By Daniel N. Hoffman
September 22, 2021
The Washington Times
During a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House earlier this month, President Biden “firmly committed” to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and “Euro-Atlantic aspiration.” Washington also reaffirmed Ukraine’s right to decide its own foreign policy without foreign interference.
But there was no mention of a timeframe for Ukraine to join NATO, even though Ukraine’s independence is hanging in the balance while it confronts heavy pressure and intimidation tactics from both Russia and China.
Ruthlessly focused on asserting control over its traditional sphere of influence, Russia annexed Crimea and launched cyber attacks against Ukraine’s government ministries and electric power grid. The Kremlin also directed military support to pro-Russian separatists battling the government in the eastern Donbas region and has seized Ukrainian vessels and sailors in the Kerch Strait.
Just prior to Mr. Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and conducted provocative military exercises.
Nothing threatens Mr. Putin’s regime more than Ukraine. He does not want Ukraine to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for his own domestic opponents who are denied basic civil liberties such as freedom of expression and assembly. Mr. Putin wants Ukraine to be so politically unstable and territorally fractured that NATO and EU membership will be forever out of the question.
Also seeking to exploit Ukraine’s geostrategic vulnerabilities, China blocked delivery of COVID-19 vaccines until Ukraine withdrew its signature from a joint UN Human Rights Council statement calling on Beijing to admit independent observers to Xinjiang to investigate persecution of Muslim Uyghurs. Exercising its influence as Ukraine’s leading trade partner, China negotiated agreements with Kyiv to build critical infrastructure including roads and airports.
China’s aspiration for global influence extends well beyond competing with the U.S. as a Pacific power. Using its “One Belt, One Road” as cover for debt-trap diplomacy, China has set its sights on attacking the independence of nation-states in South Asia and throughout the developing world. Ukraine in particular is in China’s crosshairs.
EU members, particularly Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania, which collectively share a 1,300-mile border with Ukraine, are increasingly at risk from the pressure campaign jointly conducted by China and Russia.
Time is running out for the Biden administration to take three vital steps or risk further erosion of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
First, the U.S. should turbo-boost its trade ties with Ukraine. During a recent visit to the U.S., Ukraine Minister of Finance Serhii Marchenko rightly emphasized the importance of making Ukraine’s economy more competitive and resilient by increasing foreign investment. Expanding commercial ties with the U.S. would be the engine for reforming Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises, central bank, infrastructure and judicial system.
Mr. Marchenko expertly laid the groundwork, securing $3 billion in support from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. He held productive discussions with the International Monetary Fund, which lauded Ukraine’s progress in carrying out reforms, as well as with officials of the State and Treasury Departments.
U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly expressed their concern about Ukraine’s endemic corruption, but Mr. Marchenko makes the right argument — expanding economic ties, especially in renewable energy, will drive better business practices.
Second, Ukraine is preparing to apply for EU membership in 2024, with hopes of joining the bloc fully sometime in the next decade. This extended timeline allows too much lead time for Russian and Chinese incursions to undermine the process. The U.S. should work with the EU on speeding up the process.
Third, with Mr. Putin doing everything he can to torpedo Ukraine‘s hopes of joining NATO, the U.S. needs to double down on its military, intelligence and strategic support for Ukraine, far beyond the recent $60 million security assistance package, including Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, on offer so far. The U.S. should host senior Ukrainian defense and intelligence officials to discuss expanding these critically important relationships.
NATO should increase the scope, intensity and frequency of its training programs designed to modernize Ukraine’s military and enhance its capabilities.The U.S. should also make it a priority to ensure Ukraine and Russia negotiate a peace agreement.
Having emphatically stated Ukraine’s success is central to the global struggle between democracy and autocracy, the Biden administration must pursue an aggressive Ukraine policy or risk losing a vital strategic partner to our adversaries.
Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.