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As an uncertain era looms ukraine says goodbye to washington.

In
his last visit to Ukraine as U.S. vice president, Joe Biden met on
Monday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister
Volodymyr Groysman, who heaped lavish praise on “dear Joe.”
In the U.S., Biden is often portrayed in memes
depicting the various impractical pranks he’d like to play on Donald
Trump. Given the silliness of these jokes, it usually surprises
Americans to learn that Biden has been Obama’s point man in Ukraine,
where the vice president has played the role of the White House’s
enforcer.
In his December 2015 address to Ukrainian parliament, Biden warned
deputies that corruption was a cancer on Ukraine, and called on them to
take action and not squander the opportunities created by the Maidan
Revolution. 
Among
both elected officials and ordinary people in Ukraine, Joe Biden has
wielded moral authority that’s usually absent from the country’s
politics. 
In
Ukraine, Biden has also done more than just preach the virtues of good
governance; when Poroshenko delayed in firing his corrupt pocket
prosecutor, Biden threatened to withhold a $1-billion loan. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor got the boot. 
This
was the sort of personal relationship Biden cultivated — one that could
be warm and friendly, but very blunt, just as easily. It was a good
mixture in Ukraine, where personal clout and candidness fuel projects at
all levels of state and society.
In
Ukraine, Biden often seemed to personify U.S. policy. The vice
president made five trips to the country, following the Maidan protests,
while President Obama never visited once. Whenever Biden left, he still
maintained a strong presence in Kiev, phoning so often that he later
joked, at his last joint press conference with Poroshenko, that he’d
grown so accustomed to the Ukrainian president’s voice that he’ll need
to keep calling him for a while more, simply out of habit.
Biden,
of course, was never as powerful in Ukraine as he seemed. Though his
trips were frequent, he didn’t deviate from the White House’s talking
points. The vice president’s ability to accept limitations and speak in
concert with the president made him a valuable asset to Obama, who
acknowledged this service when awarding Biden the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, reserved in recent administrations for just a handful of
recipients, including Pope John Paul II.
This
is not to say the Obama administration was always popular in Ukraine.
The White House’s unwavering opposition to sending lethal military aid
to Kiev, out of fear of escalating the conflict, was deeply unpopular in
Ukraine. On this issue, U.S. Senator John McCain has far more support.
More than once, when traveling through remote Ukrainian villages, I
heard locals praise McCain over Obama. 
But
Biden’s continued involvement with Kiev was always a clear signal that
Ukraine continued to be a high priority and would not be forgotten,
whatever the momentary disagreements in Washington.
Now, as Obama and Biden step down, Ukraine will have to fight to stay on the international agenda.
Biden’s
exit marks the end of an era for Ukraine. Already, generally less
active diplomats have replaced the ambassadors who were in office during
the Maidan protests. That previous generation of statesmen experienced
firsthand the heights of activism in Ukrainian society and the influence
foreign diplomats could wield with a well-placed comment. These men and
women had no qualms about publicizing their displeasure, when leaders
entered government and failed to live up to their promises.
One
of the most active diplomats from this era was U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey
Pyatt, whose successor, Marie Yovanovitch, is noticeably absent from
Twitter and the media more broadly. Yovanovitch is perfectly competent,
but it’s hard to imagine her summoning oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, as
Pyatt once did, after Kolomoisky berated a Radio Free Europe journalist.
Naturally,
diplomats work to maintain a delicate balance, but in the imperfect
world of Ukrainian politics it’s their criticisms that often provide a
much-needed check on corruption and abuses of power.
In
his final statement to the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, Biden
again called on the country’s leaders to take personal responsibility
for fighting corruption and pledged American support for sanctions on
Russia, until the Minsk Protocols are fully implemented.
That pledge,
however, looks less absolute than it once did, with President-elect
Donald Trump saying he might end sanctions in exchange for a reduction of Russia’s nuclear arms.
Despite
the challenges since Trump’s surprising victory, Biden has committed
himself to trying to ensure a smooth transition. This last trip to
Ukraine had less to do with resolving urgent business than convincing
the Trump administration that Ukraine should remain a priority for U.S.
foreign policy.
At
the end of the press conference, as Biden and Poroshenko left the
stage, a reporter from The Atlantic asked the vice president how
successful he expects to be in convincing Trump to stick with Kiev.
“Hope springs eternal,” Biden answered. 

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