US vector: challenges and opportunities for Ukraine

March 11, 2024

Oleksandr Derkach, Razumkov Centre intern, student of the National University "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy"

It is obvious that US home politics influence not only the prospects of partnership between Kyiv and Washington, but for world politics as a whole. Against the background of the long-term deadlock in military and financial aid to Ukraine caused by the Republican majority in the House, a number of events took place that may in one or another way affect bilateral contacts.

Two well-known pro-Ukrainian politicians — V. Nuland and M. McConnell — announced their resignations. At the same time, important primaries took place, and it became obvious that in 2024 the current and former presidents — Joe Biden and Donald Trump — will face each other in the US presidential race, and the struggle between them will be harsh and difficult to predict. At the same time, there are forecasts and versions regarding D. Trump's selection of a candidate for the position of vice president, which can give a certain idea about his strategic plans and approaches to foreign policy issues, including support for Ukraine.

So, on March 5, A. Blinken announced that V. Nuland intends to retire as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. She is one of the most experienced and respected US diplomats, a consistent supporter of Ukraine. At one time, V. Nuland supported Euromaidan. She advocated comprehensive support for Kyiv resisting Russian aggression, lobbied for the support and revival of the Ukrainian economy, etc.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, is also resigning. He will not participate in the re-election to this post, to be held later this year. M. McConnell productively cooperated with the Democrats in the Senate, could argue with D. Trump, strongly supported Ukraine and even reproached D. Biden for indecision in providing assistance to Kyiv. Currently, three senators are seen as the likely candidates for the post of Republican leader. They are John Cornyn, John Thune and John Barrasso. Cornyn and Thune support Ukraine, in particular, they voted for the aid package, while Barrasso, taking a more sceptical position on Ukraine, voted against it. It is not known who will replace M. McConnell, but, unfortunately, it cannot be ruled out that the Republicans' support for Ukraine in the Senate will weaken. In general, the resignations of these respected and influential pro-Ukrainian figures are an unfavourable factor, the consequences of which are currently difficult to predict.

The victories of J. Biden and D. Trump in the primaries of their parties on "Super Tuesday" were another important domestic US event. This most likely means that they will be the presidential candidates in 2024, and there is no new national political leader in the US in sight, at least for now. Trump won fourteen of fifteen states (losing only in Vermont to Nikki Haley), while Biden won all fifteen. Trump is currently a bit ahead in the polls, but the situation is dynamic.

In this context, one should pay attention to the discussions regarding the Republican vice president’s nomination. Whom will D. Trump choose? The post of the vice president is important, including as a hypothetical substitute to the current president. In general, this position indicates the orientation and character of D. Trump's future policy (in the event of his victory) in the country and abroad, including in relations with Ukraine.

In February, D. Trump released a short list of possible vice presidential candidates. It included Ron DeSantis, Byron Donalds, Tulsi Gabbard, Kristi Noem, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott. DeSantis has an ambiguous position on the war in Ukraine, Noem and Donalds oppose military aid to Ukraine, while Gabbard and especially Ramaswamy have repeatedly promoted pro-Russian narratives. The only clear supporter of Ukraine on the list is Tim Scot. At the same time, Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who were also seen as possible candidates, remain outside this list. Stefanik and Zeldin support Ukraine, which cannot be said about Greene.

It is obvious that internal events and trends in the USA, on the one hand, cannot but cause concern (and not only in Ukraine), particularly against the background of the long-term "pause" in the US military and financial aid to Kyiv. On the other hand, pre-election processes bring both challenges and opportunities. It is of strategic importance for Ukraine to preserve the bipartisan support in the US, to avoid involvement in the internal political pre-election struggle as much as possible, to promote negotiation of an agreement on long-term security cooperation with the US.