US Presidential Election and Its Implications for Ukraine: Yalta European Strategy (YES) Held Online Conversation with John Bolton, Richard Haass and Gillian Tett

30 October 2020

Yalta European Strategy in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation held an online conversation on the US Presidential election and its implications for Ukraine. John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor (2018-2019), and Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations were interviewed by Gillian Tett, Chair of Editorial Board and Editor-at-Large, US, Financial Times. This was the third YES online conversation on global challenges and what they mean for Ukraine. Victor Pinchuk, founder of YES, Victor Pinchuk Foundation, EastOne group, opened the discussion.

In his introductory remarks, Victor Pinchuk said: “I think, everyone in Ukraine watches with extreme attention and interest what happens now in the United States. The United States has given great support for our country, and that support is vital for us. What should we expect if Donald Trump is re-elected, or if his challenger, Joe Biden wins?”

On the development of US-Ukraine relations after the election, John Bolton said: “It will be a major task for Ukrainian policy makers in a second Trump term or in a Biden administration just to go back to have a normal relationship with the United States, with the many issues Ukraine has to work with, just to do it in normal fashion.”

Richard Haass said: “The goal for Ukraine will be that it has a good relationship with the United States, regardless of whether you have Democrats or Republicans in control of the White House or Congress. This is a relationship that we want to prepare for a long run. This is an important relationship for both sides. So, I want to take the politics out of it. I want to make it a good old fashioned foreign policy relationship where we have overlapping interests. Each side has its own concerns. The United States will continue to press Ukraine about issues like corruption, and rule of law, and so forth. But it would be a good old fashioned foreign policy based relationship.”

Mr Haass commented about the importance of the forthcoming election in the US: “This is the most consequential election for the United States both domestically and internationally, and as a result, this is the most consequential election for the rest of the world. Most of the world does not get to vote in the American election, but all of the world is affected by its results.”

Mr Bolton put Ukraine in the context of the post-Soviet space: “A couple of years ago, we would have said, looking at Russia and the former Soviet Union that, although there were many problems, Ukraine was singularly difficult because of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, because of their involvement militarily in the Donbas. Yet, as we sit her today, you’ve got increased instability in Central Asia, governments being overthrown, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh is at its highest level since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the problem with Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia has not gotten any easier, Moldova is still there, you’ve got turmoil in Belarus and increased Russian involvement there, there is trying to poison people with Novichok, and yet you do have uncertainty and turmoil and dissent within Russia itself. So the former Soviet Union as a whole is in much more turmoil, and that gives the West some opportunities to play here, and this is an argument for a much more involved American role.”

On US support for Ukraine, John Bolton said: “I think that when president Zelenskyy was elected, it was clear to us sitting as observers in Washington that the citizens had put a very high priority on eliminating corruption, and that the issues of domestic reform and revitalizing the economy were very high priority. In a way, we would like to see Ukraine become a more normal foreign policy issue. I think, the role for the United States would be to push back on the Russians, to provide space for Ukraine to work out its own domestic problems. I am really worried that Ukraine itself does not have the ability to move as fast as maybe it needs to. Despite internal reforms that have been made, much more needs to be done.” 

Richard Haass continued about the reform in Ukraine: “The internal reforms in Ukraine have two advantages. One is they are good for Ukraine, and two, I would love for the fact when senior American and senior Ukrainian officials get together, that part of the agenda is much reduced, and then we can focus on things like Russia, and what to do about that. For many reasons, it is in Ukraine’s interest, and it is up to president Zelenskyy and those around him. In that sense, that will be more important than anything that the United States does.”

The YES Annual Meeting 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. YES and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation remain committed to integrating Ukraine with the world and put the country on the international agenda. Since 2004, Yalta European Strategy has been the main non-governmental platform for connecting the world and Ukraine. The YES Annual Meetings have brought together world political, business and thought leaders to discuss Ukraine’s future and pressing global challenges.

The video of the event is available at the link.

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Kersti Kaljulaid
Kersti Kaljulaid
President of the Republic of Estonia, 16th YES Annual Meeting, 2019
«The liberal democratic world is a turbulent place right now.»