Washington (GPA) – While the mainstream media perpetuates the frenzied myth of Donald Trump being a puppet of the Kremlin, Trump himself says previous administrations were ‘too soft’ on Russia.
Following the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for communicating with the Russian ambassador to the US prior to Trump’s inauguration, it now seems the White House is taking a tougher stance on Russia. This began just hours after the news about Flynn broke with statements from Trump spokespeople that Russia will be expected to ‘give back’ the annexed Crimean peninsula.
The US media has spent every minute since Flynn left trying to find some way to prove Trump is somehow controlled by Russia, which Trump (probably rightly so) says is just a campaign of “fake news” built on “conspiracy theories.” Now it seems President Trump is taking a harder public line than candidate Trump to dispel these rumors that have persisted since the day he won the election.
Candidate Trump and the Status of Crimea
Trump was asked on multiple occasions during the campaign to give his stance on the annexation of Crimea by Russia through a popular referendum in 2014. Trump told multiple reporters that the crisis in Ukraine as a whole was a “European problem,” and as far as he understood it, the people of Crimea wanted to leave Ukraine and this was reflected in their vote.
Trump rightfully defended the special status of Ukraine, although he apparently didn’t understand exactly what the Crimean annexation was. Trump said on the campaign trail that he would only step in on resolving the Crimea dilemma if he was asked by other European leaders, leaving some in the US hopeful that this would end the support for the junta government in Kiev.
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Trump Administration’s Change of Position
It didn’t take long after Trump was sworn into office for the position on Russia to change. Even as his top security officials were being confirmed by the senate, they were all spouting the age old neocon propaganda about how Russia was the greatest threat the the US and that Vladimir Putin was seeking to destabilize the NATO alliance.
This was happening parallel to the US media’s campaign to prove that Trump had only won the presidential election due to propaganda and hacking campaigns approved by the Kremlin. While there doesn’t seem to be much truth in this it does now seem that the Trump campaign staff did have some contact with Russian officials prior to election night, but this has gone on during multiple presidential campaigns in recent history.
The Trump administration’s tough talk continued to escalate once a sudden spike was seen in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. When the separatist rebels in the Donbas – allegedly backed by Moscow – came into contact with the Ukrainian military and pro-Kiev right wing paramilitary elements the White House was more than happy to tow the Obama administration’s line that the blame was solely on Putin.
Although Trump talked about lifting some sanctions on Russia (supposedly what Flynn’s call was about) the new president continued the lies that Russia was responsible for the ongoing violence in Ukraine. Trump’s new ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley even used her first address of the Security Council to say Russia would pay for their supposed incursions into Ukraine.
Trump has apparently reversed his public stance in a hard way since the inauguration which has now culminated in the remarks concerning Crimea. Although Trump announced his position via Twitter (of course), press secretary Sean Spicer later confirmed this as the official White House line later in the day saying it was Obama who allowed the Ukrainian “to be seized by Russia” and that “President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.”
Russian leaders are of course unhappy with this development in the Trump foreign policy. This dust up is happening just before the first meeting of the new US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a G20 summit on Thursday.
Russia has stood firm on the annexation of Crimea and following Trump’s latest comments has continued their assertion that the region is legally theirs and that “The theme of returning Crimea will not be discussed … Russia does not discuss its territorial integrity with foreign partners,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov acknowledged that Trump’s recent comments has dashed some hopes of normalizing relations and put diplomacy between the two powers in “a lamentable state.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova echoed this sentiment in a press briefing yesterday, saying that the idea was unreasonable since “[Russia doesn’t] give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation.”
It’s not just the call to return Crimea souring relations but also the fact that the Trump White House has pledged to keep the sanctions – rolled out in 2014 – in place until Russia complies.
It seems Trump has run into the realities of being president in a hard way since his inauguration. The hope for restoring positive relations with Russia faded the day Trump’s picks to head up the military and intelligence agencies were announced and now it seems that their influence is setting in. Putting ‘America first’ sounds good on the surface but when viewed as an empire with its roots stretching worldwide, ‘America’s’ trajectory is almost impossible to stop within the current political framework.
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Image: DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.