sexta-feira, 24 de março de 2017

Trump on Ukraine: did he know what really was talking about?

(Then-candidate Trump in an interview to Stephanopoulos, in July 2016.)

In an interview conducted by the journalist of the ABC American network, George Stephanopoulos, then-presidential candidate to the US presidency, Donald Trump, was confronted to answer about his possible personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and how he intended to react to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and to the following crisis. The interview was held in July 2016 and caused much controversy mainly over Trump´s responses on Ukraine.

In the book Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War, by British journalist and internation editor of The Sunday Times, Peter Conradi, there´s one paragraph where the author sums up the Trump´s responses on the issue:

"Doubts about Trump were fulled by a curious television interview in July 2016 in which Trump declared of Putin: 'He´s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He´s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?' Asked by ABC´s George Stephanopoulos if the realised Putin as 'there already', Trmup retorted, 'OK - well, he´s there in a certain way.' More significant was Trump´s vow to 'take a look' ate recognising Russia´s seizure of Crimea. 'You know, the people of Crime, from what I´ve heard, would rather be with Russia then where they were,' he said. Trump attempted to clarify his position on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in a series of tweets the following morning, after he was criticised fo his muddled response, but did not retract his thoughts about Crimea." (p. 316-317)  

Watching the interview in full and paying attention to the passage where he approaches the subject discussed here (between 6:01 and 7:23 in the video), it´s possible to perceive that Trump isn´t clear and is relatively insecure in giving quick responses on Ukraine. After stating clearly that Putin wasn´t penetrating into the neighbouring country and being directly questioned by Stephanopoulos that, yes, he was going into there, Trump answered, unconvincingly, that the Russian president was there "in some way", denoting not knowing the issue or avoiding a verbal confrontation with Putin and his campaign proposals. The Russian presence in Ukraine is widely recognized by the academy in the West, as i´ve already commented in this blog and as shown in recent disclosure of phone calls between a Kremlin advisor and political allies in Ukrinae, as well as Conradi himself.

 (Trump trying to clraify his declarations in the interview. His explanations didn´t convince critics.)

In saying he would "take a look" at the recognition of the annexation of Crimea, Trump was vague on the issue. At the time he´d been confronted by Stephanopoulos, who recalled his position on a possible recongnition of Crimea as part of Russia. "Take a look" and state according to other people that the peninsula´s population would rather be with Russia than Ukraine denotes possible lack of knowledge about the details and the real implications of the problem. The annexation of Crimea involves international law, a challenge to the post-Second War world order and also the public peninsula´s public opinion, mostly inhabitated by ethnic Russians and historically pro-Russia. Althoug Trump recognizes the existence of a pro-Russia public opinion, the equation isn´t simple, given that the referendum hold on March 16th 2014 and that officialized the annexation of the region occured under military occupation, putting in check it´s legitimation and setting a precedent for further such interventions.

(Sergei Lavrov and then-Obama´s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at a meeting in Geneva on March 6th 2009 aiming to renew relations between Moscow and Washington. The button should have the word "reset" written on the box in English and Russian. The Russian translation, however, was wrong: it was written "overload" instead of "reset", a harbinger of what was to come.)

Conradi recalls in his book that the Obama´s reset with Russia from March 2009 aiming to improve relations between both countries was a disaster, and that the Washington´s atitude of not directly confronting Russia in international crisis as in Ukraine and Syria encouraged Moscow to move forward with it´s project of restoring the superpower status, mainly in Putin´s third term (2012-2018). Trump was clear and straightforward in criticizing Obama and the "mess" that Ukraine became (term used by him in the interview) during his presidency, even with NATO at his disposal.

Trump was also asked why he softened the Republican Party´s official policy on Ukraine, reffering to the discussion on aid to the country with letal weapons in the war against pro-Russian separatists. The candidate retorted several times that he "wasnt´s involved" in this decision and that only knew this softening. His promisse was to "take a look" in it´s content. The issue came to light recently when one of the Republican National Convention members said Trump was in the event and that would have asked the party not to play the US in a "Third World War" in a dispute over Ukraine. This softening would also be a way for aligning the party with the candidate´s proposal to ease tensions with Russia.

(Peter Conradi´s book: if post-USSR Russia should be treated as a defeated power or a partner on equal footing, the persistence of the Cold War mentality, expansion of NATO, Putin´s paranoia on "Colored Revolutions" and the West´s lack of firmness in front of Moscow´s attacks occured due what the author called "fundamental misunderstandings" from both sides resulting in the current situation. Difficult picture for Donald Trump.) 

This interview helps to explaing criticism and concerns with Trump since he was a possible White House´s dweller at the time, and that the relations with Russia already was (and still are) among the priorities of the US government. His remarks on Ukraine point for two issues: a relative lack of awareness of the crisis in this country and the intention to avoid incisive criticism on Putin in order to avoid tensions with Russia and not get in contradiction with his campaign proposes. Despite uncertainties of what he´d do in the presidency, Trump gave clear signals of commitment to NATO and support to Ukraine with appointment of James Mattis as Defense Secretary, firm supporter of the organization, and the explicit condemnation of the annexation of Crimea at the UN. As for the sanctions on Russia, they were renewed on February 2nd, but it´s future is still debateble given the little relief of the sanctions by the US Tresury and possible strategies that Trump could adopt to ease tensions with Moscow.

The Trump government is just at the beggining and it´s still early to say how it will deal with Russia in the long term and how Ukraine will fit into this equation.

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