Espreso. Global

Zelenskyy, Biden agree new format for war in 2024 - Ukrainian diplomat Chaly

17 December, 2023 Sunday

Valery Chaly, Ukrainian diplomat, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States, told Anton Borkovskyi, host of the Studio West program, that the last month has not been about money, but about the United States' current position and whether it will remain the same or change dramatically

We would like to summarize the results of the visit of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the United States, and this is not a story about the formal visit of our President, because we are talking about very specific decisions that were made or postponed by the US administration.

First of all, the Ukrainian side's request for dates was initially not accepted by the partners, because Joseph Biden did not have time to meet on those dates. Well, these things happen. However the intention was to synchronize this visit with the US-Ukraine Forum on Defence Cooperation, which was logical because the US military-industrial lobby could influence the situation. I would like to point out that 90% of all military budget funds allocated to Ukraine remain in the United States. That is, they work for the US economy, create jobs and are used for technological re-equipment.

For example, as part of this re-equipment, the ATACMS missiles currently in service in the United States are being replaced with new precision missiles of greater range and accuracy. The Ukrainian program has also contributed to this. All these arguments didn't lead to the visit at the time - I don't want to link them to military approaches, but it was more desirable for the administration to invite the president of Ukraine to lobby and push for the $61.4 billion aid package.

Well, it's good that this visit took place. I knew it, Washington also knew it, and everyone was saying it openly: Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit would not affect anything in this regard from the point of view of the Congress. Because everything is clear to everyone in Congress: there is good news and bad news. The bad news is known to everyone - there will be elections in America, and it's not just the presidential elections, but also the congressional elections, I mean the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate. And if you look at the rhetoric of traditional Republicans, they have switched to the rhetoric of a marginalized group that was marginalized and is now becoming mainstream. This is a small group of Trumpists, as they used to say, and now it is becoming the main narrative of the Republicans before the election, unfortunately. Because in this narrative, in addition to the delay in helping Ukraine, let's be honest, there is a moment of not helping Ukraine, and unfortunately, the situation developed in this way.

Therefore, the main task of the President of Ukraine was to influence the White House, President Biden. To thank him for assistance and finalize plans for the next year.

And this plan should consist of three things. First. I'm sure it was discussed, although I don't have any insider information from these meetings between the presidents, from what was publicly announced at the press conference and from my own experience, I would say that they discussed the vision of whether there will be a success next year in terms of military, in terms of war. This is the first thing, and Joseph Biden's decision depended on it.

Second. What needs to be done with the arms supply in order to achieve this success? It is clear that to achieve this success, a completely different approach is required. We need at least 300 ATACMS missiles, as well as several dozen F-16 aircraft at once, and we need the US to allow or not to deny strikes on the airfields from which we are being attacked, but this is also Russian territory. Otherwise, nothing will work. That is, we need to change the common philosophy of strategy and tactics for countering Russian aggression, or, let's say, de-occupation of Ukrainian territories.

The third is the institutional capacity of Ukraine, i.e. how much the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian society will be able to withstand the issues of mobilization and the ability of the social sphere to work in the appropriate mode.

So here's the result: at the press conference, President Biden said a phrase that I remember being said for the first time - that we will work for Ukraine's victory, not as long as it takes. It was a good phrase. There were other phrases.

On NATO, there was a reaction from President Zelenskyy, who redirected the question to the US president, and from Biden's response, we understood that the issue of Ukraine's political accession or invitation to the Washington summit next year is not currently being considered by the White House administration.

For the last month, the last month has not been about money, but about the United States' current position and whether it will remain the same or change dramatically. So, what happened at the press conference - I really didn't like Biden's mood. I can judge this from my previous personal meetings with him. His mood was not optimistic. Why did this happen? I cannot say. 

