US-Russia Relations and the Role of Ukraine in Them

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Why Tramp indicates Russia as a main direct in National Defense Strategy 2018 after obvious flirting with Putin during the first years of administration? And what role does Ukraine play in American foreign policy toward Russia? Why does US spend on defense of peripheral country?

In interview for ‘Lateline’ Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Vali Nasr, called US a country that is diminishing its influence. This conclusion was based on Barack Obama’s speech about main keys in foreign policy (29 May, 2014). In that times President declared the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and not engaging in Syria or Ukraine since Americans wanted to be satisfied in domestic politics and not to spend on adventures abroad. “There is a giant sound of American foreign policy disappearing from the world stage”, – Vali Nasr pointed.

In comparison with Obama, Donald Trump showed noticeably more active and muscular policy with significant increase in the military budget. It became famous in media as ‘American fist’ or ‘Make America Powerful Again’. Willingness to use force was particularly true in Syria. Until recently Tramp used air strikes in this country, quadrupled the number of militant troops there, added 3,900 in Afghanistan, and increased the total number of acknowledged troops and civilian Defense Department personnel in the Middle East by 33%. In 2018 Tramp pointed China and Russia as the main directions of American foreign policy in National Defense Strategy (2018). The mention about Russia looked quite surprisingly after Tramp’s speeches about possibilities to be along with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Tramp has never explained exactly why having better relationship with Moscow would be a good thing for US but business contacts of his associates with shady Russian tycoons were well known. Why has President finally changed his mind?

There are a lot of toxic factors: Russian ground-based cruise missiles against American-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which eliminated both cruise and ballistic missiles from Europe, unclear politics of Kremlin in Iran direction and chemical attack in Syria (and Russian reaction after it). But the Strategy says in general that Russia is dangerous because it “want to shape a world consistent with its authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions”. Although word ‘Ukraine’ was written only once in the text, it is definitely about escalation of this very country that looks scary for EU. But does peripheral Ukraine that the United States doesn’t have an obligation to defend worth American spending and strained relations with Russia?

The main reason is EU countries are really afraid that Russian aggression can be spread on their territories since Ukraine is a so-called bridge to Western Europe. And as a part of NATO the United States should protect it. At the same time such conditions are really annoying for American President. On Tramp’s opinion, Europeans spend so little on defense compared to the United States, and so few European nations prepared to meet NATO’s stated defense spending goal of at least 2%. Even Trump’s posts in Twitter were expressive: “The European Union, for many years, has taken advantage of us on Trade, and then they don’t live up to their Military commitment through NATO. Things must change fast!'”. So, why does America still keep allies with EU and should indicate nuclear Russia as a treat?

EU security depends on security of Ukraine and directly affects US welfare. As ‘Euromaidan Press’ pointed, develop Europe is a huge trade and possibilities for American business. The total trade in goods and services between the US and the EU in 2015 was 1,087 trillion euros. The EU is still a number one trading partner for the United States. The direct foreign investment from EU for US economy is 2.5 trillion euros (70% of all investments). If Russia interfere in politics of EU, Europeans will be completely concentrated only on problems of their continent and America lose this money. Moreover, any arguments between US and EU can help any destructive powers of the world like authoritarian regimes and terroristic organizations.

Refusal to support Ukraine can break regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. Ukraine got rid third largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for assurances by the United States, Britain and Russia to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia has already violated this promise. And it has sent a bad signal to all the states that would like to guarantee their own security by joining the nuclear club. If other participants of Budapest memorandum refuse to support Kyiv, it will influence catastrophically the non-proliferation policy and image of US, in general. Any other capital of the world will be able to mention the Ukrainian example not to even start a nuclear-free dialogue. It is vitally for US to keep its image of only Great Power especially in the conditions of Cold War II.

As last elections showed American society is still consider Russia as an ‘Evil Empire’, a successor of Soviet Union. Indeed, Russia has tried to renew its influence in much of the former territory of the USSR in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union, that includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Plus, Russia has close relations with China. These two the biggest countries in Eurasia created their own Eurasian alliance SCO (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) in 2001. The alliance includes Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey as well. But US is beyond it. Such organization is a huge hit for American image of Great Power since Russia is the largest country in the world and China & India have almost third part of all world population. Michael Lind has already called such confrontation a sign of Cold War II. Russian ambitions, according to Tim Marshall’s essay ‘Russia and the Curse of Geography’ is expanding only through the Baltics and Ukraine, to the Black Sea since main task for Russia is to create strategic distance to keep the enemy as far away from the Russian heartland as possible. So, Ukraine is good chance for US to stop Russian imperial appetites and prove American exceptionalism.

