What Can Ukraine Expect from Trump: Temporary Insanity or a Permanent Shift?

Trump has a lot of out-of-box ideas about American foreign policy. Prof. Drezner looks at what could happen if they do not work well

Show hosts

Marta Dyczok


Daniel Drezner

What Can Ukraine Expect from Trump: Temporary Insanity or a Permanent Shift?

Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling. Your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine, with a focus on a main issue. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio, and here’s a look at some of the stories that caught my attention.

Trump has a lot of out-of-box ideas about American foreign policy. Prof. Drezner looks at what could happen if they do not work terrible well.

FOCUS INTERVIEW:American IR Professor Daniel Drezner Looks Ahead at What Trump’s Foreign Policy May Look Like, and What Ukraine May Do




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Dyczok: Joining us to talk about what this will mean for Ukraine is Daniel Drezner.  He is Professor of International Relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tuffs University. Professor Drezner is not only an award winning author and lecturer. He a media commentator and regular contributor to Washington Post. He has a unique perspective on Ukraine because he lived in Donetsk in early 1990s where he lectured at Donetsk State University. Last fall he spoke at the conference in Russia where Russian President Putin also spoke. Professor Drezner, thank you very much for joining us.

Drezner: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Dyczok: Every time the Americans elect their president it has consequences for the whole world.  On my way to the studio, a song came on the radio, which, I think, was a nice preview to our conversation. It was REM’s, The End of The World as We know It. There has been a lot of talk about changing an international order, Trump’s relations with Putin, cyberattacks, information war. In summer Trump was already talking about changing US policy towards Russia and Crimea. Let’s start with this: what can Ukraine expect from the Trump presidency?

Drezner: To be blunt – not much that is good. At least to start off with this. It’s been very clear that one of the consistent elements of Donald Trump’ foreign policy world view has been to argue that some certain bargain or deal should be struck with Vladimir Putin. He has been extremely reluctant to say anything critical of Vladimir Putin ever since he came into the race in the middle of 2015. Over the weekend in the interview he talked about an idea that he would be willing to lift US sanctions on Russia, which were originally imposed because of their interference in Ukraine, in return for nuclear arms reduction. The very fact that he is willing to talk about this, in this kind of way, suggests that he cares a great deal more about Russia that he does about Ukraine. That said it is entirely possible Russian and Putin will rebuff him, and if that is a case, we still do not know how Trump would react to that. That is one of “no-one-knows” for US foreign policy going forward, which is that Trump has a lot of out-of-box ideas in terms what he wants to do with the American foreign policy. But we do not know what happens if they do not work terrible well. At least in a short term Trump, I believe, re-wrote the Republican National convention’s platform with respect to Ukraine, ruling out arms transfers. He’s been much more dovish on Russia than any Republican or Democrat in the race.  From Ukraine’s perspective, nothing good will happen in the first few months.

Dyczok: There has been a lot focus on Trump, and what he’s been saying he is going to do.  The US is an established democracy, with well entrenched rules and procedures, checks and balances. How much can Trump actually change the way how foreign policy is exercised? To what degree his chosen advisors will have the power to do what he says he is planning to do?

Drezner: There are some things that Trump can do with great deal of ease. Trump will find other things more difficult to do, because of Constitution and statutory laws.  One of the hidden trends within America foreign policy, since 9/11 has been the slow shift in power from the legislative branch to executive branch. You can argue if you take a look at Barak Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, such as the Iranian nuclear deal, the opening of Cuba, the pivot to East Asia, and indeed the Paris Climate Change Accords. All of them were executive branch arrangements. There was little to no buy in from Congress on any of them. There are ways in which Donald Trump, if he wants to, has a capacity to reverse a fair amount of existing foreign policy, because a lot of existing foreign policy has been done without anyreal legislative buy in. So in that sense he can change a fair amount. Other issues like trade, for example, the presidency has been endowed with considerable amount of authority. There are other things that he will run into in terms of Congressional reaction to it. In other words, if Trump exceeds his authority and starts pursuing policies that maybe Congress does not like so much, Congress would react by trying to pass legislation designed to reign Trump in. For example, in case of Russian it would not shock me,if, after Trump tries to launch some sort of new détente with Vladimir Putin, you’d see a push in Congress that is bi-partisan towards more Magnitsky–style sanctions.


