Ukraine

Mike Pence Meets Ukrainian President While Trump Lawyer Works on Back Channel Deal

VP calls on Russia to abide by Minsk ceasefire deal it negotiated with Ukraine.

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Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrafoto/Polaris/Newscom

Mike Pence met with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko while making his first trip to Europe as vice president, with his office saying he had "underscored U.S. support" for Ukraine's territorial integrity and that the U.S. would continue to not recognize Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. He also called on Russia to implement the Minsk protocol, a 2014 ceasefire deal between Ukraine, Russia, and two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine that have been supported by Russian armed forces—the U.S. was not a party to the Minsk protocol.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports on back-channel efforts at resolving the Ukrainian situation, involving President Trump's personal lawyer, a business associate, Paul Manafort, and a Ukrainian legislator, Andrey Artemenko, who proposes Russian withdrawal from eastern Ukraine in exchange for a 50 or 100 year lease of Crimea to Russia. Poroshenko, who Artemenko accuses of corruption, says the lawmaker is not authorized to present "alternative peace plans."

The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a political agreement signed on to by Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom concerning Ukraine's surrender of its Soviet era nuclear arsenal in exchange for commitments to its sovereignty and territorial integrity and protection from nuclear strike. China and France, the world's other nuclear powers, signed separate understandings. The agreement, not a legal documented, is not interpreted to compel military action. Russia insisted it did not violate the terms because, it argued, the Ukrainian government, which replaced the pro-Russian one topped in a 2015 pro-Europe revolution, was not the same state with which it made a deal, a spurious argument particularly given that Russia assumed many of the treaty obligations of the Soviet Union and so is familiar with the concept of continuity in international law.

While the U.S. condemned Russia's actions in 2015, and imposed limited sanctions, Russia oversaw a referendum in Crimea it said approved of the territory, which belonged to the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic until Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukrainian S.S.R. in the 1950s, being annexed by Russia, and Russian control over the region, which houses a Russian naval base, has remained since then.

Allegations over ties between President Trump's associates, including Michael Flynn, who resigned as national security advisor after a controversy over what he said about sanctions in a call with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump took office, color any attempt at a de-escalation in tensions between Russia and the U.S. Yet the Flynn affair illustrates how improbable "collusion" between the Trump team and Russia is. In recent years, the U.S. has been caught spying on the communications of its allies—surely Russia knows its officials are spied on to. If Flynn, who was paid $40,000 to attend a Russia Today dinner, were an access point for the Kremlin into the White House, why would they blow their load prematurely on an exploratory call about sanctions? What difference would three weeks make?

2016 represented the third consecutive election where the American electorate rejected the anti-Russian candidate. During the 2008 election, Russia invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia, causing then Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now an early leading critic of Trump and his foreign policy, to saber rattle about the danger Russia President Vladimir Putin posed to the U.S. order in Europe and the world. In 2012, Obama and Democrats mocked Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for identifying Russia as America's number one geopolitical foe. John Kerry, who would become Obama's second term secretary of state, joked that Romney's understanding of Russia came from watching the Cold War-era Rocky IV. Obama said Romney was in a "Cold War mind warp." Russia's foreign policy after 2012 was not out-of-character compared to its foreign policy under Putin up to that point, yet Democrats' view of Russia shifted radically, primarily because of accusations that Russia tried to "interfere" with or influence the U.S. election. Putin had previously accused Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who served as Obama's first term secretary of state, of inciting protests and trying to interfere in Russian elections. Clinton described those allegations as a "personal beef" when blaming Russia for hacks of election-related emails from her campaign manager, John Podesta, a victim of a phishing whose password was "password," as well as the Democratic National Committee, neither of which Russia has been positively proven to be behind, although the U.S. has accused it of such.

It's unfortunate that such a saber-rattling distraction could endanger the space for a deal over Ukraine. Since the 2014 annexation, the U.S. has done nothing. It can continue to do so, and certainly should not change course because of partisan emotions about an election gone by. As I wrote in 2014, Mitt Romney got it half right on Russia—it was a geopolitical force that didn't always align with the U.S. but it need not be a foe—but that Obama and Kerry probably got it all wrong.

At its core, Trump's message about Russia has been to cooperate where possible, although particularly since the election he has stressed that there was no guarantee he and Putin would "get along" despite Trump's repeated praise of the authoritarian. Since Flynn's resignation, meanwhile, the Russian media, and political class, has started to turn from its early optimism about the Trump administration. The space for a deal may already be closing, but given deal-making was a large part of Trump's sell on the campaign trail, it's still possible.

