The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by John Dale Grover is a Young Voices Advocate and M.S. in Conflict Analysis Resolution candidate at George Mason University.

The election of Donald Trump does not bode well for embattled Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Speaking to reporters, Poroshenko downplayed concerns that Trump is too cosy with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, saying that Kiev had “no doubt” that Trump would continue to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression. Yet most indicators seem to point to the possibility of leaving Poroshenko completely out in the cold, with a new detente between Washington and Moscow that recognizes Putin’s interests in Ukraine.

During his candidacy, Trump consistently condemned Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, including her hostility to Russia. Trump has also repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader and said, “… [I]f we could have a good relationship with Russia and if Russia would help us get rid of ISIS, frankly as far as I’m concerned… that would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.” Thus unless Trump appoints a hawkish member of the establishment, such as George W. Bush’s former UN Ambassador John Bolton, he seems poised to reach an agreement with Russia in which both sides agree to respect their traditional spheres of influence.

Already, Trump and Putin have had an official phone call to discuss improving relations. Toward this end Russian state TV has become less anti-American, and online propaganda sites like Sputnik News have written that Trump and Putin will come to a “gentlemen’s agreement regarding Eurasian politics.” This is bad for Poroshenko who cannot stand up to Russia on his own and who has no other allies since the European Union has repeatedly tried and failed to build its own unified military and foreign policy.

Although Trump is unpredictable, and it is difficult to know what policy he would pursue, there are several actions he is likely to take — and that Putin would reciprocate. These would include friendly overtures, removing sanctions, increased cooperation over fighting ISIS, and finally an understanding to ignore existing issues over Ukraine, Georgia, or the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump could also take such measures as keeping European troop levels where they are or reducing them. Additionally it is possible, and likely, that Trump would prevent Ukraine or Georgia from moving forward with their applications for North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership, even though the US and NATO promised them membership in 2008.

Further, if Trump wanted, there exist more radical options, including formally recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and deciding to abandon allies like the Baltic states to Putin’s designs. Trump has already said, “I’m going to take a look at [recognizing Crimea]. But you know the people of Crimea, from what I heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” Such actions would undoubtedly create massive instability while emboldening Moscow to further reconstruct its old empire.

Finally, Trump has also said that he would only defend those countries that “fulfilled their obligations to us” by spending more on their defence, a major departure from 50 years of traditional policy. This would play right into Putin’s hands because Russia does not want military forces or alliances commanded by rival great powers close to its borders. Thus ultimately, a Trump administration is likely to prove disastrous for Poroshenko and Ukraine. If Trump is bent on achieving a new detente based on accepting regional spheres of great power influence, Ukraine will become collateral damage and left to fend for itself. Long time Russia watchers recognize that the dangerous tendon must be turned down, but many of them fail to recognize that abandoning Ukraine, and at least a de facto acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, is the price.

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