, overseeing a broad U.S. government effort to support Ukraine.

Under his leadership, the United States led efforts to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression, sending American troops to Ukrainian military facilities to train Ukrainian soldiers and providing critical equipment, including counter-battery radars, which protected Ukrainian soldiers against incoming fire.

All in all, the United States provided $2.1 billion in assistance to Ukraine during the Obama-Biden Administration, including loan guarantees to enable the new Ukrainian government to get its economy back on track.

Biden took a particularly strong stand against corruption in Ukraine.

The U.S. didn’t just hand over money; it worked closely with the IMF and the EU to condition its support on reforms to fight corruption and make Ukraine’s government and economy work for the Ukrainian people.

A Biden administration is expected to continue supporting Ukraine in its struggles against both Russian aggression and domestic corruption. In his first telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Moscow’s support for separatists in the Donbas and its continued occupation of Crimea.
He also brought up Russia’s suspected hacking of the U.S. government and major businesses, the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, interference in the 2020 election and unverified reports that Russian intelligence may have paid bounties to militants in Afghanistan to target U.S. troops.

“President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies,” the White House said following the phone call.

Not surprisingly, the Russian Federation, which interfered in both the 2016 and 2020 elections on Donald Trump’s behalf, is trying to undermine Biden’s Presidency and began doing so even before his inauguration.

On January 3, Russia’s proxy in the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Derkach, held a press conference in which he reiterated his unsubstantiated charges of corruption against Joe Biden and his son Hunter. This press conference was picked up by some alt-right websites who reported simply that “Ukraine Lawmakers Accuse Joe & Hunter Biden of CRIMINAL Corruption” as one such website headlined, conveniently omitting the fact that Derkach is a Russian agent and has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for that very reason.

“Derkach, a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services, stated the Treasury Department in a September 10, 2020 press release announcing sanctions against Derkach and three other Russia-linked individuals for attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process.

“Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election. Today’s designation of Derkach is focused on exposing Russian malign influence campaigns and protecting our upcoming elections from foreign interference. This action is a clear signal to Moscow and its proxies that this activity will not be tolerated. The Administration is working across the U.S. Government, and with state, local, and private sector partners, to make the 2020 election secure,” it continued.

“Andriy Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system.”

It should be noted that Secretary Mnuchin was a Trump appointee and one of his earliest supporters. This makes the comments in the press release even more significant.
From at least late 2019 through mid-2020, Derkach waged a covert influence campaign centered on cultivating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the United States designed to culminate prior to election day. Derkach’s unsubstantiated narratives were pushed in Western media through coverage of press conferences and other news events, including interviews and statements.

“Between May and July 2020, Derkach released edited audio tapes and other unsupported information with the intent to discredit U.S. officials, and he levied unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures. Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims,” it continued.

On January 11 the Treasury Department, still under Mnuchin’s leadership, imposed further sanctions against seven Ukrainians and four Ukrainian entities who were “part of a Russia-linked foreign intelligence network associated with Andriy Derkach,” according to yet another Trump appointee, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And, on January 28, Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukraine’s presidential office announced that the State Bureau of Investigation has launched a criminal investigation into attempts to interfere in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. He added that Ukraine would do everything in its power to bring to justice forces both within and outside the country who attempted to damage relations between Ukraine and the United States.

That is a step in the right direction. Zelenskyy, who successfully resisted Trump’s blackmail attempts to force him into digging up dirt on Biden, can now work with the new president to open up a new chapter in Ukraine-U.S. relations. Close cooperation is essential, because Biden can prove to be a strong ally in battling not only Russian aggression, but also those powerful oligarchs that are sabotaging Zelenskyy’s efforts at reform.