Trump’s “Fact-Free” Comments On Russia's Annexation Of Crimea Roundly Condemned

Media figures roundly condemned Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump following his remarks that he would “be looking at” whether to “recognize Crimea as Russian territory.” Journalists and experts condemned Trump’s statements, saying they show either an “ignorance of a major geopolitical crisis or favoritism to Russia’s incursion,” and are “devoid of facts and divorced from traditional American and traditional European policy” regarding Russia and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Donald Trump: “Just So You Understand, [Putin Is] Not Going To Go Into Ukraine. All Right?”

Donald Trump: Putin Is “Not Going Into Ukraine. Just So You Understand, He’s Not Going Into Ukraine. All Right?” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared to admit that he would recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, according to a Washington Post report. On July 27, Trump said “we’ll be looking at” “recogniz[ing] Crimea as Russian territory” as president. Four days later, on the July 31 edition of ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump about American relations with Russia and a change to the Republican Party platform, which “took away … calling for provisions of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves" from Russian aggression. Trump responded that Putin is “not going into Ukraine. Just so you understand, [Putin is] not going into Ukraine. All right? You can mark it down, you can put it down.” From ABC’s This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

DONALD TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yeah. I was not involved in that. I’d like to -- I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?  

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard. But I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves. Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: It’s, look, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine. OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine. All right? You can mark it down.You can put it down. You can take it any way you want --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK. Well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama. With all the strength that you’re talking about and all the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away, he takes Crimea. He’s sort of, I mean--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.  

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also. [The Washington Post, 7/27/16; ABC, This Week, 7/31/16]

Media Slam Trump For “Ignorance Of A Major Geopolitical Crisis Or Favoritism To Russia’s Incursion” Into Ukraine In 2014

Huffington Post’s Sam Stein: “Donald Trump Appears Either Unfamiliar With Russia’s Annexation Of Crimea Or Directly Supportive Of The Intrusion.”Huffington Post senior politics editor Sam Stein blasted Trump’s comments on Crimea as either “ignorance of a major geopolitical crisis or favoritism to Russia’s incursion” into Ukrainian territory. From the July 31 article:

Donald Trump appears either unfamiliar with Russia’s annexation of Crimea or directly supportive of the intrusion that began in the winter of 2014, further chilled U.S.-Russian relations and has left thousands dead.

In a conversation about Trump’s nebulous relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, the topic shifted to why the Republican Party’s platform was softened on the subject of arming Ukraine to push back against Russian aggression.

Trump said he had been unaware of the platform change, though he had heard about it ex post facto. Then, he pledged that he’d be tough on Russia when it came to Ukraine.

[...]

That he might be the beneficiary of a foreign agent’s meddling in a U.S. election is damaging enough. But the ABC interview showed either an ignorance of a major geopolitical crisis or favoritism to Russia’s incursion. The former will likely raise additional questions about Trump’s readiness for the Oval Office. The latter will spook Putin critics everywhere. [Huffington Post, 7/31/16]

NY Times: Trump’s Comments On Crimea “Were Significant Because Mr. Trump Has Seemingly Embraced Mr. Putin.” In an article titled “Donald Trump Gives Questionable Explanation of Events in Ukraine,” The New York Times’ David Sanger and Maggie Haberman called Trump’s response “a muddled explanation of his views about the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.” They wrote that it “is difficult” to discern “what [Trump] understands about the current status of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and how it would change in a Trump administration.” From the Times’ July 31 article:

Donald J. Trump on Sunday offered a muddled explanation of his views about the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and its continued efforts to undermine Ukraine’s control of other parts of the country, and he amplified his earlier suggestion that, if elected president, he might recognize Russia’s claim and end sanctions against it.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week,” Mr. Trump said that if he were president, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would not send his forces into Ukraine. He then backpedaled when Mr. Stephanopoulos pointed out that Russian troops had been there for nearly two years.

[...]

Interpreting Mr. Trump’s statements — what he understands about the current status of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and how it would change in a Trump administration — is difficult given the fractured nature of the exchange. But they were significant because Mr. Trump has seemingly embraced Mr. Putin, repeatedly called for better relations with Russia and shown an unwillingness to condemn Mr. Putin for his aggressive actions against Russia’s neighbors and its crackdowns on freedoms at home.

Questions have been raised about the watering down of a section of the Republican platform dealing with Ukraine amid evidence that wording to support sending lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government was removed from the text. [The New York Times, 7/31/16]

The Atlantic: Trump’s Comments Are “Likely To Spread Much Cheer Through Russia,” And “Dread In The Former Soviet Republics.”The Atlantic senior editor Krishnadev Calamur wrote that Trump’s “response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia” and “could spread at least an equal amount of dread in the former Soviet republics.” Calamur added, “In a matter of two weeks, the man who could become the next American president has not only questioned the utility of NATO, thereby repudiating the post-World War II security consensus, he also has seemingly removed whatever fig leaf of protection from Russia the U.S. offered the post-Soviet republics and Moscow’s former allies in the Eastern bloc.” From The Atlantic’s July 27 article:

Donald Trump’s call on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails Wednesday resulted in widespread criticism. But his comments on Crimea, coupled with ones he made last week on NATO, are likely to have greater significance if he is elected president in November.

