Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Jan. 15, 2017 and was updated on Nov. 13, 2020.
U. S. President Barack Obama delegated the front-man role for American policy in Ukraine to his vice president, Joseph Biden, who will take office as the American president on Jan. 20, 2020.
Biden made one trip in 2009 during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, but the rest came following the EuroMaidan Revolution that ousted the corrupt Viktor
Yanukovych as president in 2014.
Given Biden’s attachment to Ukraine and recognition of Russia as a global threat, there are expectations that he will make the first presidential visit to the nation since George W. Bush came in 2008.
Some critics saw Obama’s outsourcing of Ukraine policy to his vice president and his hands-off posture as disdain for Ukraine’s strategic importance to the Western world and his gross underestimation of the threat to world peace posed by Russia — a threat that the United States is slowly starting to recognize after the Kremlin’s blatant interference in the Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. election on behalf of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.
Obama resisted supplying Ukraine with modern defensive weapons to prevail in Russia’s war. The Kremlin interference included hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails, the presence of Yanukovych’s ex-adviser Paul Manafort as Trump’s campaign manager and Trump’s opaque relationship with Russia — a relationship that looks shady in light of his constant praise of Vladimir Putin, who has created a kleptocratic dictatorship and who is regarded as a war criminal by many in the world.
Here are some key Biden remarks about Ukraine:
July 21, 2009–1st visit:
Key quote: “We’re working, as you know, Mr. President, to reset our relationship with Russia. But I assure you and all the Ukrainian people that it will not come at Ukraine’s expense. To the contrary, I believe it can actually benefit Ukraine. The more substantive relationship we have with Moscow, the more we can defuse the zero-sum thinking about our relations with Russia’s neighbors.”
April 22, 2014–2nd visit:
Key quote during his speech to the Verkhovna Rada: “You have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now. It’s not just the United States. You need a court system that not only you and your people, but the rest of the world assumes can actually adjudicate fairly disputes among people.”
June 7, 2014–3rd visit: Attends inauguration of President Petro Poroshenko
Nov. 21, 2014–4th visit
Key quote: “Push forward the reform agenda that has been agreed upon and the Ukrainian people — an agenda that the Ukrainian people have so resoundingly endorsed: stronger democratic institutions; a more accountable government; greater integration with Europe; a more prosperous economy; and resolute efforts to root out the cancer of corruption that has hobbled Ukraine for a long time. It will face no more consequential mission than confronting corruption. President Poroshenko has shown a seriousness of purpose, and the Rada has passed important anti-corruption legislation. Now the real challenge is seeing it through.”
Dec. 7–8, 2015–5th visit
Key quote: “I’ve urged the president to continue to work very strongly with Ukraine’s democratic forces. That’s what the Ukrainian people expect, and that’s what they deserve. And that’s how Ukraine is going to continue to move forward. All Ukrainians, officials, business leaders, the business community, everyday citizens — they’ve got to work together to root out corruption that has held this country back for so long. Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules. They have to pay their taxes, settle their disputes in court — not by bullying judges. That’s basic. That’s how nations succeed in the 21st century. Corruption siphons away resources from the people. It blunts economic growth, and it affronts human dignity. We know that. You know that. The Ukrainian people know that. When Russia seeks to use corruption as a tool of coercion, reform isn’t just good governance, it’s self-preservation. It’s in the national security interest of the nation.”
Jan. 16, 2017–6th visit
Key quote from farewell address to Ukraine’s parliament: “If you continue carrying your progress forward, then not only will you continue to build a more open, more
democratic, more prosperous future that the Ukrainian people deserve, you will keep the international community united behind you in that effort…And if you can continue to make progress, Mr. President, if you keep doing the hard work and making the difficult choices to put Ukraine first, I promise you the American people will stand with you. This next year is going to be a very, very telling year — a very telling year.”
Other key remarks about Ukraine from Washington:
April 28, 2015 — Video remarks for delivery to the International Support conference for Ukraine in Kyiv on April 28, 2015
Key quote: “Use the new laws on the books, the new leadership in place to investigate and prosecute corruption— past and present— at all levels. There’s no better way to prove your determination to end business as usual. Pass an antitrust bill, antitrust legislation. Keep working to reform the election laws to ensure that, as decentralization
moves forward, local government is really representative and accountable. And above all, keep listening to your people — make sure that your work is transparent and that civil society has a voice in this process.”
Remarks at the U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum in Washington, D.C. on July 13, 2015
Key quote: “Above all, Ukraine needs to confront the corruption that has kept this country from taking advantage of the tremendous human capital it possesses. It doesn’t seem like 36 calls, it seems like 100 probably to Arseniy and to the President, but that’s a topic of almost all of our calls. Corruption siphons away resources. It weakens economic growth. It destroys trust in government. It hollows out militaries. And it’s an affront to the dignity of the people of Ukraine. And as Ukrainians know in their bones, it’s not enough to talk about change; we have to deliver, you have to deliver change. That’s why I commend the Prime Minister and President Poroshenko for undertaking real reforms. Ukraine has a strategy and new laws to fight corruption, a new head of independent national anti-corruption bureau. Now, they’ve got to put
people in jail. They’ve got to actually do it.”
Video of Biden’s visit to Ukraine on Dec. 7-8, 2015
A 5:16 minute video of Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s Dec. 7-8, 2015, visit to Ukraine.
Selected coverage of Biden visits to Ukraine and speeches about Ukraine as well as U.S. policy:
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