My conclusion is that there are two scenarios. The first one, which is not very optimistic for us, is that now, having accused the Republicans of not helping Ukraine, the Democrats and Biden will shift the responsibility to them, that Ukraine did not receive everything it needed. And in this way, they will show that they are unfortunately unable to achieve what could be a victory under such conditions. This is the first option, which, unfortunately, I do not rule out. This means that for a few months, perhaps until next summer, Ukraine will have the means to conduct further intensive hostilities. And then there will be no means of such intensity of war, and this is in a situation where Putin and Russia, on the contrary, want to increase the intensity.

And the second scenario, and I would hope for it, is that the White House has an understanding of how they can push through a funding package for Ukraine and, thus, after hearing convincing arguments from the president of Ukraine, go for a strategy correction. That is, as I said, to force Putin into negotiations next year, perhaps not by the summer, perhaps later, but to force him into negotiations. 

Some factors that will emerge in the coming days will show where this pendulum will swing. Unfortunately, I see that no decision has been made, but this is both good (because it can be as positive as possible), and bad because in these conditions there is no final vision yet.

We have received an extremely powerful geopolitical signal from the European Union, it is about the start of negotiations, but we have received a disadvantage because we cannot do this without clear financial assistance from the EU. I wanted to ask you if this was Orban's initiative, or if he was doing exactly what he was allowed to do? Is Orban now playing the role of a part of the Trumpist Republicans, who in a certain way, so to speak, are doing what they are allowed to do?

Firstly, this is a very good and timely political decision. First of all, I congratulate the Europeans for finding the strength to look strategically. Europe does not often look strategically. Now they have played the right game and made a political decision to start negotiations with Ukraine. This is, firstly, a signal to the Kremlin and Putin. You remember that he blackmailed both Ukraine and the EU until 2014 with European integration. And this was the reason for Euromaidan, the cessation of European integration. So this is a good political signal.

The second is a clear reform plan for Ukraine.

Now we can forget about any strategies, innovations for seven years, economic development for 10 years - everything will now be developed in the negotiation process with the EU.

This is regardless of the Ukrainian government. This will be a process where the Ukrainian people will not allow us to turn back. And each subsequent Ukrainian president will adjust the reform program to meet these requirements. So this is a good thing.

The third very important thing is that they have found a way to bypass the blocking by a particular country, specifically Orban. Now you ask how coordinated this was. I think that Moscow had the desire to do so, and I think that Orban, having received what he demanded, squeezed out 10 billion euros from the European Union, and I can tell you that this is the first such tranche of 10 billion, which is still blocked, and there is a program worth 30 billion. Hungary receives 4.5 billion more from Brussels every year.

And Orban dumped Putin. In fact, in this situation, he has dumped Putin, which is a victory, and we should thank German Chancellor Scholz and President Macron, first of all, these two leaders.

And this is a good sign, it means that Germany and France see Ukraine's development, with Ukraine being part of the European community. That's why I'm most likely responding negatively to this story, because Orban has ruined it. The fact that they wanted to play this way and block us completely in the United States, block us in Europe, but this game is not over yet, because Orban's political adviser just said that they will continue to block us financially. So this is a political game.

But there is a solution here, because, after the EU's political decision, a financial solution can be found at the bilateral level. It's a bit more complicated and time-consuming. And this will affect the capacity of our defense, because today the defense seems to be at the front, but next year there will be a slightly different war. It will not only be a physical front on land, or in the Black Sea, or in the air, but it will also be the institutional capacity of the country and society, which will be used to measure the opposition, the confrontation between the two systems. This will be a serious challenge.

Money matters, so a lot of effort will be made to block financial assistance in the US, Europe, and wherever else possible. Putin was counting on this, and he's saying it right now. He is counting on the fact that both financial and arms aid will decrease, which will lead to Ukraine losing the opportunity to restore the asymmetry with Russia to the maximum extent possible.

In fact, Putin has thrown in all the resources. I believe that Russia's situation is not much better than ours in this regard.

