Thursday

20th Jan 2022

Opinion

What should Zelensky and Biden discuss in their summit?

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is going to Washington on 30 August, in the first Ukrainian White House visit in four years (Photo: European Union)

On 7 June, the White House announced that president Joe Biden had invited Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington. This will be the first time a Ukrainian president has visited the White House in over four years.

The invitation came after a tense period in Russo-Ukrainian relations.

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Earlier this year, Russia amassed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine's eastern border. Russia also restricted airspace near Crimea and the Donbas regions, and it blocked parts of the Black Sea.

Russia's actions put the West on high alert, but after a tense few weeks, the Russian Federation announced that it would pull back its troops from the Russo-Ukrainian border.

While these events did not lead to a new offensive, they did remind the West that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine persists to this day.

Now, as Zelensky prepares for his 30 August meeting with Biden, the Ukrainian president will have to be direct during his visit. Zelensky knows that few elected officials are invited to the White House, therefore, he will need to make the most of his visit.

What should Zelensky discuss with Biden during the White House summit?

First, the two presidents should focus on the ongoing Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. The seven-year conflict has resulted in the deaths of over 14,000 and the displacement of nearly 2 million.

Luckily for Ukraine, Biden is very familiar with the conflict as he previously served as the point person on Ukraine during the Obama administration.

In addition, secretary of state Antony Blinken and under secretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland previously worked on Ukraine-related issues during the administration of former president Barack Obama.

Given that the current Normandy Summit and Trilateral Contract Group have stalled, Zelensky should request that the US and its experienced officials assist with the Donbas peace negotiations.

While Russia would attempt to block any US involvement, Zelensky should continue to push for America's participation in these conversations.

Second, Zelensky should request clarity on Ukraine's relationship with Nato.

During an exclusive interview with Axios in January, Zelensky asked why Ukraine was not in Nato. Since the start of the Donbas conflict, Ukraine has undergone a series of defence reforms to become interoperable with Nato.

The eastern European state became the first Nato partner nation to participate in Nato's Response Force. It is also one of six non-Nato members to hold "Nato Enhanced Opportunities Partner" status.

While challenges remain, such as Ukraine's corruption issues, its continued conflict with Russia, and its need to meet additional Nato standards, Ukraine's persistence shows that it is committed to joining the alliance.

Zelensky and Biden could use this as an opportunity to discuss what other measures need to be taken before Ukraine is presented with a membership action plan.

Third, the Ukrainian president should discuss his anti-corruption initiative with his American counterpart.

In June, Zelensky introduced a law that would diminish the influence and power of Ukraine's oligarchs. He also urged the Verkhovna Rada to adopt an anti-corruption strategy that would allegedly save Ukraine millions of dollars a year.

While the effectiveness of these strategies remains to be seen, the Ukrainian president needs to demonstrate that he is serious about eradicating corruption in his country.

To date, Zelensky's team has continued to backslide on their anti-corruption efforts. This is hindering the country's ability to integrate with the West.

Biden also emphasised this point at the recent Nato summit, where he stated that Ukraine needed to "clean up [its] corruption" before future integration efforts were discussed. Reforming Ukraine's judicial system would be an important place to start.

Fourth, Zelensky should invite Biden to Ukraine. To date, an American president has not visited Ukraine in 13 years.

Unique opportunity

A Biden visit to this eastern European state would underscore America's commitment to promoting a free and prosperous Ukraine.

It would demonstrate to Russia that the United States values its relationship with Ukraine, and that the Russians should think twice before meddling in Ukrainian affairs. (During the Obama administration, Biden visited Ukraine on six occasions as the American vice president.)

Finally, as a bonus, president Biden could use his meeting with president Zelensky as an opportunity to announce his nomination for the US ambassadorial position in Ukraine. The United States has not had an official ambassador to Ukraine since 2019.

Announcing a new appointment would suggest that the US is serious about its relationship with Ukraine. By filling this position with a prominent individual, it would also suggest that the US is committed to aiding this eastern European state during its time of need.

Overall, Zelensky has been presented with a unique opportunity to showcase why America should care about Ukraine. He will need to demonstrate that Ukraine is serious about eradicating corruption, and that his country is making a valid attempt toward Western integration.

This will be a challenging task, but Zelensky must be prepared for his meeting with Biden. The Ukrainian president may not get a second chance.

Author bio

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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