Ukrainian suspicions that Joe Biden would be an ‘Obama-2’ have been fulfilled after the U.S. president agreed to drop sanctions and no longer oppose the completion of Nord Stream II. Sitting around vodka shot glasses in the Kremlin, the Russian president and his comrades must be chuckling at Biden’s ‘red lines’ over cyber-warfare remembering Obama’s impotent ‘red lines’ in Syria.
Obama had a poor reputation in Ukraine for two reasons.
The first was his passivity in Spring 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and launched hybrid military aggression in eastern-southern Ukraine. The second was Obama vetoed the supply of defensive military equipment to Ukraine which Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress had supported.
The culmination of this was a Ukrainian sense of betrayal as the United States and UK, which was also passive in Spring 2014, had been guarantors in the Budapest Memorandum. Signed in 1994, Ukraine had received security assurances (which Ukrainians mistakenly took to mean ‘security guarantees’) in exchange for giving up the world’s third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Many Ukrainians believe the Budapest Memorandum was a fraud and, with Russia, the third guarantor, annexing Ukrainian territory and at war with Ukraine, the country should never have given up its nuclear weapons. After Libya agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in 2003 the West engineered regime change leading to Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī’s murder in 2011. It is therefore puzzling why Western policymakers are unable to grasp why North Korea wishes to follow Ukraine and Libya’s denuclearization.
The Budapest Memorandum was a worthless piece of paper in 2014 and the ‘guarantees’ offered by Germany and the United States over Nord Stream II will become a worthless of paper in the event of an escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war. It will be impossible to find any senior Ukrainian official or politician who believes in the ‘guarantees’ Germany and the United States have supposedly threatened if Russia uses energy as a weapon against Ukraine.
Ukrainians already distrusted Obama and see Biden as continuing in his footsteps. Meanwhile, Kyiv always distrusted Germany’s willingness to be Putinversteher’s (Putin-Understanders). A decade ago, former National Security and Defense Council Chairman Volodymyr Horbulin told the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv ‘there are two Russian embassies in Kyiv; only one speaks German.’
From the vantage point of Ukraine, and eastern European and Baltic members of NATO, the Nord Stream II pipeline leads to three threats to European security.
The first is it increases Russia’s cynical view that everybody has a price, in this case, Western European political leaders. Former East German Stasi officer Matthias Warnig is the Managing Director (CEO) of the Nord Stream AG while former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder is Chairman of the Shareholders’ Committee.
Russia’s biggest export has long been corruption, not energy, and the Kremlin has been successful in the strategic use of corruption to buy influence, particularly in Western Europe. Hence why the UK capital is nicknamed ‘Londongrad’ or ‘Moscow-on-the-Thames.’
The second threat is Nord Stream II will increase money flowing to the Russian budget which will inevitably lead to a higher defense budget. This, as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s essay on the "unity" of Russians and Ukrainians points to, will increase the threat to Ukraine’s national security and that of Russia’s other neighbors.
The third is that the Russian regime under Putin only respects strength and looking at the West from the vantage point of the Kremlin they only see weakness. There are no strong leaders in Western Europe or the United States who have the political will to counter Russia’s imperil ambitions and love of hybrid warfare.
Taras Kuzio is a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of the forthcoming Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War to be published by Routledge.