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Poroshenko heads to the White House

June 19, 2017

President Poroshenko heads to Washington DC, The White House, and a meeting with President Trump – perhaps.  If President Trump does not see President Poroshenko while he is there, then inferences will certainly be drawn in Ukraine and The Kremlin.

On the presumption (as risky as that may prove to be) a meeting occurs, then the two men have significant differences.  President Poroshenko is a micromanager.  He is very careful in how he frames matters and reasonably particular about what he says or that is attributed to him.  He also clearly goes beyond his constitutional powers and infringes upon and/or subverts the constitutional powers of the parliament.

President Trump appears incoherent when he speaks.  His framing is terrible even on policy issues that are sensible.  He is not a micromanager, but expects his will to be done with others sorting out the details and clearing up the mess.

They have things in common of course.  Both are very rich men.  Both are businessmen.  Both have their share of dodgy deals in their business résumé.  Both value loyalty over ability.  Both understand the value of personal relationships.  Both speak English.  Both know how to negotiate and strike a deal (even if bordering upon the absolute extremes of legality – or occasionally crossing them).

But what deals can be struck?

The world has become accustomed to State leaders publicly announcing deals – or no deals – when they meet (with the hard preparatory work done by those that receive no public recognition).

What new opportunities (as opposed to existing and well known to the US) are in Ukraine that can be offered as new deals to be done for which President Trump can claim credit?  Do there need to be new opportunities or simply a US administration less risk adverse than the previous?  What is US foreign policy when it comes to Ukraine?  To be blunt, it appears that currently the US Embassy Kyiv is pretty much left to do its own thing without much instruction or policy input from Washington.  As such a continuation of the previous administration’s policies in the absence of one from the current administration.

What are the Ukrainian priorities?  Clearly a good personable relationship between both presidents is a priority – and one from which President Trump should feel more drawn toward than any that will be struck with Russian President Putin later in the month when they meet for the first time.

A reader may question whether it is a diplomatic win for Ukraine that President Poroshenko meets with President Trump before meeting President Putin.  Perhaps given the circumstances surrounding the on-going issues of aggressive Russian meddling in US internal affairs, notwithstanding allegations of any personal Russian issues for the US President and his immediate circle, support for Ukraine, and a good personal relationship with Presdient Poroshenko, may well be employed as a defence against such accusations.  A cosy personal relationship may suit both US and Ukrainian presidents in current circumstance.

Perhaps therefore warm presidential handshakes, smiles, and a deal or two are required to reinforce the perception that by remaining firmly with Ukraine it somehow equates to President Trump (and by extension the US) being hard on The Kremlin (and by extension Russia) – which of course is not necessarily the case..

What therefore, are the Ukrainian priorities?  What, aside from creating a good personal relationship could Ukraine reasonably expect from President Trump that falls within his authority and that also promotes a perception that being supportive of Ukraine somehow equates to being tough on Russia?

The arming of Ukraine perhaps?  Ukraine, after all, is nowhere near ready economically, politically or militarily to conduct a Croatia-esque Operation STORM.  Arming it will not result in any such military action to retake occupied territory by force.  Also, whilst it is clear that President Putin is quite prepared to allow the war of exhaustion to continue for years to come, there is no indication that within The Kremlin any territorial advances are deemed worthwhile either.

The formal entrance of the US into the Minsk negotiation process?  It would be entirely naive to think the US has not been informally involved in the process from the start, but given that Minsk has failed to deliver anything like a ceasefire where the fire actually ceases, would the US want to enter as an official participant?  Further would the other parties officially involved want the US to become an official negotiator?

The creation of an alternative official negotiation body is fraught with the usual dangers, insomuch as if one party prefers one format and another the other format, matters may actually get worse rather than better.  Hence the Surkov-Nuland channel was viewed negatively.  Assuredly it presents the ability to play one format off against another by any and all negotiators for particular participants.

President Trump may make assurances that he will sign the legislation that was recently passed in the US Senate and which now requires Houseconsideration, should it reach him – legislation that codifies current sanctions that exist by Executive Order only.  (Legislation that irks Germany as it allows US interference with Nord Stream II.)  However promising to sign something that may or may not reach President Trump, (and if it does may not withstand amendments in the House prior) is hardly a major outcome for the meeting of two Heads of State.

A statement of US support for a NATO MAP for Ukraine?  The US has backed such a MAP before only to see no consensus among other NATO members – and it requires 100% agreement.  It would be words that cannot be met by deeds which both sides would be aware of.  The question then would be whether those words are said in the absolute knowledge that they will not translate into anything of substance, unless used as a platform to “upgrade” Ukraine with regard to its partner status with NATO.

The announcement of a bilateral alternative to the Budapest Memorandum?  In the current circumstances?

Support for a Marshall Plan for Ukraine?  As long as the Europeans are paying – and that proposal will not be tabled until November in Europe.

So what’s left that can be announced by way of deals?  Something in agriculture?  IT?  Space?  MIC cooperation?  Free golf lessons and membership of Mar a Lago for President Poroshenko?  Trump Tower in Kyiv?

We shall soon see.

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