Exclusive interview of the Valery Kavaleuski, Senior analyst of Belarusian Institute of America ( USA)
How will US relations with the EU develop in 2019?
The relations between these traditional allies continue to sour. Just recently, it became known that the EU mission to the U.S. was downgraded from the status of a member state to that of an international organization. European diplomats learned about it indirectly and only when they stopped receiving invitations to major events in Washington. Among practical issues, trade tensions continue to be the main theme in the U.S.-EU dialogue. Turmoil, uncertainty and even confrontation in these relations are not going anywhere, as Trump experiences an increasing pressure in national politics. The accusations of unfair trade practices of EU countries allow the American president to demonstrate to his base toughness to foreign – albeit friendly – powers while simultaneously distracting the nation from the growing number of challenges and failures.
Trump also continues fuming over defence budgets of NATO countries, which, it appears, he perceives in the EU context. It will be especially interesting to watch the 70th NATO anniversary celebrations hosted in Washington by Trump, who already called the Alliance “obsolete”.
A new and vocal factor in the U.S. foreign policy in 2019 will be an active, confident and persistent House of Representatives controlled by the opposition. While both main American parties have a complete consensus on the importance of relations with EU and NATO, Democrats will be willing and able to challenge the White House, voice concerns, develop policy recommendation or introduce specific legislation to keep Trump in check.
What value will the Ukrainian factor have in relations between the USA and Russia?
Ukraine, or more specifically the attempted annexation of Crimea by Russia, Russian militants and Russian regime in Donbas, will continue to be part of the dialogue between Washington and Moscow. During Trump’s presidency, Ukraine’s woes became less prominent but more politically controversial, with the U.S. Congress playing a leading role, applying pressure on Trump to be more consistent and tough on Russia. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives next two years, the Congress will do much more to balance volatile U.S. foreign policy. Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia during 2016 elections will keep relations with Russia on top of congressional agenda, and the ongoing Russian actions against Ukraine will be scrutinized especially closely.
Besides, several major practical factors will push Ukraine forward in the US foreign policy agenda in 2019, especially in relations with Russia: presidential elections in Ukraine, autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian-Russian tensions in the Azov sea, and the upcoming Nord stream launch. These complex, sensitive issues involving Ukraine and Russia can potentially have a significant impact on the interest of the West, and the U.S. will be actively involved.
Can we expect new initiatives by President Trump in the Central Asia region this year?
During the Obama administration, the U.S. launched a C5+1 initiative that includes five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – and the United States. Trump’s administration demonstrates noticeably less attention to this region, however, the initiative lives on and work continues although mostly on the level of working groups and project related expert-level meetings. Within C5+1, the U.S. supports regional projects in the areas of business and competitiveness, transport, energy and environment. While it is unlikely that the number of these activities will increase, this is probably the most realistic expectation for C5+1 at this stage, as the entire initiative depends on the participation of the United States. It should be mentioned that further development of the U.S. Central Asian policy is impeded by the absence of Assistant Secretary of State for this region. It is safe to assume that this initiative will remain central to the American policy in Central Asia in 2019 but will not grow into anything bigger.