Timing is everything. And so it is that, just one day before the Biden administration’s self-imposed deadline of August 31 for full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving its fate to the terrorist reign of the Taliban, the president of Ukraine is slated to meet with President Biden at the White House.
If the mini-summit proceeds, the Afghanistan debacle can divert attention from the two men’s awkward intersection.
President Volodymyr Zelensky was on the other end of the fateful phone call in 2019 when President Trump asked him to look into allegations involving Biden’s wayward son, Hunter.
Hunter Biden and an associate had received $4 million in fees from a Ukrainian energy company under investigation in three countries. Trump’s telephone request led to his impeachment (the first one, anyway).
Now some on the right are calling for President Biden’s impeachment over the botched and humiliating exit from Afghanistan, 20 years after we ousted the Taliban for harboring the al Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
We’re gone, they’re back, and even some voices in the liberal media are angrily asking what the hell went wrong.
President Biden may be in deep trouble, only seven months into his presidency. He needs a win, and his new pal in Ukraine can help him.
The two leaders, at their meeting set for next Monday the 30th, should agree to start erecting a stronger strategic alliance between their two countries, aimed at reforming and boosting Ukraine’s lagging economy and bolstering its defenses as a counterweight to their mutual rival—Russian Federation.
A little bit of help could go a long way.
Ukraine shares a 1,200-mile-long border with Russia to its east, and it comprises the largest land mass with the richest natural resources in eastern Europe.
It also boasts a young population eager for work, and a budding high-tech scene in a couple of cities. Ukrainian programmers enjoy a good reputation worldwide, and savvy employers derive an added benefit from the salary arbitrage when they hire Ukrainian technologists.
The biggest obstacles in Ukraine: the oligarchs who control most major sectors of the economy and strangle it with corruption, bribes, and inefficiencies.
Ukraine also suffers from exorbitantly high taxes and consequent widespread tax evasion; and a lack of foreign direct investment, as I reported here.
As a Ukrainian-born American citizen whose family fled the old Soviet Union when I was a young boy, I have argued previously in favor of building up Ukraine as a stronger rival to Russia. See “The Reign in Ukraine” at Newsweek.com, among other platforms.
Now the case for U.S. assistance is even more compelling.
In the wake of the Afghanistan collapse, Russia and China are open to relations with the Taliban, and Russia is all too friendly with Iran, a dangerous agent for terrorism and now a friend, too, to the Taliban.
In fact, last week (ending August 27) Iran restarted fuel exports to Afghanistan, receiving desperately needed cash from the Taliban’s “lucrative narcotics operations” to help Iran endure U.S. sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reported.
It’s us against them, and Ukraine can be a strategically important ally for us. Here are some levers that could be used by the Biden administration:
- Send in natural gas industry representatives to consult to Ukrainian energy companies to help them build a regional rival to Russia’s gas industry, thereby weakening Russian energy clout against its former siblings.
- Seek ways to smooth the path for increasing foreign investment in Ukraine, working with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and private industry.
- Recruit Wall Street private-equity giants to advise the government in coming up with a buyout program for oligarchs. Instead of seizing billions of dollars in assets they seized, by hook or crook, in the breakup of the Soviet Union, “buy” them back for 10 or 20 cents on the dollar, leaving them rich enough but no longer in control of critical infrastructure.
- Devise an arms package aimed at boosting Ukraine’s military capacity for border defense, urban guerilla tactics and strategies, and a modern, mobile attack force.
- Demand the oligarch buyout program and a new agenda of tax cuts and regulation-slashing as conditions for getting all of the assistance suggested above.
- Institute a limited but precise amnesty program for Ukraine’s business elite to get them on the path of paying taxes, and embracing social obligations for their factories, malls, and pipelines
Was it Ben Franklin who said a friend in need is a friend, indeed? Joe Biden needs a friend, and Volodymyr Zelensky has come calling.
Yuri Vanetik is a private investor, lawyer and political strategist based in California. Read Yuri Vanetik's Reports — More Here.
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