As America, France and the UK go to the polls in the coming months, both Kyiv and the Kremlin will be watching closely. Foreign Editor David Pratt examines what impact the elections’ outcomes might have on Ukraine’s fate...

ON the face of it, the past few days would appear to have been fairly good for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. After all, to walk away from the G7 summit in Italy having signed a $50 billion bilateral 10-year security deal with US president Joe Biden is exactly what the increasingly embattled Ukrainian leader needs right now at what is a tricky moment for Kyiv in its war against the Russian invasion.

But while Zelenskyy will be happy on one level, he will also harbour serious concerns about whether such a deal will survive the outcome of America’s crucial election in November.

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In fact, America’s presidential contest is only one of three big elections that Kyiv is sure to watch with considerable anxiety and concern over their outcome this year.

Indeed, it would be no stretch to say that depending on their results, Ukraine’s very fate could be determined by what happens at the ballot box in America, France and Britain.

To take the US election first, Biden (below) at the G7 might have pledged support from the US and its allies for Ukraine “until they prevail” in the war against Russia, but where might that pledge end up should his presidential rival Donald Trump himself prevail in the White House battle?

Biden last Thursday described the deal with Zelenskyy as a “'real marker of our commitment, not just for this month, this year, but for many years ahead, to continue to support Ukraine, both in defending against Russian aggression and in deterring future aggression”.

But from the very outset of their presidential campaigns, the two major candidates have laid out very different visions for how the US should interact with the rest of the world.

For his part, Trump has signalled that in a second term, he would make big changes to US relationships with allies and pull back on US commitments of global defence – a marked contrast to Biden’s backing for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Trump’s (above) boast that he can settle the war in Ukraine in 24 hours is typical of his now familiar bombast and scarcely worthy of serious consideration. But what is undeniable is his determination to fundamentally reevaluate the Nato alliance and overhaul the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies, all of which would have profound implications for policy towards Ukraine.

Zelenskyy – and indeed other US allies - will no doubt be haunted by Trump’s remarks made at a campaign rally in South Carolina when the former president recalled a European leader asking if the US would defend the country if they were invaded by Russia, even if they had not met Nato spending targets.

Trump’s reply was unequivocal.

“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You've got to pay. You've got to pay your bills,” he insisted, in a shocking admission that was seen as a shot across the bow to European allies and the foreign policy establishment.

Some seasoned serving and former US diplomats and foreign policy veterans like John Simon, who served as ambassador to the African Union (AU) in the Bush administration, have expressed their serious concern with Trump’s approach to Russia and Ukraine.

“My great fear is that a second Trump administration would have all the hallmarks of his first administration without any of the guardrails that were provided by the more experienced foreign policy folks who are around him.

He would be like a child without any parents to stop him from doing really bad things,” Simon warned recently in an interview with the Washington-based National Public Radio (NPR) and expressing a view widely shared by others.

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In a clear attempt to thwart such a damaging prospect for Ukraine, Biden has worked hard to make “Trump-proof” elements of the deals struck with Kyiv. That said, the latest bilateral deal would not have the strength of a treaty ratified by the US Senate, effectively meaning Biden or any successor like Trump could withdraw from it.

While Biden’s efforts to protect such accords with Ukraine would still present an obstacle should Trump retake the White House, those efforts are far from rock solid. No doubt this is something Zelenskyy is acutely aware of and the cause of some sleepless nights in terms of worrying about what might lie ahead under a different US administration less well disposed towards Kyiv.

All this, of course, is music to the ears of the Kremlin and Russian president Vladimir Putin, given the high stakes hinging on the outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine. It’s hardly surprising then that recent reports indicate that US intelligence officials are watching closely to see if US support for Ukraine will lead the Russian government to take more risks in potentially interfering in the 2024 presidential election than they did in 2020.

As CNN reported last month, officials are concerned that Biden’s doubling down on support for Kyiv might be an “animating event for the Russians”.

“We’re certainly keeping our eye out to make sure that that’s not increasing [their] risk-taking,” one FBI official confirmed to reporters at a briefing about election security efforts.

But it’s not just the US election that has the Kremlin sitting up and taking notice. French president Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to call a snap parliamentary contest after his Renaissance party took a thumping from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party in European Parliament elections on June 9 will also have Zelenskyy worried.

Just like the American poll, it too has the potential to offer Putin an opportunity to make mischief to Moscow’s advantage over Ukraine.

There was an evident sense of relish on display among certain Russian politicians over heavy defeats for the parties of Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz in European Parliament elections on June 9, offering the Kremlin the opportunity to comment on how right-wing parties were on the rise in Europe.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said the results reflected, in part, both leaders' “inept policy” of backing Ukraine in the war with Russia.

“Time to retire. To the ash heap of history!” Medvedev posted on social media platform Twitter/X.

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Other Russian officials echoed Medvedev’s criticism. Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Russian upper house of parliament, said Macron and Scholz had “suffered a crushing defeat with their parties [that] once again confirms their failure as both national and European politicians.