A new referendum in Crimea, even if it were completely free and fair, would likely result in voters again choosing to join Russia, especially since that is effectively the case on the ground, but also because of its long historical ties. The geopolitical future of Ukraine, which sits on the crossroads of Russia and Europe, remains unclear, but is also not a U.S. national security concern. The U.S. obligation under the Budapest Memorandum is a limited one, and not one it was meant to bear alone. It could be resolved by, for example, Trump negotiating a cash payment from Russia to Ukraine (like the lease idea, but without kicking the can down the road 50 or 100 year). The European Union, which is running out of countries that can join, is probably still interested in an eventual Ukrainian application. But at a time when Europe's leaders are rebuffing the most diplomatic efforts of the U.S. administration to get them to meet the NATO target of defense spending at 2 percent GDP, it ought to be clear that the days of the U.S. being the primary guarantor of security in Europe ought to come to an end.

Despite the election-related sour grapes and concerns about Russian "influence" (in a country with free speech and a free press, there will be a lot of "influences"—part of the marketplace of ideas in which democratic society thrives), U.S.-Russia disagreements should not be overcomplicated. Despite two years of inaction on the part of the U.S., coupled with a denial of the reality on the ground, it's still possible for the U.S. to responsibly disengage from the broader political conflict over Ukraine while fulfilling its limited Budapest commitments. It's supposed to be the art of the deal.

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  1. Good article Ed

    Also trumps energy policies suggest they arent in cahoots with russia

  2. Who’s that Downs Syndrome guy on the left?

  3. It is never really mentioned that Ukraine has a coup government and two days before the annexing of crimea and the reason why the annexed it, the US organized the overthrow of the democratically elected pro Russia government.

    I mean I know Samantha powers and Victoria Nuland are idiots, but did they really think there would be no consequences to overthrowing Ukraine? Like putin would just be like ok, yall can job NATO and I’ll hand over my Crimea naval base

    1. Join NATO

    2. Wait a minute. Who was president of the U.S. when this foreign interference with a sovereign nation’s elections was going on?

    3. Yes, all those people in the square were sent their by the CIA.

      1. No, USAID and national endowment for democracy. 😉 Victoria nuland had her conversation recorded 10 days before the coup, and named who would be new PM, and all sorts of other details on how they are “midwifing this thing”..

    4. Also, people took to the streets when the corrupt piece of shit leader reneged on increasing ties with for the warm embrace of Putin’s Russia. The revolution in Ukraine had everything to do with European and Kremlin politics and shit to do with US, yet every time Reason posts an article on it, at least one or two idiots show up claiming a CIA backed coup with nary a mention of Russian meddling.

      1. I will gladly admit there was a lot of corruption the turned poroshenko towards Russia.. just dont see how a coup government is some how legitimate..

        1. During, yanukovych

        2. That’s a perfectly legitimate question that could be debated ad nauseam. At what point is a president so corrupt that it becomes legitimate for congress or the military or “the people” to stage a coup? Allende? Maduro?

          The fact of the matter is from everything I’ve seen and read, the masses had pretty good cause to be pissed off with how things were going and to deligitimize that anger by chalking it up to just another US backed coup while glossing over some pretty bad shit on the part of Russia and P-Shenko seems like a pretty shitty thing to do… particularly given the fact the the opposition was seeking more openness and liberalism.

          1. There was absolutely a lot of anger in western Ukraine, particularly Kiev, which was much more euro centric.. but yanukovych had his power base outside this area so it is hard to say what portion of the whole of Ukraine was really in favor of his ousting. And yes, I think the US played a very significant role from everything I’ve seen..

            And Ukraine since the revolution hasnt really become more liberal. their new interior police is basically the azov battalion which are a bunch of neo nazis.

    5. It is never really mentioned that Ukraine has a coup government and two days before the annexing of crimea and the reason why the annexed it, the US organized the overthrow of the democratically elected pro Russia government.

      I have a vague recollection of that, but it’s funny how we never hear much about that, with all the talk about Russia interfering in our elections.

  4. While I don’t like that Russia’s military got involved and I’m sure that the referendum wasn’t exactly the most legitimate vote, from my understanding Crimea was always culturally and politically at odds with the rest of Ukraine. If the vast majority of people there truly do want to join Russia, isn’t that their right to self-determination? It’s a tricky situation.