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But despite all aforementioned arguments Trump’s rhetoric about Ukraine was not clear for long time. It can be seen even after Russian attack against Ukrainian navy at Azov see in 2018. Although several world leaders have blamed Russian aggression and even Washington lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pressured U.S. President to take a tougher line on Moscow, Trump said only: “It is not good. Not happy about it at all”, adding, “we do not like what’s happening either way. And hopefully it will get straightened out”.

But the situation is changing now. Tramp has already started his preparation for president election (2020) and wanted to avoid critics about his dependence on Russia in previous election since that scandal had affected significantly on the first years of his administration. Now the President tries to get rid of reputation of pro-Russian politician criticizing Kremlin and making loud statements about Ukraine. Recently he said in interview for CBS: “I am that person who gave defensive and anti-tank weapons for Ukraine. Obama did not do it. Do you know that he sent to Ukraine? Pillows and blankets. He is the one who gave up the part of Ukraine!”.

And he is right. Barack Obama didn’t help Ukraine in military question at all. But Tramp met Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in 2017 to discuss the expansion of military-technical cooperation. Then he signed document about provision of $ 650 million for militant goals of Ukraine. However, in the defense budget for 2018, only half of this amount of money ($ 350 million) was found for Ukrainians. At the end of 2017, President Administration of the United States approved the first commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine at a total cost of $ 41.5 million. It was Barrett M107A1 sniper complexes. Later, US Ambassador to Ukraine Mari Jovanovich said that Ukraine would also receive defensive lethal weapons for free. Congress authorized the government to provide Ukraine with air defense and coastal defense radars, naval mine and countermine capabilities, littoral-zone and coastal defense vessels as part of the 2018 defense policy bill since Ukraine lost two-thirds of its naval fleet, which mostly was based in Sevastopol when Russia annexed Crimea.

As Dimitri K. Simes pointed at ‘Poised for Success’: “While Obama’s sanctions succeeded in causing indignation among the Russian elites, Trump’s more far-reaching sanctions— zeroing in on key public companies and top Putin-friendly tycoons— are beginning to disturb Moscow and to curtail its earlier snide dismissal of U.S. and Western pressure. At a minimum, Trump’s willingness to impose new sanctions discourages Russia from risking escalation with the United States in Syria or Ukraine”.

State Department declared that US would stop anti-Russian sanctions only if Russia implemented three next demands: complete the withdrawal of the Russian militants from the Donbass, the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the return of the occupied Crimea to Ukraine.

As ‘European Truth’ reports Ukrainian publican position toward events in Syria played important role in the development Ukrainian-American relations during Tramps administration. Ukraine power supported missile strike of US as an answer to chemical attack in Syria immediately. The first telephone conversation between vice-president Mike Pence and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko started after American gratitude for Ukrainian position.

Both Congressional Houses keep the reputation of the most committed institute in case of proper punishment for Russian aggression. The House of Representatives re-proposed the bill ‘Stand for Ukraine Act’ (Act to Support Stability and Democracy in Ukraine).

Although Donald Tramp has a lot of tasks inside country, he started quite active foreign policy and even more militant one, to compare with Barack Obama. Even name of Tramps foreign policy (‘American fist’) can prove it. In essay I paid attention to American-Russian relations since US President’s attitude to Russia was unclear until recently. It is important to mention that Ukraine crisis 2014 play a huge role in it. Not only eternal confrontation between these countries (since time of Cold War) depends on Ukraine but economic situation in US as well (because connect with European trade). Moreover, Tramp’s protection for Ukraine can help him to ruin his image of pro-Russian politician and increase the chances for next president elections 2020 since American society concerning about his attitude to Vladimir Putin.

Nevertheless, US policy toward Ukraine can be changed because of president elections in Ukraine that will be on 21.04.2019 since course of second candidate Vladimir Zelenskiy is still unknown.


  1. “Poised for Success?” by Simes, Dimitri K. National Interest. Jul/Aug2018, Issue 156, p5-12. 8p.
  2. “Welcome to Cold War II” by Lind, Michael. National Interest. May/Jun2018, Issue 155, p9-21. 13p.
  3. “Vali Nasr interview: Vali Nasr, American Foreign Policy Advisor and Commentator, and Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Discusses US Foreign Policy” by Jones Tony. Lateline - Australian Broadcasting Corporation; Sydney Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (May 29, 2014).
  7. “The Rise of Russia's Military” by Dave Majumdar, The National Interest, June 20, 2018.
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