June 29, 2018

Trump, Putin, Crimea and more


The morning of Thursday, June 28 (deadline day for this week’s issue) brought breaking news that Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in a one-on-one summit on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland. “The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues,” the White House said in a statement. Their meeting will come after the NATO summit on July 11-12 in Brussels, which Mr. Trump will attend, as well as his visit to Britain on July 13. As pointed out by The Washington Post: “Both Trump and Putin have pursued the tête-à-tête in hopes of moving beyond friction over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

Just before the summit details were announced, President Trump tweeted: “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Thus, he continued to question the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 presidential election. (The tweet also contained criticism of former FBI Director James Comey.) The Hill reported: “That message cast doubt on reassurances from [National Security Adviser John] Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who both said they were confident Trump would raise the issue of election meddling with Putin.” 

There’s also some cause for worry as far as Ukraine is concerned. For example, BuzzFeed reported on June 14, citing two sources in diplomatic circles, that Mr. Trump told G-7 leaders during a dinner at their Quebec summit that Crimea is Russian because all the people there speak Russian. To be sure, the State Department on June 18 clarified that there had been no change in the U.S. position with regard to Crimea. And, Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin on June 15 came out with a statement that disputed BuzzFeed’s account: “I remember very well what Trump said during meetings. Yes, he has his own vocabulary, his own logic, but he never said Crimea was Russian. And as far as I know, he did not say this during his latest talks with the French president and with the German chancellor, where the Crimea issue was precisely discussed as well as that of political prisoners and Donbas.” As noted by many, there was no official confirmation that Mr. Trump actually uttered those worrisome words about Crimea. But, neither was there an official denial from the White House. And there surely should have been. 

It was reassuring then, that National Security Adviser Bolton, when asked at a news conference on June 27 whether President Trump would recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, responded by saying, “That is not the position of the United States.” RFE/RL further reported that Mr. Bolton also said the U.S. believes sanctions placed on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and its support for militants in eastern Ukraine should stay in place.

There was some positive reaction to the announcement of the Trump-Putin summit, including from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg who welcomed the formal meeting. “It’s absolutely, totally in line with NATO policies to talk to Russia, to meet with Russian leaders,” RFE/RL quoted him as saying on June 28. “For me, dialogue is not a sign of weakness. Dialogue is a sign of strength.” 

We’re keeping our fingers crossed. All of Ukraine, including its citizens who are political prisoners being held by Russia, are counting on the strength of the U.S.