    1. Some self-determination is more determined than others.

  5. proposes Russian withdrawal from eastern Ukraine in exchange for a 50 or 100 year lease of Crimea to Russia

    In 50-100 years wouldn’t the population be even more Russian culturally and ethnically if (my very limited knowledge of) past Russian patterns hold and Russia would have an even stronger claim to the land?

    Not an ironic question.

    1. Most of the Soviet buffer states (including the Ukraine) retained their distinct ethnic and cultural identities during decades of occupation. I don’t know how culturally Russian or Ukrainian the Crimea is now, but it probably wouldn’t change much between now and the time when Putin is just a head in a jar atop a shirtless city-straddling battledroid.

      1. Catherine the great seized Crimea in 1790 to establish military presence. She basically cleansed all the tartars out and moved ethnic Russians in. Been Russian ever since.

        1. Is there any problem that Russia can’t solve with a little ethnic cleansing?

          1. There’s literally no “problem” for which the “final solution” isn’t ethnic cleansing.

          2. Hitler?

          3. It’s called Redistribution and it works wonders with all your sticky political problems.

    2. Yes. Absolutely.

      1. Clear and concise. I like the cut of your jib, Ed and thanks for the response.

    3. The lease is a way for everyone to save face by pretending that it is still Ukraine’s property. When the lease is done Crimea will inevitably transition to official Russian control.

  6. Ed can you or your cohorts do an article on how trumps energy policy affects europe.

    Like what the russian economy is based, contributions of energy to Europe, what trumps energy policies are and how they may affect

    1. No time for that nonsense! [Insert target ID] still has a job!

  7. Yet the Flynn affair illustrates how improbable “collusion” between the Trump team and Russia is. In recent years, the U.S. has been caught spying on the communications of its allies?surely Russia knows its officials are spied on to.

    I’m not saying you believe this but it would be a mistake to suggest the investigation of these Trump loyalists depends upon finding secret understandings with the Russian forces who attacked the Clinton campaign. The question isn’t whether Flynn or the others instructed the Russians to commit the crimes we all witnessed take place. I agree with you that it’s very unlikely the Trump loyalists were orchestrating the Russian attacks against the Clinton campaign. We do know though that the Trump campaign invited the attacks. We know they obfuscated the truth of who was committing the attacks and we know they championed the very causes that seemingly motivated the attacks. We know Trump sucked Putin’s dick over and over and over again on live TV. You saw that and I saw. We know these Trump henchmen have been whoring themselves to Russian cultural and money interest for years. It seemed like some of these Trump guys were getting advance notice of the release of the stolen information. This shit is just getting started. To be continued.

    The Trump campaign people made not secret of their belief that Russia should be an ally in this Christian Global

  8. That last part was an aborted sentence.

    1. Fit the pattern of the previous paragraph

  9. Russia won’t give Crimea back. The people there are better off under Russia. Ukriaine is the second poorest country in Europe, with wigth monthly wage of $134 . Yet it has the greatest wealth disparity, due to endemic corruption and oligarchs who fled their after Putin drove them out.
    The hatred between Poland and Russia goes back to 1000 AD. Poland went Catholic, Russia Orthodox. Russia just celebrated its 4 of July , called National Unity Day, celebrating the end of Polish occupation c 1620.
    Western Ukraine, dominated by City Livov, is Polish and Catholic. Btw, Ludwig von Mises, Victoria Nuland and Zbigniev Bryzinsky were all born there. North central Ukraine , Kiev and Cherkasky, are West leaning. The Donbas, southeastern Ukraine, is 85 % ethnic Russian, Crimea close to that. Southern Ukraine from Odessa to Mariupal is split 55-45 Wesstern.
    Now toss in the horrors of WW II, Holodomor, Nazi exterminations, Chernobyl, failed Orange Revolution, NATO expanse, etc and you have present day mess.
    Livo
    ,

  10. Why am I mad when I read this story? Is it because Paul Manafort and his buddies are twisting the arm, leg, neck and testicles of a democratically elected government to give up an enormous chunk of their country on the PROMISE to return another large chunk of their territory? Or is it American and European leaders closing their eyes, placing their hands over their ears and yelling LALALALALALAAA at the top of their lungs when asked to keep THEIR Promises to assist Ukrane? Why am I so goddamn MAD?

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