Bloomberg is reporting that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump made a secret arrangement during their two-hour opening talk what would “help resolve the conflict” in eastern Ukraine. But the details of this plan suggest that it resolves the issue by rewarding Russia with not just Crimea, but potentially other territory.
The contents of the two-hour talk between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin remain a mystery. Almost everything we know about that talk has emerged because Putin said it and Russian sources have commented on it. Some items have generated a White House reply, generally confirming Russian statements, but others are still just “Putin says” with no real way to confirm or deny even the broad strokes of what has been said. While Putin claims that the chat with Trump resulted in “strategic agreements,” the US public and the US military has been left in the dark when it comes to just what the means, or how we should respond.
If the information coming from Russia is an accurate account of Trump’s agreement, it seems to suggest that Trump would cede Crimea to Russia on a vote of the majority. And this offer doesn’t seem to be limited to Crimea. The wording of the statement suggests that other areas occupied by Russian-supported rebels and by Russian troops playacting as rebels could also be allowed to join up with Russia after a vote.
It’s a suggestion that would reward Russia for territorial aggression unseen in Europe since the end of World War II. It would also seem to undermine any continuation of sanctions put in place against Russia for its military takeover of Crimea and ongoing attacks against Ukraine.
And in exchange for this the United States would get … that’s not clear. At the moment, the White House hasn’t responded to requests for comments on Putin’s statement. However, it’s hard to see the win for anyone other than Putin in a plan that carves off slices of Ukraine, permanently awards them to Russia, and strips away sanctions. However, this would fit with Trump’s words going into his meeting with Putin. Trump seemed happy to cede Putin ownership of Ukraine’s most valuable territory, pointing out that the Russian dictator had built things on it.
Trump: People like to say, “Oh Crimea,” but the fact is they built bridges to Crimea, they built I think a submarine port.
The statements made Ukrainian officials concerned that Trump might agree to an arrangement exactly like the one Putin is now saying Trump supports. Though Reuters reports that before the summit, Ukraine was reassured that their interest would be protected. From the latest information, it doesn’t seem that either American or Ukrainian interests got any consideration.
Surrendering Crimea would not just reward Putin for past aggression, it would be an open signal that he could make other such steps—a thought that definitely worries other nations in the region. Rewarding Putin with full ownership of parts of Ukraine, could likely result in regional nations tightening their alliance with Moscow in the hopes of avoiding having their own territory stolen a bit at a time.
Wednesday marked the anniversary of Russian forces shooting down a civilian airliner over Ukraine in 2014. However, as Foreign Policy reports, for the first time since that event, the United States issued no statement to mark the murder of 298 passengers and crew. This conspicuous silence has been interpreted in many quarters as another sign that Trump is preparing to side with Russia on the future of Ukraine.
Putin seems to recognize that the issue of a US government agreeing to stand back as Russia carves up a European nation. According to Bloomberg, the details of the agreement aren’t being disclosed publicly so that Trump can “consider” the plan without facing a public firestorm.