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 UKRAINE AND THE SHADOWY FREELANCERS

The Russia-related questions on which President Trump urgently needs to shed some light seem to multiply by the day.

The latest involve the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his work with an obscure Ukrainian opposition legislator and a Russian-born New Yorker who has done business deals with Mr. Trump. The three men produced a peace plan for Ukraine, which Mr. Cohen then delivered to the office of Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who was fired days later.

There may be nothing illegal in this, and there is no evidence that the plan reached Mr. Trump or his foreign affairs team. But given all the troubling questions swirling about ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, the back-channel plan raised a host of new questions about who else might be behind it and why. It is simply not enough to pretend, as the three men have, that they were motivated only by a desire to end a nasty war.

The plan basically called for a Ukrainian referendum on leasing Crimea to Russia for 50 or 100 years and the withdrawal of Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, along with amnesty for most of them. In theory, the plan could be a basis for exploring a solution to the Ukraine stalemate; before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it had a long-term lease on naval facilities in Sevastopol.

The question, however, is why all this was done behind the backs of Kiev, the State Department and most everyone else. The plan seems to have originated with Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian legislator and a wheeler-dealer who sees himself as a Ukrainian Trump. He also claimed to have evidence of corruption that could bring down Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive policies are among the major challenges facing the United States and Europe, and Ukraine is central to that challenge. Western steadfastness and unity are critical, yet the unanswered questions about Mr. Trump’s relations with Russia have caused considerable consternation among allies, which his lieutenants have been trying hard to assuage.

Mr. Cohen is Mr. Trump’s lawyer; he cannot pretend to be acting as a concerned citizen when he meets with opposition Ukrainian politicians bearing suspect proposals. This is no time for freelancing.

This article was posted in The Opinion Pages by Editorial Board of The New York Times.
 
 
 
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