While the cold war is over, tensions between the two global superpowers; Russia and the U.S. have still not thawed.
There are a string of incidents that have caused these tensions to rise of late. Starting with the George W Bush administration’s push to have Georgia and Ukraine admitted to Nato in 2008 which posed a serious challenge to Russia’s position in the region. Ranging to the 2014 response of strong sanctions lead by the U.S. against Russian leaders after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
So far sanctions have proven to be an ineffective measure to curb Russia’s activities and push them out of Crimea. Putin’s government are still managing to protect their regional security interests and retain their status of a world super-power. In fact, in 2013, 2014 and 2015 Forbes named Putin as the most powerful person in the world, a title that was previously held by U.S. presidents.
As sanctions are proving to be ineffective, and the U.S. still has interests to curb Russia’s power, so other measures have been taken. Ukraine is a key battleground, not only due to the Crimea crisis, but also due to its geographically significant location that separates Russia from the rest of Europe. Ukraine is equivalent to a buffer zone of Russian influence seeping westward.
Washington’s official aid agency called USAID, under the Obama administration, was donating fund to local Ukrainian organizations in an attempt to stabilize Ukraine by helping clean it from its epidemic of corruption. There is barely a week that goes by without hearing about corruption at all levels. Take for example the members of Parliament Serhiy Leshchenko (who is also a journalist) and Svitlana Zalishchuk who have amassed large amounts of both personal wealth and unexplained assets such as cars and apartments during their time as public servants.
The US has been using a strategy of donating a lot of money over the last few years to Ukrainian organizations that combat corruption, but there is little to no accountability as to the effectiveness of this money invested and if it helps U.S. interests in the region. Some significant grants include $18.6 million for UNITER (Ukraine National Initiative to Enhance Reforms) project and $4.4 million for supporting criminal justice reform in Ukraine.
In addition, the U.S. embassy in Ukraine has granted USAID money to an organization called The Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) starting in 2014 and continuing until 2016. These funds were handed to the CEO Vitaliy Shabunin who was responsible to use the money to expose corruption of officials together with his fellow founder Daria Kaleniuk. Instead, there was alleged massive abuse of funds donated to them. There are significant discrepancies between the lifestyle of AntAC’s leadership and their personal salaries and assets as reported by foxnews: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/07/15/corrupt-ukraine-is-ground-zero-in-clash-between-east-and-west-us-and-russia.html . While allegations started to build up against Shabunin, Kaleniuk set herself up in Chicago to pressure North American leaders to donate more funds.
The financial discrepancies with Vitaliy Shabunin came to a head on July 17th 2017 when an official criminal investigation was opened by the fiscal ministry. This investigation is currently on going but has caused the Trump administration to stop and review the previous administrations strategies and financial support for organizations such as AntAC, UNITER and the International Development Law Organization among others.
Tensions clearly remain between the U.S. and Russia, which need to be dealt with strategically by the Trump administration and reviewing previous arrangements seems to already be underway by the State Department headed by Tillerson and his team. Only through stopping old strategies that proved unsuccessfully for the previous administration will Trump and Tillerson be able to effectively curb Russian influence by strengthening Ukraine among other measures.