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USUBC Washington Watch No. 4
U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC), Wash, D.C.
RE: January 1, 1916 through January 16, 2016
(1) On final Ukraine trip, Biden urges Trump administration to keep Russia sanctions – New York Times:
The stated purpose of the trip was to underscore American commitment to Ukraine and in Kyiv Biden called on Trump to keep the sanctions and to :make sure (U.S.) attention on Ukraine does not wane.” However, one can view the trip in less positive terms.
(1) The President-Elect easily could see it as a too cute move by an Administration he disdains to try to lock him on Ukraine, and (2) while it would continue to appear a lot of work remains in convincing Trump of the dangers of Mr. Putin and the importance of supporting Ukraine, it would be terribly wrong to cast the Obama Administration’s level of support as anything close to what the United States should have done or should be doing. Making sure attention does not wane is a low bar and every effort should be made to win over Trump and get the United States to improve on the level of support.
(2) Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire – Kiev officials are scrambling to make amends with the president-elect after quietly working to boost Clinton – Politico: An extensive expose’ on Ukrainian activities – ill-advised activities – during the 2016 Presidential race.
(3) How We Fool Ourselves on Russia – New York Times – William Burns, Former Deputy Secretary of State and United States Ambassador to Russia 2005-2008.
(4) Keep America’s Word Again—and Protect Ukraine - Clinton made assurances when Kiev gave up nukes. Then Obama broke faith. Trump can restore it. – OP-ED, The Wall Street Journal – by Robert McConnell. McConnell is a Senior Advisor to USUBC.
This op-ed was written to argue Secretary of State nominee Tillerson be questioned about the Budapest Memorandum. At least two U.S. Senators did so.
(5) Why the U.S. has an obligation to help Ukraine defend itself – The Los Angeles Times – Bennet Ramberg. Ramberg served in the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs during the George W. Bush Administration. Among other things Ramberg emphasizes the U.S. obligations uner the Budapest Memorandum.
(6) Not all Republicans on board with Democrat’s bill to sanction Russia – The Washington Post: A bipartisan group of senators wants to slap Russia with new sanctions for alleged interference in the 2016 elections.
However, some Republicans, who have supported sanctions in the past have been unwilling to co-sponsor so far. As discussed in an earlier newsletter there appears to be some hesitancy among some congressional Republicans to get too far out ahead of where President-Elect Trump might be on Russia and Ukraine.
This continues to be worrisome because while support for Ukraine in Congress has been broad and bi-partisan it has never been assured and at times has appeared vulnerable. Congress surely will remain Ukraine’s greatest source of support, it is critical that Congress be the lobbied constantly and wisely going forward.
Link to text of legislation: ABOUT THE COUNTERING RUSSIAN HOSTILITIES ACT OF 2017
(7) Trump Nominee Rex Tillerson Suggests Tough Line on Russia, But Won’t Commit on Sanctions, Pick for secretary of state takes surprisingly hawkish line, but draws ire of senators for hedging on incoming administration’s position – The Wall Street Journal –
Clearly there were signs Tillerson has a much more hawkish view of Putin and Russia. And he critically said he would support providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
However, at this point Tillerson’s confirmation appears more vulnerable than any other of Trump nominee. With at least three Republicans not yet committed to confirmation the vote count needed is in question. Tillerson’s problems stem from his very questionable answers/non-answers regarding his and ExxonMobil’s role regarding Russian sanctions and his seemingly lack of concern about human rights issues being a priority in U.S. foreign policy.
(8) Tillerson Provides a Glimmer of Hope for Ukraine – Atlantic Council – John Herbst – Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst provides a very good analysis of the Tillerson hearing as to Russia and Ukraine.
Indeed it is important to note that Trump’s nominees are routinely sounding much more hawkish on dealing with Russia and supporting Ukraine than the President-Elect has been in his statements. However, remember that with a united Congress and many in his Administration wanting President Obama to do more and more for Ukraine the final decisions rested in the Oval Office and Obama was far less supportive.
The key going forward will be Trump. While he seems to be comfortable having people around him with strong opinions contrary to his own, he will be making critical decisions regarding Ukraine. And, in this context regardless of the success of Tillerson’s nomination, a response he gave during his testimony sents up a very bright red flag. Regarding Russia, Crimea and Ukraine he suggested Crimean might be recognized as Russian if there was “a broader agreement which the people of Ukraine would recognize.”
Where did that come from? Is Trump considering just such “a broad agreement”? If so, should Ukraine take comfort in his “only if there were agreement on the part of the leadership of Ukraine.” History offers no comfort – none! What Ukraine needs to anticipate is what type of pressure the Trump Administration might try to use to get Ukraine to go along with such a giveaway. Hopefully this will not be the case but history ….
(9) Senate approves exception for Mattis to serve as defense secretary – Military Times –
Recall the general required a waiver from the law restricting a military officer from serving a civilian post in the Pentagon less than five years after his active duty. The Senate has approved that waiver. The House Committee with jurisdiction has approved the waiver but there will need to be a vote of the full House of Representatives.
Link: Military Times
(10) Placing Russia first among threats, Defense nominee warns of Kremlin attempts to ‘break’ NATO– The Washington Post –
General Mattis was very clear in his views that Russia presents the greatest security challenge to the United States and, in one exchange indicated he would favor a permanent US base in the Baltics. Certainly there were many quotes worth highlighting but only one will be shared here: “Since Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia.
We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard,” Mattis said, referring to the Yalta conference at the close of World War II. “The most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps . . . to defend ourselves where we must.” Before the end of the day the Senate voted to grant the waiver Mattis needs to assume the position of Secretary of Defense 81-17.
Link: Washington Post
(12) C.I.A. Nominee Says He Won’t Balk at Seeking Russian Intelligence – The New York Times -
The first battle that Representative Mike Pompeo prepared to fight was against the Russians, when he commanded a tank platoon in Germany in the twilight of the Cold War. During his confirmation hearing he made clear he was ready to take on America’s old adversary if confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
(13) GOOD GRIEF – KISSINGER AGAIN? – Politico -- As Donald Trump signals that he wants a more cooperative relationship with Moscow, the 93-year-old Kissinger is positioning himself as a potential intermediary — meeting with the president-elect in private and flattering him in public. Please Lord save us!
(14) USAID ENDS FUNDING FOR TROUBLED UKRAINE CUSTOMS REFORM – The New York Times --
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has ended funding for a flagship customs reform project in Ukraine's Odessa region, as the government's ambitious plans to tackle bribe-taking at its Black Sea ports stalled.
The news article seems to tell one story, another was conveyed to the USUBC at its annual meeting. One member, in discussing his company’s challenges in dealing with Ukraine’s customs system reported that the only location where things worked as they should was Odessa. He was asked about the timing of his experiences and it was clear that Odessa functioning like a real country took place while Mikheil Saakashvili, served as Governor of Odessa and Yulia Marushevska served as head of Odessa customs.
The meeting assumed – obviously correctly – that once Saakashvili resigned and Marushevska lost political support and resigned Odessa would fall back into the corrupt abyss with the rest of Ukraine’s customs service. So, what we have is a clear example of what Ukraine’s government should be doing and an example that there is no will to make it happen once a genuine reformer is not supporter by their political superior. When will they learn?
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NEWS: For the latest news about Ukraine go to the KYIV POST website: www.KyivPost.com.
The Kyiv Post of the ISTIL Group is a member of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC).
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