Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump already has a contentious relationship with Kyiv, irking the Ukrainian public and government officials with his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow-friendly views on the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.
Now, invited to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week, Trump’s campaign didn’t even bother to send Kyiv an RSVP.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian presidential administration told Foreign Policy they reached out to both Trump and his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to meet with Poroshenko. According to the official, only Clinton said yes, sitting down with the president on Monday. The Trump campaign did not give a clear answer.
Trump’s campaign did not provide comment about the so-far snub by the time of publication. But according to the candidate’s public schedule, he’s already jetted to North Carolina and has plans to be in Ohio and Pennsylvania the rest of the week, not in New York, where the U.N. meeting ends on Sept. 26, the day of the first presidential debate.
Clinton met Monday with Poroshenko and they discussed the importance of continued sanctions imposed on Moscow after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. According to a release from Poroshenko’s office, he thanked Clinton for her continued support of Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, and the leaders agreed that “solidarity with Ukraine is important in resisting the Russian aggression.”
Trump, on the other hand, has appeared at times to invite Russia’s bellicose behavior towards Kyiv.
The New York businessman, whose hotel overshadows Turtle Bay and the world leaders gathered there this week, has raised plenty of eyebrows and alarm around the world with his controversial or incendiary foreign policy pronouncements, but nowhere more so than in Ukraine.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News in late July, Trump said that Putin “is not going into Ukraine,” despite widespread proof that Russian troops moved into the Crimean peninsula and eastern Ukraine two years earlier. When Stephanopoulos challenged Trump, the GOP candidate responded by saying, “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet,” before adding that “that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama.”
The comments drew widespread criticism in the United States and Trump later took to Twitter to clarify his confusing remarks, tweeting that he meant Putin would not go into Ukraine again if he were president. But the comments had already drawn ire in Kyiv, with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk calling Trump’s statement “a breach of moral and civilized principles.” Ukrainian ambassador to Washington Valerii Chalyi told FP at the time that Trump’s comments raised fears in Kyiv that if elected he would change U.S. policy towards the country by cooperating more closely with Moscow and “open a Pandora’s box of bigger instability in the world.”
In late February 2014, shortly after the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow deployed troops without insignia into Crimea and later annexed the peninsula in March 2014. The Kremlin also sent troops into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists as fighting began in April 2014. Despite repeated denials from the Kremlin, the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory has been confirmed multiple times and been widely tracked through Russian soldiers’ accounts on social media networks.
Trump has routinely praised Putin throughout the 2016 election cycle, complimenting the Russian president as a “strong leader” who is “doing a better job than Obama.” The GOP nominee has also incorrectly said throughout his campaign, most recently at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief forum, that Putin called him a “brilliant leader” and a “genius.” In fact, the Russian president’s comments from December 2015 have been widely mistranslated, with Putin even clarifying that he called Trump “a colorful person.” The Russian leader, however, has voiced support for Trump’s calls to rebuild ties between Moscow and Washington.
Trump’s aides intervened in the drafting of the Republican Party platform this summer and successfully lobbied to replace language on providing lethal aid to Ukraine with “appropriate assistance,” a move widely seen as an overture to Moscow. Poroshenko has a long-standing request with the Obama administration for lethal assistance that so far has not been granted.
At other points in his presidential campaign, Trump has suggested he won’t step in if Russia invades a NATO ally — whom by treaty the U.S. is obligated to defend — unless they’ve ponied up to his satisfaction. He also said he might pull the U.S. military out of the security alliance altogether, statements that Eastern European allies say have already encouraged a resurgent Moscow to push back even harder to restore its lost empire.
Molly O'Toole, Reid Standish, Foreign Policy