Ukraine is unlikely to be one of President-elect Donald Trump’s main foreign-policy priorities, when set against other issues such as China and the fight against international terrorism. Trump also sees the Ukrainian situation as a primarily European problem to be dealt with by European leaders. And, as a man who is known for harboring a grudge, Trump is unlikely to give much attention to the political establishment of a country which gave its open support to Hillary Clinton.
We can safely predict several initiatives that a Trump administration will not take. The White House will not substantially increase economic aid to Kiev—just as it will not give more funding to U.S. aid programs overall. A Trump administration will see it has nothing to gain by lobbying for Ukraine’s speedy accession into NATO.
Moreover, when it comes to the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine, Washington will not want to join the peace process, let alone ask to join the Normandy Format. And, as far as we can tell, we will not hear any rhetoric about a clash between “good and evil” from the new president of the United States, as we have from other American politicians.
All this however does not mean that Trump is getting ready to “surrender” Ukraine to President Vladimir Putin. That would be a bad business deal. We won’t see the new U.S. administration seek to have sanctions on Russia lifted in early 2017 or reverse its position on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The most the Kremlin can expect in the near future is a decision not to send lethal weapons to Kiev, or another symbolic gesture of that sort.
If the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine continues at its current low level, that most probably suits the Trump administration well. That will force America’s European allies to mobilize themselves more both militarily and politically. It will also be a very useful trump card for Washington in negotiations with Moscow on other issues that the new administration regards as more important. This trump card will be played only when the main points in the new agenda in U.S.-Russian relations have all been determined.