When Donald Trump became president in 2017, Ukrainian leaders were much calmer about the change than their counterparts in many other parts of the world. With a war raging in the east of the country, Ukrainians were less concerned with the values of the new president than with ensuring that American aid to their country continued to flow. Trump was erratic, but there was a Republican majority in Congress; the common wisdom was that Republicans were hawks on Russia, meaning they would support Ukraine. Aid, then, would stay the same or perhaps even increase; it simply wasn’t a partisan issue.
In the short term, they were right. Despite an embarrassing meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, support from the United States for Ukraine increased. Most important to Ukraine was the purchase of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launchers, a package that cost $47 million. The Obama administration had refused to provide lethal aid for fear of escalating the eastern conflict, but the Trump administration had no such concerns.
Fast-forward to today: Trump has already withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine once, and a summary of a call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggests he did so to put pressure on Ukraine to open an investigation connected to the business dealings of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Even just the announcement of such an investigation would be politically useful for Trump. But while that hold ended in mid-September, it has already hurt Ukraine. “Trump’s decision to suspend … military aid weakened our position in negotiations with Putin,” former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who left office in August, told The Atlantic in reference to talks among Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany, a system of deliberations called the Normandy format.