They have thrown all their resources and capabilities at 2024, although they have calculated it to be around November, before the US elections. We, Europe, and the United States still need to take on this challenge. And Europe has to show, and is showing, the example of the United States that we must continue.

Let's now try to analyze how we can help our Democratic friends to influence the Trumpists so that the money does go and the right decision is made in our favor. And the key story here is how do the Americans see their formula for success in supporting Ukraine.

We will hardly be interesting here if we say that the situation is getting worse. We have already seen difficult situations when Russia was actively advancing, and then there were successful actions not only on the front.

I think that the Republicans are now pushing the White House and Joseph Biden where he did not want to go.

That is, to make the issue of Ukraine or the issue of countering Russia an issue of their election campaign. They are actually doing this, they had a choice. They could have criticized the Democratic opponents and Biden for not helping Ukraine enough, but they chose not to.

Frankly speaking, I see Michael Johnson leading the way to not assisting Ukraine. And the fact that they all started talking about migration policy suddenly being linked to Ukraine's assistance is a bad sign, a very bad sign. Because you can explain 50 times that this is the way things are done in America, that this is the approach in Congress, it's true, they are trading issues. By the way, this is a very wrong approach and very strange for European politicians. In America, they consider it normal to trade issues in Congress, including US national security. This will lead America in a very bad direction, in my opinion. We have seen this approach, especially in the last 10 years or so. Therefore, I think that not everything is certain.

If Joseph Biden takes up this challenge and incorporates Ukrainian success into his election campaign, which primarily revolves around domestic matters, it would be a positive sign for us.

And this pressure from the Republicans and their complete opposition to helping Ukraine was, until recently, a dilemma between traditional Republicans over this fringe group.

Look at what Lindsey Graham (US Senator from the Republican Party - ed.) said when he came to Ukraine and met with Zelenskyy: "I don't want to sit in Washington for another week, I'm going to my district. It's a disaster, I just couldn't expect such words from Lindsey Graham. That is, they have adopted a common position to push Joseph Biden out, to lower his political rating on the issue of migration. This is a pure political struggle, but where are the US national security interests in this? I don't see it at all.

The only explanation I have is that they have some kind of cunning plan that the White House knows about. I don't know what it is. That they will push through the package, this $61.4 billion for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the border, that this package may be somewhat reduced, perhaps by some amount, but it will be the main one for the whole year - that's the only way I can explain it. By the way, the Senate is now trying to fix the situation somehow and, according to the information available now, will continue its work for a week to make a decision, pushing the House of Representatives and Michael Johnson to change their approach. But Johnson will not change his approach because Donald Trump is behind him.

And we don't know who is behind Trump, but we can say that he is backed by a part of Americans who advocate isolationism up to and including withdrawal from NATO, for example.

So, why this is not a very pleasant signal for me, I found in the new US military budget a new paragraph 12.50A about not allowing the president to decide to withdraw from NATO alone. It's written right there. This is a clear signal for the possible arrival of Donald Trump in the White House. But this is controversial from the point of view of the US Constitution, we can go to the Supreme Court, in my opinion, it is unlikely that this law alone can prohibit it. However, it is up to the Americans to decide. At least they have put in place a safeguard.

However, I did not find paragraph 12.24 on the extension of the 2022 Lend-Lease Law. The model of this law has not been launched. I have not found this clause in this law yet. Now this is a very dangerous thing because it could be an alternative option in case Congress does not provide funds, the White House and Joseph Biden say: okay, you do not give me funds, I am launching the lend-lease, which we adopted on 9 May last year on your initiative, Republicans, but now I have this tool on my desk if you do not want to give me money, I will use this tool.

And if there is no tool, and if the Democrats and the White House have now agreed to this, if there is no clause to extend the Lend-Lease bill, then this is a bad, very bad signal.

It means that the White House is actually abandoning this type of programme, the intensive supply of arms to Ukraine. Because there is a high probability that finances will be cut. But there are two sides to the coin.

