Ukraine Prepares for Trump

Letter From Kiev

A Ukrainian serviceman jumps off of an armored personnel carrier near Zhytomyr, Ukraine, January 2015.  Valentyn Ogirenko / REUTERS

Two days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, Artem Sytnik, the head of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, announced that his office would end its investigation of Paul Manafort, a former chairman of Trump’s campaign who is still in contact with the president-elect’s team. Ukrainian officials previously alleged that Manafort had been designated to receive undisclosed cash payments totaling $12.7 million from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, a pro-Russian group that came to epitomize the corruption that contributed to Yanukovych’s ouster during the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution. Sytnik said his bureau had abandoned the case because it had “enough of its own officials” to prosecute. But the subtext of his remarks was clear: continuing to investigate Manafort might have threatened Ukraine’s standing with the next U.S. administration.

Kiev hopes to establish a relationship with the incoming Trump administration that will ensure that Ukraine continues to receive the support it has enjoyed during the presidency of Barack Obama. Ukrainian officials have been outwardly hopeful that the Republican Party’s historical backing for their country will persist under Trump. But they are also concerned about how Ukraine will fit into the president-elect’s nascent foreign policy. If Ukraine is to develop close ties with the Trump administration, it will have to look past Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his misunderstandings about Russian activity on Ukrainian soil. And it will take a significant diplomatic and political effort to mobilize U.S. support, particularly from Republicans who have aligned with Trump’s neo-isolationist platform. With U.S. sanctions on Russia up for annual review in March, Kiev has little time to try to persuade Trump to modify the foreign-policy agenda he articulated during his campaign and to ensure that his declarations of admiration for Putin do not turn into a policy of appeasement.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, February 2015. Grigory Dukor /

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