Ukraine’s Strategy if Donald Trump is Back in the White House

Anna-Mariia Mandzii

1 MB

Key Takeaways

  • Trump’s Potential Nomination: Despite facing numerous indictices, Donald Trump is a likely candidate for the Republican Party in the 2024 U.S. presidential election, setting the stage for a potential rematch with Joseph Biden.
  • Implications for Ukraine: Trump’s previous tenure and current campaign rhetoric, which leans toward isolationism and a controversial stance on Ukraine, pose significant challenges for U.S.-Ukraine relations. His promises to end the Russian-Ukrainian war without clear strategies raise concerns over the future of American support for Ukraine.
  • European Security Autonomy: Trump’s presidency could lead to a decrease in American military presence in Europe, urging European nations to bolster their security autonomy and defense capabilities, indirectly affecting the stability and security landscape of the region.
  • Strategic Necessity for Ukraine: With the looming possibility of reduced U.S. aid, Ukraine must intensify its diplomatic efforts and seek alternative support mechanisms, especially from European partners. This is crucial for maintaining Ukraine’s defense capabilities against Russian aggression.
  • Economic Implications and Military Aid: The potential economic benefits to the U.S. from supporting Ukraine, including profits for the American military industry, underline the complex interplay of economic interests and foreign policy.
  • Public Diplomacy and Communication: Regardless of the U.S. election outcome, Ukraine must prioritize effective communication with both American officials and the public to foster understanding and support for Ukraine’s situation and needs.
  • Global Perception of U.S. Leadership: The actions and policies of the U.S. president, especially regarding Ukraine and European security, significantly influence the global perception of the United States as a defender of democracy and international stability.
President Donald Trump speaks at the “Save America March” rally in Washington D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.
Source: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The election campaign in the United States is currently at the stage of primaries. Still, it can already be assumed that the most likely nominees for the general election in November 2024 will be Joseph Biden from the Democratic Party and Donald Trump from the Republican Party. The fact of the future nomination of Biden is almost indisputable, while there is some doubt about Trump. Despite the former president’s lead in the Republican primaries, he still faces 91 indictments related to the attempt to overturn the 2020 election result, storing classified files at his Florida residence, and other offenses. Still, Trump is well on his way to securing the necessary number of delegates for the upcoming GOP nomination, so only developments in the criminal charges against the ex-president could prevent that from happening.

Overall, the most likely outcome is a rematch between Trump and Biden in the 2024 presidential election. At the moment, Trump is leading in the public opinion polls. Yet, the final result is not so easy to predict since the margin is very insignificant, and the situation could change drastically during 2024. Nevertheless, Ukraine should already be preparing a strategy for its future cooperation with the United States, which is currently Ukraine’s key ally and whose military and financial assistance defines Ukraine’s ability to confront Russia on the battlefield.

I. Trump’s Presidency in 2016-2020

Trump’s presidency in 2016-2020 was marked by a multitude of scandals, albeit punctuated by some noteworthy positive developments linked to his Ukraine policy. First of all, the ex-president’s approach toward Ukraine, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the illegally established unrecognized Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics was rather controversial. Nevertheless, the decision to supply Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons appeared to be the most important for Ukraine. Notably, this decision was prohibited by the previous U.S. President, Barack Obama, due to his misgivings about the possible escalation of the conflict with the Russian Federation and the appeasement policy towards the aggressor. The main argument that eventually persuaded Trump was the fact that such a deal would bring additional profit to the U.S. military industry. 

Despite this, the former president later tried to use the fact of providing arms to Ukraine as a means of putting pressure on President Zelenskyi, which resulted in the well-known case of the second impeachment attempt against him. To be more precise, Donald Trump was accused of blackmailing the Ukrainian political leadership in order to obtain compromising material on Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. 

Moreover, the ex-president has been reluctant to tighten sanctions against Russia. It’s crucial to understand that in this instance, the Trump administration’s foresight played a pivotal role, with the primary opposition to actions supporting Ukraine stemming from the ex-president himself. His approach frequently involved personalizing policies and making decisions based on his individual perspectives and biases.

