With the first-ever outster of a House speaker, and the 2024 election year drawing near, the United States is under a political storm.
Added to that is the decreasing support for further Ukraine assistance among American voters, Democratic and Republican alike.
Ukraine, however, keeps calm.
"We are preparing to distance ourselves as much as possible from the US domestic policy," a Ukrainian diplomatic source told LIGA.net. "We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the last campaign. We have learnt from this experience."
LIGA.net found out how Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team plans to deal with the US over the next year, why Ukrainian MPs are being shunned, and how Kyiv is preparing for a possible return of Donald Trump—who has brandished his 24-hour peace-for-Ukraine plan—to the White House.
Risk of Trumpists and reform list ‘leak’
"The closer we get to the election, the more irritating statements we will hear," Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba admitted in a recent interview.
Ukraine has so far enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and has been assured that the US will support Ukraine as long as it takes, two members of the Ukrainian delegation during Mr Zelenskyy's last visit to the US told LIGA.net on condition of anonymity.
Oleksandr Merezhko, a Ukrainian MP who chairs the parliamentary foreign policy committee, says that America’s bipartisan support is stronger in the Senate while the House has to contend with the right-wing Republicans, who want to use the issue of Ukraine in their campaign.
This was one of the reasons for the ouster of House speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, which has put the approval of further Ukraine aid on indefinite hold.
Republicans’ key argument is that Ukraine might be misusing US aid. They are backed up by opinion polls which show that 60 percent of GOP supporters believe that the USD 43 billion in military aid to Ukraine was not worth it.
The Biden administration, however, has no issue with Ukraine in terms of possible misuing of its aid, a Ukrainian foreign ministry source told LIGA.net.
"During the president’s visit, no one made specific claims, even behind closed doors. No one showed any lists to us," the source said.
They mean a letter from the US state department with a list of reforms, published in Ukrainian media, that Ukraine should carry out in order for American financial aid to continue.
The publication came as a surprise to the Ukrainian presidential office.
"Usually, such things are not published," a member of the Ukrainian delegation during Mr Zelenskyy's visit to the US tells LIGA.net on condition of anonymity.
The leak was not made by the Democrats, who could have theoretically killed two birds with one stone, a foreign ministry source said.
On the one hand, it would help the Democrats show the Republicans that the Biden administration also pays attention to the targeted use of US aid. On the other hand, it would also help them demonstrate the same to their voters.
But the decision on funding is a bipartisan one, Mr Merezhko says. "It doesn't look like any party is trying to prove anything," he stressed.
‘We have already convinced everyone in Washington’
Ukraine’s key strategy for the coming year is do not harm.
"The Ukraine card will be played [in the United States] for political purposes in any case. It is crucial for us not to start behaving like the card being played ourselves," a government source tells LIGA.net.
"We need to strike a balance here, which we actually managed quite well in 2019. We walked between the cracks then."
"We do not interfere in the internal processes of the United States, but we constantly prove that Ukraine's victory is an important issue for the national security of the United States," Ukraine's ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova told LB.ua, a Ukrainian news media outlet, in an interview.
Ms Markarova was not immediately available for comment.
She said the embassy sends a special bulletin about the war, Russian war crimes, transparency, and the fight against corruption to American lawmakers every day. But what matters is whether they read it at all—and that’s why personal promotion is important.
This is where views within the Ukrainian government diverge.
Mr Merezhko is convinced that it is necessary to mobilise English-speaking MPs at various levels to advocate for Ukraine in American states far from Washington.
"They could go to churches, to mosques, to synagogues, [and] meet the local press. Americans live local lives. They read the local press, watch local television," he explains.
Personally, some congresspeople assure that they are for Ukraine but ask "to convince their voters why they should give money and weapons," Mr Merezhko says.
Yehor Cherniev, another MP who leads the Ukrainian delegation to the NATO parliamentary assembly, agrees.
Americans generally do not like the ‘as long as it takes’ approach promoted by the White House, explains Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the New Europe Center, a Ukrainian think tank, and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
And it is not necessarily because they do not want to support Ukraine, but because this approach is associated with an endless war, a prospect that many Ukrainians are not enthusiastic about as well.
‘The less MPs, the better’
Not everyone in the Ukrainian government agrees that MPs could represent Ukraine internationally.
National security and defence council secretary Oleksii Danilov recently said that Ukraine is represented abroad only by the president and three other top officials, while "the rest are tourists".
Mr Chernev disagrees, recalling that "it was parliaments that pushed their governments to provide certain types of weapons".
"Parliamentary diplomacy should be continued. Not only in the United States, but also in other countries that are friendly to us," the MP said.
The source in the Ukrainian presidential administration says Mr Danilov’s words were taken out of context and should be viewed in the light of Mr Zelenskyy’s December 2021 decree, which states that only the president, prime minister, and foreign minister can make official statements on Ukraine's foreign policy.
"In other words, official and unofficial channels should work in unison and achieve a synergic effect."
