US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Friday visit to Ukraine was so uncomfortable he may as well have arrived in Kiev to the tune of Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street’.
You’ve got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend/ When I was down you just stood there grinning/ You got a lotta nerve to say you’ve got a helping hand to lend/ You just want to be on the side that’s winning.
The central problem in Ukrainian/US relations is very clear: Kiev thinks it’s a US ally, but Washington views it as a client state. And like any country which is politically, economically, or militarily subordinate to another, more powerful, actor, it’s subject to the changing whims of those who call the shots.
Ukraine’s tragedy is that the previous Barack Obama administration had a purpose for it; as part of its strategy of “containing” Russia. But Donald Trump’s team doesn’t need Kiev. Russia isn’t a priority for them. Instead they perceive China as the main threat to the US, and are largely focused on a pro-Israeli Middle East policy. And Israel, of course, is friendly with Russia.
European geopolitics doesn’t really excite Team Trump. Their interest in the continent is in things like finding new markets for American liquid natural gas and other stuff that the US can make money from. Such as arms sales to NATO members.
But Ukraine has put itself in a position where it’s entirely beholden to American benevolence to keep its struggling economy afloat. Which is why it had to endure the humiliation of rolling out the red carpet to a man who belittled the country just a week ago.
You see me on the street you always act surprised/You say, ‘How are you?’ Good luck but you don’t mean it/ When you know as well as me you’d rather see me paralyzed/ Why don’t you just come out once and scream it.
“Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” Pompeo reportedly asked National Public Radio presenter Mary Louise Kelly, who implied he’d also decorated his oratory with the “f-word.”
Friday was about the Ukrainians pretending they hadn’t heard about it and the US secretary of state pretending he hadn’t said it. Instead, it was all about meaningless platitudes.
“The United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy, and prosperity is a valiant one,” Pompeo declared with all the conviction of a man with two fingers crossed behind his back.
What Kiev really wanted from Friday’s meeting was an invitation for President Volodymyr Zelensky to make an official visit to the White House. No such prize was forthcoming, and the can was kicked down the road.
“President Zelensky will be welcome to come to Washington when we have the opportunity to do good things for the American people and the Ukrainian people,” Pompeo said. “We’ll find the right time.”
He might as well have said, “President Trump is washing his hair.”
I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/ And just for that one moment I could be you/ Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/ You’d know what a drag it is to see you.
The other elephant in the room, impeachment, was brushed aside. Despite Ukraine’s central role in the saga, Zelensky merely said it hadn’t strained Kiev-Washington relations.
He then subjected himself to the indignity of personally thanking Trump for his “unwavering support,” citing US aid of almost $700 million dollars in 2020. Peanuts to Washington, but a lifeline for Kiev, which ran a budget deficit of around $3.4 billion last year and has run up a national debt of $82 billion, but only has $25 billion in foreign reserves.
Pompeo reminded his hosts that the US had also provided more than $1 billion in military assistance since Trump took office in 2017, and promised this support would continue.
And this is what it’s really all about. The US establishment, especially the Democrats who control the House of Representatives, wants to keep Ukraine on life support, as it may be useful against Russia, in the future.
For the Ukrainians themselves, they have no choice but to hold their tongues and play nice with Uncle Sam, lest they end up on desolation row.
By Bryan MacDonald