Could President Trump be poised to dramatically draw back the heavy US military and foreign aid investment in Ukraine that his administration inherited from the Obama White House? Since the US-backed coup against Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovich on the back of the Euromaidan protests in 2014, Washington has given Ukraine over $1 billion in security assistance to bolster its national armed forces as they clash with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
And now CNN reports a possible drastic reversal: President Trump has “seriously considered for the past several weeks cutting $250 million the United States is providing in military assistance to Ukraine.” The original Politico report which broke the news said the White House has already notified Congress and multiple US agencies of its intent to cut the aid.
Trump is said to be concerned whether the funds are being used “in the best interest” of the United States, and ordered his national security team to review the program, known as the the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Congressional leaders as well as mainstream media pundits are already signaling that a bipartisan uproar is sure to follow any cut in funding, given it will be seen as a major concession to Putin, who the US president is seen as “soft” on especially after Trump this week argued at the G7 summit in France that Russia ought to be invited back to the (formerly G8) group as Moscow remains directly involved in many world crises under discussion as a major player.
Ukraine has of course been at the heart of rapidly deteriorating US-Russia relations, something which Trump has recently said he wanted to improve. This after the administration initially unveiled the proposed additional $250 million in defense-related funds in June, and following a 2017 decision to provide lethal weapons shipments to Ukraine, which was reported to have included Javelin portable anti-tank missile systems.
This also comes after the White House dropped a plan last week to drastically roll back foreign aid across the globe, which would involve cutting over $4 billion across 10 areas of foreign assistance.
It’s part of Trump’s broader theme of ensuring other countries are not their dumping global security burdens on the United States, per Politico:
The senior administration official, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss internal matters, said the president wants to ensure U.S. interests are being prioritized when it comes to foreign assistance, and is seeking assurances that other countries are “paying their fair share.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser John Bolton are among the officials reviewing the Ukraine security funding.
Also interesting is that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has long pushed for Kiev to investigate Vice President Joe Biden’s attempt in 2016 to get the country’s top prosecutor removed at a crucial moment during an ongoing investigation into Burisma Holdings — the Ukrainian natural gas company advised at the time by Biden’s son Hunter.
As the The New York Times reported previously, during the final year of the Obama presidency, Vice President Joe Biden “threatened to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor” — Viktor Shokin — “who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite.”
Crucially last week Giuliani was reported to have again raised the issue with Ukrainian officials, according to CNN. As CNN cynically put it in its latest report, this suggests “the former New York mayor is making a renewed push for the country to investigate Trump’s political enemies.”
But then again maybe it’s as simple as the US not actually having a deep national security interest in propping up Ukraine’s military at a moment when international missile treaties with Russian are unraveling and the war in Donbass is at a bloody stalemate.
The looming potential for a controversial cut in aid to Ukraine will make Trump’s upcoming meeting with still relatively new “political outsider” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy set for next week all the more interesting. A final decision on the military aid is expect after this crucial meeting.