As the Republican Party’s National Convention got under way this week in Ohio, there was deeply disturbing news about the party’s platform. As reported on July 18 in The Washington Post by Josh Rogin, “The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.” At the meeting of the national security platform committee, Mr. Rogin reported, a member “proposed a platform amendment that would call for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and ‘providing lethal defensive weapons’ to the Ukrainian military.” Trump staffers intervened, got the matter tabled and then succeeded in scaling back the language to call for “appropriate assistance” instead of “lethal defensive weapons.”
As a result, the adopted platform now reads: “We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.”
Readers will no doubt recall that Donald J. Trump, who is now the official GOP nominee for president, has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, has said he would get along with him, and has opined that the war in Ukraine is “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us.” His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was a lobbyist for Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed ex-president of Ukraine; and he has other advisors who want to cozy up to Russia. Add to this Mr. Trump’s latest assertion that the U.S. would not automatically defend its NATO allies in keeping with Article 5 obligations (when asked about the Baltic states, he said he would first consider an ally’s contributions to the alliance), and you have a troublesome scenario.
Two longtime supporters of Ukraine – from opposite sides of the aisle – voiced their deep concern about the GOP’s reversal.
Sen. Rob Portman, Republican from Ohio, stated: “It is deeply troubling that specific language in the Republican Party platform calling for defensive lethal aid to Ukraine was removed in favor of watered-down language that means little. Russian aggression in Ukraine and throughout the region represents a grave threat to the safety and security of our allies and to the values we hold dear both as Americans and as Republicans. Failing to condemn Russia’s actions makes us complicit. Both parties have an obligation to stand up for freedom and democracy around the globe, and stand up to brutal dictators who are determined to undermine those ideals.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat from our home state of New Jersey, said: “Donald Trump’s continued impacts on the Republican Party seem to know no bounds. I am shocked to learn his campaign worked behind the scenes to water down language supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russian and rebel forces in their party platform.” He added, “It is time we stand up in support of the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has urged his party to reject Mr. Trump’s foreign policy ideas. The Post’s Mr. Rogin wrote on July 19: “Kasich’s most impassioned indirect attack was directed at Trump’s views on Russia, Ukraine and Vladimir Putin. He criticized the idea that the United States should disregard Russian bad behavior and work with Russia more.” He quoted Mr. Kasich as saying: “As long as I’m breathing air, I’m for arming the Ukrainians who want to fight for freedom.”
To be sure, the administration of President Barack Obama also has declined to offer Ukraine the lethal defensive weapons it has sought. Furthermore, the president’s position goes against the bilateral support repeatedly expressed in Congress, as well as the advice of experts in his own administration.
Still, the GOP platform and the Trump-Putin relationship are disquieting. Are the Republicans really abandoning Ukraine, as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Jeffrey Gedmin, suggests?
A note to readers: We write these words as the Republican convention enters its last day. Next week, we’ll be staying tuned for the Democratic Party’s turn.