Dyczok: So that’s the political elite’s level of things. Let’s look at society. As I have already said the US is an established democracy. Ukraine is often descried as a politically divided nation. It seems now that the US now has become a politically divided nation. What happens in Ukraine when people exhaust all democratic avenues of protest, they take to the streets. We have seen two major revolutions in the past ten years where Ukrainians protested and changes the course of events at the presidential level. Since Trumps election campaign, we have seen a rise in activism in United States. Do you see any potential for American society taking an active role in possible mass protests against major changes in policies?

Drezner: You have already seen this take place. We are expecting to see this will take place. A day after Trump inauguration, major protestsare planned for most of major cities in the US. Let me stress, these are peaceful protests obviously.

Dyczok: They were peaceful in Ukraine as well.

Drezner: That’s true. The question will be to what extent these protests will continue. I do not expect… There are a couple things to think about. First, to be fair, there is actually some geographic concentration of opposition to Trump in the US much like cleavages in Ukraine, which are also geography based.  California is implacably opposed to Donald Trump. A lot of New England and East Coast as well. One of the questions is whether because of geographical concentration you do see this kind of schism you are talking about. To tell the truth though, I would expect more to see activism through Congress. You are already going to see that. For example, as Republicans wanted to reinvent their ethics   rules as a way to weaken the ethics watchdog when Congress was first brought into session in early January. There was an immediate outcry. It was truly by-partisan in a sense.  Even Trump twitted he disapproved of it.  Apparently a lot of members of Congress started hearing phone calls and so on. There is nothing Congress responses to more than constituent complaints, the phone call, an email, and showing up at Congressional meetings or Congressional Town Halls. I think that will be the first sign you are going to see of enhanced levels of social protest against Trump.  And its worth remembering that, part of what happened in terms of Republican opposition to, let’s say Obamacare, was in fact, that you had Tea Party members showing up at these Congressional Town Halls, and putting pressure on Republican Members of Congress to resist.

Dyczok: There are splits within the Republican Party over many issues and one of those issues is Ukraine. Someone like Senator McCain has been very supportive of President Poroshenko in Ukraine, very tough on Russia, and this is diametrically opposed to what Trump is saying. Do see that the divisions within the Republican Party might play a role in how policy towards Ukraine is formulated?

Drezner: Yes, absolutely. You can even see that in the state of the Confirmation Hearings. Both Rex Tillerson, who’s essentially supposed to be the Secretary of State, and James Mattis, who’s supposed to be the Secretary of Defense, and Mike Pompeo, who’s supposed to be the CIA Director, all three of them in their Confirmation Hearings were making statements about Russia, that were far, far more hawkish and dissented pretty strongly from what Donald Trump said. So the real question going forward is: where is the sort of centre of gravity for American foreign policy towards Russia? If it’s the White House, then you are likely to see Congress, the Defense Department, and maybe the State Department trying to push back on it. If on the other hand, Trump winds up giving up on this, after an initial overture’s rebuffed, then indeed you should expect US foreign policy to revert very quickly back to a more hawkish perspective.

Dyczok: Would you care to speculate where you think it’s going to be?

Drezner: Oh that falls under what I call the “yacht question”, which is to say that if I had the answer I wouldn’t be talking to you. I would be on my yacht. I will say this.There does seem to be a surprising amount of evidence, that Trump in particular has been very consistent on this. He’s been all over the map on a whole bunch of things, but I think at a minimum you are at least going to see an initial overture towards Russia as a way to substantiate all of the rhetoric during the campaign. That said, my expectation is that within six months you will see a worsening of relations between Russia and the Trump Administration to the point where it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re back where we were during the campaign. And I think, to some extent, Trump himself might have underestimated the degree to which all the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election has truly altered public opinion in the United States. You know, Democrats, for partisan reasons, are obviously shifting towards a more negative perception of Russia. But truthfully, a lot of Republicans and Independents also have negative perceptions of Russia. And I think there’s actually limits to the degree to which Trump can shift public opinion on this issue.

