2016 is proving to be a peculiar year. Already for the third time this year, I woke up to shocking news, something that changes the world as I knew it before. Americans didn’t just elect their next president, they were electing a global leader and direction that global policy will most likely take. It might sound harsh, but I think Americans failed in making this decision by electing Donald Trump. But now it has been made and what we should focus on right now is to think how to live with this new reality.
I can’t pretend that I don’t see further dark developments ahead. The US election is not alone – it comes after the Dutch referendum against the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine and the Brexit vote in the UK. All those events fall together and are a continuation of a process of the global rise of populism, of voting with your emotions and not with your brain, of irresponsible politicians and naive voters. What should we do with our societies? How should politicians communicate with people? In which direction are we going and where will we end up with such dizzying speed?
Ukraine had a special interest in the US election: to put it more bluntly, Ukraine bet on Hillary Clinton and lost. Ukraine was a very strongly pro-Clinton country. Many Ukrainian journalists and politicians were involved in the Manafort case, which exposed the ties between Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort and his lobbying efforts on behalf of the deposed pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. A delegation from the Ukrainian parliament visited the Democratic Party convention. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met only with Clinton during his visit to Washington – whether that was because of a lack of time or intentionally, the fact remains. Ukrainian officials will now have to establish relations and contacts with President-elect Trump himself and his top aides. That won’t be easy, given that Ukraine is coming from a strong pro-Clinton position.
My first reaction to the news about Trump's election victory was anxiety. If Trump really decides to cozy up to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine could find itself as the ‘wedding present’ in this ‘marriage’. Putin says he want to reestablish friendly relations with the US, which may entail a change of American position towards Ukraine, Syria, and its Nato military presence in Europe, especially in Central Europe and the Baltics. My biggest fear is losing Ukraine, the fear that Russian troops and their local proxies will advance further into Ukraine. With the unpredictable and mercurial Donald Trump as president, the idea of this scenario becomes more real.
The de-escalation of fighting in East Ukraine was a result of the strong devotion of Ukrainian armed forces, international pressure on Russia and a wide range of sanctions imposed on it. The ‘ceasefire’ in the east of the country is very fragile and is a combination of many factors. If Moscow clearly sees the White House cares more about good relations with the Kremlin than in peace and stability in Ukraine, then my country will face very troubling days ahead.
Ukraine is disoriented right now. Actually, we have no idea what Trump’s policy towards Ukraine will be. Throughout his campaign, he made many statements that were contradictory – from saying that Ukraine annoys him, to praising our military heroes and blaming Barack Obama and the EU for not doing enough to help Ukraine. But his statements always seemed very vague, which left Ukrainians with one impression – he doesn’t really know. It might be both a challenge and an opportunity that requires a tremendous work by our diplomats. I hope they won’t fail in this test.
US support for Ukraine is crucial for our security. In fact, there seems to be some kind of a gentlemen’s agreement between the EU and US regarding Ukraine. The EU is mostly focused on establishing the rule of law and pushing for reforms in Ukraine, whereas the US is more focused on security issues.
Ever since the beginning of the war in Ukraine’s east, we have asked our foreign partners to help us not only politically, but also to provide us with the arms that are so badly needed at the front line. If Ukraine is no longer on the list of US priorities, we are left alone with Putin. It is obvious to everyone that the EU can’t substitute any US absence in Ukrainian affairs. The US withdrawing from Eastern European politics leaves the region open to Russian expansionism and its attempts to pull the countries of its “near abroad” (bliskaya zagranica) back into their sphere of influence. What does that mean in Ukraine’s case? More blood and more casualties. With or without the US on our side, we will continue to stand for our independence. Yet without international support, especially from the US, that will prove to be much harder.
The most troubling issue regards the recognition of Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula. Previous statements by Trump aren’t just worrying, they are scandalous. Crimea is part of Ukraine, and by annexing Crimea Russia violated our territorial integrity and the basic principles of the international law. Losing the US as a supporter of common sense and democractic principles will be very painful for the global order.
Alea iacta est (“The die is cast”)
Ukrainians today seem lost and angry because no one knows what to expect next. Trump is a black swan and an unprepared, unpredictable politician. But he will be the next president of the US and somehow all of us must learn to respect that.
I had a hard time respecting the fact that Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine back in 2010. Many Ukrainians did. But what we all can do right now, what we must do, is to work even harder, be better and to try to prevent similar stories from happening in other countries. Because right now, it clearly looks like they will.
Activist, journalist and co-founder of Global Ukrainians, an international network of Ukrainians worldwide, Kateryna Kruk was awarded the Atlantic Council Freedom Award for her work communicating the Euromaidan revolution to the world. She predicted a frozen conflict in July 2014, which has largely come to pass, and now comments on the progress of crucial reforms in Ukraine.