The complicated US-Ukraine relationship

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, experts alternately pushed the Biden administration to do more to help Ukraine, or advised that we not get in too deep. The U.S. relationship with Ukraine and its dueling pro-and-anti-Russian factions has long been complex and controversial. Today, we explore that with Victor Davis Hanson, a military history expert at the Hoover Institution.

Before the war with Russia, Ukraine played an integral war in our politics, and we in theirs.

Sharyl: The only way some people had even heard much about Ukraine probably in recent years is when it came up politically — things such as Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian government, there was a Ukrainian operative working with the Democratic National Committee to help build the Trump-Russia narrative with reporters, there’s Ukraine involvement in our politics.

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, I think people didn’t like it. They didn’t like the prominent role. We can revisit Burisma and Hunter Biden. Ukraine, via Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, was responsible for the impeachment.

For starters, in 2014, when his dad was vice president, Hunter Biden was hired by a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma— and paid millions. When Burisma came under investigation for alleged corruption, Joe Biden bragged that he got the prosecutor fired.

Hanson: Joe Biden — remember when he was in front of the Council on Foreign Relations, in another Biden-esque moment? When he bragged that he had intervened with the then-president to fire the prosecutor, who was really looking at Hunter Biden and Burisma.

Joe Biden (January 23, 2018): And I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev. And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee And I said, “I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars.” They said, “You have no authority. You’re not the president.” The president said—I said, “Call him.” I said, “I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars.” I said, “You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in ” — I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and I said, “I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.” Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.

Biden claimed the prosecutor was the one who was corrupt. Ukrainian anti-Russian factions also played an integral role in building the false Russia narrative against candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Alexandra Chalupa was a Ukrainian-American operative for the Democratic National Committee who’d worked for the Clinton administration. According to Politico, she led a massive push of the Trump-Russia collusion story in 2016, coordinating with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, the Hillary-for-President campaign, members of Congress, and reporters at outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News.

The FBI partnered with Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, producing allegations against Trump’s campaign chief, published in the New York Times.

Multiple Ukrainian officials took to the media against Trump and his team. Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, a former prime minister, the ambassador to the U.S., and a member of parliament called Trump “an even bigger danger to the U.S. than terrorism” and said that he “challenged the very values of the free world.”

After Trump was elected, Ukraine played a large role in his first impeachment. Multiple state department officials would later admit they defied his policy directives on Ukraine because they disagreed with them. Democrats launched impeachment proceedings largely on the word of a White House Ukraine expert, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Vindman accused Trump of improperly threatening to hold back aid to Ukraine to force an investigation of Hunter Biden’s business dealings. Vindman was so close with certain factions in Ukraine, he admitted they repeatedly tried to hire him.

Hanson: The Ukrainian government offered him on three occasions to be minister of defense.

The allegations about Ukraine got Trump impeached in December 2019, but ultimately, he was not convicted.

Hanson: So the general impression is that Ukraine supporters within the United States have taken an inordinately political role. And so what I’m getting at is, I know it’s a weak state, but it was also corrupt, and it interfered with the internal politics of the United States. And that created a lot of ill will here.

Though Ukraine’s involvement in U.S. politics makes for a complicated dynamic, Hanson says there’s no doubt Americans should stand firmly on their side when push comes to shove with Russia.

Sharyl: Has Russia ever, when it’s tried something comparable, turned tail and run back, or accepted defeat? Is there any chance this ends in any other way?

Hanson: No, they have. In 1939, in November, because they had a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, they sort of abused that and they went into Finland and they lost a half a million people. So from November of ’39 to April of 1940, they were bogged down. And finally they had to have a negotiated settlement, but it basically was an acknowledgement they couldn’t absorb Finland. And in 1922, I think, when they went into Poland the first time, they were stopped in Afghanistan. And so I think, I think it’s a stereotype, but it’s said, it’s very foolish if you’re a Swedish king or Napoleon or Hitler to go into Russia, because Russian soldiers fight fanatically on their home ground. But by the same token, the Russian army is not expeditionary. It does not do well outside the confines of Russia, historically.

Sharyl (on-camera): A top U.N. official is calling on both Russia and Ukraine to launch investigations into videotaped incidents that appear to show their soldiers committing serious violations and mistreating prisoners of war.

Watch the video here:

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