It is necessary to build a direct bridge between the Ukrainian military and US voters, agrees Mr Cherniev.
"We need to send those who can tell directly from the battlefield why this is happening, what is missing, and what will happen if Ukraine loses or gives up territory."
At the same time, he does not share concerns about possible controversial statements by individual MPs. He says the US "understands who speaks with an official position and who speaks as an MP on behalf of the people of Ukraine, not the government".
However, the selective involvement of MPs may not only be part of the Ukrainian presidential office’s strategy, but also a pragmatic electoral calculation.
"Some MPs raised the issue of [sending] English-speaking delegations to the United States, but the situation changed after the scandals with fake business trips of some colleagues," one of the MPs told LIGA.net off the record.
In July, Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke out about MPs and officials who went abroad following several scandals when business trips had been used for personal matters.
The Ukrainian parliament has since been wary of granting permissions for MPs to go abroad—officially because there could simply not be enough of them to pass important laws.
"It's hard to track whether a person is really going [abroad] to a meeting or it’s just a cover," explains Mr Cherniev. "So we are gradually building trust in those who have not failed to deliver over the past year and a half, who have travelled and brought back results. Therefore, such MPs will have no problems crossing the border."
The number of delegations from Ukraine does not always translate into quality of communication, says Alyona Hetmanchuk.
"Also, the position on Ukraine expressed by Ukrainians themselves is not always perceived with trust," the expert adds.
From Cubans to evangelists
The United States is a multinational country, so it is important to work with different ethnic and religious groups.
In the US, for example, evangelical Protestants play a major role, with almost 14 percent of Americans associating themselves with this religion. Mike Pence, one of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination and vice president under Donald Trump, is an ardent evangelical Protestant.
"We recently met with the Ukrainian Council of Churches so that our evangelicals, who have close relations with their American colleagues, could promote our interests in helping Ukraine," Mr Merezhko tells LIGA.net.
He says that some members of the Ukrainian parliamentary foreign policy committee have met with the American Jewish Committee for the same reasons.
Even during the meeting with the Irish delegation, the issue was raised that there are many people of Irish descent in the United States, so Irish officials could also contribute to Ukraine's victory, the MP adds.
Daria Zarivna, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, recalls another example.
Recently, Andriy Yermak, the head of the office, met with representatives of the Cuban opposition who had emigrated to Miami, Florida, which, like several neighbouring states, is mostly Republican.
"We held a briefing for them, where Mr Yermak’s deputies told them what was happening in Ukraine, including Russia’s war crimes," Ms Zarivna tells LIGA.net. "We said that representatives of the Cuban community, and Latin Americans in general, need more truthful information about Ukraine, and together we can and should resist Russian propaganda."
However, Mr Merezhko disagrees with his fellow MP, Mr Chernev, in that Ukraine has done its best in Washington. The far-right Republicans need to be shown the geopolitical threats of Ukraine’s loss, he warns.
"Many in Congress look on Russia’s aggression through the prism of confrontation with China... They link the issue of Ukraine to Taiwan," he explains.
Ukraine’s task is to engage as many people as possible who can promote the Ukrainian case on our behalf, in particular from Southeast Asia, who clearly link Ukraine’s victory to deterring China, Ms Hetmanchuk from the New Europe Center believes.
That's why Mr Zelenskyy’s team wants to explain to Americans why Mr Biden should take advantage of a historic opportunity at next year’s NATO summit in Washington.
"We expect to be invited [to join NATO] at the Washington summit," a Ukrainian foreign ministry source tells LIGA.net. "For the United States, this could be a confirmation of true leadership in the world. Ukraine in NATO will save the Americans money."
On the other hand, there is a counter-argument that Mr Biden may go down in history as a person who provoked Russia with a positive decision for Ukraine and forced Mr Putin to drop a nuclear bomb, starting World War III, a source in the Ukrainian parliament told LIGA.net.
What about Trump?
The most popular question facing Ukrainian officials is what will happen if Donald Trump becomes president again?
After all, he may have a long-standing grudge against Mr Zelenskyy for refusing to help defeat Mr Biden in the 2020 election. In addition, the Republican has promised to force Messrs Zelenskyy and Putin to sign a peace agreement if he wins.
Mr Cherniev says that Ukraine has already worked with Mr Trump as president, and it was him who provided Ukraine with weapons, such as Javelin anti-tank guided missiles.
"For all Mr Trump’s confusion, the [US] presidency is a binding position," the MP believes. "The United States is a country with clear checks and balances. This is how the deep state works, not letting swing or radically change foreign policy that would be contrary to the country’s interests. That’s why I don't think there will be a U-turn."
For Ukraine, there is no principled position on who will become president of the United States, Mr Merezhko says.
Republicans should not be feared or demonised, adds Mr Cherniev.
"Republicans support Ukraine as much as Democrats. And the Democrats also have representatives of extreme positions. But they are a minority. However, there is no need to relax, because support [for Ukraine] in American society is gradually declining. And we need to keep it at a certain level."