Trump’s Rhetoric in 2023-2024

Overall, Trump’s rhetoric in 2023-2024 became even more leaning toward isolationism and aggressive as regards Europe, especially in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine. Ex-president’s promise to end the Russian-Ukrainian war in 24 hours has become one of his most prominent statements recently. According to his claim, putting pressure on both parties would force them to begin the bilateral negotiations. He didn’t provide any further details, yet the experts assume that he could try to pressure Kyiv by halting all aid to Ukraine, which is essential for Ukraine’s resilience. Concerning Russia, some guess he would try to persuade Xi Jinping to push Russia to negotiate with Ukraine. However, it remains uncertain how China, as well as Russia itself, would respond to such a development, which would depend on multiple factors and each side’s strategy. Furthermore, there is speculation that Joe Biden’s candidacy is strategically better for China, as both sides try to maintain a line of contact and relatively quickly resolve any escalations. The trade war launched under Trump has also been contained to reasonable limits. Therefore, certain agreements between the ex-president and China remain in doubt. In addition, this war is believed to have brought several benefits for Beijing by enhancing Russia’s dependence on China in economic, trade, and political terms as a result of the failure of Putin’s plan in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Trump’s rhetoric is very vague and rather manipulative. Predicting his real actions seems to be all but impossible since the ex-president is famous for the spontaneity of his actions. He never made any clear statements about whether he would like any side to be victorious in the war but expressed his belief that Europe must pay more for its security. It’s noteworthy that Donald Trump is utilizing the topic of backing Ukraine in his election campaign, aiming to influence the actions of his electorate and discredit Joe Biden’s unwavering support for Ukraine. Particularly, it became known about Trump’s direct influence on the delay in the adoption of the package of military aid to Ukraine by the U.S. Congress. Such actions have an extremely negative impact on public opinion. Notably, Trump’s supporters, particularly those aligned with the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement, vehemently oppose any form of aid to Ukraine.

Donald Trump. Source: AP

Apart from that, there’s a chance Trump’s future administration will be characterized by views similar to his own, but more detailed information is not yet available. It is also not yet known who the former president will choose as his vice president, but the likely candidates actively support Trump and his MAGA movement. He will seek to surround himself with loyal administrators who will not dare challenge him or go against his vision of the White House policies. According to Hogan Gidley, who served as deputy White House press secretary during Trump’s first term, the ex-president needs someone who is sufficiently supportive of him. Experts note that the diverse pool of candidates, including women and individuals from various racial backgrounds, is likely aimed at broadening Trump’s appeal and projecting a more inclusive image. Among the potential candidates are Elise Stefanik, a Republican from the state of New York, Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Governor Sarah Sanders of Arkansas, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. All of them are staunch supporters of the MAGA ideology and would undoubtedly align closely with Trump’s agenda, which raises concerns, particularly regarding Ukraine’s interests.

In contrast, during Trump’s first term in the White House, his vice president was Mike Pence, whose stance slightly differed from Trump and the Republican Party’s radical wing. Pence demonstrated considerably greater loyalty towards Ukraine and advocated for providing aid to the country. He believes that the connivance of Russia’s actions, as well as Ukraine’s failures, sends concerning signals to China and damages the U.S. position in the global context.

Should Donald Trump be elected the next president, his second term may differ from the first one when his actions were relatively regulated by his administration. Perhaps he will surround himself with the most loyal followers and supporters of his ideological vision of future policies.

A more favorable aspect for Ukraine is that Nikki Haley, Trump’s primary rival in the Republican Party nomination race, advocates for providing military aid to Ukraine, although she opposes financial assistance. Nonetheless, her discourse contributes to increased mentions of Ukraine in the U.S. public sphere, often portraying the country in a positive light.

Consequences of Trump’s actions for the United States

Experts say that Trump’s actions undermine the international authority of the United States as a defender of world democracy and the key foundations of the current international order. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has emerged as a pivotal test for the United States, particularly following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Additionally, Trump’s rhetoric has cast doubts on the reliability of the U.S. and its relations with key allies, particularly European states, who are beginning to brace themselves for the possibility of Trump reclaiming the presidency.

II. What Should Ukraine Do?

The political leadership of Ukraine must acknowledge the high probability of Trump being re-elected as the next U.S. president and take proactive measures to prepare for this outcome. Moreover, the election of an alternative candidate does not guarantee a substantially improved situation, given the prolonged inability of the U.S. Congress to pass a new support package for Ukraine, largely due to political manipulations. Nevertheless, from the current standpoint, the re-election of Trump represents the most unfavorable scenario for Ukraine.

Foremost, it is crucial to bolster Ukrainian diplomatic efforts in Europe at present. While the United States remains the primary supplier of weapons to Ukraine, alternative strategies can be explored in this regard. Particularly, some experts propose the option of Europe taking a more proactive approach in purchasing weapons for Ukraine from the United States. This approach presents a win-win scenario: Ukraine gains crucial defense weaponry for the liberation and protection of its territories, Europe enhances its security as it directly correlates with the stability of Ukraine, and the United States benefits economically from increased arms sales. This strategy could potentially sway Trump, whose primary motivation often aligns with financial gains. According to Politico, Europe would need approximately 45 billion euros annually to cover the expenses of America’s support for Ukraine, which amounts to 0.3% of the European Union’s GDP. However, presently, the EU’s short-term military assistance to Ukraine only amounts to 55% of what the United States has offered.