[...]

That response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia—already buoyant about the prospect of a Trump victory in November. But it could spread at least an equal amount of dread in the former Soviet republics. In a matter of two weeks, the man who could become the next American president has not only questioned the utility of NATO, thereby repudiating the post-World War II security consensus, he also has seemingly removed whatever fig leaf of protection from Russia the U.S. offered the post-Soviet republics and Moscow’s former allies in the Eastern bloc.

[...]

rump, as president, may reverse that policy, and if he does Ukraine won’t be the only country that worries. Another is likely to be Georgia, the former Soviet republic. A brief war with Russia—brief in that Georgia was crushed—in 2008 resulted in Russia extending support to two breakaway Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and wielding its influence with the rebels there. Russia’s recent military exercises, as well as its statements, have also worried Eastern European states such as Poland and the Baltic nations that share a border with it.

[...]

Now, with his comments on Crimea, Trump has given the foreign-policy establishment in the U.S. and Europe even more to consider before November. [The Atlantic, 7/27/16]

On CBS This Morning, General Michael Hayden Called Trump’s Crimea Comments “A Fact-Free Description Of What’s Going On In The Ukraine.” Former Director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency Gen. Michael Hayden called Trump’s comments a “fact-free description of what's going on in the Ukraine." When asked if the statements make Trump “unfit and unqualified to be commander-in-chief,” Hayden responded, “That would add to a body of evidence that would actually draw one towards that conclusion.” Hayden said that Trump’s comments were “devoid of facts and divorced from traditional American and traditional European policy.” [CBS, This Morning, 8/1/16]

Wash. Post’s Philip Rucker: “Were It Not For His Feud With The Khans, Trump’s Confusion/Ignorance About Ukraine And Putin’s Annexation Of Crimea Would Be The Big Story.”

[Twitter, 8/1/16]

The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss: “Not Even China Is Willing To Recognize The Annexation Of Crimea. But Trump Is.”

[Twitter, 7/27/16]

BBC's Kim Ghattas: Trump’s Rhetoric About Crimea “Is Very Troubling Because … This Is The Kind Of Language That Mr. Putin Himself Has Used.” BBC journalist Kim Ghattas called Trump’s comments on Crimea “very troubling,” adding that Trump’s rationale “is the kind of language that Mr. Putin himself has used” to justify Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. From the August 1 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

JOE SCARBOROUGH (HOST): Kim Ghattas, we're going to show it in a few minutes but he also, what he had to say about yanking out the protection of Ukraine from the GOP platform. He seemed not to understand that the Russians already were in Ukraine and then just gave a nonsensical answer. You just sat there and wondered, how could a candidate, and not only not be getting better at this, but seemingly getting worse by the day?

KIM GHATTAS: Well he seems to be operating in an alternate reality where some of the facts that are simply facts that have been video taped, that have been documented, don't exist. And I have to say Joe, there have been moments in this election where I have felt like I've been catapulted back to the Middle East where political candidates, politicians, sometimes operate in this alternate reality where the facts don't matter. Where there is creeping violence in their language and where nothing sticks because the bond between them and their supporters seems unbreakable because it comes from a sort of place of unquestioned loyalty that they have for the candidate or the politician. But when it comes to Ukraine and what Mr. Trump said it is very troubling because as many people have remarked this is the kind of language that Mr. Putin himself has used to dismiss the idea that he annexed Crimea, right? He said that it was the Crimeans who decided for self-determination. That's not exactly what happened and it raises a lot of questions about what exactly is driving Mr. Trump, and I know we've all speculated about that. But there is this uncomfortable feeling that arises when a candidate seems to be more in tune with the foreign policy of another country and it raises a lot of questions about exactly what his foreign policy is going to be like. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/1/16]

CNN's Peter Beinart: “It Is Quite Likely” That Trump's “Understanding Of What Actually Happened In Ukraine Is Quite Thin.” CNN political commentator Peter Beinart pointed to the “larger context” of Trump's previous foreign policy blunders, including not knowing “what 'Brexit' meant” or “what the nuclear triad was,” to suggest that “it is quite likely in fact that his understanding of what actually happened in Ukraine is quite thin.” From the August 1 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:

BROOKE BALDWIN (HOST): Do you think [Trump] was speaking from the heart and from his gut and that's what he meant [about Ukraine and Crimea]?

PETER BEINART: Well, he said “Putin is not going to go into Ukraine,” and I think if you look at the larger context of his statements on foreign policy in general, he's a guy who didn't know what “Brexit”  meant, he didn't know what the nuclear triad was, twice. So, I think the evidence we have based on Donald Trump's record suggests that it is quite likely in fact that his understanding of what actually happened in Ukraine is quite thin. [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 8/1/16]