The Trump administration has flip-flopped on its approach toward Ukraine. It sided with the Russian government, then the Ukrainian government — putting Trump’s interests ahead of a smart, consistent policy.
In the lead-up to the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016, the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes to ensure that the Republican platform would not include weapons for Ukraine to fight Russian aggressors. RNC delegates were surprised, since this was a complete reversal of the near-unanimous GOP foreign policy view.
The Trump staffers also intervened to table an amendment that would have maintained or increased Russia sanctions and given aid and weapons to Ukraine. According to a GOP delegate, a Trump aide at the RNC said Trump specifically directed him to support weakening the platform position on arming U.S. allies in Ukraine.
These strange pro-Russia efforts on behalf of the Trump campaign have raised eyebrows, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s. According to the questions recently released by The New York Times, Mueller wants to ask Trump, “What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?”
Read more: What Mueller wants to ask Trump and why
After Donald Trump’s inauguration, his lawyer Michael Cohen and business associate Felix Sater submitted a Ukrainian peace plan to then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn that included lifting Russia sanctions. Mueller reportedly also wants to know more about this proposal.
In December 2017, the Trump administration reversed course with regard to weapons in Ukraine by allowing the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in order to defend itself against Russia. Trump’s supporters were encouraged by this development, pointing to the administration’s actions as proof that Trump could have never colluded with Russia. But that’s not the entire story.
On May 2, The New York Times reported that the Ukrainian government would halt ongoing investigations into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort just as Trump was finalizing plans to sell the missiles. A Ukrainian parliament member went as far as admitting that the decision was made to “avoid irritating the top American officials.” As Mueller’s case against Manafort heats up, top Ukrainian prosecutors are cooling theirs down to ensure the Trump administration provides the weapons it has promised.
In addition to protecting Manafort in exchange for Trump’s favor, Ukraine has also allowed one of Mueller’s potential witnesses to leave for Russia, where they will be protected from American investigators.
Trump’s flip-flopping on Russia-Ukraine policy is no coincidence. His decisions have been in not America’s interests but his own. The Trump campaign’s outward support of Russia happened to align with what are now publicly-known efforts by Russia to elect him to the presidency. Now that he and his associates are under investigation for such collusion, he must use whatever leverage he has to ensure Ukraine cooperates in whatever capacity is needed.
If something looks like quid pro quo, it probably is. For Trump, it appears the only person he values above Putin is himself.
At times Donald Trump puts the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin above the U.S. What exactly are Trump’s ties to Russia? Why is he so keen on praising Putin, and so worried about not offending him? Who is our president really serving?