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Ukraine’s post-election message to White House: Leave us out of U.S. political feuds

President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in October last year on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
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KYIV — Ukraine just wants a bit of distance — a reset with the United States, if you will.

The post-election message from Ukraine's leaders to their allies in Washington is a simple one: Leave us out of your partisan battles, please.

During the Trump years, Ukraine often found itself at the center of U.S. political trench warfare, from the House impeachment (and later Senate acquittal) of President Trump to the dirt-digging missions by Trump's personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani that produced a slew of unsupported allegations against Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

In a congratulatory tweet to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a point of looking ahead. “Ukraine is optimistic about the future of the strategic partnership” with the United States, he tweeted. He then gave his wish list for future collaboration: “security, trade, investment, democracy, and fight against corruption.”

“Ukraine should not be a part of U.S. domestic battles. That’s our main hope and objective,” said Ihor Novikov, a former adviser to Zelensky, whose July 2019 phone call with Trump helped launch the impeachment inquiry over Trump’s “do us a favor” request for Ukraine to, among other things, reopen corruption probes of a company for which Hunter Biden sat on the board.

“Everyone here in Kyiv is glad that this election cycle is coming to a close,” Novikov added.

As the U.S. vote count unfolded, Kyiv officials kept with their practice of eschewing any action that may be interpreted as taking a side.

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Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Volodymyr Yelchenko, spoke to a Ukrainian news outlet in which he praised the Trump administration for providing Ukraine with “real military, lethal, strategic aid” in the battle against pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. Yelchenko also underscored that support for his country has been a bipartisan issue.

Still, during the past four years, it has often been a struggle for Ukraine to steer clear of the political skirmishes between Democrats and Republicans.

The Trump-Zelensky call became the center of a whistleblower report that was pored over during Trump’s impeachment.

At the same time, Republicans pushed unsupported accusations that Joe Biden, while he was vice president, engineered the firing of a Ukrainian chief prosecutor to squelch an investigation into a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, for which Hunter Biden sat on the board.

Giuliani and his associates traveled to Ukraine in an attempt to dig up dirt on the Bidens — during which they received information from a Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, whom U.S. officials have identified as a Russian agent.

Now, says Kyiv political analyst Yevhen Hlibovytsky, Ukrainians hope they can put this behind them and focus on “international” issues.

“Biden’s win brings back some certainty to the U.S. vision of NATO and other international organizations,” Hlibovytsky said. This will make Ukraine’s ability to set its security priorities “more manageable,” he added.

But Ukraine’s primary goals remain the same: support in the war in eastern Ukraine, financial assistance to its struggling economy, and help in its attempts to tackle corruption and introduce needed reforms.

The Biden presidency could be a major boost. During the Obama administration, he was point man for Ukraine, helping guide its government following a street uprising that deposed its previous president. Many on his team have experience in the former Soviet Union.

“A Biden win should be good for Ukraine, as he showed a real interest in the reform story in the country,” said Timothy Ash, an emerging markets analyst for BlueBay Asset Management. “[Ukraine] now desperately needs a champion to try to push the various parties forward on the anti-corruption agenda.”

Key will be the new administration’s attitude toward Moscow. Biden said during the campaign that Russia is America’s main security threat.

“[He] understands the geopolitical importance of Ukraine in pushing back Russian malign activity,” Ash said.

At the very least, Ukrainians hope for an end to the mixed signals coming from the United States concerning Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

A Biden administration “that doesn’t have a secret crush on that man in the Kremlin certainly helps,” Hlibovytsky said.

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