Two years ago, Russia’s incursions into Ukraine — including the controversial annexation of Crimea — was front page news on numerous occasions. Roughly 10,000 lives have been lost as a result of the ongoing violence.
Given that, you might expect Donald Trump to have a working knowledge of what’s going on in Ukraine. But if the interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that ran Sunday morning is any indication, Trump doesn’t.
Asked about the scrubbing of pro-Ukrainian language from the Republican platform, Trump offered up a word salad in which he seemed unaware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian politics for years.
“[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, 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 anywhere you want,” Trump said.
Stephanopoulos pushed back, reminding Trump that Putin’s “already there, isn’t he?” Trump quickly changed the topic to Obama bashing.
“Okay — well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.”
In recent weeks, ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian interests have come under scrutiny. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked in Ukraine on behalf of Russia-friendly politicians. The party platform written at the recent Republican National Convention removed references to arming Ukraine in its ongoing fight against pro-Russia rebels. Many have speculated that Russian hackers were responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee — Trump has used the DNC emails to argue that the Democratic primary was “rigged” against Bernie Sanders — and last week Trump himself encouraged Russian hackers to obtain emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server.
During the interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump went on to suggest that as president, he’d consider officially recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peninsula that was part of Ukraine until a referendum to make the area part of Russia was approved in March 2014.
“I’m going to take a look at it,” Trump said. “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… just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration.”
Trump’s line on Crimea is essentially the same one being pushed by Russian media. The New York Times reported that the referendum took place while the peninsula was being occupied by “heavily armed Russian troops.” Western leaders denounced the vote as illegal.