Why a Trump Victory Would Put Ukraine in Danger. In Trump’s Own Words
Moscow’s obvious, and seemingly active, support for Donald Trump in the US Elections is ignored by some Ukrainian Americans or denied as ‘leftist’ propaganda. The position is baffling given how often Trump’s own statements echo Russia’s position on Crimea, on Ukraine in general and on NATO. These are further confirmed by the many people on his team with strong Russian links. Attempts to point to the apparent removal of Paul Manafort, Carter Page and others from the campaign team miss the key point. They were removed only after their scandalous links with the Kremlin were exposed by Ukrainian sources and / or the media. Why were they appointed in the first place? Some, including Boris Epshteyn are still in their posts, and positively parroting the Kremlin line that Crimea was not invaded.
Trump has recently avoided overt praise of Russia, and any further statements about recognizing Crimea as Russia, removing sanctions or placing conditions on US commitment to NATO obligations. He has not directly changed his position, and his denial of Russian involvement in the recent hacking of Democrats’ emails is especially disturbing since he is effectively rejecting US intelligence information. It is also alarming that he has at least once used false information which came straight from a Kremlin-funded propaganda channel. Trump’s use of the argument that a Hillary Clinton presidency would bring on a third world war comes just two weeks after the same message was first articulated by prominent Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
The grounds for concern go back a long way.
MARCH 6, 2014
Donald Trump at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (around 19.53 on the video)
“So he has the Olympics. The day after the Olympics, he starts with Ukraine. The day after. How smart. You know, he didn’t want to do it during the Olympics. Boom. The day after. So our athletes leave, we all leave, and the day after. And you know, when he goes in and takes Crimea, he’s taking the heart and soul because that’s where all the money is. I was surprised. I heard that the other day. They were saying, most of the wealth comes right from that area. That’s the area with the wealth. So that means the rest of Ukraine will fall and it’s predicted to fall fairly quickly. Because without the money, it’s like this country. If we don’t make this country great, it’s gonna fall.”
Crimea is categorically not where the money is, and Vladimir Putin has since discovered that even from a practical point of view, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea was not ‘smart’. Crimea is heavily dependent on mainland Ukraine for water, energy and goods.
Staggering ignorance from the now presidential candidate is less disturbing, however, than the fact that he had nothing at all to say in criticism of a country invading and seizing another country’s territory.
Fox Interview in April 2014
“Well, he’s done an amazing job of taking the mantle. And he’s taken it away from the president, and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, okay, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he’s really going step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit.
Interestingly, I own the Miss Universe pageant. We just left Moscow. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong.”
This was after Russian soldiers invaded Crimea, installed Sergei Aksyonov, a marginal pro-Russian politician with a criminal background and used Russian-led armed paramilitaries to crush opposition and administer a pseudo-referendum. After local pro-Russian activists and young, thuggish ‘Russian tourists’ failed to achieve a takeover in Eastern Ukraine, heavily armed units, led by the same Russians, like Igor Girkin [Strelkov] who played a major role in Crimea, were brought in. These militants were backed in the ensuing military conflict by Russian mercenaries, and soon by significant Russian military personnel and equipment.
“Russia is like, I mean, they’re really hot stuff. And now you have people in the [sic] Ukraine, I mean, set up or not, it can’t all be set up, they’re marching in favour of joining Russia. I mean, you know, you can send some people in”.
This claim that Russia has wide support in Crimea and in the rest of Ukraine came up again recently. It ignores the compelling evidence that the pseudo-referendum was flawed and even then did not get a majority, and a great deal else. Most importantly, however, Trump is excusing the violent seizure of another country’s territory and again does not even think to mention that this is in violation of international law.
May 27, 2014
“And another country, wants to come in and join—they love Russia. They say—now we send in our pollsters, we say, ‘That’s not true.’ Well, you know, guess what? They want to form with Russia. How the hell are we involved? Okay, we’re involved in all of this. Isn’t Europe supposed to be involved in this?”
It is not clear what Trump was trying to say in the above, but you can rest assured that Putin would like it. This rambling stream of self-congratulation is important for another reason. Trump mentions that people say he won’t run because he won’t want to reveal his finances.
