FARMER: How Joe Biden Navigates Challenges In Eastern Europe Could Deeply Impact US-Russia Relations

(Photo by DENIS BALIBOUSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Stephanie Farmer Contributor
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President Joe Biden is being tested by Russia.

How he responds will have a dramatic impact on U.S. policy in Eastern Europe as well as the nation’s position of power in Europe overall. If we are strong, our influence in the region as a defender of democracy and independence will remain strong. If we are weak, potential allies may look elsewhere for leadership – including to the Kremlin.

One immediate test is how Biden responds to his face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Brussels. The messages coming from the leaders’ press conferences and leaked reports of what was said during the meetings will be instructive on what relations will look like going forward.

One issue likely to come up is Russia’s controversial pipeline from Russia to Germany. The United States has taken no action to date to impose sanctions on the companies building the pipeline, angering many in Congress. It has not gone unnoticed that the same Biden administration that shut down the domestic Keystone XL Pipeline has not lifted a finger to oppose a Russian pipeline that strengthens Russia’s hand in Europe, especially in regard to Ukraine.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is bad for Ukraine because it would give Russia strong leverage over European affairs, to the detriment of Ukraine, by creating even more European dependence on Russian energy. Because of their increased dependence on Russian oil, the Europeans may become more hesitant to intervene on behalf of Ukraine if Russia continues its aggressive moves against the country.

Biden’s administration added insult to injury by not even informing the Ukrainian government before deciding not to take any action to stop the Russian pipeline. Axios reported earlier this month that “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he learned through the press — not any direct heads-up — that President Biden had decided to stop trying to block a Russian pipeline that Ukraine sees as a dire national security threat.” Russian gas goes through Ukraine through a pipeline that circumvents Ukraine and weakens their hand with regard to the border dispute. The administration’s silence is an early blemish on its foreign policy record.

Ukraine has been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption and cronyism in its energy sector. A great case study on why other nations are skeptical about investing in Ukraine is the nation’s treatment of TIU Canada, a Canadian energy company. A connected businessman, Igor Kolomoisky, shut off access to solar energy produced by the Canadian company that was being fed into the Ukrainian energy grid. Addressing this situation might help repair relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.

The long-term implications of weak U.S. pressure on Ukraine are significant for that nation’s people. International investors are not going to want to take a chance on parking money in a country with a corrupt, weak government. If Ukraine can establish domestic ways of producing energy, it will assist them in wiggling out from under Russia’s thumb.

If the U.S. doesn’t guide and pressure Ukrainian leaders to stop corruption, investors won’t touch the nation – and Ukraine may risk its NATO membership.

So far, President Biden and his team have failed the Russia-Ukraine foreign policy tests, but the president can change that and begin a better path forward.

Stephanie Farmer is a former staffer for the Rand Paul 2016 presidential campaign.