Furthermore, Trump’s statements regarding his intention to relinquish leadership within NATO and diminish the American military presence in Europe pose significant risks to European states. They are already taking proactive steps to bolster their autonomy in the realm of security, prompted by escalating threats from Russia and the general instability in the region. This serves as a compelling impetus for Europe, particularly considering the critical importance of Ukraine’s military capability in shaping the future of European security.

While it’s fair that the former U.S. president calls for NATO members to increase their defense spending to a minimum of 2% of their GDP, his assertions regarding the potential failure to uphold Article 5 obligations are highly concerning. Donald Trump has even once made remarks suggesting he might encourage Putin to act aggressively against states falling short on defense spending. While these statements are mostly manipulative, their implications are still grave, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict and, indeed, the looming threat of potential future aggression by Putin against certain NATO member states.

It’s worth noting that countries like the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, Slovakia, and others, which are potential targets of Russian aggression, have already surpassed the 2 percent defense spending threshold. However, due to the ambiguity surrounding Trump’s statements, predicting U.S. actions in the event of a Russian attack on NATO states, as well as overall America’s involvement in European security and defense, has become challenging. This uncertainty undermines a unified and effective response to emerging threats and weakens the Euro-Atlantic alliance. 

It logically implies that Europe should not wait until 2025 but instead take immediate steps to bolster its security and defense capabilities while also decreasing reliance on the United States. This includes an increase in support for Ukraine. In particular, an acceleration of the pace of providing military aid is critically important for maintaining defense capabilities and preventing the advance of Russian troops on the battlefield.

Defense expenditures of NATO countries as a percentage of gross domestic product in 2023. Source: Statista

Speaking about Trump’s rhetoric regarding the possibility of reaching an agreement with Russia, it is crucial to acknowledge that any decisions made without the involvement of the Ukrainian side would constitute a violation of international law. Even Trump’s most radical inclinations are unlikely to overlook this fact. Furthermore, on a global scale, any concessions to Russia could profoundly undermine the credibility of the current international order and the collective capacity of the West, including the United States, to respond effectively to international aggression and blatant violations of international law, a concern particularly pertinent to countries like Iran and North Korea. It is imperative not to overlook the potential repercussions: any agreements favoring Russia would significantly worsen the security landscape in Europe and indirectly impact U.S. national interests. Whether Trump acknowledges it or not, stability in Europe remains essential to safeguarding these interests.

If the former president pursues the goal of ending the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, the Ukrainian side will most likely come under some pressure. In this case, it is important to create the most favorable conditions for Ukraine during 2024, which is quite a difficult task, given the problems with the approval of aid to Ukraine by the U.S. Congress. Ukraine should not only intensify the activities of Ukrainian diplomacy in the U.S. but also implement internal changes required by American partners, look for alternative ways of attracting foreign aid, particularly in Europe and in other key American partner states, such as Japan.

III. Benefits for the U.S. from Ukraine aid

The U.S. support for Ukraine in the war against Russia is part of American national interests, and this should also be emphasized in communication with the American side, even if Donald Trump is elected.

Bilateral aid commitments as a share of 2021
gross domestic product (GDP) from the
top 20 donor countries and European Union
(EU) institutions as of January 15, 2024.
Council on Foreign Relations /
Antezza et al. / Ukraine Support Tracker /
Kiel Institute for the World Economy

To begin with, the United States is contributing to a significant military, financial, and political undermining of its adversary. Over the last two years, the Armed Forces of Ukraine successfully neutralized over 400,000 military personnel, including officers and generals, and significantly dismantled a substantial portion of the Russian armed arsenal, which had been built up over the years dating back to the Soviet era. This extensive damage inflicted upon Russia’s armed forces effectively mitigated the threat posed to NATO Eastern flank states, including Poland and the Baltic states, which fall under the protective umbrella of NATO as stipulated in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Remarkably, these achievements were realized without the direct involvement of a single American soldier on Ukrainian soil.

Furthermore, as of January 2024, the United States has allocated a staggering $74.3 billion in military, financial, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Remarkably, this amounts to only 0.32% of the United States’ GDP. This strategic investment has enabled the U.S. to systematically undermine one of its primary global rivals, leveraging the efforts of others. Notably, over 90% of American military aid remains within the United States, as weapons are transferred from its arsenal to Ukraine, subsequently replenished with newly manufactured arms funded by allocations earmarked for Ukrainian aid.