“Moreover, in their case, this is a well-deserved result, arising from many years of complete disregard for the real needs of people and society,” she wrote on Telegram.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that after the EU elections, the majority in the European Parliament would still be pro-EU and pro-Ukraine, but the rise of right-wing parties was clear.

“This dynamic is visible to the naked eye and of course, despite the fact that the pro-Europeans retain their leading positions for the time being, over time the right-wing parties will step on their heels,” Reuters news agency reported Peskov as saying.

Peskov went on to say that Russia was “closely tracking these processes”, and would carefully monitor the snap vote called by Macron, which is a two-round vote on June 30 and July 7.

“Especially taking into account, let's say, the extremely unfriendly and even hostile attitude of the French leadership towards our country,” Peskov noted ominously.

Macron has of course riled Russia with a series of statements in recent weeks, including floating the idea of sending European troops to help Ukraine in the war.

Ahead of the last French presidential election in 2022, Macron accused his rival Marine Le Pen of being “dependent” on Russia and Putin, citing a loan her party obtained from a Czech-Russian bank.

Le Pen met Putin in the Kremlin in 2017, but since the start of the Ukraine war she has condemned Moscow's invasion and tried to play down previous comments in which she expressed admiration for the Russian leader.

But this will not necessarily stop Moscow from seeking any political leverage it can gain from the forthcoming French parliamentary vote. For some time now, Russia has courted leaders on Europe's political right such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban as well as Le Pen and is keen to exploit any signs of division in Europe that could weaken support for Ukraine.

That opportunity could come in the two-round vote at the end of this month and in July, and if recent opinion polling since Macron’s shock announcement is anything to go by, then Le Pen’s National Rally (NR) – known as the National Front until 2018 – are forecast to win the election but fall short of an absolute majority.

Even if NR does score a majority, Macron would still remain president for three more years and be in charge of defence and foreign policy.

That said, he would lose control over the domestic agenda, including economic policy, immigration and finances, which would in turn have a knock-on effect on some aspects of foreign policy, most significantly Ukraine, as Macron would need parliament’s backing to finance any support as part of France’s budget.

For that reason alone – just as Brussels did during the European Parliament elections – Kyiv too will watch the forthcoming French election nervously.

(Image: PA)

Should Macron’s (above) high-risk strategy of calling a snap election succeed, however, it would counter the prevailing narrative – espoused especially by Moscow – that the far right is taking over France.

Which brings us to the third election that both Kyiv and the Kremlin will be watching closely, Britain’s General Election on July 4. In what could be his last G7 summit in the job, prime minister Rishi Sunak – like Biden – visited Italy to say that the UK is behind Ukraine “whatever it takes”.

To underline that very point, Sunak set out a £240 million aid package bolstering Britain’s already substantial weapons and material support for Kyiv.

Should there be a change of occupancy in Downing Street after July 4, however, and working on the assumption that it would be Keir Starmer as the next Labour prime minister, it’s unlikely that there would be much of a change in Britian’s policy towards Ukraine.

Put quite simply, in terms of the Labour Party, there has been a near-united front with the Conservative government on foreign policy and an unwavering commitment to Nato and the war in Ukraine – a point recently underlined by the Labour leader himself.

“The last thing anyone in Ukraine wants is to see political parties back in the UK squabbling about something that is life or death for them,” was how Starmer summed it up last month.

(Image: PA)

To further reassure Zelenskyy of this, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy (above) and shadow defence secretary John Healey also travelled to Kyiv to underline that a UK Labour government would be fully committed to Ukraine's war efforts.

“If there is a change of government after the election, there will be no change in Britain's resolve to stand with Ukraine, confront Russian aggression and pursue Putin for his war crimes.” Healey said afterward.

While in the short to medium term this UK resolve is likely to continue, there remain a few niggling concerns in Kyiv summed up recently in an article in the Kyiv Post.

“As the war in Ukraine drags on and if it is seen to increasingly slide into stalemate, then the pressure to divert funding from defence-related expenditure to tackling social issues (of which there are many) may grow and that could impact the financial and military support the UK can offer Ukraine,” the newspaper observed.

For the moment, though, it’s far and away the outcome of the US presidential election and the views of the 450 million EU electorate that concern Ukrainian government officials most.

This weekend, as world leaders join Zelenskyy at a summit in Switzerland to explore ways of ending the deadliest conflict in Europe since the Second World War, Russia isn't invited and the event will fall short of Kyiv's aim of isolating Moscow.

With little change expected as a result of the UK election and Macron’s political gamble likely to at least stymie the far right in France, it’s what will happen should Trump win that haunts Ukraine most.

For that reason, the “Trump-proofing” of the Nato and Western commitment to Ukraine including the alliance establishing a common defence fund worth billions will be given new urgency by Washington and its European allies. But even allowing for this, Zelenskyy knows that November 5 will be as important to his country’s future as it is to America’s.