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No fresh money

Miodrag Soric, Washington / glb
April 21, 2014

On his visit to Ukraine, US Vice President Joe Biden will offer clear words, but no additional funds to Kyiv. Biden is an experienced politician with keen knowledge of the situation at home, writes DW's Miodrag Soric.

DW's Miodrag Soric
Image: DW

Just over a month ago, he was in the Baltics and Poland, in a bid to pacify the governments there: The Crimea crisis will have no effects on the security of your countries, he assured them. The US and NATO had pledged their readiness to assist their eastern partners.

Now, US Vice President Joe Biden will be in Ukraine. Here, too, he will most certainly deliver a message along the lines of Kyiv being able to count on the continued support and solidarity of the Obama administration. Biden's words will most likely be quite clear - also those that are addressed to the Kremlin. He is no man of soft tones. In stark contrast to his boss, who always comes across cool and under control, the US vice has let his feelings show in the past.

Decisiveness expected

Biden is anchored in Washington's political establishment. For decades, he has helped shape its foreign policy. He belongs to the group of "interventionists," politicians who - when push comes to shove - are in support of deploying troops abroad. He has given the green light in the past to US intervention in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and in Iraq.

It would come as no surprise to observers in Washington if Biden were to make a clear move during his Ukraine visit. He will most likely have harsh words for Moscow, and he will probably vouch support for stationing US troops in Estonia and Poland. If it were up to him, according to informed voices in Washington, the US response to past Russian action in Ukraine would be more severe than it's been - tougher sanctions against Moscow, closer military cooperation with Ukraine (or Georgia), more NATO troops in Romania and Bulgaria.

And many representatives in Washington are disappointed that several NATO partners, including Germany, have called for reservation with regard to Russian action in Ukraine. They say this could be seen as weakness by Putin. Now, in particular, is not the right moment to be displaying weakness.

Joe Biden is one of those politicians. And, of course, there's reason for this stance. Despite sharing economic and strategic interests with the Kremlin, the US is not dependent on Russian gas. US trade with Russia is low, and that's a critical difference between the US and Germany that shouldn't be overlooked.

Sharing the burden

On his trip, Biden will use his words above all to pledge support with the Kyiv government. At the moment, insiders in Washington are saying there won't be any aid offered - that is, none in addition to the $1 billion loan (720 million euros) that has already been issued. In response to the question why the US hasn't been more forthcoming, congressional representatives have been equally tight-lipped. According to insiders, the US has complained that it foots 75 percent of NATO's defense budget; in recognition of that, the US expects that its European partners - in particular, Germany - help finance Ukraine as its rebuilds its economy.

For domestic reasons, too, there probably won't be much money flowing from Washington into Ukraine. Congressional elections are slated for later this year, and ongoing US military efforts have accounted for a massive amount of spending. The "nation building" that the US has ventured in Iraq and Afghanistan was incredibly expensive, and not particularly effective.

It's no surprise that Americans aren't willing to shell out billions to help Ukraine overcome its crisis. Politicians aiming for success in this fall's election will have to take this into account. And nobody understands this better than Joe Biden. He's been through plenty of election campaigns by this point.

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