(Headline USA) The last time President Joe Biden promised large sums of money to Ukraine, it was conditional upon the firing of a prosecutor who was investigating corruption at Burisma, the company where his son Hunter drew a $1 million-a-year honorarium as a board member.
Yet, much has changed since Biden’s days as the Ukrainian point-man for the Obama administration.
To begin with, the putrid stench of the Burisma scandal—and many others involving the Biden family’s corrupt business deals—have now been widely scrutinized and confirmed by examinations of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop.
Former President Donald Trump was ultimately vindicated in his calls for new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to reopen the corruption probe encircling the Bidens.
Nonetheless, Democrats successfully weaponized Trump’s request in order to accuse him—ironically—of the very same offense that Joe Biden committed: abusing his office to seek a quid-pro-quo for personal/political gain.
After two failed Trump impeachments, a global pandemic, a stolen election and a series of catastrophic Biden policy reversals that have emboldened longtime adversary Russia, the Zelenskyy—a former television actor who found himself ensnarled in the 2019 Burisma-gate scandal—now faces a drastically different set of circumstances.
The Ukrainian leader was in Washington on Wednesday seeking increased military aid and backing for his country’s bid for NATO membership from the very person whom he was once urged to investigate for corruption in his home country.
The White House said the meeting was aimed at showing US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and backing of armed separatists in the country’s east.
Biden also intended to encourage Zelenskyy’s efforts to tackle corruption and reassure him that the U.S will help protect Ukraine’s energy security.
Thus far, however, Biden’s own actions have undermined all of those priorities.
His capitulation to Russia over the Nord Stream II pipeline—although it has the potential to leave the Bidens’ investments in Burisma favorably positioned—is likely to leave much of Eastern Europe reliant on Russia’s energy supply.
The pipeline is vehemently opposed by Ukraine and Poland, as well as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, with Zelenskyy describing it as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia.
Biden’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which helped maintain regional stability for two decades, has further emboldened traditional US adversaries, including Russia, to test the boundaries of America’s commitment to its allies.
The withdrawal left behind many Afghans who had worked with the Americans and their allies and who now fear Taliban rule. This led to criticism that the U.S. was less than a reliable international partner, something Biden may be eager to counter.
And with Russia’s takeover of Crimea having happened on Biden’s watch during the Obama administration, Ukraine is rightfully concerned.
In advance of Wednesday’s sit-down, the Biden administration said it was committing up to $60 million in new military aid to Ukraine.
The administration said in a notification to Congress that the aid package for Ukraine was necessary because of a “major increase in Russian military activity along its border” and because of mortar attacks, cease-fire violations and other provocations.
The question remained, though, whether “quid-pro-quo Joe” would attach any new strings to US support.
Biden and Zelenskyy planned to have “significant” discussions on the status of Ukraine’s various reforms and what still needs to be done, a senior U.S. administration official said. This includes steps to protect the independence of the anti-corruption agency, legislation on human rights and other efforts to strengthen democracy.
The U.S. will be looking for “concrete results,” the official said. However, Biden’s own blurred lines when it comes to tackling corruption, both at home and abroad, may complicate matters.
By addressing the issues that the Biden administration is most concerned about, Zelenskyy may pave the way for so-called anti-corruption forces in the country to have free reign in exerting their own form of left-wing corruption.
Nord Stream 2, the pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea, also will be on the agenda. By allowing Russia to bypass Ukraine, it could potentially deprive Ukraine of the billions of dollars in transit fees it now earns for pumping Russian gas to Europe.
Biden agreed in July not to penalize the German company overseeing the project. Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. and Germany committed to counter any Russian attempt to use the pipeline as a political weapon and to support Ukraine by funding alternative energy and development projects. That likely means a free flow of US tax dollars to Burisma.
Biden will discuss with Zelenskyy ways to improve corporate governance at state-owned energy companies and attract more foreign investment to help Ukraine achieve energy independence and meet clean energy goals, the senior administration official said. The two leaders also will discuss plans for protecting Ukraine’s energy security once Nord Stream 2 becomes operational, the official said.
Zelenskyy also was looking for new economic and military assistance as Ukraine faces a hostile Russia on its eastern border. And he has said he wanted a clear statement from Biden on whether he supports eventual NATO membership for Ukraine. NATO members are wary given Ukraine’s simmering conflict with Russia.
The $60 million security package will include more Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Kyiv sees as critical to defending against the Russia-backed separatists who have rolled through eastern Ukraine. The U.S. has overall committed more than $400 million in military aid this year.
The official, who briefed reporters before the meeting on the condition of anonymity, would not say whether Biden would support Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, noting only that the U.S. believes that Ukraine has more work to do to reform its defense sector and the U.S. remains supportive of Ukraine’s efforts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin published a lengthy essay in July defending his statement that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” and accusing the West of working methodically to destroy Ukraine’s historic links to Russia and turn it into a bulwark against Moscow. “I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” Putin concluded.
Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary general and U.S. ambassador to Russia, argues that ensuring Putin doesn’t succeed is essential to the security of the United States and its European allies.
“That is why Ukraine’s fight for freedom is our fight as well. For if Putin does succeed, Ukraine will not be the last victim of Russian aggression,” Vershbow wrote last week in a piece for the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press