Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the White House on Monday will complete a circle of politics and intrigue spanning three U.S. administrations.
President Biden has put Ukrainian corruption near the top of the agenda when he sits down in the Oval Office with Mr. Zelensky. It’s the same issue that has imbued both Washington’s and Mr. Biden’s relationship with the Eastern European country for nearly a decade.
The episode also brought to the fore the far-flung and conspicuously profitable business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Emails on the laptop indicated that Mr. Biden attended a dinner at a posh Washington restaurant with Hunter and business associates from Russia and Kazakhstan.
Mr. Zelensky never launched an investigation of corruption involving the Bidens. He also said in 2019 that he was not being pressured by Mr. Trump, though Congress’ impeachment probe pointed to a diplomatic push for a Biden investigation.
The pressure, according to testimony at the House impeachment probe, included dangling a prized White House visit for Mr. Zelensky.
Now that Mr. Zelensky will get his White House session, the talk will turn decisively toward Russia.
“The visit will affirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea; our close cooperation on energy security; and our backing for President Zelensky’s efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week.
“The fact is, they still have to clean up corruption. The fact is, they have to meet other criteria to get into the action plan. And so school’s out on that question. It remains to be seen,” Biden said at a NATO summit in June.
NATO and the EU keep mum about when Ukraine can become a member, despite Kyiv’s persistence. The EU only went as far as to sign a landmark Association Agreement with Ukraine in 2014, which stipulated free trade and visa-free travel between the two.
Ukraine‘s Western allies expect Kyiv to keep pushing reforms, including in the judiciary, and the creation of effective anti-corruption mechanisms that would stem the endemic graft in the country.
“Ukrainian democracy is a work in progress which yet to learn the lessons of fighting corruption and to limit the influence of the oligarchs,” Ukrainian political analyst and head of the Penta Center think tank Volodymyr Fesenko told the Associated Press.
Mr. Zelensky also is expected to press for support in ejecting Russia from Crimea, a peninsula extending into the Black Sea that Russia annexed in 2014.
Russia’s control has been decried by the Western world as illegal, though little has been done to force Russia to return it to Ukraine.
At the recent Crimean Platform summit in Kyiv, Mr. Zelensky pledged to “do everything possible to return Crimea, so that Crimea, together with Ukraine, becomes part of Europe.”
“For this, we will use all possible political, legal and first and foremost diplomatic means,” Zelensky said, adding that Kyiv needs “effective support at the international level.”
It’s another subject close to Mr. Biden.
He is known to have pressed President Obama to take strong action during the Crimea crisis. He also offered tough talk against Russia when visiting Kyiv in 2014. But U.S. material support for Ukraine, which also was fighting pro-Russia separatists in the east, was tepid at best.
At the same time, Hunter Biden landed an $83,000-a-month job on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that was in the crosshairs of a corruption probe.
In 2015, a Ukrainian prosecutor looking into corruption, including at Burisma, was abruptly fired after Mr. Biden threatened to withhold some $1 billion in U.S. loans to the country if he was not terminated.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report released last year showed numerous contacts between Mr. Biden, Hunter, and Ukrainian officials while he was still vice president. The report, however, made no specific allegations of wrongdoing.