Alyona Getmanchuk’s comment for PoliticoDonald Trump’s victory leaves Ukraine alone and afraid.
The fear is that the new U.S. president-elect will choose warm ties with Moscow over the exasperation of supporting Ukraine, a country he described during the campaign as a “mess.”
“Biggest loser in the world tonight — Ukraine,” tweeted Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia. “Your only hope is to get really serious about reform and keep Euros supportive.”
But the EU’s consumed by its own internal problems like Brexit and the rise of its own Trump-like populists, stirring anxiety in Kiev that the bloc is no place to lend a hand.
Ukraine needed to be prepared to go it alone, said Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Institute of World Policy in Kiev. “Donald Trump’s election is a strong signal that Ukraine should be ready to carry out reforms and resist Russian aggression without U.S. and Western support,” Getmanchuk said. “We’re not in the condition to do this yet, but we need to be ready.”
Trump has a tangled history with Ukraine. His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russian president — a link that become so controversial that Manafort was removed from the campaign. Another advisor, Carter Page, has ties to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Trump was also much less stalwart in Ukraine’s defense than the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama. During a campaign television interview, he equivocated on whether Russia was right to annex Crimea in 2014. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” he said.
During the Republican National Convention, Trump activists were instrumental in changing the party’s platform on Crimea to a position more favorable to Moscow.
Hoping for the best
Faced with the reality of a Trump presidency, Ukrainians clung to the hope that his campaign statements won’t become policy in power.
Kyiv worries Trump’s apparent warmth toward Russian President Vladimir Putin will be misinterpreted by Moscow. A low-level war against Russian-supported rebels in Ukraine’s east continues to chew up lives and bodies, but the Kremlin has avoided an all-out offensive. That could change if Moscow senses that the threat of tougher U.S. sanctions is receding.
“At the very least, Vladimir Putin will test the situation, the same as he tested President Obama,” said Getmanchuk. “And when he thinks he received carte blanche, he will act even further.”