Dyczok: Professor Drezner, you have a lot of expertise in international affairs. If Ukraine’s President Poroshenko was to invite you to be his strategist under the new regime of Donald Trump, what advice would you give him? What would you advise Poroshenko to do with Ukraine’s policy?

Drezner: I would advise Poroshenko to do things that might not necessarily be in Ukraine’s long-term interest. In the sense of, if I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump paid attention to me, I would probably try to offer some sort of joint investment project with a member of the Trump Organization, or some sort of concrete deliverable, whereby there is Ukrainian foreign investment in the United States that generated jobs. Because this is clearly the thing that Donald Trump reacts to. He reacts to concrete tangible deals. So if there is something that Ukraine can put on offer that Trump would see as a concrete win, he might pay more attention to Ukraine.

Dyczok: And in the long run?

Drezner: Well in the long run, this is obviously problematic because it basically suggests the way to curry favour within the United States is to ignore things like the Rule of Law and essentially try to bribe, formally or informally, members of the Trump Administration. And of course this also raises the obvious question of what happens after Trump either leaves power or becomes disinterested in Eastern Europe. So I’m not sure that would necessarily be the long-term best kind of advice, but if nothing else, making the offer might be interesting, because it might actually get his attention.

Dyczok: And on the question of Crimea and sanctions? Is there anything that Ukraine can be doing?

Drezner: The only thing I can think, is somehow to change the calculus so that Trump realizes that lifting the sanctions would be problematic. But that entails much greater risks, such as cutting off access to Crimea from Ukraine in terms of energy, in terms of what have you, and/ or pursuing a brinksmanship strategy towards Ukraine. None of this is really in Ukraine’s short-time interest, because it would risk a much wider conflict. But on the other hand, if there’s one thing that Donald Trump responds to, it’s anything that generates headlines on CNN. So the more that you can get Crimea mentioned on CNN, the more that Donald Trump will pay attention to it.

Dyczok: Well perhaps President Poroshenko will be listening to our show and take some of your advice. Professor Drezner, is there anything that you’d like to add that I didn’t ask you about?Looking into the future, is this the end of the world as we know it?

Drezner: The word ‘disruption’ has been used way too much in this century, but unfortunately I think it actually applies relatively aptly to what we’re about to experience over the next year. The interesting question is going to be whether this is a temporary disruption or genuinely permanent shift from the sort of post-war US-created international order that we’ve all understood that has existed since 1945. I’m enough of an optimist to still think this is a temporary disruption, but I’m enough of an international relations scholar to fear that it actually will be permanent.

Dyczok: So, a cautious optimist! I share your cautious optimism. But I can’t believe Trump’s going to be able to get away with as much as he wants to. Call me an optimist but I believe the American political system is strong enough to resist this person.

Drezner: I would have said that too, I would have said that as well, but the fact that he got elected has sort of shaken my confidence in a lot of things. But yes, I’m hopeful that, you know, this will actually be a temporary moment of insanity and hopefully we’ll return to normal soon.

Dyczok:Professor Drezner, thank you very much for joining us and look forward to having you on the show again.

Drezner: Diakuyu!

Dyczok: Diakuyu.



Ukraine’s President Poroshenko joined other leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. He had a number of key meetings. One was with IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde. Over the next few weeks the IMF will be discussing the release of the fourth tranche of its loan to Ukraine. In Davos MsLagardereportedly said there were just a few issues to resolve. Poroshenko also met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutteto discuss continuing sanctions against Russia and visa free travel for Ukrainians.The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, also met with Ukraine’s leader and announced that the IRCR plans to mobilize over 60 million dollars for humanitarian aid in Ukraine in 2017. This will make it one of the largest Red Cross operations in the world.

Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko was also on the Davos programme this year, and he attended the annual Ukraine Lunch hosted by billionaire Victor Pinchuk.

Poroshenko on the World Economic Forum in Davos http://www.president.gov.ua/

Ukraine in International Courts

Ukraine was in two international courts this week. It filed a case against Russia at the International Court of Justice, which is the United Nations highest court. Ukraine is charging Russia with militarily intervening into its territory, financing acts of terrorism, and violating human rights of millions of Ukrainians. The court announced the case on Tuesday 17 January. Ukraine is also seeing compensation for deadly incidents, including the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014.

