US Dashes Ukraine’s Hopes for Privileged Partnership

US Dashes Ukraine’s Hopes for Privileged Partnership

The White House has taken a decision to stop granting military aid to Ukraine and some other countries and offer loans instead.

«We do change a couple of the foreign military programs from direct grants to loans. Our argument was instead of giving somebody $100 million, we could give them a smaller number worth of loan guarantees and they could actually buy more stuff», said Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. The cuts to programs under the State Department are in part meant to fund an increase in military spending.

Recently, President Donald Trump has proposed that the US spend 29.1 percent, or $11.5 billion, less on the State Department and «other international programs» in the 2018 fiscal year compared to 2017. This includes military assistance programs, as it's the State Department that decides which countries receive the funding.

Gratuitous military assistance will be reduced to dozens of countries, including Ukraine. Since 2014, Ukraine has received several packages of US «non-lethal» military equipment, including radio equipment, surveillance gear and dozens of aging Humvee armored vehicles. In addition, Washington maintains a program to train Ukrainian troops fighting armed militias in the breakaway region of Donbass.

This fiscal year the US Congress allocated about 560 million dollars to Ukraine in various assistance programs, including military assistance and security policy. The size of aid was halved compared to the year before. For comparison, military aid to Israel and Egypt, two close American allies in the Middle East and the biggest recipients of US military assistance, will remain unchanged. Most grants through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program go to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Aid to Pakistan will be significantly reduced. So, the Middle East allies get the lion’s share.

True, the US has no strictly defined strategy on Ukraine but putting bits of available information together helps to see the prevailing trend. Why is Ukraine on the list of nations subject to cuts in foreign aid? What about Kiev being Washington's favorite son? Are the good times over?

The US administration knows what it is doing. Loans programs are under control of the US Senate Committee on Appropriations. And the first thing it does is examining the level of corruption in the borrowing country as well as other parameters. There must be guarantees that if a recipient country fails to keep its financial obligations, the US will get a stake in the debtor’s state-owned companies. The inability of Ukraine to make progress in fighting corruption gives rise to frustration and exasperation among those who are willing to lend a helping hand. The US administration’s decision mirrors the trend.

Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the White House on May 10, President Trump let know that he was not overly concerned over the hostilities in eastern Ukraine. The president just played it down. Evidently, Ukraine is not that important as it used to be during the Obama tenure.

The recent foreign trip of Donald Trump shows that he is more interested in the Middle East and believes the conflict in Ukraine is a European problem for Germans and French to grapple with. Besides, moving from grants to loans will make Ukraine dependent on the United States as few other arms providers are willing to compete and supply Ukraine with either arms or non-lethal equipment.

In March, the Ukrainian parliament adopted the draft resolution No. 6111 on the appeal of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine to the US Congress regarding security guarantees. It asked for granting the major non-NATO ally status to make Kiev a privileged partner along with the 16 countries that have the status of Major non-NATO ally – Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, New Zealand, Argentina, Bahrain, Philippines, Thailand, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia. Taiwan «shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally». The status confers a variety of military and financial advantages that otherwise are not obtainable by non-NATO countries. Ukraine’s request fell on deaf ears.

Now it has become obvious that the United States does not consider Ukraine important enough to give it any kind of significant assistance, military or economic. Kiev does not top the US foreign policy priorities list. Trump needs achievements in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism, the situation in Donbass has no relation to presidential ratings, while the events in the Middle East do. Remember the huge arms deal the US president just signed with Saudi Arabia and the announced «Arab NATO» plans? In comparison, an alliance with Ukraine is more of a headache with no benefits in sight.

Even if it were not so, corruption and lack of reforms put into doubt the efficiency of any aid provided to that country. It is not a coincidence that Trump is proposing to cut USAID aid to Ukraine by 68,8%. According to Transparency International, «Ukraine is losing the last opportunity to demonstrate to the world efficiency of its anti-corruption program. On the contrary, impunity of the top corrupt officials of the previous regime and political pressure on the newly developed anti-corruption institutions is a great concern for the international community».

The US appears to have crossed the Rubicon in the relationship with its partner. Other NATO members have also rendered very limited aid mainly boiling down to small packages of auxiliary equipment. Lithuania is the only member to deliver lethal weapons but it cannot offer much in pure practical terms. Ukraine has failed to become a recipient of substantial military or economic assistance form the US and the West in general. It has fallen out of favor and is not trusted anymore. It is confirmed by the fact that Kiev faces serious snags on the way to receiving IMF loans.

Being hostile to Russia is not enough to continue being a cuddly toy of the West. This could not last forever. The West is getting tired of Ukraine and its never-ending problems that Kiev has not lifted a finger to solve for so many years. The US’ decision to delete it from gratuitous aid recipients is a very serious warning. Kiev has to urgently review its domestic and foreign policies or face the consequences.

Tags: Ukraine  US