By Oleksiy Sorokin.

Nov 8, 2020

Kyiv Post


President Volodymyr Zelensky has congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.  “Ukraine is optimistic about the future of the strategic partnership with the United States. Ukraine and the United States have always collaborated on security, trade, investment, democracy, fight against corruption,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter on Nov. 7.

Zelensky’s message came hours after ex-Vice President Biden was declared the winner by all major U.S. news outlets, including CNN and Fox News.  European Council President Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have also congratulated Biden on the victory.

Ukraine-US relations under Trump

The whole world was waiting for the results of the U.S. presidential election. Ukraine was in the front row seat after being dragged into the election by incumbent President Donald J. Trump.

Many Ukrainian businessmen and politicians with tarnished reputations were using the rocky relations between the two countries to advance their agendas.  In January 2019, then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko took a New York trip that helped trigger a chain of events leading to Trump’s 2019 impeachment inquiry.

Lutsenko and his predecessor, Viktor Shokin, were able to convince Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that Biden, as vice president, ordered Shokin’s firing to help his son Hunter Biden escape prosecution. Hunter Biden had worked for Burisma Holdings, the largest private oil and gas company in Ukraine, whose owner Mykola Zlochevsky was investigated for money laundering and tax evasion.

Lutsenko’s story was part of his attempt to keep an office he was about to lose by helping Trump discredit his main opponent before the election.  In reality, Hunter was never a target of any investigation, while Shokin’s ouster was demanded by anti-corruption watchdogs and foreign diplomats alike.  Nonetheless, the conspiracy stuck with Trump’s inner circle.

On July 25, 2019, in a phone conversation with Zelensky, Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to begin an investigation against the Biden family in response to their Ukrainian activity. Days prior, a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine, approved by Congress, was frozen by Trump.

The world would have never learned about the content of that conversation had it not been for a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump pressured Zelensky in the now-infamous call to investigate Joe Biden and his son.  In the phone call, Trump asked it as “a favor,” from Zelensky.

After the whistleblower complaint, Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  He was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate on Feb. 5.

While Trump kept his post after the scandal and Ukraine enjoyed bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, the relationship between Ukraine and the U.S. was far from healthy. Back in May 2019, Trump was recorded saying that Ukraine was a disaster and corrupt and even called Ukrainians “terrible people.”  “They tried to take me down,“ Trump said, according to multiple October 2019 impeachment hearing testimonies in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Furthermore, many questionable Ukrainian officials jumped on Trump’s desire to use Ukraine in his re-election campaign to improve their own standing.  The list included ex-Prosecutors General Lutsenko and Shokin, oligarch Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian energy and chemical tycoon fighting off a U.S. extradition warrant in Vienna, and most recently, several pro-Russian lawmakers cheering for Trump.

On Aug. 7, United States Intelligence accused Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach of acting in the interests of Russia and attempting to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Since 2019, Derkach has been actively pushing conspiracy narratives about Biden.

High hopes

It’s no secret that many Ukrainian pundits were hoping for Biden’s victory. Biden has had a stellar reputation when it comes to helping Ukraine.  Under U.S. President Barack Obama, American policy in Ukraine was led by Biden. The now President-Elect oversaw financial assistance to Ukraine and made emphasis on Ukraine’s fight against corruption, pushing Ukraine to do a better job.

“Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules. They have to pay their taxes, settle their disputes in court — not by bullying judges,” said Biden during his Dec. 8, 2015 speech in Ukraine’s parliament.  However, President-Elect Biden has all reasons to be disappointed with Ukraine.

Since Biden left office, not much changed, with Ukraine currently undergoing a constitutional crisis caused by corrupt courts which are used to dismantle crucial anti-corruption legislation.

Ukraine’s constitutional crisis began on Oct. 27, after the Constitutional Court killed the online asset declaration system, allowing officials to escape responsibility for lying on their asset declarations.  As a result, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau closed multiple corruption cases. The government decided to disobey the court’s, ordering the National Agency for Preventing Corruption to keep the online asset database.

On Oct. 31, Zelensky said that the Constitutional Court is influenced by oligarchs and pro-Russian politicians and that it could tear the country apart. Zelensky also registered a bill in parliament to fire the court’s judges.

The situation remains a stalemate. Zelensky’s bill didn’t reach the floor, while Constitutional Court judges keep Ukraine’s anti-corruption policies hostage. The bill that would legally return online asset declaration also didn’t see a vote.

With future U.S. President Biden potentially more invested in Ukraine’s anti-corruption policies, it may become harder for Zelensky to dodge responsibility for not reforming the Ukrainian judiciary.