Here he states, remarkably clearly, that he will reveal them.
Trump is now running for President, yet is refusing to release his tax returns. Given his baffling degree of support for Russia and his choice of advisers, the documents are of evident public importance as they could reveal a major conflict of interests with relevance for national security.
July 31, 2015
“Let me explain first of all — this is Europe’s problem much more than ours, OK? And Europe isn’t complaining as much as we are. But this is more of a Europe problem…."
It is very clear that Russia and those it has installed n power in occupied Crimea have recognized Trump as a friend and ally. In October 2015, Andrei Rostenko, de facto mayor of Russian-occupied Yalta invited Trump to visit Crimea “after your victory in the elections”.
December 18, 2015
The lack of any concern for clear rights abuses and violations of international law is still seen after Trump had openly begun running for the presidency. In this NBC interview, it was the presenter, Joe Scarborough, who was forced to mention that Putin, whom Trump was praising, “kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries. Trump ignored the issue of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and said only: “well, he’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader … our country does plenty of killing also.”
July 27, 2016
There was widespread coverage and approval in all pro-Kremlin media of the following response from Trump:
"Would you as president want to recognize Crimea as Russian, lift sanctions?" - "Yes we would be looking at that"
While there have been attempts by the Republican Party to distance itself from this position, Trump has never stated that he holds a different standpoint.
The same is true of his alarming threats to renege on basic NATO commitments. The very suggestion that the USA would restrict its guarantee of protection to countries deemed to have ‘paid their way’ would seriously destabilize all of Eastern Europe and give a dangerous message to Russia.
July 31, 2016
Two years after his first demonstration of ignorance about Crimea, but this time as Republican presidential candidate, Trump displayed both ignorance and indifference to international law during an interview given to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and broadcast on July 31.
In trying to deny any involvement in the turn-around with respect to Republican policy on lethal weapons for Ukraine, Trump said about Putin:
“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.” Reminded that “he’s already there”, Trump had the following to say: “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama….”
There need to be good relations with Russia, he stressed, and in his words, “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that.”
Who are his sources of information? It has certainly not come from the Crimean Tatars and very many Ukrainians who did not support Russia’s invasion and have faced mounting persecution ever since.
Does this matter?
With respect to Russia’s clear involvement in the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 over militant-occupied Donbas, Trump clearly thought that it didn’t matter. Back in October 2015, he typically tried to deny any involvement by Kremlin-backed militants, then began backtracking, only to conclude with the line that the Kremlin is assiduously trying to push, namely that we may never know.
There is no clarity as to why Trump is so effusive in his praise of Putin and so myopic when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and numerous rights violations.
His refusal to accept US intelligence information on any subject would be a problem from a President. The fact that the denial conceals a frightening level of interference by the Russian state on the US elections, with the aim of discrediting Trump’s main opponent, makes it especially worrying.
While Paul Manafort and Carter Price have now been officially removed from the Trump campaign, their clear links and / or support for Russia had never been concealed. Manafort was well-known for providing help to highly dodgy leaders, and for convincing the Ukrainian voters that Viktor Yanukovych had changed and could be voted for. Had it not been for Euromaidan, there would have been no chance of Yanukovych allowing free and fair elections to remove him from office.
Trump’s position on Russia has already led to a noticeable softening in the attitude of many Republican supporters towards Russia. Democrat voters’ attitude has remained unchanged.
Most alarmingly, it was the Trump team who succeeded in changing a vital piece of Republican Party policy with a document that was supposed to give support for “providing lethal defensive weapons” being replaced by the much weaker and more vague “appropriate assistance.”.
There were long attempts to deny this, just as there have been constant efforts to refute earlier statements which Trump himself made. At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether Trump did (as claimed on one occasion) or didn’t (on another) meet Putin. It matters a great deal why a presidential candidate should have effectively praised Putin for his aggression against Ukraine. It would certainly matter if the President of the most powerful country in the world saw no problem with ignoring Russia’s appalling human rights abuses in occupied Crimea and was even willing to recognize invaded and forcibly annexed land as legitimately held by the occupying state.
Photo: AP, Evan Vucci