Now the second scenario: what if Joseph Biden knows that he will push through the finances, then all my arguments are no longer valid and the $61.4 billion package will be enough for military issues. This is about enough because European countries are also giving us money, so there will be enough money for the budget. If we don't see the entire $61.4bn package by the end of January or the beginning of February, then I can tell you predictably what choice the US has made. There is a struggle going on now, in which, unfortunately, the arguments of the President of Ukraine are useful only in terms of what we will do.
In this situation, can we already be sure that the Europeans will cover all our domestic needs?

It's no secret that the Ukrainian government was counting on these funds in its planning for 2024, and they officially consider the failure to receive funds from the United States a disaster. They have even officially stated that without these funds we will lose the war. I am categorically against such pessimism, it is a completely inaccurate approach. It's a swing-and-miss approach. First we go on a counteroffensive, then we are doing well, don't worry, because we have bipartisan support in the US. I said 2.5 months ago that there may be a difficult scenario that is most likely to happen, and it is being realized. Why didn't they listen 2.5 months ago? I don't understand why they landed at the last moment when we could have done systematic work. We had three months to do it. No, let's show inside Ukraine who made what efforts and what kind of efforts. Everybody is promoting this, but soon it may happen that, God forbid, it all breaks down, and then you will be promoting yourself. This is the emotional part.

Now the positive part. I have always made several scenarios in my practice, not excluding the negative one. I think the Ministry of Finance is looking at what can be cut not in terms of salaries and pensions, because these are very catastrophic blows to motivation in Ukraine. Moreover, these funds are usually tied up, meaning that people who receive small salaries and pensions take this money to the store or donate to the army. We need to think about what to do with local programs. Personal income tax is now being taken away from local budgets. Nevertheless, when I see this discussion, let's be honest, Kyiv has a budget of UAH 77 or 74 billion, which is allocated to buy supplies for the army, and it is not the budget's task to finance the Armed Forces. But when there are statements, which have already been refuted, that local budgets should not be financing the war, but the central budget should do it, you know, people don't care which budget is financing it. This is not a matter of victory, but of defense and survival of Ukraine, so in these circumstances, there is room to tighten the belt a little.

For example, I'll talk about the diplomatic sphere, which is closer to me. The budget includes the possibility of opening an embassy in Africa. If you have already made the first steps and promised to appoint all the ambassadors by the end of the year, then either appoint the ambassadors and start this work or throw out this idea from next year. This should either attract additional money for Ukraine, or we should save money and not open this line now. You need to set priorities here. There are always funds available, the main thing is to deal with them properly.

Secondly, a business that claims that we bought 50 bulletproof vests or even more, supplied 100 drones and received an indulgence, and now we can buy Rolls-Royce or Mercedes, you have to have a conscience, because people who donate and survive on their salaries are watching. I mean, we need justice in Ukraine this year and no bad moods, because I see the biggest risks as internal, not external. From the outside, we can talk to donors. You can see they are out there, and Japan is providing us with more help, as well as Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany. And the European Union, I am sure, will now take more than the United States. They will concentrate. We can look at the pace and timeframe of the IMF program to see what it could be. We can appeal to people who have money and do not trust the state. They still have money, so if people feel that it will help them win, they can invest in government bonds.

The government needs to show that it is the first to be ready to live in this completely different world. We are talking about putting the economy on a military footing.

We need to put everything on the same military track first, in everyone's minds, so that there is no difference in thinking in Marinka under fire, or in Avdiivka, or near Bakhmut, or now in the Kherson direction. Then in Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, it's like the second line, Kryvyi Rih, Kharkiv, Kyiv. And further, in the west of Ukraine, so that there is no difference in thinking, in thinking among people. That is, people can work in the economy, in business, anywhere. These are not fronts, there is only one front, but this is the rear, on which the outcome of the war is becoming more dependent now and next year than it was before.

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