How much aid has the U.S. sent to Ukraine? Bilateral aid
committed to Ukraine between January 22, 2022, and
January 15, 2024. Council on Foreign Relations / Antezza et
al. / Ukraine Support Tracker / Kiel Institute for the World

Furthermore, the American military industry stands to reap substantial profits from producing weapons not only for the United States and Ukraine but also for European nations bolstering their arsenals in response to heightened threats from Russia in the European region. Equally significant is the fact that NATO’s European member states have commenced efforts to enhance their security autonomy. This development is contributing to their security, potentially allowing the United States to diminish its commitments to European partners and mitigate the risk of direct American involvement in any conflicts in the region.

It is crucial not to overlook the broader implications of such support for Ukraine. It reinforces the global perception of the United States as a defender of democracy and international stability while simultaneously sending a clear message to other nations contemplating challenges to U.S. global leadership. 

While certain aspects of Trump’s ideology may lean towards isolationism, the economic benefits derived from continued support to Ukraine present a compelling rationale for the United States to persist in its assistance against the Russian Federation.

IV. Ukrainian Message to the American People

Regardless of who assumes the presidency in the United States, Ukraine must prioritize effective communication with American government officials and American citizens. Public sentiment holds significant sway and can influence the policies enacted by authorities. Implementing strategies to engage and inform the American public is essential for fostering understanding and garnering support for Ukraine’s objectives and priorities. This proactive approach to public diplomacy can help strengthen bilateral relations and advance Ukraine’s interests on the international stage.

The narratives formulated by the Institute for the Study of War can serve as a valuable framework for Ukrainian information activities in the U.S., particularly those directed toward ordinary American citizens. Here are some potential narratives that could be utilized:

  • The war is being fought by Ukrainians, not Americans.
  • The United States is aiding Ukraine in repelling the Russian assault to reduce the likelihood of an armed conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
  • Russia’s success in Ukraine or any concessions to it would embolden Putin’s regime and potentially prompt it to challenge America’s commitment to defending its NATO allies, escalating the risk of a U.S.-Russia confrontation.
  • A Russian victory would also enable Russian forces to encroach closer to existing NATO borders, necessitating increased U.S. commitments to the defense of the Alliance.
  • Ukraine is enhancing its own military and defense industry to reduce reliance on the U.S.
  • Ukraine boasts a significant defense industry and was once among the world’s foremost weapons suppliers before Russian invasions, investing its resources and attracting foreign investment to significantly bolster this capability.
  • The majority of military assistance primarily serves to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and stays within the borders of the country.
  • The weaponry provided by the United States to Ukraine is predominantly aged. As the U.S. replenishes its arsenal, it concurrently modernizes its military capabilities.

These efforts should be geared towards a more proactive stance against Russian disinformation, as well as countering the dissemination of false narratives by figures like Trump and other representatives of the Republican Party. Their propagation of openly anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, often divorced from reality, underscores the necessity for robust communication strategies aimed at correcting misinformation and promoting an accurate understanding of Ukraine’s circumstances and aspirations.


It can be inferred that the probability of Donald Trump being re-elected as the next U.S. president is rather high, so Ukraine should start preparing for it now. The best option seems to be strengthening cooperation with European partners to increase military and financial assistance for Ukraine. Such cooperation would be beneficial for both sides, which Ukraine should constantly emphasize. Despite Trump’s isolationism, any confrontation with European states, which are key U.S. allies, will be extremely disadvantageous for him.

In addition, conniving with the aggressor will only increase destabilization in the region and the entire world and will set a precedent for other revisionist states.

Considering the previous presidency of Donald Trump, the economic benefit for the U.S. could be a good incentive to conduct a more favorable policy towards Ukraine. Therefore, it is important that the Ukrainian authorities properly communicate all the benefits to the U.S. as well as conduct public diplomacy aimed not only at political circles but also at society, which exerts a significant influence on the authorities in the United States. In navigating relations with Trump’s administration, the Ukrainian side should remain open to constant communication and be willing to engage in compromises to advance Ukrainian interests to the fullest extent possible. This approach could help mitigate potential challenges and maximize opportunities for achieving Ukraine’s objectives.

Hence, it appears that the priority for Ukraine lies in advocating for increased aid from European states, fortifying its stance for any potential negotiations, and maintaining unwavering willingness for dialogue with the White House, Congress, local authorities, and influential non-governmental organizations capable of shaping public opinion and influencing governmental decision-making in the United States. This multifaceted approach is essential for safeguarding Ukrainian interests and advancing efforts toward the resolution of the conflict.

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