The other high profile case was in London’s High Court of Justice. It’s about a three billion dollar bond dispute between Ukraine and Russia dating back to 2013, when Victor Yanukovych was president. The hearings are now complete, and British Judge William Blaire said the judgement will be announced in due course.


There was an increase in the level of hostilities in Ukraine’s war zone this week, according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. American representatives to the organization reported that Russia continues to refuses to take responsibility for its role in the war, continues to lie about its role in the fighting, and restricts access for OSCE monitors.

We still don’t know exactly how many Ukrainian soldiers died defending Dontes’k airport. But we do know they were called cyborgs. It’s a term coined by the attacking Russian and separatists soldiers, who outnumbered and outgunned the Ukrainians, and couldn’t believe what resistance the Ukrainians were putting up. So they called them cyborgs, a science fiction term for not humans but machines. Ukrainians embraced the term, and it’s now a badge of honour to be called a cyborg. This week, those who died were honoured in Cyborg Day, held on 16 January.

Health Care Reforms – attack on Ukrainian Minister

Ukraine’s health care sector was all over the news this past week. This story illustrates reform efforts, and how difficult it is to eliminate corruption. Ukraine Calling listeners may remember we reported that towards the end of last year, acting Health Minister UlanaSuprun introduced a wide ranging Health Care Reform Package. Part of the package was to improve the availability and reducing the cost of medicine for Ukrainians. Under Suprun’s leadership, the Ministry of Health has started changing the system of how the country purchases drugs. The process will now be transparent, state drug procurements will be conducted on a tender basis, and international organizations will be involved. This means that Ukrainian doctors, hospitals, and clinics will no longer have the ability to arbitrarily set drug prices. As these reforms started to be introduced, Minister Suprun found herself targeted by an orchestrated media campaign. It questioned her competence. An investigation by the online media outlet Ukrainska Pravda revealed that the attack was coming from figures in Ukraine’s medical establishment, who have benefited from the old system and are unhappy about being monitored in their activities. Prime Minister Groysman came out in support of his health Minister, calling her incorruptible. We’ll post a link to the expose on our website.

Уляна Супрун Цензор.НЕТ

Public Broadcasting Company Formally Created 19 January 2017

There’s now a Public Broadcaster in Ukraine. After almost three years of efforts, on January 19th the State Television and Radio Company became the National Public TV and Radio Company of Ukraine. Although this might sound like semantics, it’s actually a very significant step, since the Ukrainian state has now formally and legally given up control over broadcasting in the country. 

Yanukovych blog deleted

And on a lighter note, Victor Yanukovych’s career as a blogger was short lived. You may remember last week we reported that a blog had appeared on Korrespondent.net, which was reportedly by Ukraine’s former president. This week the on-line publication deleted the blog, since they could not verify the authenticity of the author.

This week the Christmas and New Year holiday season comes to a close with the celebration of Epiphany, which is also known as Theophany, or the Blessing of the Waters.The main ritual of the holiday is the blessing of water in churches. Many believe that the waters which are blessed on Epiphany become a source of healing power and this water is then sprinkled on homes to bless them, or on people to bring about healing. Since the 1990s bathing in a freezing river on Epiphany has become more popular in Ukraine, and those that do the icy plunge claim that it protects them from illness and leaves them with a sense of spiritual well-being. This year in the City of Kyiv, this happened in many places. All along the banks of the Dnipro River, openings were cut into the ice where people could jump in. There were lifesavers were on standby for the thousands of people who came to take their brief but invigorating dip in the river.

And to send off the Christmas season, a carol for Epiphany, sung by Favor Quartet.




Next week Donald Trump will be US President. The IMF will be looking at Ukraine’s finances to decide about releasing the next loan tranche. We’ll be following these and other stories. We’ve also started a mailing list for Ukraine Calling listeners. If you’d like to receive our weekly podcast in your mailbox, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please write to us, our address is [email protected] I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio. Thanks for listening.

Interview transcribed by LarysaIarovenko, and Oksana Smerechuk. Culture and Music, by Oksana Smerechuk. Sound engineers Andriy Izdryk,Timothy Glasgow. Special thanks to CHRW student radio at Western University for providing their studio and technical support for recording the interview with Prof. Drezner. Web support Natalia Kucheriava.