Ukraine and the United States have practically resumed the work of the Strategic Partnership Commission (SPC) and signed an updated Charter, which replaced the previous document of 2008. And this is not just a diplomatic formality, but a serious shift for Ukrainian-American relations – after the turbulent period associated with the first impeachment of Donald Trump, as well as against the background of pressing threats posed by Russia. In the new Charter, America reaffirmed it would not leave the Ukrainian nation face to face with the aggressor, supported Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, and expressed the intention to strengthen economic tie. But that's not all.
HOW RESUMING SPC WORK IS IMPORTANT
In the very name of the Commission, the key is to define that the partnership is of a "strategic" nature. This means that the level of interaction between the two countries is deeper than usual and filled with special content. In essence, the SPC is an additional tool for direct dialogue, which is ongoing in several areas at the level of sectoral bodies. For example, on the eve of the Commission meeting in Washington, the U.S.-Ukraine Trade and Investment Council met, as well as the three working groups on security and countering Russian aggression, democracy and rule of law, and Ukraine's economic transformation. So this is how plans are being filled with content and proposals.
The Ukraine-U.S. Strategic Partnership Commission was established in 2008. The previous meeting took place in 2018, after which the cooperation in the said format froze. The decision to revive the SPC was made when the presidents of the United States and Ukraine met in Washington in early September 2021. From that point, serious preparations began under the supervision of the two diplomacy chiefs.
Commenting on the process, the Department of State said that over the past 13 years, bilateral relations between the United States and Ukraine had strengthened and matured, leading to the need to update the Strategic Partnership Charter to make sure it meets the challenges of the 21st century and reflect the expanded bilateral partnership.
In Kyiv, it was noted that the resumption of the PCU and the preparation of an updated Charter will contribute to the implementation of the priorities of the entire Foreign Policy Strategy of Ukraine.
The Strategic Partnership Charter is a document that lays the foundation for further cooperation. It is designed for ten years, so the text mostly outlines directions and intentions, as well as confirms the official positions of the two countries on specific issues. As Dmytro Kuleba noted in this regard, "theoretically, the White House administrations may change, but the Charter will continue to operate."
Importantly, the new document has fixed several fundamentally important points, primarily related to countering Russian aggression. Among them is the point that the United States reaffirms its support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, including in Crimea. In addition, the United States calls for continued talks in the Normandy Four format, as well as on Crimea Platform, a tool that has been making the Kremlin twitch.
The updated Charter also provides for enhanced Ukraine-U.S. cooperation to strengthen security in Europe and the Black Sea region, as well as to enhance energy security. In addition, Washington reaffirmed its support for Kyiv's aspirations toward NATO membership and praised important reforms that are underway in Ukraine. In addition, U.S. support for the transformation of the Ukrainian economy and investment promotion has been consolidated.
STATEMENTS MADE IN WASHINGTON
A joint press conference of the U.S. and Ukrainian top diplomats, Anthony Blinken and Dmytro Kuleba, after the signing of the updated Charter, was no less significant. A number of truly important statements were made, especially by the American side. Some of them can be seen as open messages addressed to the Kremlin.
In particular, the U.S. Secretary of State said the country’s commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty is “ironclad,” emphasizing that any actions Russia could take, aimed at escalation or aggression, will always be a matter of great concern of the United States. This comment apparently relates to recent reports of a buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine. "We're monitoring the region very closely, as we always do, we'll continue to consult closely as well with allies and partners on this issue,” he said, underlining the U.S. concern that Russia could “make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014.”
He also made it clear that the United States would continue to provide defense assistance to Ukraine. "We continue to provide security assistance that Ukraine needs, including lethal defensive weapons, to defend against any Russian aggression," the chief of U.S. diplomacy said.
Blinken also expressed U.S. support for reforms in Ukraine and promised that from now on, the Strategic Partnership Commission would meet regularly.
GAS PIPE BYPASSING UKRAINE
At the same time, it became clear from the statements of the U.S. top diplomat that the government in Washington does not intend to change its stance on another issue – Nord Stream 2, the Russian gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine. This means the U.S. doesn’t have on the table the issue of recalling sanctions lift off the pipe’s operator. At the same time, Blinken says the United States is monitoring the situation to make sure Russia doesn’t use energy as a weapon.
It should be noted that there are some differences in U.S. and Ukraine’s approaches to the issue. The Ukrainian side has publicly pointed to the Kremlin already using gas as a tool of pressure and blackmail against Europe in order to speed up the certification of their new gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State sticks to different rhetoric.
U.S. sanctions targeting Nord Stream 2 AG could bury the project forever. And this is exactly what the U.S. Congress is working toward. The NDAA 2022 is now being considered in the Senate, which lays down the relevant economic restrictions.
Meanwhile, Blinken said, the United States is awaiting a response from the German government, which has pledged to take swift action in response to the Kremlin's abuse of energy levers. At the same time, he noted, the United States will also be countering Russia's attempts to blackmail Europe. "Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, we are committed and Germany is committed to taking appropriate action," he said.
Resumed cooperation at the level of strategic partnership is important for Ukraine, which needs support against the background of global challenges posed by the pandemic, recession of the world economy, as well as hybrid aggression by Russia and the Kremlin's energy pressure. The United States needs this as well given its interest in stabilizing the situation in Eastern Europe, ensuring security in the Black Sea, and strengthening a projected partnership with one of Europe's largest countries. In this regard, the interests of the two parties coincide. An updated and workable tool, such as the SPC, will significantly increase opportunities for more rapid and meaningful interaction, as well as for U.S. support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression. Now the ball is on the diplomacy pitch.
Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington
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